Thornton gets job done with Kings

NEW ORLEANS — Marcus Thornton knew it was bad.

He had to be carried from the court after landing on the foot of Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry while attempting a 3-pointer, spraining his left ankle during the third quarter on Dec. 30 in Sacramento.

A foul was called, but Thornton, a Baton Rouge native and former LSU standout, was unable to shoot the free throw. He did swish the 3-pointer, though, as the Kings went on to a 118-96 victory.

It seems things have a way of going like that for Thornton, a former second-round draft choice in his fourth year in the NBA and third with the Kings.

“It was pretty bad,” said Thornton, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard known for his scoring bursts and high-energy play. “(The ankle is) doing well now, getting there. It’s not 100 percent yet, but I’m a warrior, so I have to go out there and get it done.”

The Kings play the Hornets at noon Monday at New Orleans Arena, with Thornton, who began his career with the Hornets, back on the court getting it done.

“It’s good to back and play before my family and friends, give them a chance to see me play,” he said. “And the fans always welcome me back when I play against the Hornets, and I’ve done well.”

The injury kept him out four games from Dec. 31 to Jan. 9. However, he has come on.

He scored 20 points off the bench in a victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, shooting 8-of-14 from the field, including 3-of-6 on 3-point tries, and getting two steals.

On Saturday, he had another big game, scoring a game-high 18 points, shooting 4-of-7 on 3-pointers, as Sacramento won at Charlotte 97-93, its third win in four games.

Now the Hornets (13-27), coming off a disappointing loss to Golden State on Saturday, are bracing for Thornton and the Kings (15-25), who are coached by another Baton Rouge native, Keith Smart, who is in his second year at the helm.

“Marcus can be a monster scoring the ball,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “He’s not afraid. Certainly, he was starting at one time, now he’s coming off the bench. He’s had some ankle injuries lately, but we’ve got to make sure we take him seriously when he’s on the floor.”

Before the injury, Thornton was off to another solid season, this time as a reserve after starting last season. He scored at least 15 points eight times in November and four times in December.

Thornton is averaging 12.8 points per game, third on the team, although he has played just the sixth amount of minutes. He has been a game’s top scorer six times and led in assists three times.

With the Kings having so many young players to develop, Thornton said he was OK when Smart told him he wanted him to come off the bench this season.

“We have a young, energetic team that plays hard,” he said. “He told me he wanted me to bring that same firepower to the second unit. He thought that with me being a veteran, I could be a leader there and just be a spark.”

Thornton had 18 points in a win over the Knicks, 22 in a victory over Portland and 19 in a shootout win against Golden State.

However, in a memorable performance, he led Sacramento to a 113-97 win against the Los Angeles Lakers with 23 points, often matched up against Kobe Bryant.

“I think that was my best all-around game this season,” he said. “I was just being me. I took the shots that were available, and when they weren’t, I just made plays.”

It’s been that way since he came to the Kings, although they continue to struggle winning. Things hadn’t gone smoothly with the Hornets. However, ater the trade, Thornton gave the Kings someone who could score in bunches, who can shoot from outside and drive to the basket.

He averaged 21.3 points in the 27 games with the Kings, and stories out of Sacramento tabbed him as the next star. During the next season, on Dec. 9, 2011, he signed a four-year, $32 million contract.

Last year, as a starter in the lockout-shortened season, he led the team in scoring (18.7 points per game), 3-pointers (107), free-throw percentage (86.5) and minutes per game (34.9).

“It’s been great,” he said. “The guys are young, but I think we can get better. We have a lot of talent. We definitely have room for improvement, though, but it’s a long season.

“We’re a team that gets along well, and I like coach Smart’s system. It’s one with a lot of cuts, which plays to my strengths. ”

Two things hanging over the season have been the impending sale of the team to a group in Seattle, which lost the SuperSonics, who are now the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The other has been the antics of gifted young center DeMarcus Cousins, who was benched after an expletive-laden tirade against Smart.

Cousins, 22, one of the NBA’s most-gifted and versatile centers, leads the team in scoring at 17.9 points per game and in rebounding at 10.6. Yet his blowups and sometimes too-physical play have gotten the league’s attention. There were rumors the Kings were going to trade him.

“Rumors are rumors,” Thorton said. “As long as he keeps ballin’, everything will take care of itself.”

Asked if Cousins was frustrated with the Kings’ losing after experiencing success in high school and at Kentucky, Thornton said, “He’s a competitor.”

Hornets power forward/center Jason Smith, who played with Thornton when he was in New Orleans, knows Thornton is a competitor.

“He’s a scorer, aggressive to the rim, very athletic,” Smith said. “Always trying to get to the rim. If he didn’t get a layup or dunk, he would always get to the free-throw line. He was a very good player, and he’s doing very well now.

“And I’m sure he’s going to really come after us.”