Cooley is king for a night in win over Magic

Cooley is king for a night in win over Magic

SACRAMENTO - “Cooooooleeeeeeeey!,” chants started quietly with the Golden 1 Center crowd Friday evening. With each made basket, the rallying call picked up steam and became louder and louder.  

The legend of Jack Cooley grows.

It’s not the first time Sacramento Kings fans have cheered on the 6-foot-10 big man out of Notre Dame. Cooley became a fan favorite during Summer League in Las Vegas in July, so much so that the Kings gave the 26-year-old a shot as a two-way player this season.

“If you would tell 15-year-old Jack Cooley that he would be getting his name chanted in an NBA stadium, he probably would have exploded,” Cooley said. “It’s pretty good to have that come true and just be appreciated by a fanbase.”

The fans weren’t the only folks in the building cheering on Cooley. Sacramento’s bench could hardly control their excitement when he started making baskets.

“It was just awesome to see him do what he does, we see it in practice everyday that he’s up here,” Garrett Temple said. “Being a bull on the boards, offensive rebounds, putbacks, getting those big shoulders into guys and they can’t across his body it’s so wide. I’m real proud of him, real happy for him. He really helped change the game in the second half with his energy, his effort and his rebounding.”

Cooley’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but his impact on the game was felt. He finished the night tying his career-high with eight points and he added three rebounds and an assists in eight minutes of action.

“I’m thrilled for him,” Kosta Koufos said. “He’s a great guy, he works hard every single day. It’s good to see someone get rewarded for all the hard work they put in.”

Like JaKarr Sampson, the Kings’ other two-way player, Cooley brings a different energy and physicality to the game. He plays the game with a toughness that Sacramento lacks on most nights.

“He’s a fantastic dude,” Dave Joerger said. “He plays hard and he knows exactly why he has a chance to play and stay in the NBA, and that is - set hard screens and rebound your tail off and make those tough plays in the paint.”

This is the first season the NBA has experimented with the two-way player. Both Cooley and Sampson are eligible to come up and participate in both practice and games for a total of 45 days with the parent club. The rest of the time, they suit up for the team’s G-League affiliate in Reno.

“I think it does a great job of keeping really good players here in the States,” Cooley said of the two-way contract. “I believe there is a direct correlation with the success of the G-League and the success of the NBA. I think that the better the players that are here in the States and available for NBA teams really helps the overall skill level of the league.”

In 31 games with the Bighorns, Cooley has posted 17.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game. He’s played in just two games with the Kings this season, including his stretch in Friday’s 94-88 win over the Orlando Magic, but he gives the team everything he has when he’s been given an opportunity.

Coming into this season, Cooley hadn’t played in the league since 2014 when he saw action in 14 games as a member of the Utah Jazz.   

For one night, Cooley was king in Sacramento. As the team finishes the final 16 games of the season, there is always a chance that he’ll get another opportunity to shine and hear his name echo from the rafters of Golden 1 Center.

Joerger faces tough decision with Bogdanovic out vs Pistons


Joerger faces tough decision with Bogdanovic out vs Pistons

SACRAMENTO -- It’s time for some home cooking. The Sacramento Kings open a six-game homestand Monday night at Golden 1 Center. They’ll host a struggling Detroit Pistons team that has lost three straight and seven of their last eight.

The Kings battled the Utah Jazz all the way down the wire Saturday evening at Vivint Smart Home Arena, before falling in the final minute. Buddy Hield put up 20-plus points for his third straight game to lead Sacramento.

Detroit looked like a playoff team for much of the season and then the wheels fell off their bus. They have plenty of talent, but so far, they are struggling to find chemistry since acquiring All-Star Blake Griffin at the deadline.

Pistons by 3.5

Skal Labissiere vs. Blake Griffin -- The Kings have struggled to contain Griffin throughout his career. Whether he starts or not, second-year big Skal Labissiere is likely to see plenty of time against the high-scoring power forward. Labissiere is averaging 11.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 27 minutes a game in March. He needs to move his feet and avoid foul trouble against Griffin.

Kings: 23-48, fourth place in Pacific

Pistons: 30-39, fourth place in Central

Kings: SG Bogdan Bogdanovic (left hamstring soreness) out, SG/SF Iman Shumpert (knee rehab/plantar fasciitis) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out for the season.

Pistons: PG Reggie Jackson (ankle) out, PF Jon Leuer (ankle) out.

Decisions, Decisions -- With Bogdanovic out for the evening, Dave Joerger has a tough choice to make. Does he elevate Hield into the starting lineup and disrupt his bench unit? Or does he start veteran Garrett Temple alongside De’Aaron Fox. Hield has earned a look with the starters, but he’s on fire with the second team.

Keep Fighting -- Plenty of fans want the Kings to lay down and preserve their spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery. The Kings are trying to build a winning culture around a group of young players. They are developing an identity as the season heads towards its conclusion and there is no reason to let up.

Shoot the 3-ball -- The Kings trail only the Golden State Warriors in 3-point percentage. They hit 14-of-21 from behind the arc against the Jazz, but that’s not enough. The goal should be 30 threes per game from here on out. The team has the shooters, they just need to hoist it up more often.

The Pistons lead the season series 1-0 and are looking for the sweep. Detroit holds a 134-119 advantage over the Kings all-time and a 37-26 edge during the Sacramento-era.

Buddy Hield is evolving, playing the best basketball of his career

Buddy Hield is evolving, playing the best basketball of his career

Take your tank emojis and throw them out the window. The Sacramento Kings are young, inexperienced and every once in a while, they throw up a complete dud. They are also scrappy and talented and improving with every game.

Saturday evening in Utah, they gave one of the hottest teams in the NBA 48 minutes of fight. In fact, they’ve been going to toe-to-toe with some of the game’s best and holding their own for a while now.

After playing Friday night at Golden State, the Kings made the late night flight to Utah to play on the second night of a back-to-back. With the quick turnaround, Dave Joerger turned to a starting lineup void of veterans. Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos each saw time off the bench, but the first team was comprised of three rookies, a second-year player and third-year big Willie Cauley-Stein.

The future was on full display and the group had every opportunity to come away with their third straight victory. In the end, it wasn’t enough. 

The Jazz made free throws and got stops in the final 60 seconds to pull out a 103-97 win over the Kings. It was another learning experience for Sacramento in a season filled with learning experiences.

As the season winds down, the goal is to find silver linings in each contest. Despite playing their fifth game in seven nights, the Kings fought through the exhaustion against a team that has won nine straight and 21 of their previous 23 games. 

De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic are the backcourt of the present and the future in Sacramento. They’ve stolen the headlines with clutch shots over the last few games, but there is another young King putting in some of his best work.

Buddy Hield has come alive for Sacramento. The second-year shooting guard out of Oklahoma is playing the best basketball of his career down the stretch for the Kings and it goes well beyond his ability to knock down a jumper.

For the third straight game, Hield posted 20 points or more. He finished the night with a team-high 23 on 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from behind the arc. That is what Buddy Buckets is paid to do - score baskets. But over the last few contests, Hield is finding ways to make his teammates better. 

In 34 of his 68 games coming into Saturday evening’s contest, Hield had dished out one assist or less, including 17 games without handing out a single dime. That’s not going to work in today’s NBA. 

His assist percentage of 11.6 is seventh lowest on the team, behind players like Cauley-Stein and veteran big man Zach Randolph and it’s the lowest amongst the Kings’ guards by far. 

While it’s a small sample size, Hield appears to be making strides in this area. He has been noticeably more generous with the ball, handing out 16 assists in his last three games. He’s led the Kings in assists in the last two games and the second unit is feeding off his team play. 

Sharing is caring in the NBA. With Hield acting as a distributor, his teammates are reciprocating. He’s getting open looks from the perimeter and over his last three games, he’s knocked down 12-of-25 from behind the arc. 

Led by Hield, the Kings’ bench has outscored the team’s last three opponents second unit by an incredible 163-54. The performance of the bench mob has helped Sacramento pick up wins over playoff teams in the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors and they kept the Kings in the game against Utah all the way down the stretch. 

The Kings’ young core is developing. They are showing massive signs of improvement at almost every position. The team is playing hard and they’re developing an identity. They are even picking up a few wins along the way.