Kings

Five takeaways from Kings' 97-83 preseason loss to Blazers

Five takeaways from Kings' 97-83 preseason loss to Blazers

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SACRAMENTO -- The games keep coming for the Sacramento Kings. After playing Sunday night in Las Vegas, the Kings returned to Golden 1 Center Monday to face the high-powered Portland Trail Blazers. With half the team taking the night off, the Kings couldn’t keep up, falling to 1-3 for the preseason with the 97-83 loss.

1- Welcome to the show Justin Jackson. Taken with the 15th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, the rookie out of North Carolina struggled in his first two appearances for Sacramento. He found a rhythm against the Blazers, scoring 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field, including his first three 3-point makes of the preseason.

2- Frank Mason is NBA ready. The rookie point guard picked up the start in place of George Hill and the injured De’Aaron Fox. He instantly went to work against Damian Lillard, showing the same tenacity that NCAA fans became accustomed to while he starred at Kansas. The end result was a 13-point, five-rebound, three-assist performance for the 23-year-old guard.

3- Feed Labissiere. The Kings are looking for big things from their second-year power forward. Starting for the resting Zach Randolph, Labissiere went at the Blazers for 13 points and seven rebounds, using a variety of post moves and perimeter jumpers. He matched up against stretch fours for much of the night and held his own defensively.

4- The sophomore struggle is real. Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis are having a tough time finding playing time and an even tougher time making an impact. Richardson picked up three fouls in three minutes of first half action. Papagiannis picked up three fouls early as well and chipped in three turnovers before the break. Papagiannis rebounded a bit to finish with eight points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Richardson’s five points all came in the second half.

5- End of bench steps up. With seven players sitting out, Jakaar Sampson, Jack Cooley, Matt Jones and Marcus Williams all contributed. Sampson and Cooley are playing on two-way deals and expected to bounce back-and-forth between Reno and Sacramento all season. Jones and Williams are options for the Bighorns as well. Every team needs a shooter and a veteran point guard.

Things could get interesting for Kings if this version of George Hill sticks around

Things could get interesting for Kings if this version of George Hill sticks around

SACRAMENTO -- There was a George Hill sighting Tuesday evening at Golden 1 Center. The veteran point guard has struggled both on and off the court early in the 2017-18 season. But against the Phoenix Suns, he looked like the player folks have become accustomed to seeing over his 10-year NBA career.

“He was very assertive offensively, got a couple of shots to go down,” head coach Dave Joerger said following the 99-92 victory. “We need him to be a playmaker.”

Hill started early, scoring eight of his team-high 18 points in the first quarter. He knocked down two 3-pointers in the period and picked up three early steals as the Suns played hot potato with the ball.

“It was really nice to see him make some shots and not only that, he made some plays (and) rebounded pretty good,” rookie Frank Mason III said. “I think it’s really good to see him get going and I still think he can play better.”

Sacramento spent big money on Hill over the summer, locking him up on a three-year, $57 million deal. The hope was that he could solidify the point guard position while helping to develop Mason and fellow rookie De’Aaron Fox.

“I’m just trying to help the young fellas learn and mentor them and try to figure it out as we go,” Hill said.

Down from his career-best 16.9 points per game last season in Utah, Hill came into the game against Phoenix averaging just 9.0 points and 2.4 assists in 25.5 minutes per game. He’s shooting the ball well, but he’s not getting the volume of shots he’s become accustomed to during his decade of service in the league.

Adding to his on-court struggles, Hill has missed two games due to two separate personal family issues off the court, including Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors.

With Hill back in the mix, the Kings found a rhythm late against a talented, but young Suns roster. They erased a five-point deficit in the fourth with a 13-0 run to come away with the win and improve to 5-5 over their last 10 games.

“He’s a big part of this,” Zach Randolph said of Hill’s breakout game. “Without him on top, this game is going to be hard for us. We need G to play like that every game.”

With the game still in the balance, Joerger turned back to his veteran leader at the 5:07 mark of the fourth with the Kings still trailing 85-82. He responded with a basket 30 seconds later to give Sacramento a lead and he helped push the team’s advantage to double-digits at the 25.9 mark of the fourth while seeing time at the power forward position.

It was just the second time this season that Hill has reached 18 points in a Kings uniform, with his season-high of 21 coming in game no. 2 of the campaign. He shot 6-for-9 from the field and knocked down 2-of-3 from behind the arc. He added seven rebounds and three steals to help the Kings improve to 9-18 on the season.

Hill isn’t the only Kings player struggling to find his niche through 27 games, but the Kings are a different team when he is on. Randolph is anchoring the post. Buddy Hield is proving the scoring punch off the bench. If Hill can give the team a reliable backcourt presence, things might get a whole lot more interesting in Sacramento.

Gameday: Kings favored against worst-in-defense Suns

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USATSI

Gameday: Kings favored against worst-in-defense Suns

SACRAMENTO -- With another road trip starting on Thursday in Minnesota, the Sacramento Kings hit their home floor looking for a win Tuesday evening against the Phoenix Suns. They’ll face a young team missing their best player and riding a three game losing streak.

The Kings have been hit and miss throughout the season, but an outline for success is beginning to form. The starting unit is still struggling on most nights, but the reserves are playing out of their mind. Zach Randolph has turned back the clock, and young players like Buddy Hield, Frank Mason III and Bogdan Bogdanovic are carving out niches for Sacramento.

Phoenix can score with the best of them, but they have the NBA’s worst defense, allowing an incredible 115 points per game. They’re without sharpshooter Devin Booker for the next few weeks, but they have plenty of firepower to work with.

LINE

Kings by 4.5

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 8-18

Suns: 9-19

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Skal Labissiere vs. Marquese Chriss... part II -- Labissiere is fresh off a trip to the G-League to jump start his season. He hasn’t had the breakout campaign that many expected, but he showed signs of coming around against the Raptors. Chriss has struggled all season, both as a starter and off the bench. The Sacramento native will have plenty of fans in the stands as he tries to convert potential to production at Golden 1 Center.

INJURY REPORT

Kings: C/PF Willie Cauley-Stein (lower back strain) game-time decision, but he participated in shoot around and is expects to suit up, PF Harry Giles (bi-lateral knee rehab) is out until January at the earliest.

Suns: SG Devin Booker (adductor strain) out, SF Jared Dudley (toe) questionable, PG Brandon Knight (ACL tear) out for the season, G Davon Reed (knee) out, PF Alan Williams (knee) out.

SERIES HISTORY

Sacramento dominated the season-series 3-1 last season, but the Suns snuck out a 117-115 win over the Kings early in the 2017-18 campaign. Phoenix leads the all-time series 132-90 and they hold an 85-51 advantage during the Sacramento-era.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Willie Play? -- Willie Cauley-Stein has made a huge impact off the Kings bench. The third-year big is posting 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 28.5 minutes over seven games with the second unit. He’s missed three straight with a lower back strain, but he was confident following Monday’s practice that he would return to action against the Suns.  

Aggressive Fox -- The Kings have been patient with the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old point guard turned the ball over seven times and looked lost against veteran Kyle Lowry on Sunday. He attacked late in the game, showing a side that the Kings’ coaching staff has been begging to see. Tyler Ulis and Mike James are both young and inexperienced, which might give Fox an opportunity to shine.   

Feed the Beast -- Zach Randolph is on a roll. The 36-year-old big man continues to anchor the Kings offense. He’ll get a test against veterans Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe, but he’s handled himself well against bigger names. The Kings need him to continue his strong play if they hope to start leapfrogging teams in the standings.

QUOTE

“I pretty much released myself today. I wasn’t trying to baby it. I just wanted to get out and blow the air out of lungs and try to get back into playing shape.” -Willie Cauley-Stein on returning to practice on Monday.