Kings

Gameday: Battle of rookie point guards as Kings face Knicks

fox-ap.jpg
AP

Gameday: Battle of rookie point guards as Kings face Knicks

De’Aaron Fox hit a big-time game winner in the Kings’ 109-108 victory over the 76ers on Thursday night, but he wasn’t the only rookie to make an impact. Justin Jackson set a new career-high in points for the second straight game, finishing the evening with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting. The young Kings are getting opportunities and showing early season development.

New York is coming off a loss in Orlando, but they’ve won six of their last eight games overall for head coach jeff Hornacek. Third-year big Kristaps Porzingis is having a breakout start to the season, posting 30 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. But he’s nursing an ankle and elbow injury that kept him out of the Knicks previous game against Orlando.

OPENING LINE 

Knicks by 5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

De’Aaron Fox vs. Frank Ntilikina -- Drafted just three spots apart in the 2017 NBA Draft, the rookie point guards will both likely come off the bench for their respective clubs. Fox is earning starters minutes with his early play and coach Dave Joerger comfort level appears to be increasing with the 19-year-old. Ntilikina has struggled with his shot, but he’s playing nearly 20 minutes a game for Hornacek in a reserve role. 

WHERE THEY STAND 

Kings: 3-8, fifth place in Pacific

Knicks: 6-5, third place in Atlantic

INJURY REPORT 

Kings: F Vince Carter (kidney stones) availability unknown at this time, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January at the earliest.

Knicks: PF/C Kristaps Porzingis (ankle/elbow) probable, SG Ron Baker (ankle) out, Joakim Noah (suspension) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

KEEP IT ROLLING -- After a rough start to the season, the Kings have found success in the previous two games. New York is a off to a nice start, but they are young and still trying to find their way in the league. If Sacramento can play as a team, they have an opportunity to make some strides in the win/loss column during the road trip.

ACTION JACKSON -- Like Fox, Justin Jackson is earning a bigger role with his solid early season play. The former North Carolina Tar Heel will be called upon to guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and Doug McDermott on Saturday. Both are off to nice offensive starts on the season. 

THE UNICORN -- Porzingis is quickly becoming a star in the league. The 7-foot-3 Latvian sensation can hit the 3-ball, take you off the dribble and score in the post. Willie Cauley-Stein played well defensively against Joel Embiid in the win over Philly. Sacramento will need Cauley-Stein to step up again if they have any chance of slowing Porzingis.

SERIES HISTORY 

New York swept the season series last year against Sacramento, including a 103-100 victory at Golden 1 Center on December 9. The Kings hold a 153-142 advantage over the Knicks all-time, but New York leads 33-29 during the Sacramento-era.

Gameday: Kings go for home-and-home sweep of Blazers sans sharpshooter

buddy-hield-kings-injury-ap.jpg
AP

Gameday: Kings go for home-and-home sweep of Blazers sans sharpshooter

Rinse and repeat. After shocking the Portland Trail Blazers Friday evening at Golden 1 Center, the Sacramento Kings hopped on a plane where they’ll face the same team on the second night of a home-and-home back-to-back.

Dave Joerger shook up his lineup on Friday, installing De’Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Kings responded with their best defensive effort of the season. Cauley-Stein went off for 22 points and 10 rebounds with the second unit and his defensive effort was next level.

The Blazers have become a two-man wrecking crew. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum score the bulk of the team’s points on a nightly basis, but coach Terry Stotts is still searching someone who is ready to step up and help. Jusuf Nurkic is part of the puzzle, but the Blazers need more consistency from the other 12 players on the roster.

BETTING LINE:
Blazers by 12

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
De’Aaron Fox vs. Damian Lillard -- Fox put on a defensive show against Portland at Golden 1 Center. The rookie came into the league with high-end potential as a two-way player and he showed it against Lillard, holding the All-Star point guard to 29 points, but on 9-of-25 shooting. Lillard loves to hoist up shots. If Fox can't provide the same pressure, the Kings will struggle to keep up with the Blazers.

WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 4-11, fifth place in Pacific

Trail Blazers: 8-7, third place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT:
Kings: SG Buddy Hield (sprained ankle) out, F Vince Carter (kidney stones) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January.

Trail Blazers: F Al Farouq Aminu (ankle) out, G C.J. Wilcox (knee) out, PG Wade Baldwin (thumb) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
CONSISTENCY -- You can’t show flashes of brilliance and then take a step back. The Kings defensive effort and overall intensity won the game on Friday night. It’s a place to build from.

FINDING A ROLE -- Joerger shook up everything when he turned to Fox and Labissiere. Offensively, both players struggled, as did Bogdanovic off the bench. This group of young players needs to find a role and figure out a way to help the team, even when the shots aren’t falling.

GET DEFENSIVE -- Portland didn’t know what hit them Friday evening, but they’ll have a few hours to make adjustments. Sacramento’s bigs showed on every high screen and roll. The guard and wing play was aggressive and spot on. The Kings are young and energetic. If they can focus that energy on the defensive end night in and night out, they might have a chance to build something.

SERIES HISTORY:
Sacramento leads the season series 1-0 after Friday night’s win. The Blazers lead the all-time series 129-78 and they own the Kings during the Sacramento-era 88-47.

QUOTE:
"Whether you think the sky is falling or not, we are 3-3 in our last 6 games." - Dave Joerger

Joerger shakes things up, Cauley-Stein responds with big game

kingsfollow2.jpg
USATSI

Joerger shakes things up, Cauley-Stein responds with big game

SACRAMENTO -- Faced with demotion, you have two options, sulk or come out swinging. Willie Cauley-Stein chose option two Friday evening at Golden 1 Center.

After starting all 14 games to begin the season, Cauley-Stein found himself relegated to the second unit against the Portland Trail Blazers. The 7-footer looked energized by the move and made one play after another as the Kings came away with the 86-82 victory.

“I felt free - period,” Cauley-Stein said following the win. “Both offensively, defensively. I’m quarterbacking on defense. I’m getting to make plays on offense. I just feel liberated. I feel like it’s unlocking.”

The third-year big began the 2017-18 campaign with back-to-back double-doubles, but hadn’t notched double-figures in rebounds since. Over his previous eight games, the Kings’ starting center was averaging just 4.3 boards per game.

Against Portland, Cauley-Stein played sparkling defense, hit 9-of-17 from the floor for a team-high 22 points and hit the glass for 10 boards. He skied above the Blazers bigs for a rebound with 3.4 seconds remaining and his second free throw attempt sealed the win for a Kings team in desperate need of a win.

“Willie’s a hell of a player, obviously,” veteran big Kosta Koufos said. “He’s really athletic, he’s a special talent.”

Koufos and Cauley-Stein made a devastating defensive duo for Sacramento. Both bigs showed on the high pick-and-roll and avoided fouling the Blazers high-powered guards.

“That’s a crazy defensive lineup right there, me and Kosta play really well together,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve been waiting for that lineup since we started.”

Damian Lillard scored 29 points, but he shot just 9-of-25 from the field and 5-for-14 from long range. C.J. McCollum knocked down 8-of-15 from the floor, but he missed all four of his 3-point attempts as Sacramento closed out and pressured the shooter all night long.

Cauley-Stein wasn’t the only starter to find himself on the bench to start the game. Dave Joerger turned to a dual point guard backcourt, using De’Aaron Fox and George Hill side-by-side, while bringing rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic in with the second unit.

Playing off the ball for long stretches, Hill responded to the move with 14 points and five assists in 27 minutes. Fox had a quiet offensive night, but his defense on both Lillard and McCollum was inspired.

“We can both attack and he’s a great shooter so that really helps me,” Fox said of Hill. “He’s a mentor on the court. It’s a lot easier to play with him then to watch him play.”

Sacramento held Portland to just 37 percent shooting overall and 28 percent from behind the arc. They pressured the Blazers in the backcourt and slowed the game to screeching halt.

With the win, the Kings snapped their three-game losing streak and improved to 4-11 on the season. They jumped a plane for Portland following the game where they’ll face the same Trail Blazer team Saturday in a rare back-to-back against the same team.

The Kings likely be without the services of shooting guard Buddy Hield, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained right ankle. Hield limped into the locker room on crutches following the victory and the initial indications point to him missing the rematch.