Kings

With help from an unlikely source, Buddy Hield rescues Kings in win over OKC

With help from an unlikely source, Buddy Hield rescues Kings in win over OKC

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings have struggled to hit shots early in the 2017-18 season. They came into Tuesday night’s game against the Thunder averaging just 93.8 points per game, good enough for 29th in the NBA.

Through the first quarter it looked like the team might set a new NBA record for the least points scored in a game.

And then Buddy Hield showed up.

“I’ve been trying to find a rhythm for the whole season,” Hield said following the Kings win over the Thunder on Tuesday evening. “Thank god I finally got some to fall down. Just trusting what I do, trusting what got me here. It was good to see the ball go in.”

Hield came in off the bench to drop in a pair of buckets in the late first quarter to cut the Thunder’s lead to 25-10. He came out hot in the second quarter, launching and hitting 6-of-7 from the field, including a perfect 3-of-3 from long range.

After shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from deep through nine games, Hield finished the night with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

“Buddy gave everyone confidence by his shots falling,” coach Dave Joerger said. “What I really liked about Buddy in the first half is I think he was 6-for-7 but he got six or seven wide open looks for his teammates by penetrating and finding the open guy and making the right play. That is my ‘atta boy’ for Buddy.”

Hield credited an unlikely source for his improvement. Rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic has been in his ear, helping him pick up some subtle nuances to the game in hopes of opening the floor for his teammates.

“Guys know I love to score, but I’ve been talking to Bogi too,” Hield added. “Bogi’s been helping me a lot through this. We sit next to each other on the plane and he’s like, ‘If you make this pass right here, that makes the ball move.’ I just really took to that.”

It’s one game, but for a young player who’s struggled early in the season, it’s a place to start for Hield. He hit the glass hard again, coming away with seven rebounds in 28 minutes of action. The assists totals aren’t there yet, but the ball moved more freely around the court for Sacramento while the 23-year-old guard was on the floor.

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

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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.

Gameday: Kings try to snap skid on first night of Blazers back-to-back

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AP

Gameday: Kings try to snap skid on first night of Blazers back-to-back

SACRAMENTO -- Coming off one of the worst performances in franchise history, the Kings return to Golden 1 Center to host the Portland Trail Blazers in the first game of a home-and-home on back-to-back nights. They’ll try to get their offense flowing against a quality Portland team with a pair of star guards.

Sacramento’s 46-point loss to the lowly Hawks set a new low point in the season. The Kings lacked effort and intensity against an Atlanta team that came into the game at just 2-11 on the season. They’ll need a better effort against the Blazers or the outcome could get worse.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum anchor a quality Portland team, but big man Jusuf Nurkic is the straw that stirs the Blazers drink. He can pound you inside, find the open man and block shots at will. Willie Cauley-Stein and the Kings frontline will have their hands full with Portland’s versatile and physical center.

BETTING LINE

Blazers by 7

KEY MATCHUP

Garrett Temple vs. C.J. McCollum -- Damian Lillard gets all the publicity, but McCollum is a star in his own right. Sacramento passed on the sharpshooter during the 2013 NBA Draft, choosing Ben McLemore instead. It was a huge mistake as McCollum developed into one of the premier shooters in the league. Barring a major change in the lineup, Temple gets the start at the two. He’ll have his hands full with a player averaging 22.5 points per game on league-best 53.1 percent shooting from long range.  

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 3-11, fifth place in Pacific

Trail Blazers: 8-6, second place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT

Kings: F Vince Carter (kidney stones) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January.

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

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

PRIDE -- After losing three straight on the road by a combined 91 points, the Sacramento Kings have to show some pride on their home court. They aren’t as talented or experienced as the Blazers, but losing by 46 points is completely unacceptable by any standard.

CHANGING THE LINEUP -- The current starting five of Hill, Temple, Bogdanovic, Randolph and Cauley-Stein isn’t working. This group has fallen behind in almost every game they’ve been on the floor together and at some point, Joerger has to make move. Who starts and who sits is always up for debate, but the time for running the same five out there and expecting something different is long gone.

TOO NICE -- During their current losing streak the Kings roster has almost been congenial to their opponents. Nurkic is a player that has no problem sending a high elbow to the nose of his opponent and that’s the way the game should be played. It’s time for the Mr. Nice Guy act to go away and for the Kings players to show they can hang when the game gets physical.

SERIES HISTORY

Portland won the season series 2-1 last year, which each team holding home court. The Blazers lead the all-time series 129-77 and they own the Kings during the Sacramento-era 88-46.

QUOTE

“It’s not just going to happen over night. As long as we all keep working, which we’ve been doing. We’ve had some really good practices, coaching has been really good. It’s going to take time, that’s what it is right now.” -Skal Labissiere on the team’s current struggles