Kings

Kings' second unit steals show from Fox-Ball, fuels victory over Lakers

Kings' second unit steals show from Fox-Ball, fuels victory over Lakers

SACRAMENTO -- The fans came to watch De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball square off for the first times as professionals Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. They ended up being treated to a breakout performance by Sacramento’s second team.

“It’s not all about Fox and Ball, it’s about Kings and Lakers,” Frank Mason said after another solid performance. “I’m just happy we got the win as a team.”

Coming into Wednesday night, the Sacramento Kings ranked first in the league in bench scoring at 48.1 points per game. The Los Angeles Lakers weren’t far behind, posting 40.6 a contest, good enough for fourth in the NBA.

Sacramento received solid contributions from almost every player that stepped on the floor, including 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from starter Zach Randolph. But the group that came off the bench put on a show, outscoring Los Angeles 67-38.

In his fourth game in a reserve role, Willie Cauley-Stein scored a game-high 26 points in 28 minutes, including 13 in the fourth quarter as the Kings pulled away. He drew a crowd around his locker during post game, but he was the direct beneficiary of some stellar play by others.

Mason and fellow rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic broke down the Lakers defense countless times and found Cauley-Stein for the poster dunk. According to the official scoresheet, nine of Cauley-Stein’s 10 made baskets were assisted, including five alley-oops from Bogdanovic.

“We talked about it yesterday when we were icing,” Cauley-Stein said of his Serbian guard. “We were both sitting in the cold tub and exactly what happened is what we were talking about.”

Cauley-Stein is gifted athletically and he’s extremely long. He was a star receiver in high school and he knows how to go up and get a ball.

“I think he realizes, (he’s) just got to get it up there and I’m going to go get it,” Cauley-Stein said of Bogdanovic.

Bogdanovic hit his first two 3-point attempts and it seemed to open the floor up for Sacramento. With defenders going over screens to defend the long ball, Bogdanovic used his dribble to get free.

When the Laker’s bigs stepped in to stop his dribble, Bogdanovic tossed the ball near the rim and Cauley-Stein finished with authority.

“It’s easy to play with Willie, because he can catch,” Bogdanovic said. “I didn’t pass perfectly those alley-oops, but he likes to be a little higher than usual.”

Both Bogdanovic and Mason set new career-highs in assists, finishing with seven dimes apiece off Dave Joerger’s bench. Bogdanovic dropped in 14 points and picked up two steals. Mason added 11 points and five rebounds.

The smallest player to step on the floor, Mason brings a physicality the Kings have lacked early in the season. Since earning rotational minutes four games ago, the 23-year-old is posting 9.8 points and 4.3 assists in 22 minutes a game.

“That’s who I am, that’s who I’ve always been,” Mason said when asked about his toughness. “I take a lot of pride in someone scoring on me and I play every possession like it’s game point.”

With the win, the Kings improved to 4-4 on their home floor and 5-13 overall this season. They’ll take Thanksgiving off, but return to practice Friday in preparation for the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday evening. They’ll need another big evening from the bench unit if they hope to build momentum going forward.

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.