Kings

Labissiere goes off, gives Kings promise for future

Labissiere goes off, gives Kings promise for future

Sacramento Kings fans need a little ray of hope, something to pin their dreams to after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins over All-Star weekend. Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, a 6-foot-11 rookie reached into the sky and single handedly pushed the dark clouds to the side. 

Skal Labissiere sold some jerseys in Sacramento’s 107-101 win over the Suns. His 32-point, 11-rebound performance has the NBA buzzing and even the broadcast team got caught up in the moment.

“Can the guys shoot 3s?” long time play-by-play announcer Grant Napear asked on the telecast as Labissiere rose up from behind the arc in the fourth quarter. “YES. HE. CAN. Oh boy! Fasten your seatbelts, the Skal Labissiere era is underway in Sacramento!”

The Kings have taken a cautious approach to bringing along the 20-year-old big out of Haiti, but they are quickly realizing they stumbled upon a gold mine. Labissiere has a million dollar smile, an incredible story of survival, and he might just have the game to tie it all together. 

“I just want to give glory to God, that was him out there,” the humble Labissiere told CSN California’s Kayte Christensen. “I spent a lot of time before the game in prayer and came out here and just played. I just played hard and my teammates did a really good at finding me. Coach put me in a good situation to succeed.”

Coach Dave Joerger used restraint in bringing along all of the Kings’ rookies this season. Labissiere played 17 games with the Reno Bighorns of the D-League early in the year, but since the trade of Cousins, the Kings have shifted into rebuild mode. 

Development coach Larry Lewis and the rest of the coaching staff have worked tirelessly to bring the Kings’ young core along. Labissiere needed to learn how to play through contact and he has stacked on muscle to his lanky frame in order to compete. He’s still a work in progress, but his 21-point fourth quarter shows that he might be something special. 

“It’s Skal’s night,” fellow rookie Buddy Hield said. “Skal’s doing things. I’m happy to see Skal playing with a lot of confidence. He’s got a lot of potential and I just can’t wait to see what other great things God has in store for him.”

Even the veterans were caught off guard by the eruption from one of their rookies. Garrett Temple was so focused on shutting down sharpshooter Devin Booker that he didn’t even notice that Labissiere had posted his first 30-point game of his career until late in the game.

“He’s always been a confident guy, the thing with Skal is he’s so quiet, so humble, you don’t see it until he gets in between those lines,” Temple said. “We thrive on his energy, everybody loves to see him play well.”

With his teammates feeding him on almost every possession down the stretch, the former University of Kentucky big answered the call. He shot an impressive 11-for-15 from the field and knocked down 9-of-11 from the line in a career-high 30 minutes of action.

“He just knows he can play the game,” Temple added. “He puts in the work and he trusts himself, he trusts his work.”

The hype will build from here, which will likely make life more difficult on Labissiere. The Suns aren’t known for their defensive prowess and the Kings rookie spent plenty of time matched up against a fellow 2016 draftee in Marquese Chriss. Chriss, a Sacramento-native who is far from a lockdown defender in his first season in the league, was clearly overmatched. 

It was Labissiere’s night, but plenty of other Kings contributed as Sacramento picked up their second straight victory. Willie Cauley-Stein stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and four blocks. Arron Afflalo added 14 points and Temple helped hold Booker to just 6-of-26 shooting on the night. 

More to the story

It was Labissiere’s party, but there was a another member of the Kings organization that had a big night on Wednesday. General manager Vlade Divac has taken a beating for plenty of his decisions since taking over the Kings’ front office a little under two years ago. 

One of those decisions was to trade the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft for the No. 13, No. 28 and the draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Suns selected Chriss at No. 8 and he’s started 61 games in his rookie season for Phoenix. With the 13th overall selection, Divac chose Georgios Papagiannis, who has played very sparingly in his rookie campaign and is considered a project. 

Divac backed that pick up by taking Labissiere with the No. 28 pick. After watching the two go head-to-head, there is no question that Labissiere is further along in his development and the argument could be made that he also has a much higher ceiling than Chriss. 

The trade will take a few more years to fully evaluate, but the early returns are good for Divac and his staff. 

Kings adamantly disagree with perplexing foul call at end of loss to Rockets

Kings adamantly disagree with perplexing foul call at end of loss to Rockets

SACRAMENTO -- Every time the Houston Rockets tried to pull away, the Sacramento Kings answered Wednesday night in the team’s home opener. It was a heavyweight contender throwing body blows at a 100-to-1 underdog riding a huge home crowd advantage.

And then the ref called the fight.

With the Kings trailing 98-95 with 26 seconds remaining, the Rockets attempted to inbounds the ball and George Hill made a play. From the video replay, it appeared that the ball tipped off the fingertips of Houston's Eric Gordon and the nearest official called Kings ball.

Hill and teammate Garrett Temple celebrated the turnover and the sold out crowd went crazy.

The play went under review and not only was the call overturned, but Hill was assessed a personal foul. Gordon went to the line and hit two freebies to give the Rockets a 100-95 lead and effectively ended Sacramento’s chances.

In the confusion of the moment, it turns out that an official on the opposite side of the court called a personal foul and the replay wasn’t to check on possession, but to determine which Kings player would be assessed a personal foul.  

The Kings can’t call shenanigans on the officials, the league has stiff penalties for that. But they seemed just as confused as everyone else in the building when asked about the call during postgame interviews.

“I could have swore that the refs pointed out of bounds, our ball, but they said they called a foul, so it is, what it is,” Hill said following the game.

Hill avoided digging himself a hole with the league and a potential fine as reporters tried to dig deeper. 

Head coach Dave Joerger gave an account of what the officials said following the call, but he too seemed perplexed by the play.

“That was a foul,” Joerger said of what the officials told him on the sidelines. “I adamantly disagreed. They said they called it at the time, which I didn’t see. So that was more my argument than whether it was a foul or not.”

Sacramento continued to compete in the final seconds, but they were forced to foul intentionally down the stretch and the Rockets were able to hold them at bay to come away with the 105-100 victory.

Gameday: Can Kings slow down Rockets from beyond the arc?

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AP

Gameday: Can Kings slow down Rockets from beyond the arc?

Sacramento rebooted the franchise at the trade deadline last season and begin anew this season with veteran additions Vince Carter, George Hill and Zach Randolph to compliment a bevy of young players. 

Houston reloaded in the offseason, adding nine-time All-Star Chris Paul and a veteran defenders P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. They put on a show against the Warriors and look like one of the best the Western Conference has to offer once again. 

BETTING LINE 

Rockets by 8

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Kings defense vs. The 3-pointer -- Houston launched an incredible 180 3-point attempts versus Sacramento last season, hitting a robust 75 (41.7 percent) of those shots. It’s a new-look roster for the Kings, but they’ve had very little time to develop defensive chemistry. Dave Joerger and his staff will game plan to slow the Rockets perimeter game, but Mike D’Antoni has a deep group that comes at you in waves.

WHERE THEY STAND 

Kings: 0-0

Rockets: 1-0

INJURY REPORT 

Kings: SG Bogdan Bogdanovic (right ankle sprain) out, PF Zach Randolph (tooth) out

Rockets: PG Chris Paul (bruised right knee) questionable

SERIES HISTORY 

The Rockets swept the Kings last season 4-0, including a 135-128 victory in the final week of the season. Houston leads the all-time series 124-88 and they hold an 83-42 advantage during the Sacramento-era. 

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

THE ROOKIES - The Kings walk into the 2017-18 campaign with five rookies on the roster, four of which should see time early in the season. De’Aaron Fox is the headliner, but don’t be shocked if Justin Jackson, Frank Mason and Bogdan Bogdanovic play important roles on this team.

ROTATIONS - With 10 new faces on the roster, Joerger needed more than an abbreviated training camp and six preseason contests. Expect the coaching staff to try different looks throughout the first 20 games of the season as they search for answers.

BALANCING THE ROSTER - Joerger has five veterans and 10 players with two years of experience or less. If he goes with the vets, fans will call for the rookies. If he plays the rookies and the losses stack up, fans will call for his head. It’s an unenviable position that will require patience and a little faith.

QUOTE

“I’m expecting a high-paced game. I feel like our fans are going to come out, they’re going to give us a lot of energy, playing a team as good as Houston is.” -De’Aaron Fox