Kings

Out of playoff picture, Joerger loosening reigns on young Kings

Out of playoff picture, Joerger loosening reigns on young Kings

SACRAMENTO -- A little over two weeks ago, the Sacramento Kings beat the Denver Nuggets to draw within a half game of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. After Saturday’s 105-92 loss to those same Nuggets, Sacramento has dropped eight straight and their playoff dreams have been put to bed.

“It was one of those games,” coach Dave Joerger said. “We looked heavy legged, made some mental mistakes and some physical mistakes but Denver is playing very, very well.  They cut well, they pass well, they’ve got some good, young ball players.”

These two teams could have been fighting all the way down the stretch, but the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans hit a hard reset button in Sacramento. The focus now is on the transition to younger players.

Joerger has been slow to turn to his young core, relying heavily on veterans for most of the season. But over the last two weeks, he has loosened the reigns on Willie Cauley-Stein and rookies Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere.

“These guys are playing good,” Joerger said of the three. “I played Buddy Hield 30 minutes. I played Willie Cauley-Stein 35 and a half. I played Skal 20. I could play them 48, but I don’t think that’s what’s best for them.”

Hield picked up his second straight start for the Kings and played well. Like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, he is a work in progress and will require patience. He finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

“He really shoots it,” Joerger added. “If he gets a window and gets a clean look, he can really shoot it. I think that’s fantastic.”

Cauley-Stein aggressively attacked the Nuggets front line, which is a positive step. He finished the night just 3-of-11 from the field, but he shot 7-of-8 from the line. His 13-point, five-rebound, five-assist game doesn’t jump off the page, but the fact that he is becoming a consistent threat on the offensive end is a major step forward.

After playing sparingly throughout the first two-thirds of the season, Labissiere is turning heads with his recent play. The 20-year-old big man scored a modest seven points in 19 minutes of action, but that’s because he went an uncharacteristic 1-of-5 from the free throw line.

Labissiere came into the league with a reputation as a player who doesn’t like contact. Since getting minutes he’s shown flashes of brilliance, be it as a rebounder or with his highlight reel dunks in traffic. He needs to get stronger, but the 6-foot-11 big has quickly moved well beyond his reputation and is showing star potential.  

“When I go out the on the court, I try to leave it all out there,” Labissiere said. “I love the game so much and I don’t try to cheat it at all. I’m blessed to even be here playing this game.”  

The Kings remain competitive, despite the youth movement and the extended losing streak. They are in almost every game, but the season is now about development and not a chase for the postseason.

“The young guys are playing hard, the vets are trying to teach the younger guys some things,” Kosta Koufos said. “Everybody is playing their role.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for the veterans, but the Kings locker room is filled with quality character guys. The season began with so much promise and now the change in focus is to prepare for next year. While the veterans may see a reduction in minutes, their value on the team is just as high as it’s even been.

“We’ve got a young team now, but we’ve got some guys that have been in this situation,” Garrett Temple said. “For those guys who have been in this situation, we’ve got to continue to explain to [the younger players] why we have to stay positive and keep chipping away.”

The Kings finish their three-game homestand Monday when the 24-43 Orlando Magic roll through Golden 1 Center.

 

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