Rewind: Role players step up, lift Kings to win in Denver

Rewind: Role players step up, lift Kings to win in Denver

When you’re in the hunt, every game matters. Tuesday’s 120-113 win over the Denver Nuggets gave the Sacramento Kings a tiny bit of breathing room in the eighth spot in the Western Conference before they return home for a seven-game homestand.

It’s not often that you’ve heard Kings player talk in January about playoff chances over the last decade. But Sacramento holds a game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and with the win, a game and a half lead over Denver and they get an opportunity to strengthen their position Wednesday against a depleted Miami Heat team.

“I think we just came out with a sense of urgency,” DeMarcus Cousins told reporters following the game. “We knew how important this game was. This is a team we are battling with for the eighth spot. Of course this is an important win because it can matter at the end of the year.”

Cousins put up big numbers, as he has in almost every game this season. But the story of this win was season-high performances from Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Kosta Koufos.

Afflalo missed the previous three games with a strained right elbow, but showed no ill effects against his former team. The veteran shooting guard went off for 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, using a variety of post moves and even hitting two 3-pointers in the win.

“It’s always fun to play in a familiar building, but we’re in a tight race this year and I just wanted to come back and be ready to play,” Afflalo told CSN’s Kayte Christensen after the game.

Collison had a nice game over the weekend against the Grizzlies, but one night doesn’t end a slump. He built off the Memphis performance with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He got his offense going early and then focused on getting his teammates involved in the third quarter.

“Before these last couple of games, I know I took a step back mentally, kind of deferring to the offense,” Collison said in postgame. “But they told me, ‘it starts with me, you’ve got to be aggressive,’ like I had been earlier in the season, so I’m getting back to that.”

With reserve point guard Ty Lawson out due to injury, Collison finished the night with a team-high seven assists and only turned the ball over twice in 36 minutes of action.  

“They were huge,” Cousins said. “Arron, to come in and play like that off of injury was huge for us. DC finally got rolling. He’s been struggling a little bit of late, but he came in, played with confidence and had a big game for us.”  

Not to be forgotten, Koufos started 81 games for the 57-win 2012-13 Denver team and looked completely comfortable in his old stomping grounds. The 7-footer hit a young, but talented Nuggets frontline with a season-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and chipped in five rebounds.

It was a team effort. Garrett Temple scored all eight of his points in the fourth and finished the night with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. When the Kings needed a basket to stem the tide, Anthony Tolliver found the bottom of the net and Ben McLemore dropped in two 3-balls in the third quarter when the temperature of the game turned up.

“I’ll be the first one to say that we’re not a perfect team,” Cousins said. “We’re not a team that’s going to come out and blow out teams on a nightly basis, but we have to come and approach games the right way on a nightly basis. We got to grind it out, we’ve got to play together, we’ve got to defend at a high level all four quarters or games are going to be tough to win.”

A Denver-Sacramento road-and-home back-to-back is never easy, but the Kings get a Miami Heat team Wednesday night that is also playing a back-to-back after falling in Phoenix on Tuesday. If the Kings want to talk playoffs, they need to show up for games against lesser opponents, regardless of the circumstance.

Buddy Hield is evolving, playing the best basketball of his career

Buddy Hield is evolving, playing the best basketball of his career

Take your tank emojis and throw them out the window. The Sacramento Kings are young, inexperienced and every once in a while, they throw up a complete dud. They are also scrappy and talented and improving with every game.

Saturday evening in Utah, they gave one of the hottest teams in the NBA 48 minutes of fight. In fact, they’ve been going to toe-to-toe with some of the game’s best and holding their own for a while now.

After playing Friday night at Golden State, the Kings made the late night flight to Utah to play on the second night of a back-to-back. With the quick turnaround, Dave Joerger turned to a starting lineup void of veterans. Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos each saw time off the bench, but the first team was comprised of three rookies, a second-year player and third-year big Willie Cauley-Stein.

The future was on full display and the group had every opportunity to come away with their third straight victory. In the end, it wasn’t enough. 

The Jazz made free throws and got stops in the final 60 seconds to pull out a 103-97 win over the Kings. It was another learning experience for Sacramento in a season filled with learning experiences.

As the season winds down, the goal is to find silver linings in each contest. Despite playing their fifth game in seven nights, the Kings fought through the exhaustion against a team that has won nine straight and 21 of their previous 23 games. 

De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic are the backcourt of the present and the future in Sacramento. They’ve stolen the headlines with clutch shots over the last few games, but there is another young King putting in some of his best work.

Buddy Hield has come alive for Sacramento. The second-year shooting guard out of Oklahoma is playing the best basketball of his career down the stretch for the Kings and it goes well beyond his ability to knock down a jumper.

For the third straight game, Hield posted 20 points or more. He finished the night with a team-high 23 on 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from behind the arc. That is what Buddy Buckets is paid to do - score baskets. But over the last few contests, Hield is finding ways to make his teammates better. 

In 34 of his 68 games coming into Saturday evening’s contest, Hield had dished out one assist or less, including 17 games without handing out a single dime. That’s not going to work in today’s NBA. 

His assist percentage of 11.6 is seventh lowest on the team, behind players like Cauley-Stein and veteran big man Zach Randolph and it’s the lowest amongst the Kings’ guards by far. 

While it’s a small sample size, Hield appears to be making strides in this area. He has been noticeably more generous with the ball, handing out 16 assists in his last three games. He’s led the Kings in assists in the last two games and the second unit is feeding off his team play. 

Sharing is caring in the NBA. With Hield acting as a distributor, his teammates are reciprocating. He’s getting open looks from the perimeter and over his last three games, he’s knocked down 12-of-25 from behind the arc. 

Led by Hield, the Kings’ bench has outscored the team’s last three opponents second unit by an incredible 163-54. The performance of the bench mob has helped Sacramento pick up wins over playoff teams in the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors and they kept the Kings in the game against Utah all the way down the stretch. 

The Kings’ young core is developing. They are showing massive signs of improvement at almost every position. The team is playing hard and they’re developing an identity. They are even picking up a few wins along the way. 

After upsetting Warriors, Kings battle schedule with fifth game in seven days


After upsetting Warriors, Kings battle schedule with fifth game in seven days

No break. After a surprising win Friday night on the road over the Warriors, the Kings hopped a flight to Utah where they’ll face the Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday evening. 

Buddy Hield came out firing off the Kings bench against Golden State, scoring 22 points on 5-of-10 shooting from long range. The shooting guard added seven rebounds and seven assists in one of his more complete games of the season.

Utah is in a fight for playoff position. They are currently tied with the Spurs for the seventh spot in the Western Conference chase, just a half game behind the Pelicans for the six seed. The Jazz have won eight straight and 20 of their last 22 games. 


Jazz by 15.5


Kings vs. The Pick-and-Roll -- Utah is one of the better pick-and-roll teams in the league. Rookie Donovan Mitchell is explosive and patient at the guard position and Rudy Gobert is a monster rolling to the rack. The Jazz have shooters all around the perimeter waiting for the kick out. This is a very good team playing at an elite level right now.


Kings: 23-47, fourth place in Pacific

Jazz: 39-30, fourth place in Northwest


Kings: SG/SF Iman Shumpert (plantar fasciitis) out, F Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out for the season.

Jazz: PG Ricky Rubio (knee) probable, C Tony Bradley (concussion) questionable, PG Raul Neto (wrist) out, SF Thabo Sefolosha (knee) out.


Rookie Watch -- Mitchell has been spectacular this season for Jazz. The Kings will combat the high-flying rookie with a pair of first-year guards of their own in Fox and Bogdanovic. It’s not often that a player comes into the league and makes an impact on a franchise like Mitchell has in his first NBA season.

The Gobstopper -- Gobert is a monster in the post. He plays the pick-and-roll to perfection with Mitchell and he is an absolute force on the defensive end. Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos will have to make his work on both ends of the court if the Kings have a chance of upsetting the Jazz. 

Put up a Fight -- This is the fifth game in seven nights for the Kings. It’s also a brutal back-to-back, with less than 24 hours between games. The key to this game is to escape with the team’s health intact, but it would be nice if they could make a strong showing in a difficult situation.


The Jazz hold a 2-0 advantage in the season series and they’ve won four straight over the Kings. Utah leads the all-time series 104-82 and holds a 81-49 advantage during the Sacramento-era.