Buddy Hield

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.

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.

Five takeaways from the Kings' 20-point preseason loss to the Spurs

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Five takeaways from the Kings' 20-point preseason loss to the Spurs

BOX SCORE

After dispatching the San Antonio Spurs in the preseason opener on Monday night at Golden 1 Center, the Sacramento Kings traveled to Texas for a rematch on Friday. With half the team sitting out to rest, the Kings came up short, falling 113-93 for their first lost of the preseason.

1- De’Aaron Fox went to work. With George Hill sitting (along with the rest of the veterans), Fox picked up his first start and didn’t disappoint. The rookie scored 12 points and dished out six assists in 24 minutes of action. He’s an elite talent, but for him to take the next step as a point guard, he has to learn how to run a team. You’ll take a 6-to-2 assists-to-turnover ratio in a player’s second game as a pro. 

2- Buddy Hield joins the competition. After watching Temple start on Monday in Sacramento, Hield took full advantage of his opportunity on Friday. The second-year guard went off for 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting and hit a perfect 5-of-5 from the line. He was aggressive going to the rack, but he needs to find a way to involve others outside of the occasional ally-oop. 

3- Bogdan Bogdanovic knows how to play. With ball and player movement slowing to a crawl, the 25-year-old Serb came into the game and instantly started setting up his teammates. He started with a hook pass to Frank Mason for an open jumper and then sent a low post entry pass to a well established Papagiannis for a baby hook. Bogdanovic has an advanced feel and could easily steal minutes as a primary ball handler and distributor. He finished the night with four points, three assists and two rebounds in 16 minutes. Expect the Kings to take it easy on Bogdanovic in the preseason after a long summer of basketball in Europe. 

4- Willie Cauley-Stein wants to score. After finishing last season as the starter at the center position, Cauley-Stein is brimming with confidence. Against the Spurs, he pulled up for jumpers, ran the floor like a gazelle and even finished around the rim. The Kings would love to see the third year pro post 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting and chip in nine rebounds on a nightly basis.

5- A Georgios Papagiannis sighting. The Kings spent the 13th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft on the 7-footer out of Greece. He’s had a few moments here and there, but overall has struggled with the speed of the game. Against the Spurs, he looked confident, finishing the night with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes. It’s only preseason, but it's nice to see improvement from young players.