Dave Joerger

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.

De'Aaron Fox lives up to billing, looks ready for primetime after solid debut

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USATSI

De'Aaron Fox lives up to billing, looks ready for primetime after solid debut

SACRAMENTO -- Watching tape of De’Aaron Fox looks like a video stuck on fast forward. The comparisons to John Wall don’t do him justice. Teams deliberately sag off the rookie and dare him to shoot and he still manages to race by them in a blur.

If his opening night performance against the Houston Rockets was any indication, the Kings have landed a special player. From barking orders on the court to his teammates to going at NBA veteran defenders, Fox looked ready for primetime just 24 minutes into his professional career.

“I got to get my first NBA game out the way, I think it went well,” Fox told a huge crowd surrounding his locker. “We played hard. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, we wanted to get the W, but there’s a lot of things we learned out of today.”

Dressed in a burgundy suit and shoes that would have made Omri Casspi blush, the rookie hung around for way too long after the game, giving every camera and microphone a good talking to. He’ll learn quickly that the media is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

His numbers look modest - 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting and five assists. But he was facing a title contender in the Houston Rockets and the moment wasn’t too big for the 19-year-old point guard. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni even showed the rookie respect when he shifted one of his better defenders in Trevor Ariza over to cover the speedster.

“This is game 1, we’re not expecting him to be a Hall of Famer right now,” George Hill said. “It takes steps to do it and baby crawls. But I think he took a huge step today in proving what he can do. He looked good out there.”

Hill started in front of Fox, but the two guards played alongside each other for plenty of minutes. That is the plan this season, although there are plenty of other players vying for minutes in the backcourt.

Everyone in the building seemed impressed by the youngster. He has an ability to drop the pedal down on an opponent and then downshift on the fly to stay under control.

“He’s pretty fast, you know,” Dave Joerger said of his star rookie. “He has a terrific charisma about him and I think he’ll be fun to play with.”

His teammates appeared to have no problems keeping up. They ran the floor and pushed the tempo when Fox was in the game and the team seems to feed off his energy.

“They play hard, man,” Vince Carter said of Fox and team’s other young players players. “They just go for it and that’s all you can ask. It’s just great and it’s going to get better. You can show them all the film you want, but they’re not going to learn until they get thrown into the fire. That’s the best lesson.”

Game 1 is in the books and Fox is already earning a longer look. The team embarks on their first road trip of the season beginning Friday night against the Mavericks. Waiting for them in Dallas is another young point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., setting up the first of many battles between the star-studded draft class of 2017.

Five takeaways as Kings' comeback effort falls short in loss to Lakers

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Five takeaways as Kings' comeback effort falls short in loss to Lakers

BOX SCORE

The build up to De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball fell flat Sunday when the Lakers rookie sat out game three of the Kings’ preseason schedule with an ankle issue. Despite the rookie’s absence, the game tipped off as scheduled. Los Angeles jumped all over Sacramento early, as the Kings missed one shot after another. The Kings found a way to slow the Lakers attack, but couldn’t get over the hump down the stretch, falling 75-69 to drop to 1-2 on the preseason.

1- Dave Joerger shook up his starting lineup, inserting Bogdan Bogdanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein to go with veterans George Hill, Garrett Temple and Zach Randolph. The group looked like they had never met, going over four minutes before hitting their first bucket. The spacing was bad, the movement was bad and most of their shots came as the 24 second shot clock was sounding. It’s going to be a process as the Kings try to mix and match rotations. 

2- Zach Randolph is the Kings offense. Okay, maybe not, but he thinks he is. The 36-year-old is fending off father time, one half-hook at a time. He can also shoot the 3-ball, kill you from the mid-range and rebound. You’ll take 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting and six rebounds from a player entering his 17th NBA season. 

3- Have we seen the 10-man rotation? Joerger turned to a tight group in the third game of preseason. Hill and Fox shared the minutes at the point. Bogdanovic and Hield saw the majority of the time at the two. Garrett Temple started at the three and Vince Carter came off the bench. Z-Bo and Skal Labissiere ate up the minutes and the four and Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos played the five. No Justin Jackson, Malachi Richardson or Frank Mason III. 

4- Vince Carter still has it. Vincanity isn’t the athlete he used to be, but he knows how to play the game and he knows when his team needs a hoop. The veteran wing dropped nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range in 20 minutes of action. It doesn’t sound like much, but his presence might result in four or five additional wins on the season. 

5- De’Aaron Fox is going to be fun. The rookie played just nine minutes before being shut down with a bruised back, but he still managed to make the highlight reel. Fox used his crazy speed late in the second quarter to slice right through the Lakers defense and finish over two players, including one trying to block the shot through the rim.