Joerger faces tough decision with Bogdanovic out vs Pistons


Joerger faces tough decision with Bogdanovic out vs Pistons

SACRAMENTO -- It’s time for some home cooking. The Sacramento Kings open a six-game homestand Monday night at Golden 1 Center. They’ll host a struggling Detroit Pistons team that has lost three straight and seven of their last eight.

The Kings battled the Utah Jazz all the way down the wire Saturday evening at Vivint Smart Home Arena, before falling in the final minute. Buddy Hield put up 20-plus points for his third straight game to lead Sacramento.

Detroit looked like a playoff team for much of the season and then the wheels fell off their bus. They have plenty of talent, but so far, they are struggling to find chemistry since acquiring All-Star Blake Griffin at the deadline.

Pistons by 3.5

Skal Labissiere vs. Blake Griffin -- The Kings have struggled to contain Griffin throughout his career. Whether he starts or not, second-year big Skal Labissiere is likely to see plenty of time against the high-scoring power forward. Labissiere is averaging 11.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 27 minutes a game in March. He needs to move his feet and avoid foul trouble against Griffin.

Kings: 23-48, fourth place in Pacific

Pistons: 30-39, fourth place in Central

Kings: SG Bogdan Bogdanovic (left hamstring soreness) out, SG/SF Iman Shumpert (knee rehab/plantar fasciitis) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out for the season.

Pistons: PG Reggie Jackson (ankle) out, PF Jon Leuer (ankle) out.

Decisions, Decisions -- With Bogdanovic out for the evening, Dave Joerger has a tough choice to make. Does he elevate Hield into the starting lineup and disrupt his bench unit? Or does he start veteran Garrett Temple alongside De’Aaron Fox. Hield has earned a look with the starters, but he’s on fire with the second team.

Keep Fighting -- Plenty of fans want the Kings to lay down and preserve their spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery. The Kings are trying to build a winning culture around a group of young players. They are developing an identity as the season heads towards its conclusion and there is no reason to let up.

Shoot the 3-ball -- The Kings trail only the Golden State Warriors in 3-point percentage. They hit 14-of-21 from behind the arc against the Jazz, but that’s not enough. The goal should be 30 threes per game from here on out. The team has the shooters, they just need to hoist it up more often.

The Pistons lead the season series 1-0 and are looking for the sweep. Detroit holds a 134-119 advantage over the Kings all-time and a 37-26 edge during the Sacramento-era.

Quinn Cook states his case for spot on Warriors playoff roster

Quinn Cook states his case for spot on Warriors playoff roster

Because it’s only two games against two of the worst teams in the NBA, it’s prudent to resist the temptation to fall in love with Quinn Cook.

Putting up Stephen Curry numbers in consecutive games does not make one Stephen Curry.

It’s impossible, though, not to clearly understand why the Warriors have consistently expressed faith in Cook, the two-way point guard who has spent three years trying to make an NBA team.

Two fine games are enough, though, for the coaching staff to recommend adding him to the postseason roster. It’s wise to have a contingency in case Curry has to miss any of the games that matter most, and the Warriors are a smart bunch.

Cook on Saturday told reporters in Phoenix that the Warriors have not addressed the possibility of being on the postseason roster. That doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about it.

“He’s proven that he can compete at this level,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters Saturday night in Phoenix. “The last couple games, you’re seeing what he can do. He’s a great shooter. We’ve known that."

Cook scored, on back-to-back nights, 25 and 28 points, shooting 70 percent (21-of-30) from the field, including 71.4 percent (10-of-14) from deep. That’s Curry-type quality when he’s on a roll. Cook also handled the ball well, recorded seven assists and was pesky enough on defense to nab five steals.

“Quinn is showing the world that he is an NBA player,” Draymond Green said.

Cook’s 10 3-pointers over the past two games are more than anybody not named Curry, Durant or Thompson have drained over a similar stretch -- and only Nick Young among the team’s reserves have made more over any single month.

The Warriors, it just so happens, are dead last in 3-pointers made by reserves, averaging 2.0 per game, with Young accounting for 1.5 per game.

Cook is showing he might be able to help with this.

Kerr loves 3-point shooters. General manager Bob Myers is fond of saying he can never have too many shooters.

The Warriors are discovering they can’t have too many capable point guards, particularly when Cook is proving that he, like Curry, also is comfortable playing off the ball. Pairing Cook with Shaun Livingston, the primary backup to Curry, is a nice option to have.

“I’ve said all along,” Green said. “I sit here and watch so many other teams play and I wonder, ‘How is Quinn Cook a two-way player?' And then you’ve got guys in the league that can’t dribble with their left hand, or can’t go left, can’t go right, but you’ve got a guy like that as a two-way player.

“So I’m happy for him. I pray that he gets rewarded and gets what he deserves.”

Cook had brief trial runs with the Pelicans, as a rookie, and the Mavericks last season. He played a total of 14 games with the two teams. He has played 21 with the Warriors, seven as a starter, but only in the last two has he looked entirely comfortable in his role and with these teammates.

With Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Curry out, the Warriors need Cook to score. He knows he needs to score. He is scoring. And doing a few other things, too.

“Playing in the NBA is something that I’ve dreamed of my whole life,” Cook said after his 28-point performance in a win over the Suns. “I can’t really put it into words, just being able to put on an NBA jersey night in and night out, practice with an NBA team every day, has been my goal since I can remember. I’m just trying to get better every day and live in the moment. I’m just trying to win games. I’m trying to help out as much as possible, whether it’s getting guys shots, playing defense, shooting the ball.

“Lately the ball’s been going in a little bit. But with three All-Stars out, I’ve got to step up. I’m just taking it game by game and competing night in and night out.”

Sometime early next month, if not late this month, the Warriors expect to have their starting backcourt. Curry and Thompson will have returned before the playoffs begin April 14-15, and both will need to be available if for reasonable chance to repeat as champs.

But Cook is making his case for inclusion. He’ll get another test Monday night in San Antonio, where Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is sure to throw at Cook a few wrinkles he may not have seen, but the Warriors have seen enough to know he can help.

“He’s a good fit for us, too,” Kerr said. “It’s not just his ability. It’s his maturity. He’s very professional, does whatever is asked, the guys love him. They want to go to war with him.

“He’s a guy. He’s an NBA guy. We’re lucky to have him.”

That’s not an demand, or even a preference. To add Cook to the roster, the Warriors would have to shed one of their 15 players currently on a standard NBA contract.

But somewhere among Kerr’s words, I believe I see an endorsement.

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.