Harry Giles

Kings can't match 76ers' intensity, fall back in NBA playoffs chase

Kings can't match 76ers' intensity, fall back in NBA playoffs chase

SACRAMENTO -- The Philadelphia 76ers walked into Golden 1 Center on Thursday night and knocked the Kings to the floor with a heavy right hook.

On multiple occasions, the Kings got back up off the canvas. They would hit the Sixers with a smattering of body blows, but they never seemed to see the hook coming and eventually, Philly landed the knockout blow and came away with the 125-108 win.

This is what the next 20 games are going to be like for the Kings. They are going to face one major challenge after another and if they don’t learn how to match their opponents' intensity, they are going to end up dazed and out of the playoff chase.

“Teams are fighting for position and fighting to get in,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “So everybody is playing with more of a sense of urgency. You kind of feel it tighten up a little bit.”

It starts this weekend when the Kings play a back-to-back against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Toronto Raptors. The Blazers made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season and are desperate for wins. The Raptors are the reigning NBA champs. 

‘“In this league, you can’t relax -- that’s what I learned, there’s no space to relax,” guard Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “All the teams and all the players are here for a reason, and everyone is ready to step up and have a big night.”

That is the attitude the Kings need. No one is going to hand them a win down the stretch. If they want to snap the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought, it will have to be on merit. 

The Kings were in a similar dilemma last year. With 20 games remaining in the 2018-19 season, the team sat at 31-31. They trailed the San Antonio Spurs by just two games and the Los Angeles Clippers by three as they entered the stretch run.

Sacramento struggled, going 8-12 to finish 39-43. San Antonio caught fire, winning 15 of the final 20 to go 48-34. LA went 14-6, finishing with an identical 48-34 record. 

After playing extremely well for most of the season, the Kings ended the year nine games out of eighth place in the Western Conference standings. 

While their record isn’t as good as it was at the same point last season, the Kings have been trending upwards. They’ve won 12 of their previous 18 games after the loss to the 76ers, and they're playing solid basketball.

“I can tell we’re playing better, honestly, in this time of the season,” Bogdanovic said. “I don’t remember exactly what was the record, but in general, we’re playing better basketball. Tonight was the first game that we didn’t execute our plan, we didn’t play the way we wanted.”

Sacramento currently trails Memphis by four games in the Western Conference standings, but the Grizzlies have a very difficult final 20 games. They have one of the most difficult remaining strengths of schedules in the league (.558 against), and the Kings also have a three-games-to-one advantage in the season series.

Portland is a half-game above the Kings in the standings and a two-games-to-one lead in the season series. The Blazers play the Phoenix Suns on Friday before flying home to face the Kings on Saturday. The Blazers have a slightly easier strength of schedule than the Kings down the stretch, but not by much.

The Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans are still in the discussion as well, as four teams are within five games of the Grizzlies for the West's final playoff spot. 

[RELATED: Hyping up Kings fans with Sacramento comedian Lance Woods]

If the Kings have any hopes of staying alive in the chase, they need to come out and be the aggressor against both Portland and Toronto this weekend. The time for talking is over. They either start winning games or start prepping for another NBA Draft Lottery.

“Ain’t nothing to say, it’s all do,” Harry Giles said. “So just go out there and compete and play hard. We’ve just got to bring it the whole game.”

Kings' Richaun Holmes nearing return to lineup, won't play vs. 76ers

Kings' Richaun Holmes nearing return to lineup, won't play vs. 76ers

While the Kings were away on their last road trip, their practice facility got a minor facelift, adding replicas of the jerseys that hang in the rafters of Golden 1 Center.

The embroidered banners brought some color to an otherwise bare room. They weren’t the only new editions to the practice courts.

Richaun Holmes, who has missed the previous 24 games due to a labral tear in his right shoulder, was there working out. Initially, the 26-year-old began with hoisted shots, but eventually graduated to some full-contact, 2-on-2 basketball.

While Holmes is in shape, it was abundantly clear that basketball shape is a different beast. He played well, but more importantly, he came out of the drill unscathed and ready to move to the next step in his recovery.

“We’ve been progressing a lot this last week or so and I got a chance to play 2-on-2 today and it was successful,” Holmes said.”I feel good, the shoulder feels good, so I’m looking to keep making progress.”

Though he is progressing, Holmes is not quite ready to return. The team would love to see him play 5-on-5 before returning to game action, but it's a banged-up group and Sacramento is unlikely to go fully in practice anytime soon. 

Coach Luke Walton made it known that Holmes won’t play Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers and the team still wants to assess him before throwing him back out on the court.

“He was cleared to be a full participant today,” Walton explained. “We just couldn’t get it done today. The nagging injuries we do have, the minutes some of these guys are playing and with three [games] in four [nights] coming up, we just couldn’t get a full 5-on-5 action today.”

Holmes originally damaged his shoulder in the Kings’ 111-98 win over the Golden State Warriors back on Jan. 6. He tried to make a comeback a month ago, but was shut down again after struggling with pain in the joint. 

Three weeks ago, Holmes underwent PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatment on the joint and it seems to have cleared out some of the inflammation.

“It was a huge needle,” Holmes joked. “It definitely worked out for me. I didn’t know too much about it at first, but now my shoulder has responded well, so it helped me.”

A lot has changed since Holmes went out of the lineup. The Kings are rallying and two faces have emerged in Walton’s center rotation.

Second-year big man Harry Giles has quickly earned minutes and newcomer Alex Len is providing Sacramento with a big, defensive-minded rebounder in the middle of the post. 

“They’ve been great,” Holmes said of Giles and Len. “Harry’s come in with his playmaking and energy. He has been amazing through this stretch. Alex coming in, just being a presence in the paint, 7-footer, blocking shots. They’ve changed the game and the identity of our team and got us in position for the playoff push.”

Giles is a bit of an unknown. He has shown flashes in the past, but you can see him settling into a role with the Kings and he’s starting to excel.

“For Harry, we all knew it was only a matter of time before he got his opportunity, he was going to show everybody,” Holmes said. “I’m very proud of him and happy for the success he’s having.”

Len is known around the league. Taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, he has spent the last seven seasons trying to establish himself.

“He is big, he is a problem,” Walton said.”I knew he hadn’t played in a while, so I didn’t really have many expectations of what he was going to do, but I was excited to get somebody of his size out here and see what that would look like with what we’re trying to do defensively. Boy, he has been really really good.”

Len spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since joining the Kings in a deadline deal with the Atlanta Hawks. The Ukranian-born big is quiet and tends to shy away from the spotlight.

“Bring energy, everybody plays hard,” Len said of how he is fitting in with his new team. “You’ve got to play hard to fit in with this group and that is how I play. Get it going on the court every time and give it everything you’ve got.”

It sounds like Walton is a few games away from having a dilemma on his hands in the post. Giles and Len are playing extremely well and the Kings are winning with them at center. Holmes was perhaps the Kings’ most consistent player through the first 37 games before getting injured.

[RELATED: Holmes' impending return to Kings creates issue for Walton]

It’s unlikely that all three will see significant action in the same game. Walton likely will play matchups and ask that players stay patient and ready. 

With Sacramento sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference standings, just three games out of the eighth spot, players are going to have to make sacrifices in the name of wins.  

Richaun Holmes' eventual return to Kings creates logjam at center spot

Richaun Holmes' eventual return to Kings creates logjam at center spot

SACRAMENTO -- Sunday's news that Richaun Holmes is nearing a return was cause for celebration in Sacramento. It also was cause for concern for head coach Luke Walton.

Holmes spent the first half of the season turning heads with his strong, consistent play on both ends of the court. His absence hurt the Kings, but it also opened a door for others.

Out of necessity, Walton turned to second-year big man Harry Giles and the 21-year-old big has turned heads with his strong play.

"I think Harry's probably the reason why we're winning,” Buddy Hield said of Giles. “His energy, the way he moves without the ball, he screens, he competes - yeah, he makes some silly fouls, but s--t, that's Harry man, he's going to compete his a-- off."

Giles put up another really solid performance in Sunday’s 106-100 win over the Detroit Pistons. He scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a shot in 21 minutes of action.

[RELATED: Kings' Harry Giles earns first double-double in road win vs. Clippers]

It was Giles’ fifth straight game scoring in double digits for Sacramento and he appears to be settling into a starter's role, bringing an ingredient that was missing from the Kings.

“I got way more to my game, I kind of get that energy label -- that’s just me, I’m going to bring that energy always,” Giles said following the win. “I think that’s what the game deserves and what the game needs.”

Giles is a fan favorite, but he also is a player that's spent the last three seasons in Sacramento waiting for an opportunity. Everyone in the building has taken notice of his strong play and even his teammates are pulling for the former top prep prospect.

“Having to play like that from where he came from -- he didn’t get no minutes and then earning minutes and then after guys get hurt, God favored him, he was able to show out,” Hield added. “That’s big for him. Harry is the reason we’re playing like this right now because of his energy and his unselfishness.”

Two weeks ago, Giles was the only healthy center on the roster. General manager Vlade Divac acquired 7-footer Alex Len at the deadline in a swap with the Atlanta Hawks, but the former No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft was nursing a hip flexor injury and even when he was cleared to play, it was on a minutes restriction.

[RELATED: Why Kings traded Dewayne Dedmon to Hawks for Jabari Parker, Alex Len]

Len now is healthy, and like Giles, he is building momentum.

“He understands the game of basketball,” Walton said of Len. “When you’re coming to a new team, a lot of times the terminology will slow you down, coverages might be different, you have to learn to play with your guys as far as strengths and weaknesses. He figured it out really quick as far as what we’re trying to do.”

In his sixth game with the Kings, Len came off the bench and proved to be a difference-maker against the Pistons. He scored a modest eight points on 4-of-8 shooting but added 13 rebounds and five blocks in 27 minutes with the second unit.

With Holmes on the mend after missing the last 23 games with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Walton is facing a very difficult dilemma.

“When Richaun gets healthy, it’s going to be a tough job for Luke to see who he’s going to put in because they’re all giving great minutes and great effort,” Hield said.

All three players bring a unique skill set. Holmes is a pick-and-roll specialist and one of the Kings’ best defenders. Giles is the best passer of the lot and brings energy and toughness the Kings need. Len is the true 7-footer that can protect the rim and instantly has improved the team’s ability to compete on the glass.

Both Giles and Len are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, but with the team creeping up on the eighth seed in the Western Conference, this season has to be about wins and losses.

Giles can steal some time at the power forward spot and Holmes can defend the four as well, but neither has the ability to stretch the floor. Len is a conventional big that roams the post.

“We’ll manage it when we get to it,” Walton said. “Harry is playing very solid for us right now, making plays, playing with an edge. Alex is doing a really nice job giving us something we didn’t have as far as that big 7-foot center out there. Richaun was maybe having the most consistent year out of anyone for us when he went down. So we’ll get to that when we get to it.”

There is no question that all three players have taken advantage of the opportunity in front of them this season with the Kings. With 22 games remaining, Sacramento still is breathing in the postseason chase and this group is one of the reasons why.

Whatever happens from here on out, it’s up to each individual to take the situation in stride and cheer on their teammates. 

“You never know what might happen,” Giles said. “You never know your journey, so you’ve just got to be ready.”