After getting lunch money stolen again, it's time for the Kings to get nasty

After getting lunch money stolen again, it's time for the Kings to get nasty

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings can take a punch, but can they throw one? In one of the recurring themes of the 2017-18 season, the Kings were too nice Wednesday evening against the Utah Jazz and they got their lunch money stolen.

“I just told them we need to play with more life, we need to play with more athleticism, and we need to play with a lot more nasty,” Dave Joerger said following the Kings 120-105 loss to the Jazz.

The Kings have talent, but so far this season, they are lacking in the nasty department. As the season passes the midway point, opponents continue to look extremely comfortable playing against a Sacramento team that ranks 29th in the league in defensive rating.

Against Utah, it was rookie Donovan Mitchell that dismantled the Kings’ sets. With his shooters dropping in bombs from the outside and his bigs setting picks, the 13th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft looked like a superstar.

“Same thing he’s been doing all year - he’s been scoring the ball,” De’Aaron Fox said of his fellow draft classmate. “That’s what he came out and did today.”

Mitchell came in averaging 18.9 points per game, which is tops amongst rookies. He dropped 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting while dicing up the Kings defense.

“We let them go in the paint so many times,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “That opened some easy buckets for them and some wide open threes.”

Sacramento’s communication breakdowns were obvious. They cut into the Jazz lead on multiple occasions, but then they would leave a shooter open and pay the price.

Rodney Hood scored 25 points shooting over the Kings defense. He knocked down 4-of-9 from behind the arc and added

Joe Ingles chipped in 14 points on 4-of-7 from deep, including three makes in the third quarter as Utah turned the screws on Sacramento.

“I don’t think we are physical enough,” Bogdanovic said. “We’ve got to play tougher and to bring some dirty game on the floor and some smart decisions, like when it’s time to help and when it’s time to not help. We’re still learning, we’re still new.”

Bogdanovic held his own against the Jazz, scoring a career-high 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting and a perfect 6-for-6 from behind the arc. Willie Cauley-Stein added a 26-point, 10-rebound double-double, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Call it a lack of energy. Call it nasty or dirty. The Kings need to find a way to make their opponent feel them more on the court or it’s going to be a very long final 38 games to the season.

After dropping six straight, it doesn’t get any easier for the Kings. They embark on a six-game trip beginning Friday in Memphis. Maybe they can find themselves on the road.

Kings notes: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield flash skills in loss to Rockets

Kings notes: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield flash skills in loss to Rockets

It was a track meet from the opening tip Saturday night in Houston. The Rockets looked like an inspired team after a rough start to the season, running over the Kings over for a 132-112 win

Houston rained down 3-pointers at a startling clip, and when it wasn't burying the 3-ball, it was finishing at the rim. James Harden dropped in a game-high 34 points, and Chris Paul added 24 points and nine assists in the Rockets' win.

The Kings had plenty of chances, but their inability to slow the Rockets' offense cost them any chance at a win.

Here are six notes as the Kings fell back to .500 on the season at 8-8.

Buddy scores

After failing to reach the 20-point plateau for four consecutive games, Buddy Hield found the basket against Houston. The third-year guard posted 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go with seven rebounds and two assists.

Hield has taken a few games to adjust to Bogdan Bogdanovic's return, but the Kings' second-leading scorer should be just fine.

How good is Fox? 

In his second season, De’Aaron Fox has put the NBA on notice. Not only is he a Most Improved Player candidate, he should be in the discussion for an All-Star bid.

Against a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul, Fox finished with 19 points and three assists in 25 minutes of play. He can’t control whether his teammates hit open jumpers, but if he’s playing 36 minutes per night, the Kentucky product is putting up nearly 21 points and eight assists.

Bogdan impactful

Bogdanovic completed the second biggest step in his recovery from offseason knee issues. First, he made his way back to the court. On Saturday, he completed his first back-to-back and should be cleared for regular duty ASAP.

The Serbian-born wing finished Saturday's game with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and added five assists in the loss. He’s ready for stage three, which is returning to the Kings' starting lineup.

Play me

Marvin Bagley struggled against the Grizzlies and clearly was outplayed by fellow rookie Jaren Jackson. Bagley had a bounce-back game in Houston, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

[RELATED: Kings deny report that coach Joerger, front office have disconnect]

Bagley is a talent, but he needs time to figure out the defensive end. There will be a point this season when he jumps ahead of Nemanja Bjelica in the Kings' starting rotation, but he first needs to show activity on both ends of the floor.  

The disappearance of Willie Cauley-Stein 

If nothing else, Cauley-Stein has been consistent this season. Often times, he’s been extraordinary. Against Clint Capela, Cauley-Stein was less than serviceable.

Cauley-Stein shot 1 of 9 from the field and finished with three points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. It’s possible he was winded on the second night of a back-to-back, but he can’t have nights like this if he hopes to cash in this summer.

Play some D 

The Kings struggled to contain the Rockets from the early stages of the game. In the end, Sacramento couldn’t stop penetration, struggled with the pick-and-roll and allowed Houston to shoot as many 3-pointers as it could muster.

The Kings gave up 132 points on 56.8 percent shooting, and allowed the Rockets to hit 20 of 47 from long range. It’s hard to stay in a game when your opponent outscores you 60-33 on 3-pointers. Sacramento's defense has to get better, especially against top-tier teams.

Kings coach Dave Joerger sidesteps Yahoo report about his job status


Kings coach Dave Joerger sidesteps Yahoo report about his job status

Dave Joerger wasn't in a mood to talk about his job status moments after his Kings lost to the Rockets on Saturday night.

Asked by reporters about a Yahoo Sports story claiming "substantial disconnect" between him and the Kings' front office, Joerger tried to deflect the question back to basketball.

"Well, usually, I would say, 'I'd be happy to answer all your questions about tonight's game,' but in this case, I'm going to tell you that my focus is with our team," Joerger said. "And coaching our team and getting better every single night. And we've got young guys, and they're mixed with older guys, and go in there and rally them up.

“This is a tough five-game stretch for us, so I want to make sure we stick together, grab onto each other ..."

Pressed on the reported disconnect, Joerger refused to address it.

"I'm not going to get into that stuff," the coach said before exiting the scrum after no other questions were asked.

The Yahoo story came out about 30 minutes before the Kings and Rockets tipped off in Houston. During the game, Kings general manager Vlade Divac issued a statement to NBC Sports California's James Ham and denied there was any issues between Joerger and the front office.

"Dave has our full support and confidence,” Divac said in the statement. “We continue to work together to develop our young core and compete.”