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Buddy Hield shines as Luke Walton shortens Kings' bench in big win

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Buddy Hield shines as Luke Walton shortens Kings' bench in big win

It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.

The Kings beat the Mavericks 110-106 Sunday night in Dallas -- after leading by as many as 24 points in the third quarter and falling apart late. Sacramento turned the ball over four times through three quarters before giving it away seven teams in the fourth, barely hanging on for the four-point win.

Luka Doncic missed a potential game-tying turnaround jumper in the lane with fewer than 10 seconds remaining. That play came up again later Monday, when the NBA's Two-Minute Report confirmed that Kings guard Cory Joseph fouled Doncic on the shot. 

Here are five notes that stand out from the Kings’ win.

Nemanja Bjelica was really good against Dallas

Often overlooked and sometimes highly debated, Bjelica has done a yeoman’s job of holding the fort with Marvin Bagley on ice. Against Dallas, EuroLeague MVP Bjelica came to play against Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

You can’t expect this type of performance from Bjelica every game, but he dominated the Mavs for 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in 34 minutes of action.

There is no word on what coach Luke Walton will do when Bagley returns sometime this week, but Bjelica is shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range and posting career-highs in points, rebounds and assists in 21 games as a starter.

Cory Joseph is a warrior

The Kings understood the type of player they were getting when they signed Joseph to a three-year deal. He’s a hard-nosed defender who typically takes care of the ball. He has struggled with a lower-back injury over the last week and has come into each of the last two games as a huge question mark.

While he isn’t an offensive weapon, Joseph gives the Kings a grinder on the defensive end, which came in handy against Doncic. With De’Aaron Fox on the shelf, Joseph has played 31.8 minutes per game over the last 13 games as a starter, which isn’t ideal. But the Kings are 6-7 over that stretch and staying afloat until reinforcements arrive.

Eight

Walton wanted a win and in order to get one, he cut his rotation down to just eight players. This isn’t an ideal situation, especially with both Joseph and Bogdan Bogdanovic nursing injuries, but it worked against the Mavericks, who entered the night with a 16-6 record.

Sunday was the first "DNP-Coach's Decision" for veteran center Dewayne Dedmon. The same can't be said for Justin James, Harry Giles, Wenyen Gabriel or Caleb Swanigan. Dedmon is shooting just 40.8 percent from the field and 22.9 percent from 3-point range this season. When Bagley returns from injury, minutes may get even tighter for the 7-footer.

Buddy was locked in

Buddy Hield is the Kings’ leading scorer, but the plan was never for him to be the primary option. Like Bjelica starting and Joseph playing extra minutes, Walton has no choice but to ask more out of Hield.

Hield struggled with mental lapses in Friday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs, specifically on the final defensive play of regulation when his man got free for an open 3-pointer.

From Sunday's opening tip, Hield looked focused and ready to play against the Mavs. He knocked down 5-of-6 from long range to score 26 points, and he also added five assists and four rebounds. The last stat that stands out is that Hield didn’t turn the ball over in 34 minutes of action.

Hield is averaging 21.2 points per game, and his 3-point percentage is back up to 36.7 after sliding closer to 35 percent last week.

[RELATED: Bjelica's career night gives Kings big win over Mavs]

League leader

Richaun Holmes came within one rebound of his third straight double-double. He finished the night shooting 6-of-8 from the field for 12 points. 

With another solid shooting performance, the 26-year-old center now is leading the league in field goal percentage at 67.2 percent. Holmes' true shooting percentage (69.4 percent) and effective field goal percentage (67.2 percent) are also among the league leaders. Plus, Holmes is in the top 10 in the league in offensive win shares (2.0) and 13th in overall win shares (2.8).

Holmes has been a breath of fresh air for Sacramento. He is a rarity in a young player, knowing exactly who he is and playing to his strengths. In addition, he is a high-character, high-motor player who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. 

Kobe Bryant soaked up, enjoyed his final game vs. Kings in Sacramento

Kobe Bryant soaked up, enjoyed his final game vs. Kings in Sacramento

With the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant on Sunday morning, it gives us a moment to look back at the superstar in a different light. As a player, he brutalized the Sacramento Kings on so many occasions, but his greatness on the court isn’t what stood out. 

The 18-time All-Star wasn’t always easy to deal with. He clearly didn’t love speaking to the media after each and every game, especially on the road, when the demand for his time came from unfamiliar voices.

This isn’t uncommon amongst NBA players. There is a trust and familiarity that is built with the people who cover you on a daily basis. 

In his final visit to Sacramento on Jan. 7, 2016, Bryant was different. He laughed and smiled as Kings fans booed him one last time. When the noise turned from heckles to cheers, he acknowledged the fans that he had single handedly hurt so many times before. 

Following the Lakers' 118-115 loss to the Kings that night, he held a full press conference, even speaking on Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. 

“I don’t think anything will ever top Game 7,” Bryant said. “Not the end of Game 7, but the beginning of Game 7, the start. The announcing of the starting five, the lights going out and all those cool lights they gave everybody and just waving them around and you just kinda feel the electricity in the building. That was the best part.”

On that night in 2016, Bryant wasn’t the player he had been in past visits, but he still managed to score 28 points, with 18 of those coming in the first half. Bryant sat out the fourth quarter as his Lakers rallied and almost caught the Kings.

This was a kinder gentler Bryant than we had seen in previous seasons. He was on his farewell tour and he seemed to finally be able to enjoy the ride. He even took a moment to stop and take pictures with Rudy Gay and his son that evening, which humanized him in a way that I didn’t believe possible.

There have been very few athletes like Bryant in the history of not only basketball, but professional sports. His work ethic and focus were surpassed by none.

[RELATED: Kings lose their greatest adversary]

He spent a lifetime being in his own moment. It was obvious being around him that his intensity and passion for his craft made him great. Basketball was his obsession.  

In his final visit to Sacramento, it was like he finally found a way to be a fan again. He was able to appreciate his accomplishments and enjoy the moment.

Kings players react to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's death in helicopter crash

Kings players react to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's death in helicopter crash

There never will another Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers star died Sunday morning at 41 years old in a helicopter crash.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of nine people who died in the crash on the Calabasas hills. The Sacramento Kings released the following statement to express their deepest regards to the Bryant family and those involved in the crash. 

Bryant had some of his greatest battles with the Kings and forever will be part of the franchise's story. He also helped mentor some of their brightest young players like Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox.

[RELATED: Kings lose their greatest adversary with Kobe's tragic death]

Kings players past and present mourned Bryant's death Sunday with multiple messages on social media. 

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Eternal Respect🙏🏽👊🏽🏀 #RIPKobeGiGi💜

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