Kings

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

SACRAMENTO -- The NBA learning curve is steep. On Wednesday night in Sacramento, the young Kings faced one of the league’s up and coming players and a team fighting for a playoff spot. The atmosphere was foreign and the Kings didn’t respond well in the 116-98 loss to the Bucks.

Milwaukee came out of the gate and bullied the Kings. They threw a young Sacramento team all over the court on their way to a 69 point half. To add to the insult, some of the Bucks veterans even taunted the Sacramento crowd as they shot a stunning 61.4 percent from the field before the intermission.

“I think we got pushed around a little bit in the first half,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “But they’re trying to make the playoffs still. They’re trying to make the eighth spot. So we have to be a little bit more physical with them and not let them punk us around.”

What the Kings saw from the Bucks is the mindset of a team fighting for a playoff spot. Wednesday night’s contest is what you see in the tail end of a season when one team has something to play for and the other has gone with a youth movement.

“They’re playing physical, they’re not backing down from nobody,” Buddy Hield said. “They have something they’re playing for. Obviously we don’t right now because our season is out of reach.”

Sacramento’s veterans looked at the game as a learning experience for the younger players. They need exposure to this type of game late in the season. They need to see what the expectations will be in a year or two when the Kings hope to be in a similar situation.

“These guys have to go through it, they have to learn it and then hopefully when we make the playoffs in the coming years, they’ll be able to understand that it jumps to another level,” Garrett Temple said. “The first 50 games is one level, the the next 30 is another and that playoff is different animal.”

Building a winner usually comes in stages in the NBA. By the time you sneak into the playoffs, you have already come close once or twice and the first round matchups are usually against seasoned winning clubs.

That is something the Bucks will learn soon enough. With the win, they are now tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, but nothing is certain. They currently sit a game out of the eight spot and just 2.5 from falling to ninth and missing the playoffs entirely.

If they squeak in, they will play either the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards in Round 1.

Every game is magnified when you have something at stake late in a season and the Kings were never able to match the intensity of their opponent.

All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show. The star forward dominated every player the Kings threw at him on his way to a 32-point, 13-rebounds, six-assist performance.

“People think I’m crazy to say that - if he gets a 3-point shot, he’ll be the best player in the league,” Temple said of Antetokounmpo. “He can penetrate, he has great court vision, can handle the ball, not to mention he’s 6-11 and a wiry strength that you don’t understand unless you’re play against him. He can literally play 1-5 in this NBA and he has a mismatch at every position.”

Labissiere drew the first look on Antetokounmpo and it didn’t take long to see that the rookie was overmatched by his opponent’s versatility. Willie Cauley-Stein had some success early in the second half, using his length and getting physical with the star forward, but the game was already decided.

It’s a process. With a youth movement comes games like the one against Milwaukee. All you can ask for is effort, which Sacramento has shown. Despite the team’s 3-11 record since the All-Star break, there is progress, especially from the core of first and second year players.

“They’re getting better and better,” Tyreke Evans said. “They’re still learning the game, but as they’re playing, they’re working hard. They’re working hard in practice, getting reps up. It’s going to take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. They’re going to have good games, they’re going to have bad games. You’ve got learn from it.”

Sacramento is in the middle of a seven game stretch against teams tuning up for the playoffs. The schedule doesn’t get any easier Friday when the Kings travel to Oracle Arena to face the Golden State Warriors. It’s another chance to learn on the fly.

Iman Shumpert's breakout game in OKC 'pretty special to see'

Iman Shumpert's breakout game in OKC 'pretty special to see'

Following the Sacramento Kings loss on opening night, one player couldn’t stop smiling. He wasn’t happy about the loss, but after a year of injuries and setbacks, Iman Shumpert was just excited to be back on the court, no matter how much he played. 

Shumpert sat out all but 14 games last season. Knee surgery put him on the shelf for the Cleveland Cavaliers and during his rehab from the injury, the eight-year NBA veteran developed plantar fasciitis and missed the remainder of the season.

Needing an experienced player to match up against All-Star Paul George, coach Dave Joerger called Shump’s number Sunday afternoon. There was no way to tell how he would respond on the court, but if nothing else, Joerger knew he would play tough defense. 

Shumpert hit the ground running, knocking down a 3-pointer 38 seconds into the first quarter. That was only the start. 

“I’m happy for him, I’m happy for his family,” Joerger told reporters following the game. “I’ve always had a belief in him and we get along very well. So it’s an opportunity for him. I don’t know that we’re going to get that every night, but that was pretty special to see.”

The 28-year-old wing kept hitting 3-pointers in the opening quarter, knocking down 4-of-6 from behind the arc in the games first 10 minutes on his way to 16 points. 

Shumpert’s play put a charge in a young Kings team as they rallied to take a 34-32 lead heading into the second quarter. He continued his strong play throughout the game, finishing with a team-high 26 points to go with four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 30 minutes of action.

With Sacramento focused on a youth movement, there are no guarantees that Shumpert will be a regular in the rotation for the entire season. He’s in the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract he signed in July of 2015. The veteran wing is owed $11 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent next summer. 

The Kings are scoring at will through three games, averaging over a 125 points per game. They’ve struggled on the defensive end and could use a player with Shumpert’s skill set, especially while Bogdan Bogdanovic recovers from a knee issue.  

For one night, Shumpert looked like his old self and maybe more than that. He’ll need to stay healthy, but if he continues to perform, he might have a shot to rebuild his value after a rough year of rehabbing from injury.

Kings takeaways: What we learned from first win of the season over Thunder

Kings takeaways: What we learned from first win of the season over Thunder

BOX SCORE

The search is over.

After dropping their first two games of the NBA season, the Sacramento Kings jumped all over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Russell Westbrook's return. 

The Thunder kept it close, but the high-powered Kings offense kept rolling, coming away with a shocking 131-120 win on the road.

Iman Shumpert came up huge for Sacramento, but it was a team effort. Seven Kings players scored in double figures, including a big -time double-double from De’Aaron Fox. 

Westbrook and Paul George combined for 61 points, but it wasn’t enough for the still-winless Thunder to keep up with a young Kings team. 

Here are three takeaways as the Kings start 1-2 on the season.

Shumpert wants minutes

The easiest way to earn minutes in the NBA is to take advantage of every opportunity. After playing just 14 games last season, Shumpert started Sunday for the Kings and made the coaching staff take notice. 

Shumpert scorched the Thunder for 16 points in the first quarter to get the Kings off to a fast start. He finished the evening with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He added four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 30 minutes. 

That’s how you earn more minutes. 

Fox vs. Westbrook 

Fox grew up idolizing Westbrook. After averaging 11 points and 7.7 assists versus against the Thunder last season, the second-year pro went to work in OKC. 

Fox scored 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and added 10 assists in 42 minutes of action. More importantly, he helped lead the team to its first win on the season.  

Westbrook returned from injury after missing the first two games and put up a typical 32-point, 12-rebound, eight-assist performance.  

Harry and Marv

The rookie bigs will have struggles some nights, and on others, they’ll find ways to help the team win. Against the Thunder, Harry Giles came in and found a way to slow NBA strongman Steven Adams, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks in a solid 17 minutes of action. 

Marvin Bagley got his scoring game going late, dropping in 13 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. He was active on the glass and earned some crunch-time minutes. 

The young guys are showing signs of improvement every time they step on the floor.