Kings

Clippers' Kawhi Leonard move shows no one will hand Kings playoff berth

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AP

Clippers' Kawhi Leonard move shows no one will hand Kings playoff berth

No one was ever going to hand the Kings a playoff berth. No one feels bad for Sacramento that their team hasn’t made the postseason in 13 years. No one is going to feel bad if that streak hits 14.

This is the NBA and the summer of 2019 has digressed into one giant game of musical chairs. If the Kings are going to grab one of the coveted seats at the table, it will be due to the evolution of their young players.

Nothing has changed from the moment the season ended and nothing really changed late Friday evening when the Los Angeles Clippers made a huge power move to steal Kawhi Leonard from the Toronto Raptors and then add Paul George as his wingman.

In a league filled with stars, the Kings have to build the old fashion way - through the draft. They don’t have the ability to land a Leonard or an Anthony Davis on the open market. They didn’t even get to the finish line with a 33-year-old Al Horford.

Despite measures to even the playing field, being a small market team in the NBA still has its limitations. The Kings have done their best to create a culture where players would like to play and they have attracted quality veterans to support their developing team.

There still is a value in growing from the ground up. Continuity is key in the league and it appears the Kings are on an upward arc. After posting 39 wins a season ago, they have a vision for what is next and they shouldn’t be deterred by the improvements of others.

For every Clippers club making a giant move, there is an Oklahoma City team that just hit the reset button and now is looking to the future.

For every Lakers team, there is a Golden State Warriors franchise that will walk into next season without Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson.

If anyone believes the Warriors will be just fine with D’Angelo Russell and Willie Cauley-Stein as replacements, they aren’t being honest with themselves.

Superteams will rise and fall. The real danger to a team like the Kings comes from the improvements of the young teams around them.

The Dallas Mavericks have an opportunity to be better this season. Eventually, the New Orleans Pelicans will get there as well. These are the teams the Kings need to stay ahead in the chase for the postseason.

There is a window that is coming when a 34-year-old LeBron James won’t be able to dominate as he has for the last decade and a half. The time is also coming for the Warriors and the Thunder and it’s already consuming the San Antonio Spurs.

This is the nature of professional sports. The swapping of pieces at the top should never matter for a team like the Kings, just like it doesn’t for the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers or Utah Jazz.

These are franchises that have to look at the long game and focus on the development from within. Finding a star always is a possibility, but creating an environment where they can retain these players is paramount.

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In the NBA July 5 had more fireworks than Independence Day. But eventually, the bright flashes fade and every team is faced with the totality of their roster and where they sit in the pecking order of the league.

No one is going to win 82 games. It’s extremely unlikely that one of these star-ladened teams even will chase the Warriors' record of 73.

The key for a team like the Kings is to stay the course and pray that their young core continues to trend upwards. The rest is just a lot of noise from the outside.

Kings show playoff dreams are premature with blown opportunity in OKC

Kings show playoff dreams are premature with blown opportunity in OKC

Playoffs? Are we talking about playoffs?

The Sacramento Kings haven’t given up on the notion of snapping the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought. But losses like the one against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night make the talk, well, nothing more than talk.

If you want to be a playoff team, you can’t blow 19-point third-quarter leads. You can’t turn the ball over in crucial moments, and when you get a late 3-point opportunity and no one is within 15 feet of you, you have to hit the shot.  

Sacramento had the playoff-bound Thunder on the ropes. OKC has been one of the best teams in Western Conference since November. The Kings had them in their clutches and then the Thunder dictated the final 19 minutes of the game.

That is exactly what a playoff-bound team does. They measure the will of their opponent and they adjust accordingly. 

The Kings aren’t a playoff team today, although they still have an opportunity to become one. If that is the goal and what the team is entirely focused on in the final 24 games of the season, they can’t have let-downs like they did in the final quarter and a half against the Thunder.

“Disappointing loss,” Luke Walton told media members following the team’s 112-108 defeat. “We gave a really nice effort. Give Oklahoma City some credit. They really picked up that defensive intensity. We didn't do a good enough job of keeping our composure from the third quarter on. We had our chances, but unfortunately, we couldn't find a way to close that out. Give them a lot of credit. That's a really good team over there.”

There are no more moral victories. If the Kings lost to the Thunder in a wire-to-wire tight ballgame, that’s one thing. But to have a team like this on the ropes and not give the knockout blow? 

Those moments are over. The Kings have a stack of shoulda-coulda-woulda games from the first 50 games of the season. From here on out, when they have a lead, they need to finish the game off or stop talking about that “P word” they don’t quite understand.

Yes, the Kings played without De’Aaron Fox. Yes, they played without their starting center Richaun Holmes and forward Marvin Bagley has played a total of 13 games on the season. Those are reasons why you get destroyed by 20. 

At some point, the club has to take responsibility for the fact that they are in contention for a playoff berth for the first time in over a decade and that means stepping up when the chips are down.

Bogdan Bogdanovic can’t shoot 4-of-14 from the field. He can’t miss crucial shots and he certainly can’t step out of bounds or give the ball away off the dribble in crunch time. 

Buddy Hield can’t ask why he’s getting pulled from a game after committing offensive fouls, turning the ball over in fast break opportunities and missing wide open 3-pointers that could have changed the outcome of the game. 

Nemanja Bjelica can’t start the game 6-for-6 from the field and finish with nine shot attempts and Harrison Barnes can’t wait until the fourth quarter to score 10 of his 21 points. 

It takes a team effort to win each and every night in the NBA and the Kings are still trying to find their rhythm.

If Sacramento wants to change the conversation regarding their team and their franchise, they have to take advantage of every opportunity. They can’t give up a 19-point second half lead or get into the bonus three minutes and 37 seconds into the fourth quarter, and expect to win. 

Sacramento will get another opportunity to claw within three games of the No. 8 seed on Friday night when they face a depleted Grizzlies team. The Kings aren’t out of the chase, but they have to take advantage of every game.

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One loss to the Thunder may just be a hiccup in the Kings’ push to the postseason. It could also be the reason they aren’t in the playoffs. 

No more excuses. Win the games you should, and when you have a team on the ropes, put someone on the canvas and don’t let them get back up.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in brutal 112-108 loss to Thunder

Kings takeaways: What we learned in brutal 112-108 loss to Thunder

BOX SCORE

The win that got away.

In shocking fashion, the Sacramento Kings built a 19-point third-quarter lead on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And then they gave it all back.

The Thunder hit the Kings with a 15-0 run late in the third to cut Sacramento’s lead to just one heading to the fourth. It was all OKC in the final 12 minutes as the Kings got in early foul trouble and watched the game slip away at the line.

With the 112-108 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder moved to 37-22 on the season and strengthened their position as the fifth seed in the Western Conference standings.

Here are three takeaways as Kings’ three-game win streak comes to an end and they fall back to 10 games under .500 at 24-34 on the season.

The collapse

With 7:03 remaining in the third quarter, Nemanja Bjelica knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Kings a 78-59 lead. From that moment on, it was a wild barrage by the Thunder. 

Sacramento didn’t score again in the quarter until Harry Giles hit a pair of free throws with 26.6 seconds remaining. The Thunder stole the momentum and trailed just 82-81 heading to the fourth after a 22-4 run. 

The Kings’ inability to hit the simplest of shots hurt. The fact that they allowed the Thunder to drop 22 points in seven minutes was completely unacceptable.

Bjeli ache

Bjelica had a quiet game against the Warriors on Tuesday evening, scoring just one point in 27 minutes of action. That is not the player that showed up in OKC.

The Kings’ starting power forward hit his first six shots against the Thunder, including four triples. He faded a bit down the stretch for Sacramento, but he still finished with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds.

Bjelica is one of the unheralded saviors for the Kings this season. With Marvin Bagley playing just 13 games, Bjelica has held down the fort and provided the Kings with an elite shooter at the four. 

Bigs go big

Giles and Alex Len came to play against NBA strong man, Steven Adams. 

Giles got it going early, scoring 15 points in the first half. Foul trouble took him out of the game for much of the second half, but he was effective in his 24 minutes of action, scoring 19 points to go with eight rebounds in the loss.

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Len went to work as well. In his third game with the Kings, he managed to score 11 points and grab 11 rebounds in 21 minutes of action for his first double-double with the Kings. 

With no return date set for starting center Richaun Holmes, this pair is providing a spark for Sacramento.