When called upon, Harrison Barnes answered with authority.
A veteran presence and a leader on and off the court, Barnes delivered a big game Wednesday night in the Kings' season-opening 124-121 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center.
Scoring a career-high 36 points and pulling down nine rebounds while shooting 10 of 19 from the field, Barnes' 3-point shooting (a career-high 8 makes on 11 attempts) helped stave off a late Blazers comeback attempt.
Entering his 10th season in the NBA, 29-year-old Barnes was challenged in the offseason by Kings coach Luke Walton, who called on the forward to be more aggressive.
“I was happy," Walton told reporters after the win. "One of the things I've challenged Harrison on all summer -- even into last year -- we need him to be aggressive. I don’t mean that as go 1-on-1 and take a bunch of shots. I challenged Harrison, I want him to get up eight 3s a night. He’s a very good shooter, and there’s no reason he can’t make those shots. We needed all those points tonight.
"That’s really how we want to see Harrison play all the time. Some nights they’ll go, some nights they won't, but we definitely want him taking those shots. He was a big reason why we won tonight.”
Always early to arrive and late to leave, Barnes consistently has been one of the hardest-working players on any of the three teams he has played on throughout his career.
“It was fun to be a part of, fun to see," Kings center Richaun Holmes said postgame. "Harrison, everybody on the team can tell, he’s always putting his work in. He’s getting his work in early, late, so we expect that from him. The amount of work he puts in, we expect nothing but the best from him.
"He can be that type of player for us every night. We have the ultimate trust in him.”
As one of the Kings' veteran leaders, Barnes' consistency and hard work have made an impression on some of Sacramento's youngest stars. Known as an even-keeled guy on the court, the emotion Barnes showed Wednesday night was an indicator that he was locked in.
“He’s the same guy since he got here," Kings guard De'Aaron Fox said postgame. "He’s going to be there early, he’s going to leave late. Coming into games, he’s one of the hardest workers.
“Harrison’s in here like three hours, four hours before, and I asked him, ‘Why do you do that?’ and that’s what he did as a rookie. For him, he likes to have a full workout, get a good sweat in and calm down a little bit before the games. He’s been the same even-keel guy. He even showed some emotion -- I don’t even know if you all saw that -- he showed some emotion. [Richaun Holmes] was like, 'That means Harrison’s probably having a good game.’ That was definitely great to see.”
When Barnes is on the court and the Kings have their full arsenal of weapons, they can compete with just about any team in the league.
Playing in 58 games last season, Barnes helped keep Sacramento's Play-In Tournament hopes alive until an abductor injury forced him to miss time down the stretch, with the Kings falling just short of the tournament in the final week of the season.
If Wednesday night was a preview of what's to come for Barnes in his 10th season, the Kings should be excited.