Kings

How Kings can use Nuggets' road map as path to NBA playoffs next year

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USATSI

How Kings can use Nuggets' road map as path to NBA playoffs next year

Need a road map? The Sacramento Kings should look no further than the Denver Nuggets.

After running a 46-36 record last year and missing the playoffs on the final day of the season, Denver turned disappointment into fuel.

“To come so close the last two years and miss the playoffs by one game and to challenge every player on that roster to come back an improved player and the buy in, the commitment all season long, all summer long … ,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after his team's first-round series win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night.

That fuel pushed the Nuggets to a 54-28 record this season and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. While it took seven games to knock off a veteran Spurs team in Round 1, the Nuggets still are alive, with the Portland Trail Blazers up next.

The Nuggets’ front office could have cut ties with Malone, the former Kings coach, after last season. They’d given him three seasons to turn things around, and while he had showed improvement each year, they still hadn’t reached the ultimate goal of making the postseason.

Instead of starting over with another coach, they chose the path of continuity. It’s too late for the Kings to follow in this regard. Having already jettisoned Dave Joerger, it appears the Kings will start over with Luke Walton at the helm, although allegations of sexual assault against the former Lakers coach leaves the door open for another change.

While it’s too late to reverse course on the coach, another aspect of the Nuggets team is their decision to keep the young core intact. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Gary Harris, Juan Hernangomez and Will Barton all have been together for at least three seasons. Denver let its young core simmer in a pot and let the group play as a cohesive unit.

In addition to the youth of the team, the Nuggets’ front office made strategic veteran additions in Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee. While Plumlee came via trade, Millsap joined the squad on a massive free-agent contract.

Sacramento added Harrison Barnes at the trade deadline in February, and he’s already stepped into a big role with the Kings, similar to what Plumlee has done for the Nuggets. The Kings would love to lock up Barnes long term, like Denver did with Plumlee.

With Barnes already in place, the key to this offseason for the Kings might be to find a player like Millsap.

With roughly $38 million in salary-cap space, the Kings can chase an All-Star level player to add to the mix. Names such as Nikola Vucevic and DeAndre Jordan already have been mentioned around the team.

At 28 years old, Vucevic is coming off his first All-Star game appearance and will require a major investment. The 7-footer posted 20.8 points, 12 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Orlando Magic this season, and likely is looking for a four-year, big-money deal.

Jordan, 30, isn’t the offensive player that Vucevic is, but he is one of the better rebounders in the game and might be available on a shorter-term deal at a more reasonable price.

Both players present an upgrade at center for Sacramento. Vucevic can stretch the floor and act as a central hub for the offense at times. Jordan is a defender and lob target in the post.

More than a positional upgrade, the Kings need to find veteran complimentary players who can step in and instantly improve the talent of the team while accentuating the talent of the young core.

[RELATED: Hield shares surprising origin story about his nickname]

There is no promise that the Kings will snap their 13-year playoff drought by following these steps, but to date, they’ve done a nice job of building a young core while retaining cap flexibility. They are in a position to make improvements and take this team to the next level.

The Kings are a year or two behind the Nuggets in the process, but if they continue to follow the path, there is hope for another monumental jump for this Sacramento team.

'Basketball gods' give one back to Kings in dramatic win over Celtics

'Basketball gods' give one back to Kings in dramatic win over Celtics

SACRAMENTO -- Front rim, backboard, front rim, front rim, front rim ... out.

An entire arena filled with fans went silent for what seemed to be 10 seconds as Marcus Smart’s runner in the lane sat on the front rim. If it rolled in, the collective sigh from almost 17,000 fans would have been heard all the way to Boston.

But that’s not what happened.

“Please roll out, please roll out, please roll out,” Richaun Holmes said. “And it finally did. But it seemed like forever.”

The Sacramento Kings stunned the Celtics Sunday afternoon, snapping Boston's 10-game win streak with a 100-99 victory. The win moved the Kings within two games of .500 on the season, but it wasn’t without drama.

“Finally the basketball gods, they were on our side,” Nemanja Bjelica said. “We think we deserve that the way we are breaking out and how much time we spend together. Winning is fun.”

The victory was a big one for the Kings who were coming off a controversial two-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday evening. It took a team effort from the Kings to pick up their fifth victory of the season.

Buddy Hield was a flamethrower from the perimeter, finishing with a season-high 35 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and added 10 assists. Bjelica finished with a double-double and when the game was on the line, Holmes came up huge.

A reserve to begin the season, Holmes is settling into the starting line-up for head coach Luke Walton. He scored a modest nine points, but two of those came in the final moments of the game and gave the Kings the lead.

With under 15 seconds remaining and the Celtics up one, Smart grabbed a rebound in the key off of a Kemba Walker miss. Smart went back up with it, but Holmes swiped at the shot attempt and then came away with the miss.

In the ensuing chaos, Smart wrapped up the Kings’ center trying to get a jump ball call. After review, Smart was assessed a foul and the Celtics were already in the penalty.

“Marcus Smart came in and got a ridiculous offensive rebound - he came flying in,” Holmes said. “I just tried to find the ball and make a play on it. Luckily we were able to get the rebound, able to get the foul, able to knock down two free throws.”

Holmes, a career 70.7 percent shooter from the free-throw line, stepped to the stripe with 13.3 seconds remaining and hit the pair that gave the Kings the 100-99.

Holmes played a crucial role in the final play as well. With 13.3 seconds remaining and trailing by one, Walker brought the ball up. He tried to shake Cory Joseph, but the Kings’ starting point guard forced him to give the ball up to Smart.

Smart burst down the lane, but Holmes flew in trying to block his shot and made the play more difficult.

“That’s my job, to try to protect the rim as much as possible,” Holmes said. “That ball hung on the rim for I don’t know how long. Luckily it bounced out and we were able to get the win.”

It was a tremendous effort from the 26-year-old big. His numbers might not jump off the page, but in the final moments, he protected the rim twice, grabbed the deciding rebound and iced the freebies from the line.

[RELATED: Kings take leap of faith betting on young core]

This was the first time at the NBA level that Holmes has been credited with the game-winning points that put his team ahead. The last time he had experienced anything like it was during his last year at Bowling Green when he hit a game-winning lay-up against Detroit Mercy.

After a brutal 0-5 start to the season, the Kings are now 5-2 over their last seven games. They’ll face the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, who are a surprising 7-4 on the season. The Suns play the Celtics on Monday night before facing the Kings on the second night of a back-to-back.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in nail-biting 100-99 win vs. Celtics

Kings takeaways: What we learned in nail-biting 100-99 win vs. Celtics

BOX SCORE

Every once in a while, the Sacramento Kings get a roll to go their way. That was the case Sunday as Marcus Smart’s buzzer-beating floater sat on the rim for an eternity, before falling out. 

Golden 1 Center went crazy as the Kings stunned the Boston Celtics by a final of 100-99.

Buddy Hield starred in the game, but it was a rebound and a pair of free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining from big man Richaun Holmes that set up the final dramatic play.

On the final possession for Boston, the Kings stopped Kemba Walker on a drive. He found Smart at the elbow and the Celtic’s guard made a break for the rim. In a rare moment of luck for the home team, the shot didn’t fall and the fans exploded with cheers. 

Here are three takeaways as the Kings shocked the best team in the Eastern Conference to improve to 5-7 on the season.  

Buddy came to play

The Kings leading scorer didn’t disappoint during Sunday’s matinee. Needing a boost in a tough defensive matchup, Hield got hot from behind the arc to help keep his team in the game throughout the night.

Hield dropped in 16 points in the first half, backed that up with 11 in the third quarter to give him 27 heading into the fourth.

Boston made a concerted effort to limit him in the final frame, but Hield still finished with a game-high 35 points on 7-of-12 shooting from long range. He also grabbed six rebounds and picked up four steals in 38 minutes of action.

Set em’ up, knock em’ down

Bogdan Bogdanovic created for others early, matching his season-high of 10 assists. Once his teammates were properly fed, he went to work on his own game.

After scoring just two points through three quarters, Bogdanovic hit the Celtics for 10 in the deciding fourth quarter. 

Bogdanovic has a really good feel for the game. He seems to know what his team needs every game and then fills the void. 

You gotta Bjelica

Where would the Kings be without Nemanja Bjelica?

There were questions coming into the season whether Bjelica would be in the Kings’ rotation. 12 games into the season, he’s one of the team’s most valuable players.

[RELATED: NBA admits LeBron contact on decisive Lakers-Kings play]

Against Boston, Bjelica notched his second double-double of the season, finishing the night with 12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and a block.

He’s not going to win any footraces and there are times when he struggles on the defensive end, but the 31-year-old sharpshooter continues to give Luke Walton’s club solid minutes.