How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

The Texas two-step is turning into a nightmare for NBA opponents. Twenty-year-old phenom Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm, and he has transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

James Harden is averaging 38 points per game for the Houston Rockets and he has Russell Westbrook riding shotgun in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.

For the beat-up Kings, Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back against the Mavs and Rockets looked like a pair losses before they even hopped on the team bus. But that’s not the way it worked out.

Cory Joseph got away with a touch foul on Doncic in the final seconds and the Kings escaped Dallas with a 110-106 win. There was no time to celebrate. Sacramento boarded a flight for Houston to face Harden fewer than 24 hours later without even a shootaround to prepare for the league’s leading scorer.

In a stroke of genius, coach Luke Walton and his staff created a game plan and then used a roll of tape and the team’s hotel ballroom in Houston to walk through an idea.

“When you can’t get to a gym because you’re trying to get the guys more rest, we grabbed some tape, put a little key down on the floor and walked through sets that we need,” Walton told media following the 119-118 win over the Rockets.

Like the previous game against Doncic, Walton used Joseph, his best perimeter defender, on Harden and ran a box-and-one defense for much of the game. The plan worked to perfection.

Not only did Joseph help limit Harden to 8-of-19 shooting from the field and eight turnovers, but he also played defense without fouling.

Harden came into the night averaging 12.8 free throw makes on 14.8 attempts per game. If he continued at that pace, he would finish second all-time in free throw attempts per game.

Joseph didn’t bite on the up fakes or let Harden tangle him up when he sprawled out for 3-point attempts Monday. He didn’t reach and get his hand caught in the cookie jar and when he did make a play at the ball, he came away with two steals and just one personal foul in 38 minutes of action.

“It was a good win for us, back-to-back," Joseph said Monday. "It’s never easy, but we kept the mentality and we were strong. We turned it up mentality wise from the start to the finish of the game. We felt like these last two games, we competed at a high level and that’s what we’re going to need to do night in and night out to give ourselves a good chance.”

Sacramento paid Joseph handsomely in the offseason to back up De’Aaron Fox. An unlucky accident in practice has cost Fox major time, but Joseph has stepped in and kept the Kings afloat over the last 14 games as a starter.

Joseph isn’t the dynamic scorer that Fox is, but Walton has played to the strengths of his team without his starting point guard. He has taken the ball out of Joseph’s hands on most offensive possessions to save him for the defensive end and improve the flow.

Things will change when Fox returns, but like Nemanja Bjelica, Joseph has proven his worth to the team.

It should be noted that Joseph tweaked his lower back against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and was questionable against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday.

“You go into what Cory did, we had him on Luka last night, we had him on Harden tonight,” Walton said. “Three days ago he couldn’t even walk, we didn’t even think he was going to play. As we talk about culture and what we’re trying to build, the example that he sets with that type of effort every single night is pretty good for our group.”

Over the last three games, he has fought through the injury and averaged nearly 35 minutes per game against some of the best scorers the league has to offer.

At 10-13, the Kings continue to stick around the .500 mark in the standings despite their slow start to the season. Joseph is a big reason why.

[RELATED: Watch Westbrook say game over, then Kings hit game-winner]

The Kings flew home after the win, and they’ll face another tough guard in Chris Paul on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

There is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the last 22 games with a broken thumb. Fox stayed behind on the four-game road trip to rehab his ankle, and he is getting closer to a return as well.

De'Aaron Fox's development silver lining in disappointing Kings season

De'Aaron Fox's development silver lining in disappointing Kings season

The 2019-20 season hasn’t gone the way the Kings envisioned, but there is still time for the team to assess the players they have and monitor the growth of some of their young core.

One of those players is becoming what Sacramento hoped he would develop into when they selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

De’Aaron Fox has missed time due to injury, but since his return, we are starting to see potential turn into production. Over his last seven games, Fox is averaging 24.1 points, 8.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, two steals and a block in 34.6 minutes.

“It’s stuff that I knew I could always do, it’s just being more consistent,” Fox said earlier this week. “Continuing to make shots, get to the basket, get to the free throw line, things of that nature. Just trying to help my team win ball games.”

This is the silver lining for the Sacramento Kings in an otherwise disappointing first half to the 2019-20 season. Fox is beginning to take another leap in his development and it’s out of necessity.

Fox looks angry on the court and he’s fed up with losing. He even picked up a technical foul in his last game out trying to plead his case with the officials.

“Occasionally it’s good to get T’d up, it’s good for your team, especially when it’s someone like De’Aaron that gets T’d up, I think it motivates the group,” coach Luke Walton said of Fox. “Occasionally we’ll take it, but it’s a fine line of playing with that passion, but also being level headed and cool so you can make the proper decisions while you’re on the floor.”

Fox is doing everything in his power to turn the Kings season around and it appears he’s stepping into the leadership role the team is desperate to fill. He’s becoming more vocal on the court and he’s demanding accountability.

There is a sense of urgency to Fox’s game. He’s using his tremendous speed and getting downhill on his opponents. He’s also saving some fuel for the fourth quarter where he’s beginning to thrive.

“The last couple of games, I’ve felt great going into fourth quarters,” Fox said. “I don’t want to say I’m easing into games, but I’ve just been able to finish games pretty well for myself.”

Unfortunately, the scoring bump late in games hasn’t equated to wins. Against Orlando, Fox scored 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including a runner with 15.8 seconds remaining where he drew a foul and gave the Kings a one-point lead.

On the final defensive possession, Fox even went to the coaching staff and demanded he guard Evan Fournier. Fox stayed in front of the Magic’s leading scorer, forcing him to make a last-second pass, which unfortunately led to an Aaron Gordon game-winning bucket.

Wednesday against the Mavericks, Fox posted six points and three assists in the final nine minutes. He helped the Kings rally from a big deficit and make it a game in the final minute.

“I just try to put my team in the best position to win and for me and for us right now, it’s been me doing a lot of scoring in the fourth quarter,” Fox said. “If that’s how it needs to be, that’s how it needs to be. With doing that, I want to be able to close games out and actually win games.”

In his third NBA season, Fox is figuring out how to pick his spots. He focuses on setting up his teammates early and getting everyone involved. When the Kings need for him to take over, he’s able to go into attack mode.

After missing 17 games with a grade 3 ankle sprain, Fox looks like he is finally 100 percent healthy. He has a spring in his step that was missing initially and he’s regained a lot of his explosiveness.

With his body right and his numbers starting to spike, you can see the confidence growing in the Kings’ point guard.

“He seems to have his legs and his wind, from the injury,” Walton said. “With that, I think he’s getting more comfortable and confident in being vocal out there, being vocal in shootaround, embracing that leader role.”

If Fox can continue to take another huge leap in his development, it could lessen the blow of what looks like another tough season in Sacramento.

[RELATED: Kings must be held accountable]

At 22-years-old, Fox is still a work in progress. He has moments where he isn’t impactful during games, but those are becoming fewer and fewer. His turnovers are up, but he’s trying to put the team on his shoulders.

The team is hoping to bounce back in the second half of the season and make a run. If that is going to happen, the Kings need Fox to continue his strong play and a few of his teammates to get on board.

Doug Christie reveals story behind fight with Rick Fox in Kings-Lakers game


Doug Christie reveals story behind fight with Rick Fox in Kings-Lakers game

The Kings have missed the playoffs in each of the last 13 seasons. But before that drought began, they were one of the best teams in the NBA.

Back in the early 2000s, the Kings even had a bitter rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers, who were led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers defeated the Kings in seven games in the 2002 Western Conference finals and went on to win the NBA title that season. The following year, the teams met in the preseason and things got chippy between Doug Christie and Lakers forward Rick Fox.

In the latest episode of NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh's "Habershow" podcast which debuted Friday, Christie opened up about what happened on Oct. 25, 2002.

"So there was a lot of venom from the fact that there was a lot of talking going back and forth at that particular time," Christie, who is now an analyst for NBC Sports California, told Haberstroh. "And you know, they had won, and I think when you're competing against someone, you have an idea where you are in the pantheon of that. You know what I mean? And I think they felt us. And I think they might have felt we were a better team than they were. But they won. And they had to the two most dominant players probably of the era at the same time, in their alpha dog prime. So when you win, you usually don't have to say anything, 'I won.' But you're still talking.

"So, when we got to the preseason, you know they had the [Sacramento] Queens things, and Rick would always do little stuff and one of them is he would catch the ball at the pinch post, which is the elbow junction, and he would, as you were coming up -- now it's illegal -- he would pivot into you and hit my thigh. And for me, that's big because I'm moving around a lot. So it was just little stuff and in that particular time, I sold an offensive foul. He hit me and I fell down. So then he threw the ball at me and I caught it, so it didn't really hit me and I caught it. So as I got up, I hit him in the face with the ball all in one motion and that's when he kind of mushed me. As soon as he touched me, I just went 'Bang.' That was it."

Christie and the Kings never were able to get over the hump. That 2001-02 season was their best chance to win an NBA title and the Lakers got in the way.

[RELATED: Kings must be held accountable]

The Kings would make it back to the playoffs in each of the next four seasons but never made it out of the second round.

The fight between Christie and Fox will go down as arguably the greatest preseason NBA fight of all time.