Kings

How Kings' loss to 76ers showed you can't count out NBA playoffs push

How Kings' loss to 76ers showed you can't count out NBA playoffs push

With less than a quarter of the season remaining, the Kings are scuffling a bit. After Friday's 123-114 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, they finished their four-game east-coast wing with three straight defeats. 

This isn't the script Sacramento had in mind. In a perfect world, the Kings would have slayed the Boston Celtics and 76ers on a back-to-back, and headed home with seven winnable games and a chance to jump into the 2019 postseason.

But the Kings didn’t beat the Sixers, or the Celtics on Thursday or the Washington Wizards a few days earlier. Despite defying expectations all season, the Kings are still two games under the .500 mark and a very distant ninth in the Western Conference standings.

With his team fighting to stay in the race and, maybe even more importantly, trying to avoid a major injury down the stretch, coach Dave Joerger turned to his second unit to play heavy minutes in Philly.

“I thought our second unit tonight was fantastic,” Joerger told reporters after the loss. “I thought we got the pace of the game up and down the court. We didn’t make a lot of shots.”

Marvin Bagley starred in limited minutes, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds. Harry Giles put up numbers as well, hitting the Sixers for 12 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Yogi Ferrell pushed the pace. Corey Brewer continued to agitate and Bogdan Bogdanovic looked more like himself -- even if he still struggled with his shot.

The second unit outscored Philadelphia’s 51-24 on the evening, but it wasn’t enough. 

These are your 2018-19 Sacramento Kings. They might have a few stars, but that is something that will truly work itself out down the road. For now, this is a group of young players that can hit you with a big-league counter-punch, and is always in the game until the clock hits zero.

“We’ve got a young crew with good dudes who care about each other,” Joerger said. “We’ve got terrific chemistry. We like each other. We get along and we fight for each other.”

The “fight for each other” line stands out. Maybe the Kings were overmatched in Philly. Heck, the Kings’ starting point guard measured seven inches shorter than Ben Simmons, his All-Star counterpart. 

But Sacramento just doesn’t go away. The Kings don’t cash in a game, regardless of the odds. 

With 3:38 remaining, the Kings trailed by four points to a team with a 44-25 record, as well as two current All-Stars, one former All-Star and another starter averaging nearly 21 points and eight rebounds per game on the season. 

That team, not Sacramento, has been considered "underachieving" this season.

All five Sixers starters played 31 minutes or more. Four of the first-teamers played at least 34. 

That isn’t a blowout, it’s a battle against a quality up-and-coming team.

“We’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way, we’re playing together,” Joerger said. “The wins are going to come. Our guys are getting better all the time.”

Unfortunately for Joeger and his band of 20-somethings, the wins haven’t come as of late. In the high-stakes NBA, close just isn’t going to cut it. This isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades. 

“We’ve got to win, that’s the most important thing,” Marvin Bagley told reporters on Friday. “We’ve got to win, we’ve got to play hard.”

[RELATED: Kings falling in latest NBA Power Rankings]

The Kings aren’t returning home broken. They still have aspirations of making the playoffs, even if  that ship is in the harbor, loading up and almost ready to sail.

Sacramento has winnable games on the schedule. That's encouraging, considering the Kings have gone to the mat against some of the best teams the NBA has to offer and still battled to the finish. 

If you’ve watched the Kings play this season, you understand that they have a flair for the dramatic. When the odds are stacked against them, they are usually at their best. 

Maybe they don’t make the postseason, but a .500 season is still possible for the first time in nearly 15 years. Either way, the journey of this team is worth taking in each and every night. 

Doug Christie shares funny story of LeBron James' famous dunk vs. Kings

Doug Christie shares funny story of LeBron James' famous dunk vs. Kings

He might be a kid from Akron, but LeBron James' first signature moment in the NBA came in Sacramento.

James' first NBA game as an 18-year-old rookie was against the Kings at Arco Arena. With just over three minutes left in the first quarter and the Kings leading 31-21, Peja Stojakovic looked to Doug Christie, but LeBron was on the prowl for the steal. 

The rest is history. As he rose up for the dunk, Christie was in the back trailing the teenager. And it turns out the play will be history for a long time for other reasons, too. 

"The other day we went to the National Museum of African-American History," Christie said to Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox on The Uninterrupted Road Trippin' Podcast. "And I'm in there ... trailin' LeBron!" 

In the sports section at the end of the museum, to Christie's surprise, the clips plays. Not a picture, but a video of the dunk, which still makes the former Kings forward ask Stojakovic what he was thinking with the pass. 

"I always ask him, I'm like, 'dude he's 18, what are you thinking? You know he's gonna shoot the gap,'" Christie said. "... And the rest is history."

There's no doubt, that dunk will go down in history. Like LeBron, Fox can still recall his first taste of the NBA, too. 

"I definitely remember my first game. For me it was more memorable because we were playing the Rockets," Fox, a Houston native, said. "And I grew up in Houston. I think that's why I'll always remember that game." 

Though it wasn't quite James' 25 points and nine rebounds against the Kings, Fox still scored 14 and dished five assists in his first NBA game at only 19 years old. 

[RELATED: Fox believes Kings 'growing,' details franchise's next step]

Listen to Fox and Christie on Road Trippin' in the player below, and subscribe here.

Kings vs. Nets watch guide: Lineups, injury report, player usage

bogdanovic-shooting-nets-ap.jpg
AP

Kings vs. Nets watch guide: Lineups, injury report, player usage

Looking to make a late season run, the Sacramento Kings host the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday evening at Golden 1 Center.

Fresh off a 129-102 drubbing of the Chicago Bulls, the Kings need another team effort against a tough opponent. Marvin Bagley posted 21 points and nine rebounds in the team's win over Chicago on Sunday. He's still working through a minutes restriction, but should be available to play upwards of 24 minutes against the Nets.

[RELATED: How to watch Kings-Nets online and on MyTeams app]

Brooklyn has dropped three straight and are clinging to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. They are an up and coming team that plays hard every night, but like the Kings, this is uncharted territory for many of their players.

Kings Pregame Live on NBC Sports California begins at 6:30 p.m., with tipoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m. All coverage can be seen on the MyTeams by NBC Sports app.

The Kings host the Mavs on Thursday and Suns on Saturday before heading back out on the road for another five-game trip starting Sunday in LA against the Lakers.

Line

Kings by 3.5

Projected Lineups

Kings
PG De’Aaron Fox
SG Buddy Hield
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Nemanja Bjelcia
C Willie Cauley-Stein

Nets
PG D'Angelo Russell
SG Joe Harris
SF Caris LeVert
PF Rodions Kurucs
C Jarrett Allen

Injury Report

Kings 
No injuries to report.

Nets
SF Allen Crabbe (knee) out.

Rotation Outlook

Kings

Dave Joerger continues to stick with the same starting lineup, but his bench is seeing expanded minutes. Fox, Hield and Barnes command major time, but there are young players making strides at other positions.

Rookies Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, are demanding more time with their play. The tandem continues to build on court chemistry and is looking more and more like the future for the Kings on the frontline.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is still working to get comfortable running the second unit. While healthy, he isn't getting the volume of shots he was in previous months and is looking to find his niche again with the team. In the Kings' 123-94 loss to the Nets in January, Bogdanovic played well, scoring 22 points and a career-high 11 assists.

Nets

Brooklyn plays considerably better than their stats would indicate. They rank 18th in scoring and 19th in points allowed. They are third in the league in 3-point makes and free throw attempts and sixth in rebounds per game.

Russell is the star, but this is a team shares the scoring load. Six players average double-figure scoring and another four post eight or more points.

They play a physical style and they attack the rim. If the Kings hope to come away with a second straight win, they need to match the intensity of a quality Nets team.