How Kings' playoff chances are affected by NBA's Orlando scenarios

How Kings' playoff chances are affected by NBA's Orlando scenarios

You can almost hear the sound of basketballs bouncing off the gym floor.

The NBA is doing their due diligence in an attempt to restart the 2019-20 season after it was derailed in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down the country.

The latest information is encouraging, but nothing is certain. We are in uncharted waters and commissioner Adam Silver is mulling over a mountain of options as he tries to do what’s best for the league.

“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” league official Mike Bass said in a statement on Saturday.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

A handful of Kings players have been filtering into the team’s practice facility for almost two weeks. They’re working out under strict guidelines laid out by the league and so far, they’ve done so without incident.

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An NBA source told NBC Sports California that the Kings will defer to the NBA on the subject of potentially resuming the season and what that might entail.

According to assistant coach Bobby Jackson, the solo workouts have been spirited and from the conversations he’s had, the Kings’ players would love to come back and finish off the season.

“Honestly, I think the guys want to play basketball,” Jackson said on the latest edition of the Purple Talk podcast. “I think they want to play in a safe environment though and I know the NBA will do a great job of putting us in a great environment that will allow us to be safe.”

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, teams were given a questionnaire this week that will likely impact the way this season concludes.

The league appears to be focused on Orlando as their possible landing spot to finish the season, but they are open to shortening the season, using a play-in tournament or just skipping straight to the postseason.

Out of all of these options, a play-in tournament might be the most appealing to the Kings. If the league were to resume the regular season, it would be tough to imagine them fitting in all 18 remaining games on the Kings’ schedule.

When the league was put on pause on March 11, the Kings were tied for the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings, just three and a half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies with 18 games remaining.

In a race that could come down to the final two or three games of the season, any reduction in games would likely hurt the Kings’ chances. As the standings currently sit, the Kings are in a three-way tie with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans for ninth place.

Portland has played two more games than both the Kings and Pelicans, so they hold a slight win percentage advantage. The Blazers and Kings have split the season series 2-2. New Orleans won their season series against Portland 3-0 and they have a 1-0 advantage over the Kings, with two head-to-head games remaining.

Sacramento would not only need to come out ahead of the Blazers and Pelicans, but they also need to track down the Grizzlies. The Kings won the season series 3-1 over the Grizzlies, but making up three and a half games isn’t an easy feat.

Memphis had one of the most difficult remaining schedules out of any team, but that could change dramatically if they don’t have to complete their entire schedule.

Heading straight to the playoffs would be bad for Sacramento as well, unless the league expanded to 20, 22 or 24 teams for the tournament. As the standings sit now, the Kings would need the league to allow at least 20 teams and potentially 22 teams into the postseason.

[RELATED: Jackson insists players want to finish season]

A play-in tournament would at least give the Kings a fighting chance to end their 13-season postseason drought. We have no idea what that tournament might look like at this point, but the Kings would likely be involved.

There are still plenty of moving pieces for the league to nail down, but it appears they are forging ahead and taking input on the finer details.

The only thing we know for certain is that fans will have to watch games from the comfort of their homes if and when the league returns. It’s painful to imagine, but there is a possibility that the Kings could snap their postseason drought, but not get to host the first ever home playoff game at Golden 1 Center.

How Kings' rough start to season could be advantage during NBA restart

How Kings' rough start to season could be advantage during NBA restart

The 2019-20 season did not start as planned for the Sacramento Kings. Before they could get out of Phoenix on opening night, Marvin Bagley broke his right thumb. De’Aaron Fox severely sprained his ankle during practice before the Kings could get through the first 10 games of the season and the team completely stumbled out of the blocks.

No one wants to begin a season that way, but the Kings were forced to scramble and it might have prepared them for what lies ahead with the Orlando restart.

“It helps in a sense that we’ve had to play different styles of basketball,” Walton said. “When you lose Marvin and you lose De’Aaron, you know you’re not going to play as fast, you’ve got to rely on execution to win games and defense.”

After leading the NBA in pace during the 2018-19 season, the Kings were a more methodical team this season, especially with Fox and Bagley on the shelf. One of the ways they can earn an advantage in the restart is to focus on pushing the tempo.

“Look, we’re going to win games by being a fast team and we’re going to win games by being able to execute in the fourth quarter,” Walton said. “We’ve played both styles so far this season and because of what we’ve gone through as a team, we know what that looks like and now it’s just about getting sharp with those things again.”

Walton, and every other NBA coach in the bubble, understands that this is not a normal situation. There is a higher risk for injury due to a lack of preparation time and the potential for the coronavirus finding its way into the bubble is always going to be hanging out there.

“We’re going to go through a lot,” Walton said. “Players are going to be joining us. Players are going to be leaving us. There is just going to be so many unknowns that we have to be ready to react and adjust to everything.”

One of the biggest obstacles facing Walton and the Kings is the loss of Harrison Barnes. Barnes announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and he is part of the NBA’s protocol.

“There’s a lot of tricky parts about losing Harrison, but one of them is he plays a lot of three and four for us,” Walton said.

Barnes spoke to the media on July 3, before testing positive on either the fourth or the fifth of July. He could make it back in time for the action, but it depends on how his body reacts to the virus.

At this point, veterans Kent Bazemore and Corey Brewer are getting a lot of time at small forward. Two-way player DaQuan Jeffires also has gotten a look and, according to Walton, is playing well.

Once Buddy Hield is completely cleared for action, Walton also will have the ability to use Bogdan Bogdanovic for stretches at the wing.

“Now that we have Buddy back, we’ll see some more of Buddy and Bogi on the floor together, but it’s by committee right now,” Walton said.

The small forward spot isn’t the only issue that Walton is dealing with at the moment. Alex Len is still in the NBA’s protocol back in Sacramento and Richaun Holmes has been quarantined to his room for 10 days for violating the bubble rules.

That leaves a small group of players at the four and the five, including Nemanja Bjelica, Bagley and Harry Giles. Jabari Parker also can play some minutes at the power spot, but he has played in just one game since joining the Kings via trade in February.

“The only two bigs we have right now are Marvin and Harry,” Walton said. “So they’re both getting a lot of reps and they’re both playing great. They’ve looked good, they’re moving well and they’re getting 100 percent of the reps right now.”

Len is getting closer to a return. According to Walton, he is feeling better and just waiting to clear protocol. Barnes also is doing well, but he’s likely a week or more behind where Len is in clearing the NBA’s hurdles.

“We need those guys -- Harrison and Alex especially,” Hield said. “I feel like we have to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time. Whoever is out there to go to war with us, we have to be ready.”

[RELATED: Kings' Hield returns to practice with sense of humor intact]

The bubble is proving to be one giant scramble for teams. The Kings have been one of the more impacted teams by the virus and protocol early on, but it’s still early in the process.

There is a chance Sacramento will walk into the action with a complete roster ready to compete for the playoffs. Then again, nothing has gone as planned this season for the Kings.

Buddy Hield returns to Kings practice with sense of humor still intact

Buddy Hield returns to Kings practice with sense of humor still intact

Buddy Hield is back.

The Kings’ 3-point marksman has joined the team in the Orlando bubble, and even a bout with the coronavirus hasn’t taken away his sense of humor.

“I’ve been trying to find ways to get out, something like 'El Chapo' with a tunnel under the hotel so I can sneak my a-- out of here,” Hield said Tuesday on a video call with reporters.

Hield said he had minor symptoms early on, but nothing severe. More than anything else, he was worried about the people around him.

“I wasn’t scared or nothing like that,” Hield said. “I tested positive and I was just concerned for the people around me like my daughter and my girl and my family.”

“I didn’t want nobody getting infected by it,” Hield added. “I didn’t want my carelessness causing someone to lose their life or something like that. So, I was warning people I was around.”

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According to Hield, he does not believe that he picked up COVID-19 playing in an exhibition game in Oklahoma in the Skinz League on June 11 because he is the only one to test positive from the game. Either way, he put himself at risk by entering a gym packed with fans, most of whom weren't wearing masks or face coverings.

“I wouldn’t do nothing differently,” Hield said. “I’ve just got to be more careful with where I’ve been. Know my surroundings better.”

Coach Luke Walton confirmed that both Hield and Jabari Parker were back at practice on Tuesday after clearing NBA protocol. They didn’t participate in the contact portion of the festivities, but Walton said it was nice to have them back in the fold.

“It was great having those guys back, good energy with them, they’re excited to be on the court around the guys again,” Walton said.

[RELATED: Harrison Barnes has coronavirus, fourth Kings player to test positive]

If the Kings have a chance to make the play-in series for the No. 8 seed, they need to be as healthy as possible. Getting Hield back, the team’s second-leading scorer, is huge.

Here's hoping Hield has studied up on "El Chapo" enough to know that the drug kingpin always gets caught, even after escaping the tunnel on a motorcycle. What happens in the bubble, stays in the bubble. Or maybe, what happens in the bubble better be in the bubble.