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.

Harrison Barnes places Kings' flameout in Orlando on himself, veterans

Harrison Barnes places Kings' flameout in Orlando on himself, veterans

The team that began the Orlando bubble saying “we want all of that smoke” just learned that smoke usually is accompanied by fire.

At 1-4 in the NBA restart, the Kings have shown they aren’t ready for the fire and they might not be ready for prime time.

“I think it starts with individual accountability, just in terms of the effort we are putting out there on a consistent basis,” veteran Harrison Barnes said following the Kings’ 119-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. “It’s hard to win in this league and to be consistent, you have to do that every single night.”

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The Kings have talent. But rarely is that enough at the NBA level.

You have to play together. You have to play for one another. In the end, you have to bring energy and effort every night or a team of no-names, like the squad the Nets threw on the court Friday, will embarrass you.

It’s a common theme with the Kings. They played a tremendous game in a 140-125 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, scoring 49 points in the first quarter

Just over 24 hours later, they looked like a collection of players that had never played together. There was no chemistry. No passing. No rotations on defense.

Just forced and ineffective basketball.

“Frustration is high,” Barnes admitted. “I don’t know if it’s disappointing, but it’s frustrating. Coming into this game, we knew it was more mental than physical. It was meeting force with force. It was being disciplined. It didn’t matter what scheme we had or what game plan we had if we didn’t have any effort.”

Who's to blame for the Kings’ flame out in Orlando? Coach Luke Walton has already drawn plenty of criticism, but at some point the players themselves have to take ownership for the things they can control on the court.

Following the loss to the Nets, Barnes fell on his sword as one of the leaders of the team. He placed the blame on himself and the rest of the veterans.

“I’ll be the first to say it’s definitely on us as veteran players -- guys like myself," Barnes said. "I’ll take responsibility for that because I’ve been to the playoffs, I’ve been to the Finals. I know the energy and effort it takes to win games and if you don’t bring that, you lose.”

“As a group, we have to learn that you can’t just turn it on,” he added.

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The Kings have a choice. They can pout and get their lunch handed to them for the next three games. They can also play spoiler and leave the bubble on as high of a note as possible.

Either way, this isn’t the outcome the Kings were hoping for. They have had a few bright spots, like the play of De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, so the experience isn’t a total wash. But after five games, any talk of playoffs is over and changes likely are coming during the abbreviated offseason.

Kings takeaways: What you might've missed in 119-106 loss vs. Nets

Kings takeaways: What you might've missed in 119-106 loss vs. Nets


Consistently inconsistent.

After coming away with a huge win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, the Kings failed to show up Friday on the second night of a back-to-back against the completely depleted Brooklyn Nets.

Sacramento looked stagnant on offense and a step slow in its rotations on the defensive end. The result was an embarrassing 119-106 loss that all but extinguished the Kings' remaining playoff hopes.

Here are three takeaways from the Kings getting out-hustled and fell to 1-4 in the Orlando bubble.

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Loud Thud

The Kings came into the restarted NBA season talking a big game. They played well enough to win against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, but couldn’t close out games. Their win over the Pelicans gave folks a glimmer of hope, but blowout losses to the Orlando Magic and Nets were completely unacceptable.

With Friday's loss, Sacramento has completely fallen out of the race for the No. 8 seed and would need a miracle to finish ninth and force a play-in series.

The Kings still have three games remaining in the restart, but general manager Vlade Divac has to take a long look at his roster this summer and make some difficult decisions. Everything outside of trading De’Aaron Fox should be on the table.

Bogi puts up a fight

Bogdan Bogdanovic posted a career-high 35 points in the Kings’ win over the Pelicans, and he was back at it again against the Nets.

One of the few Kings players to stand out, Bogdanovic finished with a team-high 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting, including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers.

A restricted free agent at the end of the season, Bogdanovic has been really solid in four of the Kings’ five games. Unfortunately for Sacramento, it just wasn't enough Friday.

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Star still shining

Since the beginning of the restart, De'Aaron Fox has come out aggressive and put on a show. He didn’t match his 27.5 points per game average from the first four games on Friday, but he was effective in his time on the court.

The Kings' starting point guard finished with 21 points and seven assists. There is the outline of a star, but he needs another really strong offseason to take that next step.