How Lakers not resting LeBron James could affect Kings in playoff race

How Lakers not resting LeBron James could affect Kings in playoff race

The Los Angeles Lakers are all but out of it, but they still might stand in the Kings' way in the race for the NBA postseason.

After the Lakers' playoff hopes took a huge hit in a 113-105 loss to the cross-town Clippers, LeBron James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin he isn't planning on resting during the stretch. 

"That would take a lot of convincing from Luke [Walton] on up," James said. "Unless I'm hurt, I'm not sitting games."

The Kings are 2.5 games and two spots in the standings ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference, and a LeBron-led charge to overtake them is a decreasingly small possibility. But, James could still stand in their way en route to the playoffs. 

The Lakers and Kings will square off in Los Angeles on March 24, and James has had plenty of success playing Sacramento. In his career, James has averaged 26.5 points, 8.4 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game against the Kings. He also has a 20-7 record against Sacramento, and the Lakers have won two of three this season.  

[RELATED: What went right, what went wrong in Kings' win over Knicks]

It remains to be seen how engaged James -- and his Lakers teammates -- are by the time the Kings finally see them. It's not hard to envision Los Angeles' season spiraling further in the nearly three weeks between this writing, and when the season series wraps up. 

But as long as James is still playing, he's an obstacle the Kings will have to overcome. 

Do Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox make a case for NBA's Most Improved Player?


Do Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox make a case for NBA's Most Improved Player?

Locked out of the offseason awards since Tyreke Evans took home the Rookie of the Year trophy in 2010, the Sacramento Kings have two legitimate candidates this season for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.

It’s a crowded field, but with the Kings drawing a lot of attention this season with their strong play, both Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox will receive consideration. One of the pair may even take home the trophy.  

The case for Buddy Hield

Coming out of Oklahoma, Hield walked into the NBA as a known scorer. In year three, he cemented himself as one of the premier shooters in the league.

After earning a starting role coming out of training camp, Hield instantly settled in next to De’Aaron Fox in the Kings’ backcourt. He showed improvements across the board, but his real leap came as a scorer.

Hield showed a 7.2 points per game increase over his previous season, jumping from 13.5 points per game as a sophomore to 20.7 in year three. He also set new career highs in rebounds, assists and minutes played.

Known for his ability to knock down the long ball, Hield hit 278 3-pointers, which is the seventh highest single-season mark in NBA history, and a 102-make increase over his previous best season.

Hield increased his 3-point attempts by 2.8 per game while seeing his percentage barely drop from 43.1 to 42.7 percent. He became the Kings’ most consistent scoring threat and he hit big shots all season long.

The case for De’Aaron Fox

Fox posted a decent rookie campaign last year, but he took a massive leap as a sophomore. Not only did he improve, but the 21-year-old point guard became the face of the Kings’ franchise, which showed a shocking 12 game improvement in the standings.

Like Hield, Fox took steps forward in almost every facet of his game. His scoring average jumped from 11.6 points per game as a rookie to 17.3 in year two. He improved his 3-point percentage from 30.7 to 37.1 percent and his overall field goal percentage from 41.2 to 45.8 percent.

As a rookie, Fox posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.4-to-2.4. Despite the Kings cranking up their pace from 29th in the league to fifth, Fox successfully improved his assists to 7.3 per game while barely increasing his turnovers to 2.8.

Fox finished the season in the top 10 in both assists and steals and he looks like a player that can take another leap forward in his production. He has elite potential on both ends of the court, which bodes well for Sacramento.

Primary Competition

-Pascal Siakam had a tremendous season for the Toronto Raptors, and his team’s win total, although expected, may play a role in his candidacy.

Siakam jumped his scoring average from 7.3 points per game to 16.9 and added a career-best 6.9 rebounds per game. He went from a back end of the rotation player to starting 79 games on a 58-win team. He gets added points for being a late first-round selection.

-D'Angelo Russell went from bust to the leader of a surprise playoff team in Brooklyn. It’s a riches to rags to riches story for Russell who made himself a lot of money with his play this season.

Russell posted his best season as a pro, finishing the year averaging 21.1 points and seven assists per game while leading the Nets to a 42-40 record

-Montrezl Harrell found a home alongside Lou Williams coming off the Clippers bench. The 25-year-old undersized center bullied opposing bigs, helping lead Los Angeles back to the postseason.

Harrell averaged career-highs in points (16.6), rebounds (6.5), blocks (1.3) and minutes (26.3). He also shot 61.5 percent from the field and routinely dunked on his competition.

-Jon Collins slipped to the 19th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and he’s making plenty of teams regret that decision.

The high flying power forward increased his scoring average from 10.5 points as a rookie to 19.5 as a sophomore. He made a similar jump as a rebounder, grabbing 9.8 rebounds compared to 7.3 in year one.

Collins flourished in Atlanta’s uptempo style, although the Hawks won just 29 games.

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Both Hield and Fox have a strong case to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Hield elevated his game to become one of the game’s elite shooters while Fox developed into a floor general.

If one of the two is going to win the award, Fox might have the advantage. He is the face of the franchise and his ability to change the game with his speed helped multiple players post-career years in Sacramento.


Luke Walton needs defensive improvement in order for Kings to win

Luke Walton needs defensive improvement in order for Kings to win

SACRAMENTO -- Luke Walton loves for his teams to get out and run. Last season in Los Angeles, Walton’s Lakers pushed the tempo, finishing the year fourth in pace in the NBA.

When searching for a new head coach, one of the keys for general manager Vlade Divac was that the Kings’ uptempo style remain in place moving forward.

“The way we played last year, that’s kind of the identity for Kings basketball and that’s what we’re going to stick with,” Divac said. “We have a nice core of players that are going to play that kind of style.”

Playing fast is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but on occasion, it can lead to massive swings on the scoreboard. While the Kings could put the ball in the basket at will, they struggled to keep their opponents from doing the same.

The next step in the evolution of the team is to not just focus on one side of the court but to play with tempo on offense combined with solid team defense. At least that should be the mindset if the Kings are going to improve on their 39-43 record from this past season.

“Defense wins. Defense wins championships,” Walton said during his introductory press conference Monday in Sacramento. “I love offense, I love how beautiful it can be when you have five guys moving the ball and shooting and everything else. But defense is how you win when it really counts.”

Walton had plenty of veteran players last season in Los Angeles, which usually helps on the defensive side of the ball. The Lakers finished 21st in points allowed because of their pace of play, but 12th in defensive rating.

The Kings struggled to get stops on plenty of nights last year. Sacramento ranked 26th in points allowed and 20th in defensive rating. The Kings failed to get the necessary stops they needed in the final minutes of games, which was especially apparent late in the season.

There is no magic pill to make someone better on the defensive side of the ball. It takes time and chemistry and a want to improve. The coaching staff also needs to view it as a priority.

“We’ll put a huge emphasis on our defense, challenge our guys daily, start practices with defense,” Walton said.

This isn’t to say that Dave Joerger’s group failed in this aspect last season. Handed an extremely young and inexperienced roster, they chose first to focus on tempo and then worked to improve on defense throughout the year.

Walton will need additional players with defensive acumen to succeed. Adding a proven shot blocker and post defender would help and maybe a defensive-minded wing.

The midseason additions of Harrison Barnes and Corey Brewer gave a glimpse into how seasoned players can affect the defensive side of the ball. Divac needs to search out more of these types of players in free agency.

A year of growth by their young core will help in this process as well. Players like De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles all have tremendous potential to grow into stronger defenders in the future. But it will take effort for this to happen.

Known more for his offensive style during his short coaching career, Walton has played for some incredible mentors both during his in both college and the pros, including Lute Olson, Phil Jackson and Rudy Tomjanovich.

While his play style is better represented by the two years he spent as an assistant under Steve Kerr with the Warriors, he’s gleaned plenty from some of the best the game has known.

“It’s attention to detail that they had,” Walton said. “Holding people accountable or to the standard of play that they wanted as a coach that really separates the great coaches that I’ve played for and the way that they’ve influenced me as a young coach.”

It should be noted that during his half-season as an interim head coach for Golden State, the Warriors posted the number one scoring offense with the second fastest pace while finishing fifth in the league in defensive rating.

The Kings haven’t spent years together like that Warriors team, but there is hope that with time, this group can take another step forward with better communication and a few key additions.

[RELATED: Luke Walton 'thrilled' for the opportunity to coach young Kings]

After many years of struggles, Sacramento has an identity. Walton is a perfect fit for the style of play, but the team has to be more than just a flashy offensive juggernaut if they hope to snap the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought.