Where do the Kings go from here?
At 14-22, they finished off a very disappointing first half of the NBA season on Thursday with a 123-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. They’ll have a week off for the NBA’s All-Star break to regroup, maybe reconfigure the roster slightly and then jump back in to a wild 36-game finish under COVID-19 protocols.
Can the team turn things around and have a competitive second half? They’ll need help in the form of good health and few extra bodies, and even then, they still have a massive hill to climb.
“All in all, I think we’re motivated to get healthy over the break, recover and come back and finish out the rest of this season strong,” Harrison Barnes said on a video conference following the loss at the Moda Center.
After playing major minutes in the last few games, the core of the team is in need of a physical and mental break. Following a nine-game losing streak, they’ve split the last four games and barely came up short in each of the two losses. They are feeling the impacts of a condensed schedule and a lot of tough losses.
While the players decompress, it’s up to coach Luke Walton and his staff to keep the team on the right track, so the season doesn’t completely slip out of control. Sacramento still has a chance to build momentum and continue to develop the right type of atmosphere moving forward, even if wins don’t come in bunches.
“My expectations are that we created the culture, the behaviors, the habits, the work ethic that it takes to win in this league,” Walton said. “And as our players continue to get better, we’ll start winning more consistently. That’s where my expectations are for our group and that’s what I’m going to expect to see in the second half of the season as well.”
Are there positives to take away from the first half of the season?
Absolutely. De’Aaron Fox continues to take strides forward in becoming a star level player. Harrison Barnes is having one of his best seasons as a professional, and the same can be said for Richaun Holmes.
The Kings also have the development of Marvin Bagley and DaQuan Jeffries. Bagley is having a strong season after missing most of last year and Jeffries is back after missing a major chunk of the season due to injury and will get a shot to earn more minutes.
There is also rookie Tyrese Haliburton to keep an eye on. The 21-year-old guard has been nothing short of spectacular through the first half of the season, taking home Western Conference NBA Rookie of the Month honors for December/January, as well as February.
Buddy Hield even took some positive steps forward in the last few games of the first half and if he can get back on track, the Kings could be a lot more interesting to watch.
There are plenty of lessons learned from the first 36 games. Hopefully the team understands that if they don’t compete every night or if they deviate from the game plan, things can go sideways in the blink of an eye.
“It’s a very fine line between winning and losing, so I think with this break, we can just refocus and re-energize ourselves and just come back stronger for the second half,” Holmes said.
It hasn’t been the season that some of the players expected, but the Kings were in a similar situation last season and they played extremely well in the second half before the pandemic hit and shut down the season.
After a small respite, they’ll have a chance to change the narrative surrounding their season.
“I’m definitely ready for the next half of the season,” Fox said. “We started off good, headed down, came back up and then we had our down before this break. It’s all about, just be ready, be ready for the next game. Take it one game at a time.”
A lot can happen in 36 games. The Kings are well aware of that fact after a complete roller coaster of a first half. Whether they have the talent or the depth to win consistently in the second half is a question mark, but with this team, you almost have to expect the unexpected.
Sacramento opens their second half schedule next Thursday at home against the Houston Rockets. Hopefully for the team, they come out with a new found energy and focus to finish off what has been a disappointing season so far.