If this season is about growth, Kings need more games like Thursday's vs Pacers


If this season is about growth, Kings need more games like Thursday's vs Pacers

SACRAMENTO -- Golden 1 Center might have been the safest place in America on Thursday evening. Between private security and Sac PD in full riot gear, the evening went off without a hitch. In addition, a pretty good game of basketball broke out.

With nothing to play for but pride and experience, the Sacramento Kings made the Indiana Pacers work a full 48 minutes for their 45th victory of the season. A loss is a loss, but once again, the Kings showed a glimpse into the what the future may hold.

“Guys are getting better and guys are developing and guys are better than they were a month ago and then better than they were in November,” coach Dave Joerger said in his postgame presser. “So it’s a fantastic opportunity for guys to play a lot of minutes.”

This was a different Joerger than the one we saw Tuesday evening. He couldn’t hide his displeasure with his team’s effort against the Dallas Mavericks. Despite the scores of the two games being similar and the outcome being the same, some losses feel better and some feel worse.

Against Indiana, Sacramento wouldn’t go away. The never trailed by double-digits and they entered the fourth quarter all squared at 79-79 after a Frank Mason 22-foot jumper at the buzzer.

This is what Joerger is living for down the stretch. You want close games. You want learning experiences for your young core.

The Kings fell behind by eight at the 3:02 mark of the fourth, but they never went away. Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finished the night with a team-high 21 points, hit a floater to make it a six point game with 2:42 remaining.

Buddy Hield continued his stellar stretch, drilling a 3-pointer at the 1:06 mark to make it a 99-96 game. After a Pacers turnover, Hield hit a pair of free throws to give the Kings a 7-0 run and cut Indiana’s lead to one with 30.1 remaining.

“I think all the young guys love those types of moments,” Hield said following the loss. “Everybody wants to step up and make big plays and show support for each other and be that guy for the team. I feel like everybody’s come through in those big moments.”

If this season is about learning and growing, these are the opportunities the Kings need.

With 17.9 seconds remaining, Victor Oladipo knocked down a 26-foot 3-pointer to give Indy a four point lead. Instead of folding, Hield dropped in a 20-footer straddling the line to make it 100-102 with 13.2 remaining and give him his sixth 20-point performance in his last eight contests.

“As players, you live for those moments, you want to be in those moments where you can make plays for your teammates and try to put your team on your back,” Hield added.

Sacramento was forced to foul and the Pacers Bojan Bogdanovic hit both free throws to once again make it a four-point game with 10.7 seconds left on the clock.

The Kings’ Bogdanovic answered back with a 31-foot laser to make it a one point game with 4.3 seconds in regulation. Victor Oladipo made both free throws and the Kings missed a 67-foot heave as time expired to fall by a final of 106-103.

“It’s always better to play in games like that, the intensity kind of picks up,” De’Aaron Fox said. “They’re fighting for a playoff spot, a higher seed. It’s always great to get that kind of experience.”

With the win, Indiana moved into a virtual tie with the 76ers for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff chase and they trail the Cleveland Cavaliers by just a half game for the third spot.

The loss was the third straight for Sacramento and drops them to 24-52 on the season. But in a season about growth and development, falling by three points to a high quality playoff team in the final seven games of the year shows that the team is still fighting and still looking to improve.

Kings Under Review: De'Aaron Fox leads comeback over dysfunctional Bulls

Kings Under Review: De'Aaron Fox leads comeback over dysfunctional Bulls

The Kings did exactly what they needed to do on their road trip against primarily cellar-dwelling teams - win three out of four and return home over .500 on the season. But for 24 minutes, it looked like Sacramento might not be so lucky.

The dysfunctional Chicago Bulls (6-22) gave the Kings all they could handle early, but the visiting squad came out with a different mindset in the third quarter. With a dominant performance in the second half, the Kings pulled away for a 108-89 victory.

Sacramento currently stands at 14-12 on the season with the win. Here are a few positives and negative from the game:


First half blues

Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox struggled in the first half. Fox missed all five of his shot attempts and posted just two assists before the break. Hield hit a late 3-pointer to get on the board after missing his first five attempts.

The Kings won't normally be able to afford either of their top two scorers to have an off night, let alone both of them. The Bulls led by as many as 14 in the second quarter and took an 11 point lead into the intermission. But then they let Sacramento off the hook.

A better team could have put the Kings away early while Fox and Hield were adjusting their energy levels. 


Fox steals the show

After looking out of sorts early, Fox broke out in the third quarter. It started on the defensive end with a pair of steals, but once the 20-year-old got going on the offensive end, the Bulls had no answer.

Fox dropped 16 points in the period, hitting 3-of-4 from behind the arc and single handedly changing the entire pace and tempo of the game.

When Fox is hitting from the perimeter, he's tough to stop. When he's playing elite defense, he's impossible.


Bagley vs. Carter

The battle of the rookie bigs was fun to watch. Marvin Bagley (#2 pick) and Wendell Carter Jr. (#7 pick) teamed up last season at Duke and faced off on Monday for the first time in their young NBA careers.

Bagley scored 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, showing his high-end potential as an offensive weapon. Carter dropped in eight points and eight rebounds, while his team lost by 19.

Although Bagley came away with the stat line and the win, he also posted a second straight sub-par rebounding night, which is why he makes both the positive and the negative list.

Since returning from a back injury three games ago, Bagley has grabbed a total of five rebounds. That's a concern.


Impacting the game

Willie Cauley-Stein isn't consistently scoring or consistently rebounding, but he is consistently producing for the Kings.

Against the Bulls, he hit the glass for a season-high 16 rebounds to go with 11 points, three assists and three steals.

The double-double was the ninth of the season for the Kings' starting center. He had a total of 12 double-doubles in 73 games played last season.

Cauley-Stein isn't perfect, but he's seems to be figuring out what his team needs on a nightly basis. He's active on both ends of the court and he's making an impact.

Willie Cauley-Stein sees Kings culture change: 'It's a brotherhood'

Willie Cauley-Stein sees Kings culture change: 'It's a brotherhood'

You can see it when you watch these Sacramento Kings. They play with joy and energy. They play for the one common goal of winning games, not for one individual player's stats.

Fourth-year center Willie Cauley-Stein has been there for some bad moments, and now he's seeing something completely different.

"We're a ballclub now. We're linked. We're together," Cauley-Stein said Monday, according to The Sacramento Bee. "Regular teams be on some regular s***, but we ain't regulars. We're a club. It's a brotherhood."

The Kings just wrapped up a 3-1 road trip with a 108-89 win over the dysfunctional Bulls. Sacramento has a 14-12 record and sits half a game behind the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.

The next step for this "brotherhood" is to keep this strong play going and make a push for a playoff spot.