Kings

Kings back in playoffs? Buddy Hield ready to bet his house on it

Kings back in playoffs? Buddy Hield ready to bet his house on it

SACRAMENTO -- 25 games. In the NBA, it can be an eternity, especially when winning no longer matters to a team.

For the last 12 seasons, that is what the stretch run has been for the Kings. In fact, in most years losses were much more value to Sacramento than wins. That is an unfortunate reality of the NBA’s lottery system.

That mentality corrodes a franchise from the inside and it often takes years of work to scrub that idea from the walls of the locker room.

This is one of the reasons why the Kings didn’t give in to the chase for ping pong balls last season. Sure, they sat veterans to develop young talent, but coach Dave Joerger and his staff refused to give in to the culture of losing.

Plenty of teams around the league were tanking down the stretch, but the Kings set their sights on playing spoilers. They finished 9-12 over their final 21 games, which was good enough to push them all the way down to the seventh spot in the draft lottery.

The Kings’ focus on building a winning culture didn’t hurt them in the draft. Good basketball karma and a little lotto luck landed the Kings at No. 2, where they selected Marvin Bagley III.

Early this season, the Kings continued to build from their experience last year. They got off to a surprising start and with 25 games remaining, the team sits at 30-27 and just a game out of the eight seed in the Western Conference playoff chase.

“With us, we’ve just got to stay focused,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Sacramento hasn’t played too many games after the break that actually mean something for ourselves. Instead of playing spoiler, we’re actually trying to get in the playoffs.”

Even if the Kings make the playoffs, they’ll likely matchup against a team like the Golden State Warriors or Denver Nuggets in the first round. They’ve failed to pick up a win against either team so far this season and would likely be massive underdogs coming into the postseason.

With that in mind, why does fighting for a playoff spot matter?

It’s pretty simple. The intensity of a playoff race raises the level of competition, and making the postseason gives the team a taste of something more.

“It can mean everything,” Harrison Barnes said Wednesday evening. “I remember my first year, just making the playoffs with that group, kind of what that did for everybody. Having that collective hunger. Seeing what it’s like playing against elite level teams.”

It’s going to be a battle down the stretch. The team is trying to take it one game at a time, but the players openly admit to watching the standings every night. They know where they are and what it will likely take to make it to the playoffs.

“Now they can really grow up,” Vlade Divac told NBC Sports California. “It’s a great way of developing their game. That experience is priceless and I think that’s why we’re all so excited right now, to be in that race.”

The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. The drought is the longest current streak in the league, something the players understand very well.

Fans have shown up in droves all season long to cheer on the upstart Kings, and the team has responded with a 19-11 record at Golden 1 Center.

“For this organization, the fans, the city, I think it would be great to get back there and just feel that energy,” Buddy Hield told NBC Sports California. “I think it would be good for us and we feed off that.”

It’s going to be a battle down the stretch. The Kings are in one of the tougher grouping of games in their schedule. After falling in a heartbreaker to the Nuggets, the Kings face the Warriors, Thunder, Timberwolves, Bucks and Clippers over the next five games.

They’ll have an opportunity to pick up some games in the month of March, but night in and night out, it’s going to be a battle.

“You look at the west right now, everyone’s vying for a spot, everyone is vying for position,” Barnes said. “Every game means something. I think for us, everything comes back to us focusing on what we can control.”

It’s a confident group. They’ve defied the odds makers all season and they believe they can fight through and be there in the end.

[RELATED: How Kings went from NBA playoffs in 2006 to possible return in 2019]

Buddy Hield is so positive in the team’s chances, he was willing to place a bet on it following practice on Wednesday evening, although it came with a caveat.

"Very confident. I'd bet my house on it... I mean, I make a lot of money to buy the next one," the third-year guard said.

It’s going to be an interesting final seven weeks of the season for the Kings. For the first time in over a decade, the Kings are in the race. Whether they finish the season with a postseason berth or not, they’re building something in Sacramento.

Luke Walton's lawyer responds to assault allegations from Kelli Tennant

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AP

Luke Walton's lawyer responds to assault allegations from Kelli Tennant

Sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant and her attorney, Garo Mardirossian, laid out sexual assault allegations against Kings coach Luke Walton on Tuesday afternoon.

Now, in a statement obtained by NBC Sports California, Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, has responded with a strongly worded statement of his own.

“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court," Baute said Wednesday. "Yesterday's press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. Her lawyers want to create a public circus to distract from their complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime.”

The Kings have been quiet on the subject of Tennant's accusations against Walton since releasing a short statement Monday after the initial news broke.

“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time,” the Kings said in an official statement.

The NBA released a similar statement on Wednesday: “We are coordinating with the Kings organization and are in the process of gathering more information.”

Kelli Tennant, lawyer publicly allege Luke Walton sexually assaulted her

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USATSI

Kelli Tennant, lawyer publicly allege Luke Walton sexually assaulted her

Sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant, one day after filing a lawsuit alleging Luke Walton sexually assaulted her in 2014, sat alongside attorney Garo Mardirossian on Tuesday afternoon and held a press conference to further state her allegations against the Sacramento Kings coach.

“I am no longer comfortable being silent about the things that have happened to me," Tennant told an assembly of reporters in Los Angeles, "and although this may come as a shock to many of you in this community, this is a reality that I have been living in for years, and I can no longer stand to not tell the story of what has profoundly affected my life in all of the events that we have alleged in our complaint."

According to Tennant, she has known Walton and his wife, Bre Ladd, for many years through ties with volleyball. In 2013, Tennant and Walton became colleagues at Spectrum SportsNet and developed a friendship. She also looked to him as a mentor.

Tennant was writing a book and asked Walton to write the foreword for her, which he agreed to do. They met and worked together on the book, and when she eventually published it, she wanted to give him a copy of the finished work. 

Tennant alleges the two agreed to meet up at his hotel in 2014, when Walton was in town to face the Lakers as part of the Warriors' coaching staff. But when she arrived at the hotel to give him a copy of the book, Walton told her that he didn’t want to hang out in the lobby because the players were around.

He then brought her up to his room, where Tennant claims an aggressive attack occurred.

“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down with all of his weight,” Tennant said. “He kissed my neck and my face and my chest. As I kept asking him to please stop and get off, he laughed at me.”

After the initial encounter, Walton allegedly grabbed her a second time from behind and started kissing Tennant’s neck. 

“I thought he was going to rape me,” Tennant said.

During the press conference, Tennant explained how she eventually was able to leave the hotel room, but that wasn’t the last encounter she had with Walton. 

Walton joined the Lakers as head coach in 2016, which resulted in Tennant working with him on a daily basis. According to Tennant, Walton was inappropriate with her on multiple occasions, including unwanted hugs and kisses.

“Every interaction with him that I had over that time made me incredibly uncomfortable and feel unsafe,” Tennant said.

Their last encounter was at a charity event in 2017, when Walton allegedly made a comment about her dress, followed by an uncomfortable hug. 

“Every feeling I had from that first experience of feeling disgusted and betrayed, came back,” Tennant said.

According to Tennant, she had been working for Spectrum SportsNet for just under one year when the initial incident occurred with Walton at his hotel. She was 25 years old at the time and feared for her job.

“I was scared,” Tennant said. “When someone assaults you and you think you’re going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing. I have spent years now dealing with this. Trying to forget about it. Hoping I could push it to the side and bury it, and hoping that time would heal. That was not the case.”

According to Mardirossian, they haven’t taken the case to law enforcement, and outside of Tennant’s account, they have no other further evidence to support the claim. Tennant told family members of the event but did not discuss it with anyone in human resources at Spectrum or with either the Warriors or the Lakers.

The Kings, who hired Walton as their coach last week, have not released anything other than their initial statement, “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The NBA added this statement, per multiple reports: “We are coordinating with the Kings organization and are in the process of gathering more information.”

According to league sources, Kings general manager Vlade Divac did not know of pending allegations when he signed the 39-year-old coach to a four-year contract.