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.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in dominant preseason win vs. Jazz

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USATSI

Kings takeaways: What we learned in dominant preseason win vs. Jazz

BOX SCORE

Every game is an opportunity to get better. On Monday night in Salt Lake City, the Kings got better.

Sacramento pushed the tempo early and often and ran the Utah Jazz off the court in a 128-115 win. The Kings scored 78 points in a wild first half of action to take a big lead after 24 minutes. 

Donovan Mitchell led the way for Utah, scoring 22 points in 28 minutes. Rudy Gobert added 17 points and six rebounds, but the Jazz’s duo weren’t nearly enough to keep up with the high-powered Kings. 

Here are three takeaways as the Kings improved to .500 this preseason.

Buddy and Bags

The Kings can flat-out score the ball, which the Jazz were reminded of on their home court. While six Sacramento players scored in double figures, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley stood out.

Hield used a variety of moves to create space and hit open jumpers. He finished with 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Hield also chipped in five assists and grabbed three rebounds in the win. 

With Hield launching from the perimeter, Bagley went to work inside. The 20-year-old power forward posted a second straight double-double, scoring 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and two blocks.

Plan C

De'Aaron Fox is the Kings' "Plan A" at point guard, while veteran Cory Joseph is "Plan B." With Joseph missing his third straight game with a calf injury and Fox sidelined with a sore back in the third quarter, coach Luke Walton might have revealed Sacramento's "Plan C" -- and it wasn't Yogi Ferrell.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings’ Swiss army knife, stepped in alongside Hield and went to work. Bogdanovic initially put his scoring on hold and set up his teammates for a team-high eight assists in 28 minutes of action. 

The Kings’ sixth-man got going late to chip in 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting, and he grabbed five rebounds to add to the big night.

[RELATED: Kings' switching defense dependent on better communication]

Switch

While the offense outburst was impressive from the Kings, the focus continues to be on the defensive end. After installing a base defense in the opening days of camp, Walton and his staff began integrating some switching principles over the last few days.

Due to their size, athleticism and shooting ability, the Jazz is a difficult team to switch on. That didn’t stop the Kings from trying it at times Monday. 

The Jazz managed to score 115 points on the Kings while shooting 48.8 percent from the field. Of course the Kings were successful on the offensive end as well, hitting a very good Jazz team for 128 points. 

It’s clear the Kings defense is behind the offense, but they're building chemistry and showing signs of improvement.

Kings vs. Jazz watch guide: Projected lineups, injuries, player usage

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AP

Kings vs. Jazz watch guide: Projected lineups, injuries, player usage

The Sacramento Kings get their first look at a revamped Utah Jazz team Monday evening when they travel to Salt Lake City. A 50-win team last season, the Jazz bolstered their roster with Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic during the summer and look primed to jump into the contender conversation.

Sacramento is fresh off a win over the Phoenix Suns and are looking to move to .500 on the preseason. The Kings also made substantial changes in the offseason as they try to snap their 13-year playoff drought.

Tip is set for 6 p.m. PT at Vivint Smart Home Arena, although the game is not available on television.

The Kings return home following the contest to face Melbourne United in their final preseason game Wednesday at Golden 1 Center.

Where to Watch: Game is not televised

Line: Jazz by 4.5

Projected Starting Lineup

Kings

PG De’Aaron Fox
SG Buddy Hield
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Marvin Bagley
C Dewayne Dedmon

Jazz

PG Mike Conley
SG Donovan Mitchell
SF Bojan Bogdanovic
PF Royce O’Neale
C Rudy Gobert

Injury Report

Kings

PG Cory Joseph (calf) OUT, SF Trevor Ariza (lipoma) OUT, C Harry Giles (left knee soreness) OUT, PG Tyler Ulis (groin) OUT, PF Tyler Lydon (hip) OUT, F Hollis Thompson (hip) OUT.

Jazz

PG Danté Exum (right knee rehab) OUT, F Juwan Morgan (left ankle sprain) QUESTIONABLE, PG Emmanuel Mudiay (left hamstring soreness) QUESTIONABLE.

What to Watch

Bagley vs. The Stretch 4

Marvin Bagley’s move into the starting lineup is going to create matchup issues. Sometimes it will be good for the Kings, but other times, he might be a liability, at least until he figures out how to guard stretch fours on a consistent basis. Utah runs a group of sharpshooters at power forward, including Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jeff Green.

Battle of the Backcourts

It doesn’t get much better than this. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are an up and coming duo that play at a breakneck pace. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are a perfect mix of veteran savvy and incredible athleticism. A floor general, a slasher, a shooter and an aerial acrobat.