Kings' bad loss in season finale is a microcosm of final 25-game slide

Kings' bad loss in season finale is a microcosm of final 25-game slide

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Defense took the final game of the season off Wednesday night at Moda Center.

In a wild display of running and gunning, the Sacramento Kings put on a show ... and then vanished without a trace in a 136-131 loss to the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers.

In one of the craziest games in recent memory, the Kings scored 87 first-half points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field and set a team record with 13 makes from long range in the opening 24 minutes. The points outburst was two points off the franchise record of 89, set on March 12, 1970, in the then-Cincinnati Royals’ 165-151 win over the San Diego Rockets.

The Kings didn’t match the 165 mark. In fact, they did the unthinkable.

After leading by 28 in the first half, Kings coach Dave Joerger made the decision to sit his starters coming out of intermission, and the game completely spun out of control.

“The NBA’s a crazy game, certainly a tale of two halves,” Joerger said in his brief postgame comments. “Tip your hat to those guys, they played their tails off and, you know, their six guys played very, very well tonight.”

The key point to Joerger’s comments is “six guys.” That's the total number of players who stepped on the court for Portland, a nd many of them had barely played this season.

All five regular Portland starters sat out the game, leaving a ragtag group of fill-ins to play 40 minutes or more, including a full 48 from three of the makeshift starters.

Former King Skal Labissiere dropped in 29 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes. He dominated Sacramento inside and even knocked down two 3-pointers. Rookie Anfernee Simons played all 48 minutes, finishing with a career-best 37 points on 13-of-21 shooting from the field.

Riding a noisy home crowd, the Blazers dropped a 74-point second half on Sacramento to come away with the stunning victory.

As Joerger said, it certainly was a tale of two halves. The Kings shared the ball in the first 24 minutes, dishing out 18 assists to go with two turnovers. The assist-to-turnover ratio dipped to 7-to-8 with the starters on the sidelines in the second half and the Trail Blazers running a zone.

“We were playing together, moving the ball ... shots were falling ... I mean, we’re playing,” Kings rookie Marvin Bagley said of the first half. “They came out and made shots in the second half, and we let another one slip away, so that’s what that was.”

Blowing big leads has become a common occurrence for the Kings since the All-Star break. They go home disappointed in the effort against Portland and with a clear need to improve on closing out games.

“Hell no, it ain’t hard to move on from a game like this,” Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox said. “It’s over. We wanted to finish the season strong, we didn’t do that. We come back, have our exit meetings and talk about what we need to work on, and that’s it.”

[RELATED: Divac, Kings ready to talk contract extension]

Sacramento finished the season 39-43, but the team went 6-11 over its final 17 games as postseason hopes slipped away and then disappeared.

For Portland, it was a good way to finish another strong regular season. With the victory, the Trail Blazers finished the season at 53-29 and moved into the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs, which start Saturday.

This isn’t the way the Kings wanted to finish out their season. It should be an interesting few days in Sacramento as the team digests not only a bad loss but a poor finish to an otherwise exciting campaign.

Skal Labissiere learning from Trail Blazers' bench in NBA playoff run


Skal Labissiere learning from Trail Blazers' bench in NBA playoff run

With the clock winding down, Damian Lillard measured Paul George and stepped into a 37-foot game winner to push the Portland Trail Blazers into the second round of the NBA playoffs.

It was bedlam. In a single moment, Lillard transformed from All-Star to something more. A superstar? Maybe. A legend in Portland? For sure.

As his teammates stormed the court, a photo was taken which captured a deadpanned Lillard staring into the lens as his teammates piled on.  

“That was the craziest shot I’ve ever seen in person,” Skal Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “It was great, just the atmosphere and the moment, the magnitude of the moment. It was the last game of the series and being against OKC. It was just a great shot.”

Labissiere’s huge smile lights up the picture. He’s in the upper right hand corner embracing his star guard.

One of the biggest moments of the 2018-19 playoffs and somehow Skal Labissiere makes the picture? This is the NBA life. One moment you can be wasting away on the Sacramento Kings' bench preparing for a 13th straight year without a postseason appearance and the next thing you know, you are in the Western Conference finals.

The 7-footer was dealt at the trade deadline from Sacramento to Portland in a swap for Caleb Swanigan. While he hasn’t found a spot in the rotation quite yet, the Haitian-born big was in desperate need of a career reboot.

Selected by Sacramento with the 28th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Labissiere played 106 games in a Kings uniform before the trade. With the focus shifting to young players like Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, the 23-year-old center was a spare piece.

“It’s been a great experience so far,” Labissiere said of the trade. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been learning a lot from all the veterans here and the coaches. I’ve been learning a lot - the culture, the game, the guys here, they welcomed me with open arms. I’ve gotten a lot better since I’ve been here.”

Labissiere played in just nine games for the Blazers as they fought for playoff positioning down the stretch. In the season finale against his former team, the smooth shooting big dropped in 29 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes, reminding the Kings what could have been.

While things didn’t go as planned for Labissiere in Sacramento, he has no ill-will towards the franchise. If anything, he was gracious for the experience.

“Thank you for everything,” Labissiere said of his two-plus years in Sacramento. “Thank you to Vlade (Divac), Vivek (Ranadivé) for taking a chance on me on draft night. Even coach Joerger, giving me a chance to play in my rookie year and after the (DeMarcus Cousins) trade and in my second year in the league, just believing in me and cheering for me.”

Even when he wasn’t playing major minutes, Labissiere said he appreciated the cheers he received from the fans. He’s starting over in Portland with the hopes that he can find a permanent spot in the league.

He’s also getting an incredible experience of playing deep into the playoffs. He’s made three appearances in the postseason so far, but he’s taking it all in and trying to absorb as much as he can from the opportunity.

“This is a first time for everything, so I’m very excited to be here, just getting to experience this, even though I’m not playing a whole lot,” Labissiere said. “I’m still watching and learning how the guys approach every game and just supporting. Hopefully at some point I’ll get out there and be able to help the team, but as of right now, I’m satisfied with just learning and watching from afar.”

There’s a lot you can learn about the game of basketball by sitting back and watching. There is also a lot you can learn by walking into a new environment.

“I could tell when I first got here just the closeness of this group,” Labissiere said. “Everybody is for each other. They all care about winning, no matter what it takes. Whatever they have to do, sacrifice, as far as their roles, they’ll do it just for the betterment of the team.”

[RELATED: Should Suns forward Jackson be trade target for Kings?]

Labissiere has a guaranteed contract next season in Portland and a summer to show that he can fit into the system and be part of the Blazers' family. For now, he’s trying to take it all in and enjoy the ride.

He isn't the only former Kings player still alive in the postseason. Seth Curry, George Hill, Eric Moreland and DeMarcus Cousins are all still playing as the playoffs inch towards the Finals.

NBA draft 2019: Kings to bring in first six prospects for workout


NBA draft 2019: Kings to bring in first six prospects for workout

The Sacramento Kings don't have a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but they do have three second-round picks.

In possession of the No. 40, No. 47 and No. 60 overall selections, the Kings will be looking for lower-level talent -- players that might take a few years to develop.

With that in mind, the Kings have invited six players for a pre-draft workout that will take play Monday, May 20 in Sacramento.

[RELATED: Fox a Most Improved Player finalist]

The Kings' 2019 first-round pick belongs to the Boston Celtics. Back in 2015, Sacramento included the future first-round pick in a salary dump trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. Two years later, the 76ers traded the rights to that pick to the Celtics in order to move up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the 2017 draft to select Markelle Fultz.