Kings develop defensive identity by shutting down Nuggets in big win

Kings develop defensive identity by shutting down Nuggets in big win

SACRAMENTO -- If you are looking for perfectly executed offensive sets and lights out shooting, you’ve come to the wrong place. 

With 40 percent of their starting lineup still on the shelf, the Sacramento Kings are more bare-knuckle brawler than the well-oiled machine at this point. But they seem to be in almost every game and after Saturday’s shocking overtime win over the Denver Nuggets, the Kings are 8-10 and currently tied for the eighth-best record in the Western Conference.

The 100-97 win over the Nuggets was a prime example of who the Kings are, or at least who they are right now. Denver had posted six straight wins and had won 10 of their last 11. After posting 54 wins a season ago and finishing as the number two seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets are one of the better teams in the league.

Through the first 24 minutes, it appeared the Kings were on their way to a third straight loss. They trailed the Nuggets 57-40 and they were just 2-for-13 from behind the arc. 

Whatever the discussion was at the half, the Kings looked like a different team after the break. Sacramento held the Nuggets to a combined 40 points on 32.6 percent shooting in the second half and overtime session.

“We showed ourselves that we can do that and we can play that type of defense, we’ve just got to put a full 48 minutes together,” point guard Cory Joseph said. “It was good enough to get the win today, but next time we’re going to have to bring for the whole game.”

After trailing for 47 minutes, the Kings tied the game on a Buddy Hield lay-up with 22.9 seconds remaining. It took an incredible defensive stop by Joseph and Richaun Holmes to preserve the tie and force the extra five minutes.

Sacramento didn’t take their first lead of the game until the 4:37 mark of the overtime session on an 8-foot pull-up by Harrison Barnes.

It was a big night for the Kings’ starting small forward. He scored a season-high 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting and 9-of-10 from the line. He also came up big on the defensive end in his 45 minutes of play.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive, this is one of the better defensive teams in the league, so I’m just trying to maximize the opportunities when I see a gap when I see an angle,” Barnes said. “I try to just go and make something happen.”

Barnes kept the Kings float throughout the evening. He’s become a stabilizing force for the Kings as they try to survive early in the season through the barrage of injuries.

“Harrison, we talked about him being that calming force for our group,” coach Luke Walton said. “Tonight he showed us again why he’s important to us on both ends of the court.”

With most of the Kings coming up empty with their shots, Barnes kept the Kings going until late. In the final two minutes of regulation, Hield finally caught fire, scoring eight points down the stretch as Sacramento clawed back into the game. Hield dropped in another four points in the overtime session to finish with 21 on 7-of-20 shooting and 3-of-13 from long range.

“All glory to God, man,” Hield said of his late-game heroics. “He knows what he was doing for me. He knows [it’s] coming at the perfect time, just got to wait and be patient.”

While Barnes and Hield were the offensive standouts, the game was truly won by Sacramento on the defensive end. They’ve shown grit and toughness and if not for a few bad bounces and some admitted missed calls, they could easily be over .500 on the season.

“You have to find ways to win the games even when you play badly,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “We had a bad night obviously, but in the end, we won the game. They are a top contender in the west. And for sure, this game means a lot to us.”

[RELATED: Fox, Bagley appear to be on mend]

This marketed the sixth time in the first 18 games the Kings have held an opponent under 100 points. They accomplished that feat only 10 total over an 82 game schedule last season. They are playing at a slower pace than last season, but they are developing the ability to get stops when they need them.

Sacramento has a chance to climb within a game of .500 on Monday evening when they host the Chicago Bulls. It has been an up and down year through 18 games, but a defensive identity is starting to form with this team, which could pay huge dividends down the road.

Why Kings replaced Buddy Hield with Bogdan Bogdanovic in starting lineup


Why Kings replaced Buddy Hield with Bogdan Bogdanovic in starting lineup

Changing of the guard.

Needing some sort of spark to shake things up, Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton is making a switch in his starting lineup. Bogdan Bogdanovic will start in place of Buddy Hield at shooting guard Friday evening in Chicago as the team looks to snap a six-game losing streak.

“It’s the same message I’ve given all year, look, we’ve had however many starting lineups all season long and it doesn’t matter, we’re a team,” coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to the game against the Bulls. “We’re struggling to win games right now, so we’re looking to see different groups give us a better chance of doing that.”

The move is a big change for Buddy Hield, who has started the last 126 games for the Kings. The 27-year-old shooting guard signed a massive four-year, $86 million extension in October, but he’s struggled on the defensive end all season and his shooting numbers are way down.

“There’s nothing permanent with it, it’s not a punishment to Buddy at all,” Walton added. “Buddy’s been great and we expect him to be great for us tonight. But we’ve got to keep looking for something that works for us.”

After shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from 3-point range last year, Hield is knocking down just 41.6 percent overall and 36 percent from behind the arc this season.

Due to injuries to both Bogdanovic and De’Aaron Fox, he’s been asked to carry a larger load when it comes to ball handling and playmaking, but he’s been forcing the action as of late.

“He’ll be fine,” Walton said. “Buddy’s a professional and he knows how we feel about him. Again, this is not a punishment towards him, we’re just looking at trying to mix some things up, try to give ourselves a little juice and find a way to win a game in this stretch that we’re in right now.”

Bogdanovic was set to be the starter at the two last season, but a late summer knee injury cost him the first 10 games of the season. Hield stepped in and played extremely well in his absence and the previous coaching staff decided to stick with a starting backcourt of Fox and Hield.

[RELATED: Source: Kings unlikely to trade Bogi]

In his third NBA season, Bogdanovic is averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game off the bench for Sacramento. He’s the Kings’ most versatile player and one of the better playmakers on the roster.

The Kings are 3-14 over their last 17 games and Walton is looking for a spark to shake things up. Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and he’ll get his shot to shine after coming off the bench for 33 games this season.

Kings' tailspin continues as team hits rock bottom in loss vs. Pistons

Kings' tailspin continues as team hits rock bottom in loss vs. Pistons

What happened to the Sacramento Kings? They’ve been treading just above rock bottom for the better part of a month, but it doesn’t get much worse than the performance they put forth Wednesday in Detroit.

The Kings looked completely disinterested through the first half, almost as if they were just going to show up in the third quarter and blow a completely depleted Pistons team out of the water.

That didn’t happen. In fact, the Kings were embarrassed by a team missing 60 percent of its starting lineup, falling by a final of 127-106.

“Basketball is a simple game, defend without fouling, make the right play and knock down shots early,” Luke Walton told reporters following the loss. “I feel like we didn't do any of those things. Now, I don't know where our competitive spirit was or because of injuries we thought the game might be easy.”

The Kings looked like a team that has completely lost its way. Players started hunting for shots in the third quarter and throwing up one bad 3-point attempt after another.

Instead of attacking the rim, it was a series of misses, followed by defensive rebounds for Detroit. The only time the offense looked anywhere near cohesive was when Walton went to the bench, turning to a group that included Cory Joseph, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and Harry Giles.

Giles has played sparingly over the last week and Bazemore and Tolliver made their debuts with Sacramento after coming over in a trade over the weekend.  

[RELATED: Kings players react to Bazemore-Tolliver trade with Blazers]

“I think our bad stretches are happening for too long, too many times,” De’Aaron Fox told media members. “There are times where we are out there playing good basketball and there are times where we're not. I said it before, you just try to play the best basketball you can for the most amount of time. I don’t think we're doing that right now.”

On the defensive end, the Kings didn’t move their feet and they fouled at will. 12 of the 13 players who stepped on the floor were called for personal fouls, including five each for Buddy Hield and Dewayne Dedmon.

In total, the Kings picked up 28 personal fouls as a team and sent the Pistons to the line for a staggering 44 free-throw attempts, of which they hit 37. Sacramento was outscored by 25 points at the foul line in a 21-point loss.

“There are times where our defense looks great and then we're not making shots,” Fox said. “There are times where we're making shots but we're trading baskets. We just have to be able to piece it together for as long as we can. Like I said before, we can't let our offense affect our defense or vice versa.”

The Kings have now dropped six straight and they are just 3-15 over their last 18 games. At 15-29, they are rudderless and in desperate need of a win.

“It's about where we're going and I'm a very patient person,” Walton said. “I believe in our group, but we need to do a lot of things including starting games with a much more competitive, engaged mindset. So, I still have all the belief in the world in our team. It's still surreal to be coaching this team, but there are some things that we need to improve on and improve on quickly because it's too late in the season to be having these same types of mistakes so frequently.”

With 38 games remaining in the season, the Kings have officially hit a new low. There is still time to make the season respectable and build for next year, but changes have to be made.

Whether that is a rotational move or a trade or something more drastic, the team needs a shock to the system and the current path the Kings are on is completely unacceptable by any standard.