Kings' home finale loss shows they aren't same team from early in season

Kings' home finale loss shows they aren't same team from early in season

SACRAMENTO -- It’s called letting go of the rope.

A series of tough losses hurt. A series of bad losses showed that the team wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Long before the Kings were eliminated from playoff contention against the Houston Rockets on April 2, there were signs of the team fading.

With Sunday’s 133-129 loss to New Orleans, the Kings are 9-15 over their last 24 games. The Pelicans suited up eight healthy bodies. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Julius Randle and Stanley Johnson were not amongst those in uniform.

“We’ve just been letting games slip from us and losing games we should win,” rookie Marvin Bagley said. “Small stuff that we were doing at the beginning of the year that we kind of got away from and it was starting to show.”

Small stuff. Big stuff. Stuff in general. The Kings aren’t the same club that rammed the ball down the throats of their opponents for the first 50-60 games of the season. They also aren’t the team that got stops when they needed it down the stretch of tight ball games.

“It’s still been a terrific season, but by and large, over the last nine games I think we’ve played well once, and the idea of what we’re trying to do with this young group is to teach them how to play 82 games,” coach Dave Joerger said.

The Kings can still score with the best of them, but their defense continues to show cracks that are unacceptable if you hope to play in the postseason.

By NBA standards, giving up 133 points to a 33-48 Pelicans team missing 80 percent of their starting lineup isn’t okay.

“Yeah - it’s not a ton of defensive mistakes as far as just technical stuff,” Joerger said. “It’s just straight up trying to keep the basketball in front of us has been difficult.”

This isn’t how the team wanted to finish the year, but there is a lot of positives to take into the offseason. With most of the rotation still on rookie scale contracts, there are going to be bumps in the road.

The group is clearly frustrated that they fell short off their ultimate goal of making the playoffs and they haven’t handled the down turn the way they would have liked.  

“It’s human nature, you start thinking differently,” Buddy Hield said. “Mentally you’ve got to focus. Some guys want the season to get done quickly, but I’m a competitor, man, I’m competing as hard as I can. I love the game, so it sucks that we have one game left.”

Sacramento still has one more game to send the season off on a high note. They’ll travel to Portland to face the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, but it’s a team that is working through injuries, playing the second night of a back-to-back and may already have their seeding in the playoffs on lockdown.

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The goal to make it to the postseason is gone, but the next step was to learn how to play a full 82 games. That is just a starting point. If the Kings want to make it to the postseason next season, they have to be prepared for 90 or 95 games.

Talent can get you far. A good scheme can help you hide some of the faults. But in the end, there is only one way to gain the necessary experience needed and that is to go through the ups and downs first hand.

Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic listed as questionable day after career night

Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic listed as questionable day after career night

The hits keep rolling for the Sacramento Kings.

De’Aaron Fox is out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury. Marvin Bagley traveled with the team on the current four-game road trip, but will not play due to his still healing broken right thumb. And now Bogdan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph and Trevor Ariza are having an issue as well.

Bogdanovic set a new career-high in scoring on Tuesday evening when he dropped 31 points in the Kings’ win over the Suns, but he watched the final 1:22 of the fourth quarter from the bench.

Sacramento's super-sub is dealing with tightness in his left hamstring and is questionable for Friday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.

The 6-foot-6 wing could be seen grabbing at his left hamstring late in the win over Phoenix. Following the game, he said that his leg felt okay and believed it was just a cramp. He is expected to be listed as day-to-day moving forward.

After a rough start to the season, Bogdanovic is on a tear as of late for Sacramento. Over his six games, the 27-year-old guard is averaging 21.3 points, 6.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 32.6 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 53 percent from the field and a stunning 56.5 percent from 3-point range on 7.7 attempts per game.

Bogdanovic is a huge reason the Kings have rallied back after starting the season 0-5. He’s taken over as the primary ball handler with Fox out of action and his confidence is at an all-time high.

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In addition to Bogdanovic, Joseph is banged up as well and listed as questionable with a sore left heel. The veteran point guard has started the last four games in Fox's absence, posting 3.3 points and 6.3 assists in 31.7 minutes per game. While his numbers are down, he's provided a steady hand with the offense and his defense has helped the Kings win games.

Lastly, Ariza is still recovering from a right groin injury and is away from the team due to personal reasons. According to a league source, he will miss the entire four game trip.

If Bogdanovic and/or Joseph can’t suit up, head coach Luke Walton will have to get creative with his rotations. Expect to see Buddy Hield to carry even more of the load in the backcourt and veteran Yogi Ferrell will likely get a longer look with the second unit.

The Kings also have rookie Justin James and two-way player DeQuan Jeffries on the roster if they need some added depth. If Walton is looking for help at the wing, Wenyen Gabriel is available to steal some minutes and brings plenty of energy.

Marvin Bagley re-evaluated by Kings, will not play on four-game road trip


Marvin Bagley re-evaluated by Kings, will not play on four-game road trip

Before the Sacramento Kings boarded a flight to New York City on Wednesday morning, they took care of some medical news.

According to the team, Marvin Bagley underwent an x-ray on his broken right thumb and has been re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff.

Bagley is progressing in his recovery and will make the four-game trip to the east coast, but he will not suit up for the Kings as they push to get back to the .500 mark. The 20-year-old power forward will undergo another re-evaluation when the team returns home next week.

After a solid rookie season, Bagley was injured on opening night against the Phoenix Suns. He’s missed the last 12 games but has ramped up his activity both in practice and in pregame over the last week.

“Once he’s cleared, we have to get him on the practice court,” head coach Luke Walton said during pregame on Tuesday. “I’ve played with players like Kobe (Bryant) who could miss four weeks and come back and they are ready to go at a high level. And then I’ve been a player myself, where if I missed four weeks, I need another four weeks just to be able to run with the guys out there. So it’s different for everybody.”

Bagley is likely closer to the Kobe model than the Walton model in this particular instance. He’s been on the floor working out and staying in shape during the injury, despite wearing a removable brace on his right hand.

The injury is also to Bagley’s non-dominant hand, which has allowed him to continue to work not just on cardio, but on shooting drills as well.

A lot has changed in the 12 games Bagley has missed. Nemanja Bjelica has stepped in and played extremely well at the power forward position and Richaun Holmes has taken over the center position for veteran Dewayne Dedmon.

Bjelica is averaging 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game as a starter. He’s also shooting 53.1 percent from 3-point range during that time and his true shooting percentage of 67.8 is tops on the team.

With Bjelica spacing the floor, Holmes has found a home in the paint. The athletic 26-year-old is averaging 11.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 29.6 minutes over nine games as a starter.

The combination of the two players has helped the Kings recover from their slow start to the season, but the team is also excited to get Bagley back in the fold.

“We can’t wait,” Richaun Holmes said of Bagley’s potential return. “When he gets back, to have a talent like that inside our lineup, all know what he can do on the floor, that’s just going to make us better. We’re looking forward to getting him back.”

Bagley has a different skill set than either Holmes or Bjelica. He isn’t the shooter that Bjelica is and he’s still learning the pick-and-roll game that has made Holmes so successful. But Bagley is likely the best rebounder of the lot and his ability to get easy baskets as a true back to the basket scorer is a welcome sight.

“No complications to me,” Holmes added. “He’s talented. You know we’re going to need him. We need everyone in this locker room. When he gets back, we’re ready to have him back out on the floor.”

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Bagley’s original diagnosis had him missing 4-6 weeks of action. We’re currently at the four-week mark, which means he’s getting close.

Walton will have a tough decision to make when Bagley is finally ready to return. The chemistry of his team is building. They’ve won six of their last eight games to move within a game of .500. But Bagley is the future of the Kings and after an adjustment period, he is going right back into the starting lineup.