Kings host Clippers with major implications for 2019 NBA playoffs


Kings host Clippers with major implications for 2019 NBA playoffs

SACRAMENTO -- When you are in the middle of a playoff chase, every game is important. But Friday evening’s matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers has all sorts of implications for the Sacramento Kings.

Trailing both the Spurs and the Clippers in the standings by two games coming into the night, this is an opportunity to move one step closer to the postseason with just 20 remaining in the season.

Most of the Kings’ players haven’t been in this position before. The race heightens the intensity of everything. While it’s a stressful time, it’s part of the natural progression that teams go through as they mature and develop.

“If you look at the long scope of things, what an opportunity to prepare for a game like this, in almost a playoff mode, can do for our team, will pay off in the years to come,” coach Dave Joerger told NBC Sports California.

For Joerger and his staff, the trick is to not complicate things. They’ve brought their young roster through the normal growth process. They learned to compete, then how to win. They are still working through the challenge of closing out tough veteran teams, but the last thing the staff wants to do is introduce too many concepts before a big game.

“We’re going to try to over prepare, without over burdening their minds,” Joerger said. “Full brains can sometimes equal slow feet. We’re a freedom of play team. We’re a team that wants to get up and down. So how do you simplify it as much as possible and stay true to who we are.”

Los Angeles holds a 3-0 advantage over the Kings in the season series, but they made major changes at the NBA’s trade deadline.

Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley are gone. Both gave Sacramento fits in their previous matchups. In their place, the Clippers have added some new pieces in Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, Ivaca Zubic and former King, Garrett Temple.

While the faces have changed, the team continues to play the same style. They are 4-4 over their last eight games and are still adjusting to the new pieces on the roster. While most experts had them falling out of the race, they continue to fight.

“We’re going to be who we are, we’re going to play the way we play and we’re going to hope that’s good enough,” coach Doc Rivers said.

The Clippers weren’t expected to be in this position coming into the season, but Rivers and his staff have done a nice job of mixing veterans and young players.

Sacramento has shocked the league with their strong play as well. Vegas had the Kings winning 25.5 games this season, a number they have already surpassed.

The Kings have played well, but lost four of their last five. A win over the Clippers would put them back in the race. A loss would make the road to the postseason a lot more difficult.

View from the Outside

After spending two seasons in Sacramento, Temple was traded to Memphis during the offseason with the hopes of competing for a playoff spot with the Grizzlies. After falling out of the race early, the Grizzlies shipped Temple, along with Green to the Clippers in exchange for Bradley.

Temple is happy for the opportunity to once again compete for the postseason, but he is a fan of what he’s seeing from his former squad.

“I’m really proud of the guys, playing the way they’ve been playing,” Temple told NBC Sports California. “Obviously, we knew they were going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be this quick, honestly.”

“They’re playing their ass off,” Temple added. “I’m happy for them. I’m really happy for the city. This is long overdue.”

Trouble with Trez

Montrezl Harrell has been a handful for the Kings all season long. The 25-year-old big is averaging 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks per game against Sacramento, while shooting 77.1 percent from the field.

With Marvin Bagley on the shelf with a knee injury, rookie Harry Giles is likely to get a look against Harrell off Sacramento’s bench.

“It becomes more, I do what I do, just for a longer period of time,” Giles said following shootaround. “That’s all it is. Staying locked in and being ready to step up.”

[NBA Power Rankings 2019: How teams stand entering playoff push]

Giles has watched Harrell for a while. They are both from North Carolina and according to Giles, “We have similar energy, the same grit, I see where it all comes from, I understand it.”

If the Kings can’t find a solution to Harrell, it could be a long evening in Sacramento.

De'Aaron Fox roasts Fran Fraschilla over Zion Williamson, Duke tweet

De'Aaron Fox roasts Fran Fraschilla over Zion Williamson, Duke tweet

De'Aaron Fox isn't here for Fran Fraschilla's college basketball takes.

After Zion Williamson thanked the program in a video announcing his intention to declare for the 2019 NBA Draft, Fraschilla sent out a tweet noting how much he believed playing for Duke helped the phenom build his brand and profile.

Well, Fox didn't agree with the notion that Duke had a lot to do with boosting Zion's worth, and he threw some shade at Fraschilla in a NSFW tweet.

In fairness, both sides have a point to make.

A year ago, Williamson was a YouTube dunking sensation, but questions about his overall skill level remained. But during his lone season in the spotlight at Duke, Williamson showed he was more than just a highlight-reel dunker, and has all the skills necessary to be the No. 1 overall pick.

However, Williamson should've had the ability to go straight to the NBA out of high school if he wanted. He still would have been a top-10 pick, and a lucrative shoe contract would have followed shortly after his name was called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

[RELATED: Fox responds to comments about MIP candidacy]

We'll give the win to Swipa.

Kings awards: Handing out end-of-year accolades for 2018-19 season

Kings awards: Handing out end-of-year accolades for 2018-19 season

The Sacramento Kings failed in their ultimate goal of making the postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a very good year. The Kings finished the season at a surprising 39-43 and they stayed in playoff contention much longer than anyone expected.

Perhaps more important than the final outcome of the season, many of the young Kings players took major strides forward in their development. The core turning potential into production, making the future bright in Sacramento.

With the season in the books, here is NBC Sports California’s take on the end of year accolades for the team.

MVP -- Buddy Hield

Coming into training camp, Hield wasn’t expected to start. A late summer knee injury cost Bogdan Bogdanovic time, opening the door for a breakout season from the former Oklahoma star.

Known for his work ethic, Hield became more than just a scorer in his third NBA season. He improved as a defender, posted a career-high in assists and rebounds, and showed an ability to hit big shots.

Hield also led the team in scoring, finishing the year averaging 20.7 points, five rebounds and 2.5 assists in 31.9 minutes per game. He flourished from behind the arc, posting the seventh most made 3-pointers in a single season in NBA history with 276 makes.

The 26-year-old shooting guard took a leap from potential sixth man to near All-Star and his energy on the court was infectious.

De’Aaron Fox is in the running for this award as well, but Hield gets the nod for his consistency throughout the entire season.

Most Improved Player -- De’Aaron Fox

Fox and Hield should both draw votes for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. As far as the Kings’ team goes, it’s close, but with Hield taking home the MVP, Fox gets the MIP.

Statistical jumps from year one to year two is expected in the NBA, but Fox’s leap stands out. He bumped his points per game from 11.6 to 17.3. He increased his assists from 4.4 to 7.3, with just a .4 increase in turnovers per game. He also shored up one of his biggest weaknesses, improving his 3-point percentage from 30.7 to 37.1 percent.

In addition to all of his statistical achievements, Fox became a leader in year two and appears ready to expand his game even farther in year three.

Defensive Player of the Year -- De’Aaron Fox

Fox wasn’t just a force leading the Kings’ uptempo offense. He showed incredible improvement as a defender in year two, especially in late-game situations.

The 21-year-old point guard has tremendous upside as a two-way player. He finished the season in the top 10 in the league in steals at 1.6 per game and as he gets stronger and more mature, there is plenty of room for growth.

Willie Cauley-Stein gets an honorable mention here. He led the team in defensive real plus/minus and defensive win shares. He put up a solid season, posting career-highs in both rebounds and blocks.

Biggest Surprise -- Nemanja Bjelica

A late addition to the roster, Bjelica stepped into the starting lineup and made a tremendous impact on the Kings, especially early in the season.

The 30-year-old out of Serbia almost went back overseas before signing a three-year deal with the Kings. He posted career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and minutes played, and shot over 40 percent from behind the arc.

Bjelica struggled for a stretch in the middle of the season, but he finished strong. His ability to help space the floor was a major bonus for the team and he was a better rebounder and defensive player than expected.

[RELATED: Fox responds to comments about his most improved candidacy]

Rookie of the Year -- Marvin Bagley

This isn’t exactly a fair category. Marvin Bagley was the second overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft and his only competition for the award was a redshirt freshman who had played a total of 300 minutes over a three-year period.

Don’t get me wrong, Harry Giles was very impressive, especially in the month of March after he got his sea legs. Giles looks like a rotational player at a minimum, with the possibility to jump into the starting lineup down the road. But he’ll need time to develop after missing crucial development years.

Bagley jumped off the page from the moment he stepped foot on the floor. He needs to get stronger and build his overall skill base, but the 20-year-old power forward averaged 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and a block in 25.3 minutes per game.

A pair of knee injuries cost Bagley 20 games and plenty of momentum. A summer to work out the kinks should do wonders for the former Duke star.