Kings' NBA Playoffs path murky after falling short in loss to Celtics

Kings' NBA Playoffs path murky after falling short in loss to Celtics

SACRAMENTO -- Sometimes it comes down to one play. One loose ball. One offensive rebound. One foul call. One baseline jumper over the outstretched arms of a defender.

The Kings have had every one of these bounces go the wrong over the last two weeks.

In Denver, it was Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic with a tip-in over Willie Cauley-Stein. Against the Warriors, Buddy Hield came up short on a 12-footer that would have tied the game late. De’Aaron Fox had an opportunity to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in regulation, but failed to get a shot off against Eric Bledsoe.

On Wednesday night against the Boston Celtics, it was a nine-foot runner by Gordon Hayward over the outstretched arms of Hield that proved the difference. Harrison Barnes got off a 3-pointer as time expired, but it wasn’t close, and the Kings lost 111-109. 

“The biggest thing for us it that we’re trying to make the playoffs, we’ve got to get these wins,” Barnes said. “There is something to be learned from these close games, but at the end of the day, we have to figure out a way to get over the hump.”

Four losses over an eight-game stretch against four of the best teams in the league by a total of seven points. That might be the difference between the Kings snapping a 12-year playoff drought, and once again ending the season after 82 games.

“If you would have said coming into this year that we would have the record we would have and that [we would] be playing the Celtics, the Nuggets, the Warriors down to the wire, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” coach Dave Joerger said on Wednesday. “We’re playing hard. We’re playing together. The guys like each other. I feel bad that we’re not getting the result in this night that we’d like, but I’m very positive with them.”

It’s sounds like an overused excuse, but there is a reason why the Kings continue to come up short. They are young and inexperienced. They are taking their lumps like so many teams before them, although this stretch seems particularly cruel.

“The only way you can practice them is really in the game, so it’s just good that we’re in a spot to make plays to win the game,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “In the past, it was not like that. We’re coming down to the last possessions and those are key possessions and we’re executing.”

Cauley-Stein has seen plenty of losing through his four seasons in Sacramento. To see his team compete this way and be in games is a welcomed sight.

After going just 92-154 over his first three seasons with the club, Cauley-Stein is playing meaningful basketball in the month of March for the first time. The losses hurt, but he appears to have perspective on where the Kings are and where they’ve come from.

“It hasn’t been fast,” Cauley-Stein said when asked about the Kings improvement this season. “I’ve been here through some s---. This right now is a good time. Coming from the bottom to now, it’s just like, man, it’s fun. It’s just fun to see where we were and see where they’ve changed it to and see where we’re they’re still going. It’s big time.”

With the loss to the Celtics, the Kings fell back to 32-32 on the season. They trail the San Antonio Spurs by four games -- but just three in the loss column -- with 18 games remaining.

Sacramento has the standings tiebreaker, one more game left against San Antonio on the schedule. There is still time to make a move, but the Kings need to start winning.

“This league is crazy and you never know what can happen,” Fox said. “Anybody can go on a run - I think the Spurs won like four or five in a row. If we string that together and they drop a couple then it’s a different race.”

The Kings hit the road for a four-game trip to the east coast beginning with a Saturday matinee in New York against the Knicks. They’ll play the Washington Wizards, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in a stretch that may decide the fate of their season.

Close losses aren’t going to cut it from here on out.

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.