Kings

Kings' need for speed helping them find identity, success early in season

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USATSI

Kings' need for speed helping them find identity, success early in season

The Kings are young, athletic and ready to get out and run. Through six games, including four on the road, they are a surprising 3-3 and turning heads around the league. It’s a surprising development to almost everyone, but following Friday’s victory over the dysfunctional Washington Wizards, point guard De’Aaron Fox shrugged off the suggestion.

“Surprise outside of this locker room,” Fox said when asked about the team’s recent success. “We feel like last year, we didn’t have an identity and we didn’t know what we really wanted to do. I think this year we know we want to play fast.”

Fox is correct about the 2017-18 Kings team. They brought in the former Kentucky star to push the tempo, but then added veterans George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter via free agency. Even if the team wanted to play with pace, it was nearly impossible with the roster they were handed.

So far this season, the Kings are track stars. It’s a small sample size, but as of this writing the team is second in the league in pace and tied for sixth in points scored per game at 117 points per game. Fox is the ring leader, but he has plenty of players flanking him up and down the court.

“Coach [Dave Joerger] is demanding it, you see him yelling and screaming,” Fox continued “If the ball goes through the basket, I’m yelling at guys to hurry up and take the ball out. We know what we’re trying to do and I think we’re executing it pretty well.”

The defensive numbers are starting to improve slightly, but Sacramento is still giving up 120.3 points an night, which ranks 26th in the league. Their defensive rating of 111.8 is 21st in the league per NBA.com, again, showing improvement over the first three games of the campaign.

After a slow start to season on the glass, the Kings have strung together consecutive 50-plus rebound games for the first time since the 2016-17 season. After ripping down 53 boards against the Wizards, Sacramento now ranks third in the league in rebounding at 45.2 per game.

The sample size is miniscule by any standard of NBA measurement, but the Kings appear to have a vision for their team and so far, they are executing that plan.

Fox isn’t surprised, but it’s pretty clear the Thunder, Grizzlies and Wizards had no idea what was coming when the ball tipped off.

The Kings take their show on the road beginning Monday in Miami. They’ll hit Orlando, Atlanta and Milwaukee on the trip before returning home to face the Toronto Raptors at Golden 1 Center on Nov. 7.

Nemanja Bjelica's career night gives Kings much-needed win over Mavs

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USATSI

Nemanja Bjelica's career night gives Kings much-needed win over Mavs

Marvin Bagley is almost back. What that means for Nemanja Bjelica is a decision head coach Luke Walton will have to make over the next few games.

The veteran forward might have made life a little more difficult for his coach in the team’s 110-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday evening.

Since Bagley went down in the season opener, Bjelica has started the last 21 games at power forward. He’s had some ups and downs, but against Dallas, he was on his game.

“One of the best, here for sure,” Bjelica told Grant Napear and Doug Christie following the win. “I was feeling good, coach trusts me, I have a green light to shoot. That’s my advantage on offense. I need to get a little bit better on defense, but the important thing is we won the game.”

A former EuroLeague MVP, Bjelica is a very smart player. He might not have the athleticism that a few of his teammates possess, but he can impact a game in many ways.

Against Dallas, he came out firing early and never let up. When Bjelica is on, his range is limitless and he spaces the floor for the rest of his teammates. The Mavericks caught the Serbian sharpshooter in rare form.

The 31-year-old power forward knocked down a perfect 7-of-7 from the field in the first half, to help give his team a 20-point lead heading into the intermission. He continued to fire away during the second half, but he was much more than just a shooter, which Walton and his staff have been pushing for.

“He’s a heck of a ball player,” coach Luke Walton told media following the win. “We keep talking to him about how we view him as much more than just a space four-man. When he was younger in Europe, he played point guard for his club team. He’s got the skill, the passing ability and the shooting ability to really put the pressure on defenses.”

In addition to tying his career-high of 30 points, Bjelica added seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 34 minutes of play. He knocked down 13-of-18 from the field and 4-of-7 from long range and failed to register a turnover.

“We’re constantly encouraging him to be more aggressive and I thought tonight, he was aggressive and it helps when you’re knocking down those shots too,” Walton added.

After a tough overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, the Kings needed a team win. They almost let the game slip away, but Bjelica helped seal the deal in the waning seconds to come away with the first win of the road trip.

“We just need to play 48 minutes, we need to respect our opponents,” Bjelica added. “Everybody can play, everybody can score in this league.”

The peaks and valleys of this season has taken its toll on Kings. They’ve had to play without Bagley for nearly seven weeks and De’Aaron Fox has missed major time as well.

Players like Bjelica, Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes have stepped up and kept the team competitive on most nights. 

“This team is growing, we have a bright future, but we’re here to win the games,” Bjelica said. “We had a bad start to the season, but now we just have to play harder.”

With the victory over the Mavs, the Kings now sit at 9-13 on the season. Bagley is expected back in the next few days, which should bolster the front line and give Bjelica a bit of a break. While his role might change, Bjelica has earned a spot in the rotation with his strong play, whether that’s with the starters or off the bench.

The Final Play

With 4.4 seconds remaining in the fourth, Holmes ripped down a rebound and was instantly fouled by the Mavericks. It was the first foul in the final two minutes, which allowed the Kings to inbounds the ball and potentially kill the clock.

Bjelica set a screen for Harrison Barnes who broke for the midcourt line. Bjelica then slipped to the hoop while his defender jumped out to help on Barnes.

Bogdan Bogdanovic faked to Barnes and then fired a bullet to a wide open Bjelica standing under the basket.

[RELATED: Bagley doesn't return vs. Luka, Mavs]

The Serbian connection worked. Bjelica went in for a two-handed jam to tie his career-high of 30 points. The bucket gave Sacramento a four-point lead with 3.4 seconds remaining and effectively ended the game.

If you’re going to have a career night, you might as well be the player who seals the win.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in scrappy 110-106 win over Mavericks

Kings takeaways: What we learned in scrappy 110-106 win over Mavericks

BOX SCORE

After a devastating overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday evening, the Sacramento Kings almost had a replay Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks. After leading by 20 at the half, the Kings melted down in the fourth quarter.

Luka Doncic missed a runner in the final seconds that would have tied the game and Richaun Holmes ripped down a rebound to help preserve the 110-106 win for Sacramento. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. knocked down nine 3-pointers to keep the Mavs in the game and Doncic dropped in a near triple-double performance, but it wasn’t enough to come away with the win. 

Here are three takeaways as the Kings surprised the Mavericks on their home floor to improve to 9-13 on the season.  

The other European

Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Bogdan Bogdanovic are three of the best European players in the NBA. On Sunday in Dallas, it was another Euro who stole the show early.

Bjelica couldn’t miss in the first half, scoring 17 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting. And he didn’t stop there.

The Kings’ starting power forward tied his career-high of 30 points on 13-for-18 from the field and 4-of-7 from long range. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists to help propel the Kings to victory.

Good Buddy

Buddy Hield has been all over the place this season. He’s struggled with his shot selection, missed open looks and had a few mental lapses on defense as well. That was not the player that started against the Mavs.

After a tough outing against the Spurs, Hield lit up the Mavs for 26 points on 5-for-6 from 3-point range. 

Maybe more important than the shooting, Hield set up his teammates for five assists and grabbed four rebounds.

Value the ball

Despite playing at the slowest pace in the league, the Kings rank 19th in the league in turnovers at 15.7 per game. Against Dallas, they valued the ball and it made a tremendous impact on the outcome of the game.

Sacramento turned the ball over just four times through three quarters and then came undone late to all the Mavericks back in the game.

In the final 12 minutes, the Kings had a pair of 24-second shot clock violations. They made a few bad passes and they picked up two offensive fouls. In total, they turned the ball over seven times in the fourth to finish the game with 11.