SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings are not accepting condolence cards.
Despite an atrocious 0-5 start to the season and major injuries to both forward Marvin Bagley and point guard De’Aaron Fox, the Kings refuse to give up on the final 70-plus games of the season. The Portland Trail Blazers learned that lesson on Tuesday evening at Golden 1 Center.
It took a full 48 minutes, but the Kings staved off the Blazers late to come away with a 107-99 victory in front of an appreciative home crowd.
With two of their top scorers on the shelf, the Kings need more from every member of the rotation. Against a Portland team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, it was a pair of Serbian national team teammates that came to play.
Nemanja Bjelica was the only Kings player that could find the bottom of the net in the first 8:41 of the first quarter. The 31-year-old forward scored seven of the team’s first eight points, with Richaun Holmes putting in a lone free throw as Sacramento fell behind 18-8 early.
“Bjeli started off well and everybody is staying together as a group and just connecting with each other and supporting each other,” Buddy Hield said.
Bjelica posted his first double-double of the season, finishing the evening with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes.
The veteran big started the game well and then came to the rescue late with a 26-foot three-pointer to give Sacramento an eight-point lead with 2:37 remaining in the fourth.
“Great win, especially in front of our fans,” Bjelica said. “I mean, we’re always talking about is we want to make the playoffs, we need to win every game at home, so it is very important for us.”
Needing a spark to wake up the offense, coach Luke Walton turned to the Kings’ other Serbian-born player, Bogdan Bogdanovic. The third-year wing changed the entire momentum of the game with his defense, scoring ability and playmaking.
Bogdanovic picked up three steals in just under six minutes of play in the first quarter and matched his career-high with four steals on the night.
On the offensive end, Bogdanovic hit Portland with a team-high 25 points, including 15 in the first half while the Kings were struggling to keep up.
“He’s fun to watch, man,” Hield said of Bogdanovic. “Playing with him, he’s such a good passer. He’s a good playmaker and he’s always about team. You see him making shots and scoring, but he’s always a team-first guy.”
With Fox sidelined, Bogdanovic took the reigns of the offense. He finished with 10 assists in 32 minutes of action and during crunch time, he made the right plays when it mattered.
“I think I’m an experienced player and I can adjust to any role here,” Bogdanovic said. “I’m just trying to help the team to get these wins and tonight it was 10 assists. I’m more happy with the win.”
It was Bogdanovic who fed Bjelica for the open three in the fourth. He had another pass to Cory Joseph for a three at the 2:01 mark of the fourth and he found a cutting Harrison Barnes with 1:30 remaining to help seal the win.
Bjelica and Bogdanovic put up the big numbers, but it was a team effort for Sacramento.
Hield struggled with his shot, but still managed to post 20 points on the evening. Barnes went scoreless in the first half but finished with 16 after a strong final 24 minutes. Joseph played solid defense on Damian Lillard and Richaun Holmes chipped in the team’s third double-double with an 11-point, 10-rebound, two-block performance.
The Kings have a long road in front of them, but they are playing a better brand of basketball after a tough start and they are starting to show improvements on both ends of the court. With the win, Sacramento is now 4-1 over their previous five games and they’ve climbed to 4-6 on the season.
They’ll have a much tougher test on Friday when they fly to Los Angeles to face LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the 8-2 Lakers.