Kings notes: Nemanja Bjelica heats up to move Sacramento to .500

Kings notes: Nemanja Bjelica heats up to move Sacramento to .500

SACRAMENTO -- Break up the Kings. For the second straight game, Sacramento shook off an early deficit, battled through foul trouble and beat a veteran team in the fourth quarter. 

The Kings rode the hot shooting of Nemanja Bjelica and a gritty performance by point guard De’Aaron Fox to pick up a 116-112 win over the Washington Wizards. It was their second straight victory, and they now sit at 3-3 on the season. 

Here are five notes from Sacramento’s win.

Bjelica is more than just a shooter

He’s also a really good shooter. The 6-foot-10 forward went off against Washington, hitting 6-of-10 from long range on his way to 24 points. He also grabbed 12 rebounds for his second straight double-double, adding three assists, a steal and a block.

Like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Bjelica is a high-basketball IQ player who looks to make his teammates better. He’s made a huge impact early in his first season with the Kings.

Can’t catch Fox ...

... Unless you have a whistle. Fox is the leader of this young upstart Kings team, but he was almost taken out of the game completely by the officiating crew. He fought through the adversity, in the form of four early fouls, to come away with 18 points and nine assists in 30 minutes.

The 20-year-old point guard went toe-to-toe against five-time All-Star, John Wall. More importantly, he led his team to another win, and back to .500.

Buddy the point guard?

With Fox in foul trouble, Kings coach Dave Joerger turned to Buddy Hield to man the point guard spot for stretches. He battled Wall and even came away with a huge block late in the game.

In a close ball game, he posted 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting and added five rebounds in the win. This was Hield’s second straight game scoring over 20. Hield’s strong start to the season has been overshadowed by big numbers from Fox and big man Willie Cauley-Stein.

Make money

Willie Cauley-Stein is on a mission. The Kings center battled some of the best bigs in the NBA through the first five games. With Ian Mahinmi guarding him Friday evening, he went to work. The 7-footer scored 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, handed out seven assists and picked up a pair of steals. 

Tough rookie

Marvin Bagley took a shot to the head in the third quarter from Kelly Oubre, but that didn’t slow him down. He’s struggled lately with turnovers, giving it away five times against the Wizards and 14 times over his last four games.

The 20-year-old managed to overcome the issues to finish with 11 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. It’s all a learning process for the rookie big man.  

Kings' Marvin Bagley remains confident despite rusty showing in return

Kings' Marvin Bagley remains confident despite rusty showing in return

SACRAMENTO -- Midway through the first quarter, Kings head coach Luke Walton looked down his bench and called on Marvin Bagley to go to the scorer's table and check-in. It was a big moment for Bagley, who had missed the previous 22 games with a broken right thumb.

Moments later, Bagley faced up his defender and hoisted up an 18-foot jumper. The shot attempt sailed over the rim, missing everything, much to the chagrin of all 16,723 fans at Golden 1 Center.

The moment was a reminder that Bagley is a 20-year-old kid who hasn’t played in seven weeks and will need some time to find his rhythm before he takes the expected leap into stardom.

“He didn’t play his best, he’s trying to get his feet back,” Buddy Hield said after the Kings’ 94-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “His best basketball is yet to come.”

Bagley showed flashes of brilliance and bouts of impatience. He finished the game with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds and a block. He managed to make it through 23 minutes of play without needing an oxygen mask and he ran the floor like a gazelle.

“I had to get my wind back the first three times up and down,” Bagley admitted. “But then after that, I was kind of back to normal. I feel pretty good, I was able to get my second wind and keep pushing, so it was good overall.”

Taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley opened the season as the Kings’ starting power forward. He’ll likely regain that spot, but for now, the team is playing well with Nemanja Bjelica at the four.

Walton used Bagley primarily at center, splitting minutes down the middle with Richaun Holmes. While Bagley has a more advanced offensive game, Holmes is a top-notch pick-and-roll player and a far superior defender at this point in his career.

The combination worked against the Thunder, but there will have to come a time when Walton figures out how to use both bigs on the court at the same time.

[RELATED: Kings in position to redeem themselves after playoff stumble last year]

What was evident from his time on the floor is that Bagley still has springs in his legs and his ability to get off the floor in traffic is elite.

It will take time for Bagley to completely find his game. A seven-week absence is a long stretch for any player, let alone a sophomore trying to work himself into a new role. The fact that he took 13 shots in his return to the court shows that he hasn’t lost his confidence and he’s ready to step in and being a primary scoring option.

“I mean, I’ll never lose confidence,” Bagley said. “My confidence is through the room no matter what’s going on during the game, no matter who’s coaching, no matter what. My confidence is always going to be there and that’s how I have always been. I know what I’m capable of doing. I know the kind of work I put in. My confidence is sky high so that’s never an issue for me.”

Bagley will get another opportunity to build on his first game back when the Kings host the New York Knicks on Friday. After losing 10 straight, New York held on to beat the Warriors on Wednesday evening for just their fifth victory of the season.

The Knicks are in the bottom of the NBA’s standings, but they have a big, physical, veteran frontline that will test Bagley and the rest of the Kings bigs.

Kings in position to redeem themselves after playoff stumble last year

Kings in position to redeem themselves after playoff stumble last year

SACRAMENTO -- Is it too early to scoreboard watch? Not if you’ve missed the playoffs 13 consecutive seasons like the Sacramento Kings.

After an emotional road trip that included a brutal overtime loss followed by two incredible wins in the final seconds of games in Dallas and Houston, the Kings looked tired Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

And then they looked like someone reminded them what a win would do for the team in the standings.

Behind a lively crowd, the Kings stormed back against the Oklahoma City Thunder and pulled off a come-from-behind 94-93 victory to move to 11-13 on the season.

With the Phoenix Suns losing on Wednesday, the Kings caught them in the standings. After an 0-5 start to the season, Luke Walton’s squad is now locked in a three-way for the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings with the Suns and the Thunder.

“It was hard, the first five games, especially after the Charlotte game at home,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds remaining. “It was really, really hard and we should never forget that feeling, especially right now when we feel good.”

Sacramento fans booed the Kings off the court following the team’s 118-111 loss to the Hornets on Oct. 30. There was confusion and anguish in the locker room, but the players accepted responsibility and came back out two days later and beat the Utah Jazz.

“We should use that as an experience, as an advantage and motivation,” Bogdanovic said of the dark times the team has already gone through this season.

The Kings aren’t counting their chickens before they hatch. They learned that lesson the hard way last year when they faded down the stretch in a season filled with promise.

After moving into the seventh and eighth positions on multiple occasions throughout the 82-game schedule, they dropped seven of their final 10 contests and finished nine games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

“Now we know how hard it is and how every game is important and we have to be locked in,” Bogdanovic insisted. “First game after a road trip was sloppy, like this one and we have to be locked in to play a much better game against New York.”

[RELATED: Fox feeling better, believes he's close to Kings return]

This is an important stretch of games for the Kings. They have climbed within two games of the .500 mark with games against the Knicks and Warriors on the docket. New York and Golden State have a combined 10-41 record on the season, but Sacramento is not in a position to look past anyone.

It’s really early to scoreboard watch. It was also really early when the Kings went winless to start the season.

Sacramento is motivated by the chase for the postseason. The Kings have a little taste of it now and a soft spot in the schedule. Let’s see how they react to the opportunity this time around.