Kings ready to rely on De'Aaron Fox more with 20 games left in playoff chase


Kings ready to rely on De'Aaron Fox more with 20 games left in playoff chase

SACRAMENTO -- It’s time to take the training wheels off.

Kings coach Dave Joerger limited the minutes of a few of his young players throughout the season, but with 20 games remaining on the regular-season schedule, winning is the focus.

Point guard De’Aaron Fox is averaging 31.6 minutes per game this season, but there is a good chance that is about to increase. With a playoff spot on the line — and the Kings (31-31) are three games out of the final berth — Joerger is ready to unleash his speedy guard and allow him the opportunity to play major minutes down the stretch.

“I’ve tried to make sure they’re going to be around for the end and protect them as much as possible while being effective and trying to win as many games as possible,” Joerger told NBC Sports California. “There are times now where De'Aaron's runs are a little longer.”

Fox, who is averaging 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game on the season, is ready to take on more of the load. He picked up two quick fouls against the Clippers on Friday night, which limited his availability, but the minutes will increase.

The second-year pro has taken good care of his body all season long. With just a quarter of the season remaining, he has missed only one contest, and even then, he was healthy enough to play and the team took a cautious approach to his health.

“I feel fine. I know even if I’m out there longer, I have to keep up the pace,” Fox told NBC Sports California. “I think he’s trusting me a lot more, and I just want to be out there and make sure I’m impacting the game, no matter what I’m doing out there.”

Nothing will be dramatically different, except Fox will be on the court a few more minutes here and there. He’ll still be asked to push the tempo and be the head of the snake.

Joerger isn’t planning on running him out there for 40-plus minutes per game. That type of load is reserved for players who have mature bodies. There will be a time in his career when Fox will be that guy, but there is no reason to wear him out and risk injury and/or ineffectiveness.

“It just takes time,” Kings forward Harrison Barnes said. “The biggest thing, I think the staff and coaches try to preach to young guys is just taking care of your body.”

Fox is mentally ready for the challenge, but with the increase in time comes an increase in responsibility. If Joerger needs 36 to 38 minutes from the sophomore guard, those minutes have to be the same quality as if he was playing 32.

“I think he already gives me a lot of freedom,” Fox said. “I’m not expecting anything to change too much, but the back end of the season, we’ve got to win. I’ll come out a lot more aggressive.”

Physically, Fox feels good. By limiting his minutes early, Joerger has kept his star guard fresh for the stretch run. The hope is that with an increase in court time, the quality of play won’t suffer.

Sacramento needs Fox and his high-octane style. It also needs him to make an impact on both ends of the court.

“I’m 21 years old. I’m not sure how much I can play, how much I can’t play,” Fox said. “As long as I’m out there, I’m definitely going to give it my all and trying to affect the team in positive ways.”

Joerger and his staff have done an excellent job of bringing along the team’s young core while competing for a playoff spot. While they might seem overprotective at the time, this is about building a long-term winner in Sacramento.

[RELATED: Playoff-hungry Kings still trying to prove themselves]

“We’re playing hard, and we don’t quit,” Joerger said earlier in the week. “What we’re building here, we will reap the rewards of this in many years to come. Not many years from now, but going forward, if this is who we are, and I believe that it is, we’re a tough out.”

Sacramento has solid depth at almost every position, but we’ve reached the point of the season where the rotation begins to shrink. Don’t be surprised if the core group is on the court more and more as the fight for the postseason reaches a boiling point.

Watch Russell Westbrook say 'game over' just before Kings' game-winner

Watch Russell Westbrook say 'game over' just before Kings' game-winner

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

That message might need to be relayed to Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, as he assumed he had just won his team the game after driving and finishing over Kings center Richaun Holmes with only one second remaining Monday night in Houston.

Buddy Hield had just hit a miraculous 3-pointer on the previous possession to tie the score, and Westbrook assumed there was nothing the Kings could do to win the game in one second after his layup.

Suffice it to say, the former NBA MVP was incorrect.

Nemanja Bjelica sent the Kings home with another road win, and stunned the Rockets with this DEEP buzzer-beater.

[RELATED: What we learned as Bjelica, Kings stun Westbrook, Rockets]

So much for Clutch City.

Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again as Kings take down Rockets

Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again as Kings take down Rockets

From the lowest lows to the highest highs. Welcome to the 2019-20 Sacramento Kings season.

It was just another manic Monday in Kingsland. After taking down Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks less than 24 hours earlier, the Kings hung around in Houston and then shocked the Rockets at the buzzer by a final of 119-118.

The road-weary Kings looked beat when Russell Westbrook took the ball right through the defense and scored a go-ahead bucket with one second remaining.

On the ensuing play, Cory Joseph scanned the court and waited patiently for Bogdan Bogdanovic to run through and then Buddy Hield.

Coach Luke Walton used his top scorers as decoys for Nemanja Bjelica, who calmly stepped to the left elbow and drilled a 33-footer as time expired.

“I was one of the options,” Bjelica told Grant Napear and Doug Christie following the win. “Great win for us. What can I say? I took a crazy shot. The ball went in. We deserve this win. And that’s it.”

Overmatched, understaffed and playing on the second night of a back-to-back against two of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Kings somehow swept a two-game set with the Mavericks and Rockets.

“We were very brave tonight,” Bjelica said. “It’s hard to play against this team and we played different and we won.”

Bjelica finished the night with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals for Sacramento. He’s not used to chatting with the media in post-game media availability and now he’s been the star of the show for the second straight game.

He wasn’t the only Kings player to put up big numbers. Sacramento tied a franchise record with 20 made 3-pointers, exemplifying a total team effort.

Buddy Hield scored 26 points on 6-of-13 shooting from behind the arc. His three-pointer with 8.4 seconds remaining tied the game and set up the wild final sequence of plays.

Harrison Barnes scored 19 points, including a huge 3-pointer that gave Sacramento the lead with just over a minute to play. Richaun Holmes chipped in 16 points and Joseph went 3-for-5 from deep, not to mention playing spectacular defense against James Harden throughout the night.

Walton turned to an eight-man rotation again after finding success with a smaller group in Dallas on Sunday. That means major minutes for the starters, including Joseph, who is beat up.

[RELATED: What we learned as Bjelica, Kings stun Westbrook, Rockets]

The group responded well to the tightened rotation. They’ve now won two in a row after a disappointing overtime loss in San Antonio on Friday. They somehow salvaged a 2-2 road trip and head home at 10-13 to host the Thunder on Wednesday evening.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but the Kings continue to bounce back and they are competing well, despite an early rash of injuries.