Kings

Kings takeaways: What we learned in 102-101 home win vs. Jazz

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USATSI

Kings takeaways: What we learned in 102-101 home win vs. Jazz

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SACRAMENTO -- Heart attack, but no heartbreak. 

In a game that went all the way down to the wire, the Sacramento Kings snapped their five-game losing streak to start the 2019-20 with a gutsy 102-101 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Harrison Barnes attacked the basket and put back a Nemanja Bjelica miss with 2.9 seconds remaining. Richaun Holmes played spectacular defense on Donovan Mitchell on the final attempt for Utah and forced a difficult miss. 

Here are three takeaways as the Kings ended the slide and improved to 1-5 on the season.  

FireFox 

It’s a moment that the Kings have been waiting for. De’Aaron Fox played angry from the opening tip. 

Sacramento’s starting point guard floated on the perimeter waiting for his moment to attacked veteran Mike Conley. Sometimes needed a screen, other times he just turned on the jets and blew past Conley.

While he didn’t hand out a lot of assists, it was clear that Fox wanted the win and was willing to do whatever it took to get there. 

He finished the night with 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting and 9-of-12 from the line. He struggled with his shot late, but the 21-year-old put on a show in front of the home crowd.

Bjelica Shines

When the season began, it looked like Bjelica might be on the outside looking in when it came to playing time. With Marvin Bagley out with a thumb injury, the veteran forward has stepped in and played extremely well for coach Luke Walton’s squad.

While he missed a big shot late, Bjelica was the stabilizing force for the team for most of the game. 

The Serbian forward scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out three assists and picked up a steal in 25 minutes of action. 

Bogi and Buddy

Head coach Luke Walton has watched his talented two shooting guards struggle early in the season. It wasn’t a perfect night for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield, but when the game was on the line, they showed up big.

Hield didn’t hit a 3-point shot, but he still managed to post 18 points on 9-for-16 shooting to go with five rebounds.

Bogdanovic came to the rescue with two huge 3-pointers, one to end the third and a second one in a tough spot in the fourth quarter. He played pesky defense against Utah’s wings and managed to score 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

The Kings need these two if they hope to pull out of the hole they’ve created.

Kings coming together, earning puncher's chance at making NBA playoffs

Kings coming together, earning puncher's chance at making NBA playoffs

Something is different with the Kings this time around. They believed they had a shot at a playoff berth last season, but they didn’t know how to respond when times got tough.

The hangover seemed to play into the start of this season when Sacramento lost its first five games. Before the Kings knew what hit them, the hole was deep and a series of injuries made the road ahead even more difficult.

In a normal year, the Kings’ season already would be over and done with. At 24-33, they should have an insurmountable climb ahead, and the team and the conversation should shift to the 2020 NBA Draft.

But this is not a normal year. The 2019-20 season has been a trainwreck for multiple teams.

After making it to the Western Conference finals last season, the Portland Trail Blazers (26-33) have struggled and Damian Lillard now is nursing a groin injury.

The San Antonio Spurs (24-33) have made 22 straight postseason appearances, but they now are behind the Kings in the standings after losing Wednesday. 

The Memphis Grizzlies have turned heads with their gritty play, but they are fading after injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clark. New Orleans is making a move, but they are inexperienced and caught up in a four-or-five-team race for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Why is this season going to be different than last year when the Kings closed out the year with an 8-15 stretch to fall out of contention?

It might not be. The Kings definitely could stumble towards the finish line once again.

It’s also possible that Sacramento learned from its mistakes last season, gained valuable experience and now has the veterans who can help hold the ship together as the Kings venture into unfamiliar waters.

“We have a greater sense of urgency,” Harrison Barnes said of what feels different this season. “We realize what we have to do in order to make the playoffs. I’ve been proud of how everyone’s come out, focused, ready to play since the break ended. Hopefully, it will continue.”

The Kings have won three straight coming out of the break, including a 112-94 win over the Warriors on Tuesday. Sacramento is now 9-4 since losing to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 22.

The loss in Detroit seemed to be a catalyst for change. Coach Luke Walton shifted his starting lineup to include Bogdan Bogdanovic while moving Buddy Hield to the second unit, but that was only part of the shakeup.

Since that game, newcomer Kent Bazemore has stepped in and taken on a much bigger role with the club. Second-year pro Harry Giles has also started to show improvement and almost every player is seeing a spike in their numbers.

“We’ve got a little pep in our step right now at shootaround, at practices,” Bazemore said. “Guys are just working. After practice, guys are just in the gym for an extra 45 minutes to an hour, just getting up shots. Guys are loving to come to work.”

Players are putting in the time, and they seem to be buying into Walton’s system. The Kings are staying together, and it’s possible they could get Richaun Holmes back from injury -- and maybe even Marvin Bagley III -- back before the season ends.

Sacramento is starting to pick up the pace on the offensive end, and the defense has played well over the last two games.

“I think we’re playing well on both sides of the ball,” De’Aaron Fox said. “I think we’re playing like a desperate team right now. It’s been going good for us. We’ve been able to get stops when we needed them. We’ve been able to execute when need be. I just think, right now, we’re playing our best basketball of the season.”

[RELATED: Fox putting nagging injuries on hold to help Kings win]

The Kings came out of the break seven games out of the eighth seed, but they’ve won three straight heading into a back-to-back with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Grizzlies on Thursday and Friday.

Memphis has dropped three in a row, allowing Sacramento to shave the deficit down to four games with 25 remaining. If the Kings are going to get all the way back in the race, Friday’s game against the Grizzlies is huge, as are winnable games at home against the Pistons and Washington Wizards next week.

Sacramento still needs to find a way to get past Portland, San Antonio and New Orleans in the standings, but the Kings have some momentum. They can’t afford any letdowns from here on out if they are going to have a shot of snapping their 13-year postseason drought.

Kings' De'Aaron Fox battles through nagging injuries in win vs. Warriors

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USATSI

Kings' De'Aaron Fox battles through nagging injuries in win vs. Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO -- No team needed the All-Star break more than Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox. An early-season ankle injury was getting heavy. Bumps and bruises were adding up and the time away was an opportunity to both heal up and mentally reset.

That worked for all of one game. 

Fox woke up on Friday morning with a sore left shoulder. He’s had it taped up the last two games, but he’s playing through the issue.

In the team’s 112-94 win over the Warriors on Tuesday, Fox disappeared to the locker room due to tightness in his right groin. He returned to the game and looked no worse for wear.

Fox is fighting through the pain because his team needs him on the court if they have any hope of continuing what has become a hot streak. 

“It’s motivating,” veteran wing Kent Bazemore said of Fox playing through pain. “You can see him wincing out there, but he’s pushing through. It means a lot that he’s bought in. We have his back and he is still demanding a lot of attention, dominating the game.”

Against the Warriors, Fox stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 21 points, five assists, two rebounds, a steal and a block in 32 minutes of play. He shot just 4-of-9 from the free-throw stripe, but that has nothing to do with the nagging issues he’s currently struggling with.

“I don’t know,” Fox said when asked about shooting freebies. “I think we just gotta get there and get better. I don’t really know what else to say about it.”

Is there concern that the injuries will take Fox off the court or decrease his effectiveness? Absolutely, but in the NBA, injuries always are part of the game.

“They tell me he’s good to go, I asked him at halftime and he said, ‘play me’,” Luke Walton said. “Between our medical staff and talking to him, I feel confident. He came out and made some big-time in that second half and seemed to be alright.”

The team will be cautious with the 22-year-old budding star, but they also are going to forge ahead. 

[RELATED: Bazemore is ingredient Kings missed during early struggles]

“We’ll go about it smartly and we’ll give him off days where he needs it and rehab and treatment and all that,” Walton added.

Fox is averaging 19.9 points and 6.9 assists for the Kings this season. He’s taking another leap forward in his production and growth, but Sacramento needs him at full strength if they are going to continue to stay in the hunt for the postseason.