Kings

Kings takeaways: What we learned in 131-123 scrimmage loss vs. Bucks

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Kings takeaways: What we learned in 131-123 scrimmage loss vs. Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks are really good. The Kings were reminded of that fact Saturday morning in Orlando.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyle Korver and Brook Lopez lit the Kings up, but it was a team effort for Milwaukee. They hit 20-for-45 from behind the 3-point line, including makes from eight different players.

Sacramento still is down two starters in Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes, but they clearly were overmatched by the team with the best record in the NBA. They’ll need to tighten things up significantly, especially on the defensive end as they build towards the restart opener on July 31.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings drop their second straight scrimmage in the Orlando bubble, this time by a final of 131-123.

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Fighting Fox

De’Aaron Fox rolled his left ankle in practice on July 15 and all seemed lost. Less than two weeks later, Fox returned to the court, although he played limited minutes for the Kings.

His numbers weren’t eye-popping, but he looked healthy and ready to compete when the games count. Fox finished the game with seven points and six assists in 19 minutes. 

The Kings are a different team with Fox on the court. If they have any hope of making a run in Orlando, they need him 100 percent healthy.

More Baze

When general manager Vlade Divac traded Trevor Ariza for Kent Bazemore, it almost looked like a straight swap of veteran wings. Whatever the reason, Bazemore has fit in perfectly in Sacramento and become a difference-maker.

Against the Bucks, Bazemore started for Barnes, who is in the NBA’s bubble but still awaiting clearance to play. He was active on both ends of the court and even made a few highlight-reel plays.

Bazmore’s defensive intensity is contagious and his offense is a bonus. He finished the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and a block in 26 minutes of action.

[RELATED: De'Aaron Fox returns to practice as Kings get healthy at right time]

Cleaning it up

Turnovers have been a huge concern for Kings coach Luke Walton throughout camp. Against the Miami Heat, Sacramento fumbled it away 18 times in the team’s 104-98 loss.

Against Milwaukee, the Kings gave it away just 10 times and finished with 23 assists.

Getting Fox back in the fold helps out, but against a very long and aggressive defensive team, the Kings valued the ball. It didn’t translate to a win, but the improvement was noticeable. 

Now the focus for Walton’s team has to shift to team rebounding and defending the 3-point line. 

Kings' NBA playoffs drought hits 14 seasons after bubble elimination

Kings' NBA playoffs drought hits 14 seasons after bubble elimination

The Kings' playoff drought officially extended another year.

The Portland Trail Blazers' 124-121 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday dashed Sacramento's last hopes of a chance at the postseason, as the Kings can no longer qualify for a play-in series between the Western Conference's No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.

The Kings (29-40) needed to finish the restarted NBA season ninth in the West and no more than four games back of the Memphis (33-38) for eighth in the conference to force a play-in, and Sacramento was mathematically eliminated Sunday.

Sacramento hasn't made the playoffs since 2006 but entered the Orlando bubble with high hopes of returning this year. The Kings instead floundered out of the gate, losing all but one of their first five games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as most of their rivals surged. While the Grizzlies' struggles (1-5 since the restart) created a real opportunity, the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs leapfrogged the Kings in the standings and the Trail Blazers can still grab a play-in spot.

The Kings didn't just start slow in Orlando, however. Sacramento opened Luke Walton's first season as coach with a five-game losing streak, then lost eight consecutive games to close out December and another six straight in mid-January. The Kings stood 15-29 and second-to-last in the Western Conference on Jan. 22, and that hole proved too deep to dig out of.

[RELATED: Barnes takes heat after another poor Kings performance]

Sacramento's 13-8 run prior to the NBA season's coronavirus suspension in mid-March kept the door to the playoffs ajar, and the restarted season's format cracked it wide open. The Kings were scheduled to play teams around them in the standings (Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans), Eastern Conference foes all-but-assured of playoff spots (Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets) and Western Conference contenders who would've had little to play for (Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers) by the time they played Sacramento.

But the door started to shut when Kings lost to the Spurs, Magic and Dallas Mavericks to open the restarted season. A loss to the Nets on Friday all but closed it, and the Grizzlies' win/Blazers' win on Sunday finished the job.

Former Kings head coach, Hall of Famer Paul Westphal battling cancer

Former Kings head coach, Hall of Famer Paul Westphal battling cancer

Ten years ago, I walked into my first Kings media day as an independent writer with zero experience and no guarantee that I ever would be allowed in the building again. I was green and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I had to fight my way into the building for media day in September 2010. When I was allowed to attend training camp a day later, it always was on uncertain ground. I kept showing up and the Kings kept opening the door and letting me in.

When I was credentialed for my first preseason game, it was with the understanding that it would probably be the only time that happened. When I made it on the list for the second game, it was explained that this was only for preseason.

A decade later, I keep showing up and the Kings keep letting me in the building. The reason? I had a backer in that first season that helped change my life.

I’ve met plenty of people throughout my journey that have impacted my career, but none more than former Kings head coach and Naismith Hall of Famer, Paul Westphal.

In the opening days of my first training camp, Westphal and I formed a connection. Maybe he was looking for an ally on the other side. Maybe I was, too.

Whatever the reason, we hit it off and unbeknownst to me, it was Westphal who had gone to the Kings’ media relations staff and told them to keep letting me in the building.

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It was the early stages of bloggers being allowed into NBA arenas. I showed up like clockwork, asked questions, was respectful and by the end of my first season, I was hooked.

At one point during that first season, Westphal and I exchanged numbers so I could reach out while the team was on the road. We would chat on the phone and I would transcribe the discussions for Q&A’s.

During the 2011 summer, the NBA hit a lockout, but that didn’t close a door with Westphal. We met for lunch during the lockout multiple times and would talk basketball and life for hours.

An incredible storyteller, Westphal would share behind the scenes stories of his coaching start at Southwestern Baptist Bible College, his experience working with Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns, and even the bizarre tale of Jerrod Mustaf.

Westphal was let go in Sacramento seven games into my second season covering the team after a public spat with young star DeMarcus Cousins. By that time, I already was considered a full-time member of the media corps, in part thanks to him.

On Sunday morning, Westphal’s longtime friend, Mike Lupica, turned to social media to give an update on Westphal, who was inducted in the Hall of Fame just last year.

Outside of my personal dealings with Westphal, he is widely considered one of the true gentlemen of the game. A magnificent player during his time in the league, he’s proven to be an even better person off the court.

It has been a while since we connected, outside of a text exchange when he received the call for the Hall, but he is an incredibly influential person in my career and my thoughts and prayers go out to Paul, his wife Cindy, their children and grandchildren as he battles a very unkind illness.