Kings

Kings takeaways: What we learned in listless 110-102 loss vs. Hornets

Kings takeaways: What we learned in listless 110-102 loss vs. Hornets

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Playing to the level of their competition has been an issue for the Sacramento Kings all season long. The issue reared its ugly head in the team’s loss to the New York Knicks on Friday and once again on Tuesday when the team traveled to Charlotte to face the Hornets.

After a competitive three quarters, the Kings came out flat to start the fourth quarter and Charlotte made them pay.

Malik Monk came off the bench and pounded the Kings for 23 points. Cody Zeller played well in the post and Devonte’ Graham got hot late to propel the Hornets to a 110-102 victory.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings struggled down the stretch and fell to 12-15 on the season.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

After a 17-game layoff, De’Aaron Fox returned to game action Tuesday and instantly resumed his role as the head of the snake.

The 21-year-old entered the game with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter and immediately started setting up his teammates. On the offensive end, he didn’t miss a beat.

He started rolling in the second quarter, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. When Fox entered the game in the third, he started attacking the rim and the Hornets had no answer.

In his first game in five weeks, Fox finished with 19 points, eight assists and two steals. He was a step slow on the defensive end, but he played 29 minutes and looked very good for Sacramento.

Trouble with the triple

The Kings should be one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the NBA. They shoot a ton of long balls, but they are just 13th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 35.9 percent. 

Sacramento wasn't shy against Charlotte, hoisting 40 attempts from beyond the arc. The Kings hit just 14, including three late ones from Buddy Hield when the outcome had already been decided.

Harrison Barnes shot just 1-of-6 from deep and Nemanja Bjelica converted only two of his eight attempts. If you’re going to shoot that many 3-pointers, you have to knock down a better percentage.

[RELATED: Warriors slip to last, Kings rise in NBA Power Rankings]

Learning curve

Marvin Bagley walked into the league with the ability to score 20 points per game. His athleticism is elite and so is his offensive skill set.

In his first four games back from a broken right thumb, the 20-year-old big has put up numbers, like the 14 points and seven rebounds he dropped on Charlotte. But on the defensive end, he has a long way to go.

The second-year big has been slow to rotate and he’s almost non-existent as a help defender. After a rough first half against the Hornets, Bagley made a few adjustments in the third quarter and looked better, but he remains a work in progress.

It doesn’t help that Bagley is taking Richaun Holmes’ -- the team's best interior defender -- spot on the floor. Continuing an early-season trend, Bagley was a minus-19 over 22 minutes on Tuesday.

Harrison Barnes, Kings want chance to make NBA playoffs upon restart

Harrison Barnes, Kings want chance to make NBA playoffs upon restart

When the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down the 2019-20 NBA season back in March, the Kings were 28-36. Not the prettiest record.

But Luke Walton's team was making progress. They had won seven of the last 10 games, and were 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Now, with the NBA nearing a return-to-play plan, the question becomes: Will the Kings get a chance to compete for that final playoff spot or will the league move forward with the current 16 playoff teams?

"For us, we're kind of in a tough situation because we're on the fringe," Kings forward Harrison Barnes told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck on the "Full 48" podcast. "So in all these scenarios that are coming about, we're kind of that unique case where 'Well, do they get the play-in tournament? Do they get the five games? Since they're three games out, do they just go with playoff teams?' So you just try to stay in shape, stay ready, but you know whatever decision comes about, it's going to be made with everybody in mind, but not everyone's going to be able to be comfortable with that solution. Someone's going to get the short end of that stick, and we hope to have the opportunity to play."

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

One rumored scenario would see all teams returning and playing a few regular-season games before the playoffs start. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard opposed that idea last week because he doesn't feel his team would get a true shot at making the playoffs. He would prefer the Kings, Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs compete with Grizzlies in a play-in tournament to determine the final playoff teams.

"I think Dame is right," Barnes told Beck. "I mean, if you come back and play, you want to be playing for something. The risk of traveling, being in Orlando in that type of environment, with any precaution that can be taken, there is a risk in that, so if you're going to be playing, you want to be playing for something. All of us who have been in isolation, we've been training, we've been hoping for this moment. You want to see that rewarded if you can, but if you're going to be in a situation where you do all this training and you come out there for a few games and you're not able to qualify for the playoffs, then it makes sense to probably have playoff teams and go from there."

[RELATED: Kings reportedly to get playoff shot]

Barnes and the Kings are a young team that entered the 2019-20 season with high expectations. But injuries to De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley early in the year set the team back. Now, with everyone nearing full health, Barnes wants to see what the team could do if they were given the chance to compete against the Western Conference bubble teams.

"Our team is a little bit different because we had a lot of injuries throughout the season, and we were starting to hit our stride," Barnes said. "But now we're healthy, so if the opportunity is there for us to play and make the playoffs, we want that opportunity, we want to see where we're at. There's no other simulation we can get for games. This group, where we're at, we need to play, we need to play together, and playing for something is important."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

The Kings would get a chance to end their 13-year postseason drought in a proposal to restart the NBA season that reportedly is gaining momentum among the league's owners.

Sacramento would be one of 22 teams headed to Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports just outside of Orlando in a plan that has "growing support," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported Friday, citing sources. The Kings would also be included in a 20-team format that "remains alive," sources told ESPN.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported that the NBA will vote Thursday on a format to restart the season during a board of governors call. The league requires a three-fourths majority to approve any such plan, and the owners reportedly will vote with whichever format commissioner Adam Silver recommends.

The Kings were in the thick of a playoff chase when the NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus' spread, just 3.5 games back of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Sacramento's game that night was supposed to the be the last before the league indefinitely shut its doors, but the New Orleans Pelicans -- the Kings' opponents that night -- were reluctant to take the court once they learned referee Courtney Kirkland had recently worked a Utah Jazz game. Jazz center Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test earlier that night prompted the league to suspend the season.

Teams that were within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference would be included in the 22-team format, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne. The 20-team format reportedly would only include the top eight seeds in each conference and the four teams, including the Kings, within four games of the eighth seed. If the NBA opts to resume the season with 22 teams, there would be regular-season games and a play-in tournament "to compete for playoff berths in both the Eastern and Western Conference," Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported.

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The Kings have gotten good news all week, with NBA general managers reportedly preferring by a wide margin a "Playoffs Plus" format to resume the season with 20 or more teams and their inclusion in all the formats gaining traction among the league's decision-makers. 

Sacramento could get even better -- and more official -- news next Thursday if either a 20- or 22-team format is approved.