Kings

Kings takeaways: What we learned in thrilling 119-118 win over Rockets

Kings takeaways: What we learned in thrilling 119-118 win over Rockets

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When you play the Houston Rockets, you have no choice but to get creative. Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton threw the kitchen sink at the league’s second-highest scoring offense and it all came down to one shot. 

Russell Westbrook, who was a handful the entire night, took it coast-to-coast to put Houston up by two with one second remaining. 

Without enough time to even take a dribble, Cory Joseph inbounded the ball to Nemanja Bjelica, who was all alone on the left elbow. The Serbian sniper drilled a 33-footer as time expired to give Sacramento an improbable 119-118 win.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings hung around in Houston and shocked the Rockets to move to 10-13 on the season.  

The winner

For the second night in a row, Bjelica came through for Sacramento. Walton ran his offense through the 31-year-old forward for much of the night, but it’s unlikely the final play was called for him.

Once he got the ball, he calmly set up and sent a laser screaming at the hoop. It looked good from the moment it left his hand and after a quick review, the shot was deemed good.

Bjelica finished the night with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. He’s earned a spot in the rotation when Marvin Bagley comes back later this week. 

Make it rain

Sacramento and Houston have had plenty of 3-point shootouts and Monday night’s game was no exception. 

Led by Buddy Hield’s six makes from downtown, the Kings made 20 of 45 attempts from behind the 3-point line. Six players hit multiple 3-balls, including a 3-for-5 performance from Joseph. None was bigger than Bjelica’s game-winning hoist.

Houston leads the league in 3-point attempts (46.1) and 3-point makes (15.7) on the season. Against the Kings, the Rockets managed to hit 17 of their 50 attempts from deep.  

[RELATED: L2M: Kings benefited from late missed call in win over Mavs]

Keep him off the line

The Kings have struggled to play defense without fouling much of the season, but in back-to-back games, they seemed to figure a few things out.

After yielding just five free-throw attempts to Luka Doncic on Sunday -- well off his 9.7 attempts per game on the season -- Sacramento did the same thing to James Harden.

Harden, who averages 12.8 makes from the line on 14.8 attempts this season, hit the Kings for just eight attempts on the evening. The Kings stayed close to Harden, but moved their feet and avoided reaching in. 

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard still managed to post 27 points, but that is well below his league-leading average of 38.5 points per game. Without a bunch of extra points at the line, Harden looked mortal, at least for one night.

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

SACRAMENTO -- The last thing the Kings needed Wednesday evening was a visit from Luka Doncic. The budding superstar, who the team passed on during the 2018 NBA Draft, ran over Sacramento on the way to his NBA leading 12th triple-double of the season. 

Adding to the frustration of the night, with a 127-123 loss, Sacramento fell 11 games under .500 and finished the first half of the season at 15-26. They currently sit five games behind last season’s 20-21 record at the midway point and they are in 14th place in the Western Conference standings.

The Kings are lost. They are 3-12 over their last 15 games and they are about to hit their longest road trip of the season, beginning Saturday in Utah. 

If ever there were a soft spot in an NBA schedule, the Kings just went through one. They played 10 out of 12 at home with seven of those games against sub-.500 teams. They went just 2-8 at home over the stretch in front of near-sellout crowds. 

Fans booed during Monday’s loss against the Mavericks. It’s not the first time they’ve made their displeasure known this season and the way things are heading, it won’t be the last.

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed...we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield is wrong. This is not how Sacramento fans are. They are loyal to a fault and at this point, they are being tested. 

Fans are voicing their angst because they feel like they were sold a “Super Team, just young” and now the Kings are neither super, nor young.  

After watching one of the most exciting teams in basketball last season, management made the decision to fire their coaching staff and start over. Instead of building on the success, the players were forced to learn a new system and terminology during an abbreviated training camp due to a trip to India. 

On Opening Night, the injury bug hit the Kings and hasn’t let up the entire season. The team looks disjointed and out of sync, although they have enough talent to make every game close.

This isn’t a Luke Walton issue, despite the fan rhetoric. Yes, he has an over-reliance on a few veterans, but he’s also had his core of Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Bogdan Bogdanovic healthy for just one game this season. 

Not only has this group of players missed a combined 59 games, they rarely have practiced together or had time to build any continuity in a new system. Getting everyone healthy is only going to create its own set of issues.  

We can talk about the 19 games decided by five points or less. We can talk about the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report. We can talk about missed draft picks or bad free agent signings. There is a litany of issues that are either reasons or excuses for the Sacramento Kings.

The fact is, this is the most disappointing first half to any season since 2006-07 when the Kings’ streak of missing the postseason began. Watching Doncic tear through the team was just salt in an open wound.

[RELATED: Holmes back at practice, but weeks away from Kings return]

These are the questions facing a Kings franchise in complete disarray. 

Is it too late to turn the season around? 

No, but the clock is ticking.

How does this situation get better? 

Luck, better health, and an epiphany moment where the core players understand the system, play extended minutes together and find a rhythm.

Is it possible that moment comes this season? 

Yes, but a lot of damage has been done. The record is one issue, but the confidence of the team would have to completely change. They may not have the leader behind the scenes to fight through the adversity they are currently facing.

Were expectations too high?

Absolutely not. This is the most talented roster the Kings have had in over a decade. They have four top-seven draft picks in their starting lineup and enough role players to fill in the gaps. They won 39 games last season and that number would have been closer to 42 if they didn’t collapse in the final week of the season.

When do people start losing their jobs over this?

It doesn’t sound like that’s happening anytime soon.

This isn’t how anyone saw the first half going for the Kings. They are on pace to win 30 games this season and finish outside the postseason picture for a 14th consecutive season. They have not only lost massive amounts of time due to injury, but also major development time for some of their young players.

The team needs a solid second half to the season to assess where they are moving forward. If they post one similar to what we’re seen through the first 41 games, someone needs to be held accountable.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in annoying 127-123 loss to Mavericks

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AP

Kings takeaways: What we learned in annoying 127-123 loss to Mavericks

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO -- Anger. Disappointment. Envy. 

Kings fans got an up-close look at budding superstar Luka Doncic Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. It was another reminder of what Sacramento missed out on when the team passed on the Slovenian guard in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Led by Doncic’s tremendous play, the Dallas Mavericks built a big third-quarter lead and then coasted down the stretch for the 127-123 win.

Doncic led the way with a big-time triple-double, but he was one of six Mavericks to score in double-figures.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings fell a season-high 11 games under .500 at 15-26 on the season.  

Star

Doncic and the Kings will be linked throughout the superstar’s career and likely a lot longer than that. Kings general manager Vlade Divac selected Marvin Bagley III with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft instead of Doncic.

Bagley has plenty of time to grow into who he is going to be as a player, but Doncic already is an elite star that looks like a generational talent.

The Mavericks’ star posted a 25-point, 17-assist, 15-rebound triple-double. The Kings threw the kitchen sink at the second-year guard and he picked them apart with his incredible court vision.

Playing angry

De’Aaron Fox had enough. He wasn’t happy with his teammates. He wasn’t happy with Mavericks. He wasn’t happy with the officials and he wasn’t happy with losing. 

Fox attacked the Mavericks' defense almost every time he had the ball in his hands. He forced the issue on a few occasions, but this is the player the Kings need. He finished the night with 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, although he shot just 3-of-9 from the free-throw line.

In the third quarter, Fox picked up a technical while pleading his own case. It’s probably time for head coach Luke Walton and a few of Fox’s teammates to start paying out some fines and stand up for their leader. 

[RELATED: Holmes back at practice, but weeks away from Kings return]

Remember me?

Harrison Barnes had a little bit of an edge to him from the opening tip Wednesday evening at Golden 1 Center. On the first possession of the game, Barnes went at Doncic and scored over his former teammate for the first two points of the game.

Barnes continued his assault on the team that traded him to Sacramento last season. He finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss.

In addition to Barnes’ ties to Dallas, there were a pair of Mavericks that used to play for the Kings. Seth Curry hit 5-of-8 from long range to finish with 21 points and Justin Jackson chipped in seven points.