SACRAMENTO -- The Kings are learning how to win games in crunch time. Against a star-studded 76ers squad, Sacramento led by as many as 13 points, but Philly kept charging back, even taking a lead late in the fourth quarter.
Led by the hot shooting of Buddy Hield and timely plays from Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley, the Kings finished the night on an 11-3 run over the final 2:20 to come away with a huge 115-108 victory.
With the win, the Kings improved to 27-25 on the season. Here are the positives and the negatives from the win.
The Legend of Buddy Buckets Grows
After years of struggles, Sacramento is having a breakout campaign and a lot of that is due to the play of third-year shooting guard Buddy Hield. Against the 76ers, he caught fire early and then helped finish off the game late.
Hield finished the night with a game-high 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field and 7-of-13 from behind the arc. With the seven makes from deep, Hield set a new career-high for 3-point makes in a season with 180, surpassing last season's figure of 176.
With 30 games remaining in the season, he has a shot to catch Damian Lillard's NBA record of 599 made 3-pointers through the first three years of his career. Hield currently sits at 504 makes. If he continues at his current pace of 3.5 makes per game, he'll easily clear the 600 mark by the end of the season.
Willie Shows Up
Consistency was the buzz word coming into the season when it came to big man Willie Cauley-Stein. While he hasn't been perfect this season, he certainly has improved in almost every facet of the game.
Cauley-Stein drew the impossible task of slowing All-Star big man Joel Embiid on Saturday evening and he faired surprisingly well.
Embiid hit Sacramento hard early in the game, posting 27 points and 14 rebounds through three quarters. Cauley-Stein, along with Bagley and Harry Giles, did their best, but Embiid has a huge body and he shoved the Kings around a bit.
With the game on the line, Cauley-Stein stepped up to the occasion, holding Embiid to just two points on 1-of-5 shooting and three rebounds in the fourth quarter. He kept a body on the star big and allowed his teammates a chance to crash the boards.
In addition to his defensive play, Cauley-Stein added 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and chipped in nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in 33 minutes.
The Big Three
Philly made the move to add Jimmy Butler to an already talented roster early in the season. Teaming him with Embiid and second-year star Ben Simmons gives the Sixers one of the most talented trios in the league.
Embiid hit the Kings for 29 points and 17 rebounds. Butler scored 18 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and added seven assists. Simmons chipped in 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
While the Kings survived the barrage from the group, each of these players shines a light on very specific deficiencies on Sacramento's roster. They need size at the wing. They need a defensive stopper, and they could use more bulk in the post.
The Kings need to address some of these issues through trades and free agency, but they also have a few players that should grow into these roles down the road.
It's been a long time since the Kings were in the playoff conversation this late in the year. Sacramento moved ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers in the standing at 27-25. They trail the Clippers for the eighth-best record in the Western Conference by just a game and a half with a third of the season remaining.
With the victory over the Sixers, Sacramento matched their win total of 27 games from last season. The Kings also improved to 16-10 at Golden 1 Center and 2-0 on their current six-game homestand. They have also strung together a six-game home win streak, the longest in a single season for the Kings since 2006.