Kings Under Review: Struggles closing out games continue in loss to Pelicans

Kings Under Review: Struggles closing out games continue in loss to Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sacramento Kings would love to finish the season strong, but they've run into a few issues. They're struggling to close out games and against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Kings were completely pushed around in the paint.

Despite playing without Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore, the Pelicans led for much of the night. When the game was on the line, it was a ragtag group of fill-ins that made the difference for New Orleans.

The 121-118 loss dropped the Kings back below the .500 mark at 37-38. While it could have been a cleaner performance, there are some positives from the defeat.


Dominated Down Low

Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor and Christian Wood attacked the Kings on the low block and the Kings struggled to make an adjustment.

Randle crushed the Kings for a game-high 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Okafor bullied his way to 12 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes and Wood, who was claimed off waivers March 20, dropped in 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting to go with nine rebounds.

The Kings were outscored 74-64 in the paint. They knew what was coming on almost every possession and they still couldn't stop it from happening.

The focus of the offseason has to be shoring up the interior defense. Either through scheme or a swap in personnel, the Kings have to get better inside.



At one point this season, the Kings were known for their late-game heroics and the ability to hit the big shot. That no is longer the case.

Since the All-Star break, the Kings have lost eight games by six points or less and four by three or less. That is the difference between being in the postseason hunt and standing on the outside looking in.

“We’ve got to finish, man, we’ve got to finish games,” Buddy Hield said following the game. “That’s our biggest downfall right now, not finishing games. It sucks, but that’s what’s killing us.”

This is a young team and that is showing down the stretch. Winning at the NBA level usually comes in stages. The Kings skipped a few of those stages this season, but that might be catching up to them now.


Guard Play

Make no mistake, this team is built around De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. The trio were very good against New Orleans.

Fox was dynamic and is finishing the season strong. He dropped in 25 points on 11-for-22 shooting, but that was only the beginning. He posted a 12-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, grabbed five rebounds, picked up two steals and blocked a shot.

Hield struggled with his 3-point shot, knocking down 1-of-8 from long range. But he still managed to score 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting.

Bogdanovic didn't get the same run as the starters, but he still managed to finish the evening with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting in just 18 minutes. He's quietly strung three very nice games together off the bench for the Kings.


Not so Magic

The playoff talk died down a little over a week ago, but the Kings have yet to face the reality of their official elimination.

Sacramento's magic number to be eliminated from the playoffs is now one.

[RELATED: Dave Joerger believes Marvin Bagley is Rookie of the Year]

A win over the Nuggets on Friday evening for the Thunder would end the Kings' chance of catching OKC. A loss to Rockets on Saturday evening seals Sacramento's fate completely.

If somehow neither of these events happen, the Kings face the Spurs on Sunday evening. If Sacramento loses, they are officially eliminated. If they somehow sweep the Rockets/Spurs back-to-back, they would still have to win the final five games and have either San Antonio or OKC lose out.

NBA Rumors: GM survey gives Kings another boost in postseason chase

NBA Rumors: GM survey gives Kings another boost in postseason chase

So you’re saying there’s a chance.

The Sacramento Kings got a boost in their mission to snap the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought Friday morning when the results of the GM survey were released.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, 83 percent of NBA general managers voted for the “Playoff Plus” option, which would allow 20 or more teams to compete for the playoffs.

20 is the magic number for the Kings. When the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 11, Sacramento was in a virtual three way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race with Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. 

All three teams trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by three and a half games in the standings with Sacramento and New Orleans still having 18 games remaining on the schedule and Portland with 16. Memphis has 17 games left and the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

What would a 20 team playoff picture look like? No one knows for sure just yet, but the prevailing thought is that the Blazers, Kings, Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, who currently sit four games back of the Grizzlies, would likely go through either a play-in scenario to try to earn a spot in postseason or it’s possible the league would reseed the league as a whole and allow the four teams into an expanded playoff format.

There is still a possibility that the league chooses to include Eastern Conference teams in the grouping of 20, but when the league shutdown, the race for the eighth spot was all but over in the East with Orlando leading Washington by five and a half games.

[RELATED: NBA rumors: Kings on shortlist for potential playoff play-in tournament]

According to Charania, there is a 53-47 percent split on whether the league should reseed the playoffs this season to take into account potential additional teams.

Only 27 percent of NBA general managers voted to pick back up where the season ended and bring back all 30 teams to finish out the 82 game schedule. GMs would also like expanded rosters for the postseason and an end date no later than Oct. 1.

Sacramento was playing their best basketball of the season when the pandemic put a hold on everything. Richaun Holmes had just returned from injury and was preparing to reclaim his starting center position when the league abruptly shut their doors. There is also a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to action after playing just 13 games overall due to thumb and foot injuries.

Kings players have been filtering into the practice facility over the last few weeks for individual workouts with the hopes of getting back in shape for a potential return.

While the GM survey isn’t the final determining factor, it is a piece to puzzle for Commissioner Adam Silver as he tries to navigate an incredibly difficult task of balancing player safety and getting the league back on line.

NBA rumors: Kings on shortlist for potential playoff play-in tournament

NBA rumors: Kings on shortlist for potential playoff play-in tournament

Momentum is building for the return of NBA action. After honing in on Orlando as the most likely venue to host the end of the 2019-20 schedule and postseason, it appears the league is preparing to get creative with how they move forward.

Details still are being worked out as to how the league will move forward, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Kings might make the shortlist of teams invited to the Magic Kingdom to participate in the action.

According to Wojnarowski's source, “teams have become increasingly skeptical of the league bringing back all 30 teams to complete the season.”

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

While nothing is confirmed, the plan appears to be inviting the 16 teams that currently would qualify for the postseason and then a quartet of Western Conference clubs that are fighting for the eighth seed. The league has yet to decide on the exact path moving forward, but a play-in tournament, pool play bracket and a continuation of regular-season games all are under consideration.

When the league suspended play on March 11 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Kings were preparing to host the New Orleans Pelicans in one of the most important home games in Sacramento in over a decade.

In a virtual tie for the ninth spot with the Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers and three-and-a-half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final postseason berth, the Kings had 18 remaining to make a move.

Memphis was facing the toughest schedule in the league down the stretch and already had lost tiebreakers against both the Kings and Pelicans. The Kings and Blazers split their season series and the Kings trailed the Pelicans 0-1 with two more games still on the schedule.

The Kings was playing their best basketball of the year at the time of the shutdown. They were 13-7 in their last 20 games. Richaun Holmes was playing his way back into game shape after missing 25 games with a shoulder injury and Marvin Bagley was on the mend as well.

The Kings aren’t the only team that was playing well. Memphis and New Orleans both were 11-9 over their previous 20 games and the Blazers were at an even .500 over that stretch.

In addition to the Kings, Pelicans and Trail Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs were just four games behind the Grizzlies at the time of the shutdown. Gregg Popovich’s crew was scuffling a bit, posting a 7-13 record over their previous 20.

The Kings have yet to make a statement on a potential return, instead deferring to the NBA’s spokesman for comment.

[RELATED: 20 Kings Questions: Can Holmes and Bagley play together?]

Roughly half of the team currently is in Sacramento and according to a league source, most of those players have been at the practice facility for scheduled individual workouts over the last few weeks.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, there is hope that teams will hold in-market training camps in July with a potential restart set for late July or early August in Orlando.

Players who were currently outside of the United States will be allowed back in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said, according to Charania.

Nothing is written in stone, but there is positive movement for a return of NBA basketball. It won’t include fans, but there is growing optimism that the Kings will be part of any ramp-up.