Kings walk into chaos in Phoenix, leave with stinging loss

Kings walk into chaos in Phoenix, leave with stinging loss

Chaos, unpredictable, dangerous. The Sacramento Kings walked into someone else's mess Monday night in Phoenix. A Suns team on the rocks and in complete disarray after firing their head coach three games into the season. They were also a team without their best player in Eric Bledsoe, who either wanted to get out of a hair salon or publicly threw the franchise under the bus Sunday afternoon on social media.

It looked like the easiest W in the history of the league, but no game was ever won or lost on paper.

Phoenix came out like a team possessed. Whatever ailed the struggling franchise behind the scenes vanished once the ball was in the air. The Suns shot a blistering 70 percent in the first quarter as the Kings looked stunned and slow to react.

Matchups were part of the problem. Marquese Chriss has young legs and he ran circles around veteran Zach Randolph as the Suns pushed their lead to 22 points in the first quarter.

Sacramento responded in the second, riding the reserves to cut into Phoenix’s lead. Driven by a pair of rookie guards in De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings matched the Suns’ intensity, cutting the lead to 59-51 going to the intermission.

Dave Joerger turned to the same group of starters to open the second half and found identical results. Chriss continued his strong play against Randolph and George Hill couldn’t find a rhythm.

Looking at plus/minus is usually reserved for a much larger sample size, but the Kings’ starters were each in the negative. Rookie Justin Jackson posted a -20 for the game to lead the way and Randolph finished with a -19. Buddy Hield got things going in the third quarter, allowing his defense to lead to offense, but he still finished the night with a -18. Hill (-16) and Willie Cauley-Stein (-8) also finished on the wrong side of the ledger.

Small sample size or not, the numbers show one thing - the Sacramento Kings were a better team on Monday with Fox, Bogdanovic, Garrett Temple, Skal Labissiere and Kosta Koufos on the floor.

Making his NBA debut, Bogdanovic came out on fire, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half. The Serbian wing was drafted by the Suns in 2014, but stayed in Europe until this summer.

Bogdanovic and Fox paired up nicely, giving Kings fans a glimpse into what the future might hold. They battled to keep the team from getting blown out and down the stretch, they, along with bursts from Labissiere and the hot shooting of Temple, almost had enough to complete the comeback.

Despite trailing by nine going into the fourth, Sacramento kept attacking the shaky Suns. Temple hit 5-of-7 from long range in the fourth quarter alone, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 in the final 12 minutes.

The veteran wing missed a free throw and a chance to tie the game with 10.1 seconds remaining on the clock and his 26-foot buzzer beater was just off the mark.

Night in and night out, Joerger is going to have to make difficult decisions. Some nights Randolph and Hill will lead the team and be relied on to finish close games. Other nights it will be some amalgamation of veterans and youth that find synergy on the court.

For one evening, the Kings are the team that lost to an embattled Suns team on the ropes. The final score won’t matter. The fact that Sacramento is running out their own experimental roster won’t matter. A loss is a loss.

Kings notes: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield flash skills in loss to Rockets

Kings notes: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield flash skills in loss to Rockets

It was a track meet from the opening tip Saturday night in Houston. The Rockets looked like an inspired team after a rough start to the season, running over the Kings over for a 132-112 win

Houston rained down 3-pointers at a startling clip, and when it wasn't burying the 3-ball, it was finishing at the rim. James Harden dropped in a game-high 34 points, and Chris Paul added 24 points and nine assists in the Rockets' win.

The Kings had plenty of chances, but their inability to slow the Rockets' offense cost them any chance at a win.

Here are six notes as the Kings fell back to .500 on the season at 8-8.

Buddy scores

After failing to reach the 20-point plateau for four consecutive games, Buddy Hield found the basket against Houston. The third-year guard posted 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go with seven rebounds and two assists.

Hield has taken a few games to adjust to Bogdan Bogdanovic's return, but the Kings' second-leading scorer should be just fine.

How good is Fox? 

In his second season, De’Aaron Fox has put the NBA on notice. Not only is he a Most Improved Player candidate, he should be in the discussion for an All-Star bid.

Against a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul, Fox finished with 19 points and three assists in 25 minutes of play. He can’t control whether his teammates hit open jumpers, but if he’s playing 36 minutes per night, the Kentucky product is putting up nearly 21 points and eight assists.

Bogdan impactful

Bogdanovic completed the second biggest step in his recovery from offseason knee issues. First, he made his way back to the court. On Saturday, he completed his first back-to-back and should be cleared for regular duty ASAP.

The Serbian-born wing finished Saturday's game with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and added five assists in the loss. He’s ready for stage three, which is returning to the Kings' starting lineup.

Play me

Marvin Bagley struggled against the Grizzlies and clearly was outplayed by fellow rookie Jaren Jackson. Bagley had a bounce-back game in Houston, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

[RELATED: Kings deny report that coach Joerger, front office have disconnect]

Bagley is a talent, but he needs time to figure out the defensive end. There will be a point this season when he jumps ahead of Nemanja Bjelica in the Kings' starting rotation, but he first needs to show activity on both ends of the floor.  

The disappearance of Willie Cauley-Stein 

If nothing else, Cauley-Stein has been consistent this season. Often times, he’s been extraordinary. Against Clint Capela, Cauley-Stein was less than serviceable.

Cauley-Stein shot 1 of 9 from the field and finished with three points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. It’s possible he was winded on the second night of a back-to-back, but he can’t have nights like this if he hopes to cash in this summer.

Play some D 

The Kings struggled to contain the Rockets from the early stages of the game. In the end, Sacramento couldn’t stop penetration, struggled with the pick-and-roll and allowed Houston to shoot as many 3-pointers as it could muster.

The Kings gave up 132 points on 56.8 percent shooting, and allowed the Rockets to hit 20 of 47 from long range. It’s hard to stay in a game when your opponent outscores you 60-33 on 3-pointers. Sacramento's defense has to get better, especially against top-tier teams.

Kings coach Dave Joerger sidesteps Yahoo report about his job status


Kings coach Dave Joerger sidesteps Yahoo report about his job status

Dave Joerger wasn't in a mood to talk about his job status moments after his Kings lost to the Rockets on Saturday night.

Asked by reporters about a Yahoo Sports story claiming "substantial disconnect" between him and the Kings' front office, Joerger tried to deflect the question back to basketball.

"Well, usually, I would say, 'I'd be happy to answer all your questions about tonight's game,' but in this case, I'm going to tell you that my focus is with our team," Joerger said. "And coaching our team and getting better every single night. And we've got young guys, and they're mixed with older guys, and go in there and rally them up.

“This is a tough five-game stretch for us, so I want to make sure we stick together, grab onto each other ..."

Pressed on the reported disconnect, Joerger refused to address it.

"I'm not going to get into that stuff," the coach said before exiting the scrum after no other questions were asked.

The Yahoo story came out about 30 minutes before the Kings and Rockets tipped off in Houston. During the game, Kings general manager Vlade Divac issued a statement to NBC Sports California's James Ham and denied there was any issues between Joerger and the front office.

"Dave has our full support and confidence,” Divac said in the statement. “We continue to work together to develop our young core and compete.”