Kings 'want all that smoke' in NBA restart, focusing on playoff run

Kings 'want all that smoke' in NBA restart, focusing on playoff run

Not every team in the NBA bubble is 100 percent focused on the eight-game seeding tournament. In fact, there are many motivations for those eight games.

For a team like the Washington Wizards, who enter the week without Bradley Beal, John Wall and Davis Bertans, it’s about surviving the experiment. They have flown to the Orlando bubble with very little opportunity to make the playoffs and their focus likely will be on developing young players and doing right by the NBA.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, whose sights are set on an NBA championship, not eight meaningless build-up games, the focus is different. Sure, they want to find a rhythm, but the first two rounds of the playoffs will provide that opportunity. They need to make it through eight games without an injury to one of their stars and they likely will play accordingly.

And then there is a group of playoff hopeful teams. The Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento are ready for a fight. They have zero margin for error as they battle it out for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Are the Kings ready for that challenge? That is the million dollar question.

“It’s an eight-game tournament and we want all that smoke,” Buddy Hield said earlier this week. “We’re going to go out there and compete and try and win this tournament.”

Hield isn’t alone in his thinking. The Kings appear laser focused on the prize, which is snapping the franchise’s 13-year playoff drought.

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“Our goal is to make the playoffs, that’s what we’re here for,” De’Aaron Fox told NBC Sports California. “We’re not here just to give teams a tuneup for their little playoff runs or anything like that.”

“We’re coming out here and obviously in that very first game trying to make a statement, just to show that we belong here and we have a shot, just like everyone else, to make the playoffs,” Fox added.

With games every other day, the Kings have to stay focused on the task at hand. They have eight games to prove that they are worthy of either taking the eighth seed or at least finishing in ninth place with an opportunity to take part in a play-in game.

Sacramento has had some hiccups getting the roster healthy and in the bubble together, but the team walks into the seeding tournament with about as healthy of a group as they’ve had all season long.

“We’ve been through a lot this season,” coach Luke Walton said. “We’ve been through a lot of injuries, we’ve been through getting off to a really slow start. We’ve been through different lineups. We kind of came through all of that before the stoppage of play and really found a nice groove as a team. When you go through difficult things as a group, you start to become battle tested.”

Before the shutdown, the Kings were in a good place. They had won 13 of their previous 20 games and they had some momentum. After a four-month break, they’ve come back together and appear ready to prove they belong.

“We should all be motivated for this, it’s quite a unique chance to play in this bubble,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “It’s going to be hard for everyone else, but the most mentally-ready team and physically, will at the end win.”

The Kings have been working closely together on the court. They’ve also spent a lot of time together in the bubble, fishing, playing golf and even bowling. It’s a tight-knit group, which is extremely important in a situation like this.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together over the last couple of weeks and I love the work we’ve gotten in and I love the group we have,” Walton said. “Now it’s time to get out there on the court. The pressure is going to be a little different tomorrow.”

The Kings have a small group of players in Harrison Barnes, Kent Bazemore, Cory Joseph and Corey Brewer who have real playoff experience. And then they have another group of younger guys who have never been within reach of a postseason berth with eight games remaining on the schedule.

To add to the complexity of the situation, the NBA’s bubble is a unique experience. The Kings, like every team in attendance, will have to adjust to having no fans in the building. They are playing for a hungry group 3,000 miles away, but during the game, they will have to make their own fire.

“We have to go in with an all-time high confidence,” Hield said. “We have to bring our own energy and that comes from loving each other and communicating with each other and understanding us.”

[RELATED: Barnes, Holmes will have no minutes restrictions for Kings]

The Kings sound like they are ready for the challenge ahead. They’ve struggled to prove that in the past, but this team seems different. They are deep at every position and if they play with pace, there are very few teams that can keep up with them.

Beginning on Friday, they’ll have an opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. They’ll open up against the Spurs, but then the games come fast and furious. The Kings will have a 15-day window to make their mark and either earn a chance to advance to the next round or head back home and start planning for next season.

Damian Lillard, Paul George have beef after late missed free throws

Damian Lillard, Paul George have beef after late missed free throws

Oakland native Damian Lillard isn’t afraid to speak his mind, especially when criticism is thrown his way.

The normally clutch Lillard, who has ended multiple NBA playoff series with a game-winning shot, missed two key free throws late in the Portland Trail Blazers’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Patrick Beverly, who himself is famous for mixing it up with opposing point guards, had some words for Lillard from the sideline.

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Beverly was a member of the Houston Rockets team Lillard sent home in the first round of 2014 NBA Playoffs, and Clippers star Paul George was the man contesting Lillard on his buzzer-beater that eliminated George and the Oklahoma City Thunder from the postseason last spring. Lillard brought both of them up during his postgame interview with TNT’s Taylor Rooks, and George clapped back in the comment section.

George and the Clippers have a playoff spot clinched and currently would be the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, while Lillard’s Trail Blazers are 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot.

As with many NBA beefs in recent years, the discourse continued in the comment section.

George also posted a message on his Instagram story addressing the back-and-forth.

[RELATED: Lillard wanted name of Oakland's Oscar Grant on jersey]

George, a six-time All-Star, suffered a gruesome compound fracture in his right leg during a 2014 Team USA scrimmage in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, causing him to miss most of the 2014-15 regular season.

Lillard’s rare failure in the clutch benefited the Kings, as a win by the Trail Blazers would have eliminated Sacramento from postseason contention. The Kings currently are two full games behind Portland for the ninth spot in the West, with three games remaining before the playoff field is solidified.

Hopefully for NBA fans everywhere (except in Sacramento) Lillard and the Trail Blazers find a way into the postseason so we can get another chance to see him go up against Beverly, George and the Clippers.

Harrison Barnes places Kings' flameout in Orlando on himself, veterans

Harrison Barnes places Kings' flameout in Orlando on himself, veterans

The team that began the Orlando bubble saying “we want all of that smoke” just learned that smoke usually is accompanied by fire.

At 1-4 in the NBA restart, the Kings have shown they aren’t ready for the fire and they might not be ready for prime time.

“I think it starts with individual accountability, just in terms of the effort we are putting out there on a consistent basis,” veteran Harrison Barnes said following the Kings’ 119-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. “It’s hard to win in this league and to be consistent, you have to do that every single night.”

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The Kings have talent. But rarely is that enough at the NBA level.

You have to play together. You have to play for one another. In the end, you have to bring energy and effort every night or a team of no-names, like the squad the Nets threw on the court Friday, will embarrass you.

It’s a common theme with the Kings. They played a tremendous game in a 140-125 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, scoring 49 points in the first quarter

Just over 24 hours later, they looked like a collection of players that had never played together. There was no chemistry. No passing. No rotations on defense.

Just forced and ineffective basketball.

“Frustration is high,” Barnes admitted. “I don’t know if it’s disappointing, but it’s frustrating. Coming into this game, we knew it was more mental than physical. It was meeting force with force. It was being disciplined. It didn’t matter what scheme we had or what game plan we had if we didn’t have any effort.”

Who's to blame for the Kings’ flame out in Orlando? Coach Luke Walton has already drawn plenty of criticism, but at some point the players themselves have to take ownership for the things they can control on the court.

Following the loss to the Nets, Barnes fell on his sword as one of the leaders of the team. He placed the blame on himself and the rest of the veterans.

“I’ll be the first to say it’s definitely on us as veteran players -- guys like myself," Barnes said. "I’ll take responsibility for that because I’ve been to the playoffs, I’ve been to the Finals. I know the energy and effort it takes to win games and if you don’t bring that, you lose.”

“As a group, we have to learn that you can’t just turn it on,” he added.

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The Kings have a choice. They can pout and get their lunch handed to them for the next three games. They can also play spoiler and leave the bubble on as high of a note as possible.

Either way, this isn’t the outcome the Kings were hoping for. They have had a few bright spots, like the play of De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, so the experience isn’t a total wash. But after five games, any talk of playoffs is over and changes likely are coming during the abbreviated offseason.