Kings

Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again as Kings take down Rockets

Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again as Kings take down Rockets

From the lowest lows to the highest highs. Welcome to the 2019-20 Sacramento Kings season.

It was just another manic Monday in Kingsland. After taking down Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks less than 24 hours earlier, the Kings hung around in Houston and then shocked the Rockets at the buzzer by a final of 119-118.

The road-weary Kings looked beat when Russell Westbrook took the ball right through the defense and scored a go-ahead bucket with one second remaining.

On the ensuing play, Cory Joseph scanned the court and waited patiently for Bogdan Bogdanovic to run through and then Buddy Hield.

Coach Luke Walton used his top scorers as decoys for Nemanja Bjelica, who calmly stepped to the left elbow and drilled a 33-footer as time expired.

“I was one of the options,” Bjelica told Grant Napear and Doug Christie following the win. “Great win for us. What can I say? I took a crazy shot. The ball went in. We deserve this win. And that’s it.”

Overmatched, understaffed and playing on the second night of a back-to-back against two of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Kings somehow swept a two-game set with the Mavericks and Rockets.

“We were very brave tonight,” Bjelica said. “It’s hard to play against this team and we played different and we won.”

Bjelica finished the night with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals for Sacramento. He’s not used to chatting with the media in post-game media availability and now he’s been the star of the show for the second straight game.

He wasn’t the only Kings player to put up big numbers. Sacramento tied a franchise record with 20 made 3-pointers, exemplifying a total team effort.

Buddy Hield scored 26 points on 6-of-13 shooting from behind the arc. His three-pointer with 8.4 seconds remaining tied the game and set up the wild final sequence of plays.

Harrison Barnes scored 19 points, including a huge 3-pointer that gave Sacramento the lead with just over a minute to play. Richaun Holmes chipped in 16 points and Joseph went 3-for-5 from deep, not to mention playing spectacular defense against James Harden throughout the night.

Walton turned to an eight-man rotation again after finding success with a smaller group in Dallas on Sunday. That means major minutes for the starters, including Joseph, who is beat up.

[RELATED: What we learned as Bjelica, Kings stun Westbrook, Rockets]

The group responded well to the tightened rotation. They’ve now won two in a row after a disappointing overtime loss in San Antonio on Friday. They somehow salvaged a 2-2 road trip and head home at 10-13 to host the Thunder on Wednesday evening.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but the Kings continue to bounce back and they are competing well, despite an early rash of injuries.

De'Aaron Fox's development silver lining in disappointing Kings season

De'Aaron Fox's development silver lining in disappointing Kings season

The 2019-20 season hasn’t gone the way the Kings envisioned, but there is still time for the team to assess the players they have and monitor the growth of some of their young core.

One of those players is becoming what Sacramento hoped he would develop into when they selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

De’Aaron Fox has missed time due to injury, but since his return, we are starting to see potential turn into production. Over his last seven games, Fox is averaging 24.1 points, 8.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, two steals and a block in 34.6 minutes.

“It’s stuff that I knew I could always do, it’s just being more consistent,” Fox said earlier this week. “Continuing to make shots, get to the basket, get to the free throw line, things of that nature. Just trying to help my team win ball games.”

This is the silver lining for the Sacramento Kings in an otherwise disappointing first half to the 2019-20 season. Fox is beginning to take another leap in his development and it’s out of necessity.

Fox looks angry on the court and he’s fed up with losing. He even picked up a technical foul in his last game out trying to plead his case with the officials.

“Occasionally it’s good to get T’d up, it’s good for your team, especially when it’s someone like De’Aaron that gets T’d up, I think it motivates the group,” coach Luke Walton said of Fox. “Occasionally we’ll take it, but it’s a fine line of playing with that passion, but also being level headed and cool so you can make the proper decisions while you’re on the floor.”

Fox is doing everything in his power to turn the Kings season around and it appears he’s stepping into the leadership role the team is desperate to fill. He’s becoming more vocal on the court and he’s demanding accountability.

There is a sense of urgency to Fox’s game. He’s using his tremendous speed and getting downhill on his opponents. He’s also saving some fuel for the fourth quarter where he’s beginning to thrive.

“The last couple of games, I’ve felt great going into fourth quarters,” Fox said. “I don’t want to say I’m easing into games, but I’ve just been able to finish games pretty well for myself.”

Unfortunately, the scoring bump late in games hasn’t equated to wins. Against Orlando, Fox scored 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including a runner with 15.8 seconds remaining where he drew a foul and gave the Kings a one-point lead.

On the final defensive possession, Fox even went to the coaching staff and demanded he guard Evan Fournier. Fox stayed in front of the Magic’s leading scorer, forcing him to make a last-second pass, which unfortunately led to an Aaron Gordon game-winning bucket.

Wednesday against the Mavericks, Fox posted six points and three assists in the final nine minutes. He helped the Kings rally from a big deficit and make it a game in the final minute.

“I just try to put my team in the best position to win and for me and for us right now, it’s been me doing a lot of scoring in the fourth quarter,” Fox said. “If that’s how it needs to be, that’s how it needs to be. With doing that, I want to be able to close games out and actually win games.”

In his third NBA season, Fox is figuring out how to pick his spots. He focuses on setting up his teammates early and getting everyone involved. When the Kings need for him to take over, he’s able to go into attack mode.

After missing 17 games with a grade 3 ankle sprain, Fox looks like he is finally 100 percent healthy. He has a spring in his step that was missing initially and he’s regained a lot of his explosiveness.

With his body right and his numbers starting to spike, you can see the confidence growing in the Kings’ point guard.

“He seems to have his legs and his wind, from the injury,” Walton said. “With that, I think he’s getting more comfortable and confident in being vocal out there, being vocal in shootaround, embracing that leader role.”

If Fox can continue to take another huge leap in his development, it could lessen the blow of what looks like another tough season in Sacramento.

[RELATED: Kings must be held accountable]

At 22-years-old, Fox is still a work in progress. He has moments where he isn’t impactful during games, but those are becoming fewer and fewer. His turnovers are up, but he’s trying to put the team on his shoulders.

The team is hoping to bounce back in the second half of the season and make a run. If that is going to happen, the Kings need Fox to continue his strong play and a few of his teammates to get on board.

Doug Christie reveals story behind fight with Rick Fox in Kings-Lakers game

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AP

Doug Christie reveals story behind fight with Rick Fox in Kings-Lakers game

The Kings have missed the playoffs in each of the last 13 seasons. But before that drought began, they were one of the best teams in the NBA.

Back in the early 2000s, the Kings even had a bitter rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers, who were led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers defeated the Kings in seven games in the 2002 Western Conference finals and went on to win the NBA title that season. The following year, the teams met in the preseason and things got chippy between Doug Christie and Lakers forward Rick Fox.

In the latest episode of NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh's "Habershow" podcast which debuted Friday, Christie opened up about what happened on Oct. 25, 2002.

"So there was a lot of venom from the fact that there was a lot of talking going back and forth at that particular time," Christie, who is now an analyst for NBC Sports California, told Haberstroh. "And you know, they had won, and I think when you're competing against someone, you have an idea where you are in the pantheon of that. You know what I mean? And I think they felt us. And I think they might have felt we were a better team than they were. But they won. And they had to the two most dominant players probably of the era at the same time, in their alpha dog prime. So when you win, you usually don't have to say anything, 'I won.' But you're still talking.

"So, when we got to the preseason, you know they had the [Sacramento] Queens things, and Rick would always do little stuff and one of them is he would catch the ball at the pinch post, which is the elbow junction, and he would, as you were coming up -- now it's illegal -- he would pivot into you and hit my thigh. And for me, that's big because I'm moving around a lot. So it was just little stuff and in that particular time, I sold an offensive foul. He hit me and I fell down. So then he threw the ball at me and I caught it, so it didn't really hit me and I caught it. So as I got up, I hit him in the face with the ball all in one motion and that's when he kind of mushed me. As soon as he touched me, I just went 'Bang.' That was it."

Christie and the Kings never were able to get over the hump. That 2001-02 season was their best chance to win an NBA title and the Lakers got in the way.

[RELATED: Kings must be held accountable]

The Kings would make it back to the playoffs in each of the next four seasons but never made it out of the second round.

The fight between Christie and Fox will go down as arguably the greatest preseason NBA fight of all time.