SACRAMENTO -- The Miami Heat love to run a zone defense, which the Kings learned the hard way last month when they fell in overtime at AmericaAirlines Arena. They got a chance for a little revenge on Friday as a depleted Heat team rolled into Golden 1 Center.
The Kings were shorthanded as well due to a grouping of injuries to their post players, as well as the trade that sent Dewayne Dedmon to the Hawks. With only two bigs to work with, coach Luke Walton turned to Nemanja Bjelica to play major minutes at the five.
An experienced European player that once won a EuroLeague MVP, Bjelica is used to seeing zone defenses. He had no problem picking apart the Heat’s zone from the high post, helping the Kings come away with a 105-97 victory. Bjelica finished with a career-high tying eight assists in 36 minutes of action.
“If you can have a big that can play in the middle of a zone or the top of a zone offensively, it’s great,” guard De’Aaron Fox said. “He can see over the zone, he can make the passes, he can also score, so he does a lot for us.”
At 6-foot-11, Bjelica camped at the free throw line. He hit Kent Bazemore on back cuts and Bogdan Bogdanovic for angle threes. The ball moved freely and the Kings finished the night with 29 assists as a team.
“Coach wanted me to playmake, especially when they play zone,” Bjelica said. “Just get to the high post to see if someone will cut or whoever’s open. We did really good.”
Bogdanovic busted out early, scoring 17 of his team-high 23 points in the first half. Buddy Hield found similar success, scoring 21 on 5-of-13 from long range.
“I felt like we moved the ball well, especially against the zone,” Bogdanovic said. “Whenever we had a nice set in the halfcourt and we moved the ball well, it was kind of open for everyone and we were just ready and knocked down some shots.”
As a team, Sacramento hit 19-of-44 (43.2 percent) from behind the arc, just two off of their franchise record that they set last week. Five of those came from Bjelica, who added 15 points and six rebounds to his quality passing numbers.
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Sacramento doesn’t have a moment to celebrate their victory. They host the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday for a rare home-and-home back-to-back.
The Kings have now won five of their last seven games and they are getting close to a fleet of reinforcements returning to action. Richaun Holmes, Marvin Bagley, Jabari Parker and Alex Len, should all be ready coming out of the All-Star break at the latest.