Kings

Nemanja Bjelica's career night gives Kings much-needed win over Mavs

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USATSI

Nemanja Bjelica's career night gives Kings much-needed win over Mavs

Marvin Bagley is almost back. What that means for Nemanja Bjelica is a decision head coach Luke Walton will have to make over the next few games.

The veteran forward might have made life a little more difficult for his coach in the team’s 110-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday evening.

Since Bagley went down in the season opener, Bjelica has started the last 21 games at power forward. He’s had some ups and downs, but against Dallas, he was on his game.

“One of the best, here for sure,” Bjelica told Grant Napear and Doug Christie following the win. “I was feeling good, coach trusts me, I have a green light to shoot. That’s my advantage on offense. I need to get a little bit better on defense, but the important thing is we won the game.”

A former EuroLeague MVP, Bjelica is a very smart player. He might not have the athleticism that a few of his teammates possess, but he can impact a game in many ways.

Against Dallas, he came out firing early and never let up. When Bjelica is on, his range is limitless and he spaces the floor for the rest of his teammates. The Mavericks caught the Serbian sharpshooter in rare form.

The 31-year-old power forward knocked down a perfect 7-of-7 from the field in the first half, to help give his team a 20-point lead heading into the intermission. He continued to fire away during the second half, but he was much more than just a shooter, which Walton and his staff have been pushing for.

“He’s a heck of a ball player,” coach Luke Walton told media following the win. “We keep talking to him about how we view him as much more than just a space four-man. When he was younger in Europe, he played point guard for his club team. He’s got the skill, the passing ability and the shooting ability to really put the pressure on defenses.”

In addition to tying his career-high of 30 points, Bjelica added seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 34 minutes of play. He knocked down 13-of-18 from the field and 4-of-7 from long range and failed to register a turnover.

“We’re constantly encouraging him to be more aggressive and I thought tonight, he was aggressive and it helps when you’re knocking down those shots too,” Walton added.

After a tough overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, the Kings needed a team win. They almost let the game slip away, but Bjelica helped seal the deal in the waning seconds to come away with the first win of the road trip.

“We just need to play 48 minutes, we need to respect our opponents,” Bjelica added. “Everybody can play, everybody can score in this league.”

The peaks and valleys of this season has taken its toll on Kings. They’ve had to play without Bagley for nearly seven weeks and De’Aaron Fox has missed major time as well.

Players like Bjelica, Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes have stepped up and kept the team competitive on most nights. 

“This team is growing, we have a bright future, but we’re here to win the games,” Bjelica said. “We had a bad start to the season, but now we just have to play harder.”

With the victory over the Mavs, the Kings now sit at 9-13 on the season. Bagley is expected back in the next few days, which should bolster the front line and give Bjelica a bit of a break. While his role might change, Bjelica has earned a spot in the rotation with his strong play, whether that’s with the starters or off the bench.

The Final Play

With 4.4 seconds remaining in the fourth, Holmes ripped down a rebound and was instantly fouled by the Mavericks. It was the first foul in the final two minutes, which allowed the Kings to inbounds the ball and potentially kill the clock.

Bjelica set a screen for Harrison Barnes who broke for the midcourt line. Bjelica then slipped to the hoop while his defender jumped out to help on Barnes.

Bogdan Bogdanovic faked to Barnes and then fired a bullet to a wide open Bjelica standing under the basket.

[RELATED: Bagley doesn't return vs. Luka, Mavs]

The Serbian connection worked. Bjelica went in for a two-handed jam to tie his career-high of 30 points. The bucket gave Sacramento a four-point lead with 3.4 seconds remaining and effectively ended the game.

If you’re going to have a career night, you might as well be the player who seals the win.

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

SACRAMENTO -- The last thing the Kings needed Wednesday evening was a visit from Luka Doncic. The budding superstar, who the team passed on during the 2018 NBA Draft, ran over Sacramento on the way to his NBA leading 12th triple-double of the season. 

Adding to the frustration of the night, with a 127-123 loss, Sacramento fell 11 games under .500 and finished the first half of the season at 15-26. They currently sit five games behind last season’s 20-21 record at the midway point and they are in 14th place in the Western Conference standings.

The Kings are lost. They are 3-12 over their last 15 games and they are about to hit their longest road trip of the season, beginning Saturday in Utah. 

If ever there were a soft spot in an NBA schedule, the Kings just went through one. They played 10 out of 12 at home with seven of those games against sub-.500 teams. They went just 2-8 at home over the stretch in front of near-sellout crowds. 

Fans booed during Monday’s loss against the Mavericks. It’s not the first time they’ve made their displeasure known this season and the way things are heading, it won’t be the last.

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed...we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield is wrong. This is not how Sacramento fans are. They are loyal to a fault and at this point, they are being tested. 

Fans are voicing their angst because they feel like they were sold a “Super Team, just young” and now the Kings are neither super, nor young.  

After watching one of the most exciting teams in basketball last season, management made the decision to fire their coaching staff and start over. Instead of building on the success, the players were forced to learn a new system and terminology during an abbreviated training camp due to a trip to India. 

On Opening Night, the injury bug hit the Kings and hasn’t let up the entire season. The team looks disjointed and out of sync, although they have enough talent to make every game close.

This isn’t a Luke Walton issue, despite the fan rhetoric. Yes, he has an over-reliance on a few veterans, but he’s also had his core of Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Bogdan Bogdanovic healthy for just one game this season. 

Not only has this group of players missed a combined 59 games, they rarely have practiced together or had time to build any continuity in a new system. Getting everyone healthy is only going to create its own set of issues.  

We can talk about the 19 games decided by five points or less. We can talk about the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report. We can talk about missed draft picks or bad free agent signings. There is a litany of issues that are either reasons or excuses for the Sacramento Kings.

The fact is, this is the most disappointing first half to any season since 2006-07 when the Kings’ streak of missing the postseason began. Watching Doncic tear through the team was just salt in an open wound.

[RELATED: Holmes back at practice, but weeks away from Kings return]

These are the questions facing a Kings franchise in complete disarray. 

Is it too late to turn the season around? 

No, but the clock is ticking.

How does this situation get better? 

Luck, better health, and an epiphany moment where the core players understand the system, play extended minutes together and find a rhythm.

Is it possible that moment comes this season? 

Yes, but a lot of damage has been done. The record is one issue, but the confidence of the team would have to completely change. They may not have the leader behind the scenes to fight through the adversity they are currently facing.

Were expectations too high?

Absolutely not. This is the most talented roster the Kings have had in over a decade. They have four top-seven draft picks in their starting lineup and enough role players to fill in the gaps. They won 39 games last season and that number would have been closer to 42 if they didn’t collapse in the final week of the season.

When do people start losing their jobs over this?

It doesn’t sound like that’s happening anytime soon.

This isn’t how anyone saw the first half going for the Kings. They are on pace to win 30 games this season and finish outside the postseason picture for a 14th consecutive season. They have not only lost massive amounts of time due to injury, but also major development time for some of their young players.

The team needs a solid second half to the season to assess where they are moving forward. If they post one similar to what we’re seen through the first 41 games, someone needs to be held accountable.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in annoying 127-123 loss to Mavericks

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AP

Kings takeaways: What we learned in annoying 127-123 loss to Mavericks

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO -- Anger. Disappointment. Envy. 

Kings fans got an up-close look at budding superstar Luka Doncic Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. It was another reminder of what Sacramento missed out on when the team passed on the Slovenian guard in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Led by Doncic’s tremendous play, the Dallas Mavericks built a big third-quarter lead and then coasted down the stretch for the 127-123 win.

Doncic led the way with a big-time triple-double, but he was one of six Mavericks to score in double-figures.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings fell a season-high 11 games under .500 at 15-26 on the season.  

Star

Doncic and the Kings will be linked throughout the superstar’s career and likely a lot longer than that. Kings general manager Vlade Divac selected Marvin Bagley III with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft instead of Doncic.

Bagley has plenty of time to grow into who he is going to be as a player, but Doncic already is an elite star that looks like a generational talent.

The Mavericks’ star posted a 25-point, 17-assist, 15-rebound triple-double. The Kings threw the kitchen sink at the second-year guard and he picked them apart with his incredible court vision.

Playing angry

De’Aaron Fox had enough. He wasn’t happy with his teammates. He wasn’t happy with Mavericks. He wasn’t happy with the officials and he wasn’t happy with losing. 

Fox attacked the Mavericks' defense almost every time he had the ball in his hands. He forced the issue on a few occasions, but this is the player the Kings need. He finished the night with 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, although he shot just 3-of-9 from the free-throw line.

In the third quarter, Fox picked up a technical while pleading his own case. It’s probably time for head coach Luke Walton and a few of Fox’s teammates to start paying out some fines and stand up for their leader. 

[RELATED: Holmes back at practice, but weeks away from Kings return]

Remember me?

Harrison Barnes had a little bit of an edge to him from the opening tip Wednesday evening at Golden 1 Center. On the first possession of the game, Barnes went at Doncic and scored over his former teammate for the first two points of the game.

Barnes continued his assault on the team that traded him to Sacramento last season. He finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss.

In addition to Barnes’ ties to Dallas, there were a pair of Mavericks that used to play for the Kings. Seth Curry hit 5-of-8 from long range to finish with 21 points and Justin Jackson chipped in seven points.