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Haliburton steps up to the challenge in first NBA game

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The Kings have drafted in the lottery every year for the last 14 seasons, except for when they've traded away their pick. Many of the rookies they've picked with those selections have been treated to a rude awakening.

When a high-end college prospect goes to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 straight seasons, there usually is a point early on when they surpass their loss total from the previous season.

Tyrese Halibuton isn’t ready to be one of those players quite yet, which was on full display in the Kings’ stunning 124-122 opening night overtime victory over the Denver Nuggets.

“I hope it says we’re hungry,” Haliburton said following the win. “Hungry to get Sacramento back where they belong and just win games. Guys that have been here are tired of not winning as much as they expect to and us young guys are just trying to bring young blood, new blood here and get Sacramento back to their winning ways.”

Taken with the No. 12 overall pick in the draft, Haliburton has a swagger and maturity that is rarely seen in a 20-year-old rookie. He talks a tremendous game, and in his first opportunity during the regular season, he backed it up with strong play.

“He didn’t get rattled,” De’Aaron Fox said of Haliburton. “He makes big shots, we know he can shoot the ball. For me, if someone steps in defensively, my first instinct is to kick it out. We all have the utmost confidence in him to make big plays.”

 

In his first NBA opportunity, Haliburton played 30 minutes off the bench for the Kings and he made the most of his time on the court. He made a few mistakes, but the overall takeaway was that he is wise beyond his basketball years.

“Tyrese, he’s got a lot to learn still, but there’s something about him,” Walton said. “When you’re coaching him, you feel confident when he’s on the floor that something good is going to happen on both ends of the court.”

The rookie guard finished with 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting. He chipped in four assists, two rebounds, one block and two clutch fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

“When you have a coach like that on your side, that trusts you in your first game to make plays and make shots and be out there and make mistakes and learn from them, I couldn’t ask for a better organization to play for and I’m just really excited to get the W,” Haliburton said.

Haliburton is one of those players that somehow finds a way to make it work. It doesn’t always look conventional, but in the end, the result usually is positive.

He plays hard on both ends of the court and he’s quickly winning over his teammates.

“He has tremendous heart and he has a good feel for the game,” Buddy Hield said. “Everything looks weird about him, but he knows how to play basketball and everybody in this locker room and on our team knows he can play at a high level. He’s a guy that makes everyone better and there’s a reason why they drafted him.”

Haliburton’s release on his long-range jumper brings back memories of a former King: Kevin Martin. Whether it’s the hitch in his delivery or the way the ball leaves his hand, it doesn’t matter, the ball comes off clean and looks like it’s going in every time.

The Kings don't really have a player capable of winning a game by himself -- at least not yet. Wednesday’s win over the Nuggets was one of the better team efforts in recent memory and Haliburton was a big part of it.

While it’s only one game, Haliburton made his presence felt. If anything, he has left his teammates wanting and demanding more.

“He lets the game come to him too slow, rather than coming out a little more aggressive,” Fox added. “But like I said, that’s a hell of a first game as an NBA player to play in and to play big and come up big.”

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It’s just one game for Haliburton and the Kings, but a win on the road against a stellar Western Conference opponent feels good. Next up is a rare home-and-home series against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday and Sunday.

 

If the Kings hope to give more meaning to the victory in Denver, they’ll at least need to earn a split against a Suns team that they likely will be competing with in the standings throughout the season.