Why Kings see loss to lottery-bound Bulls as major missed opportunity

Why Kings see loss to lottery-bound Bulls as major missed opportunity

SACRAMENTO -- That loud thud heard through the Sacramento valley Monday night was the Kings stumbling in a 113-106 loss to the less-than-stellar Chicago Bulls at Golden 1 Center.

In the span of three days, the Kings beat one of the NBA's best teams and lost to one of the worst. Two days after topping the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento then lost to a team that entered Monday with a 6-14 record.

“We look at kind of a missed opportunity here,” Harrison Barnes said after the Kings dropped to 8-11 on the season. “To go out and lose the way we did - us not matching their energy, is kind of unacceptable with what we’re trying to build.”

The Kings need to learn from their mistakes against the Bulls. After an 0-5 start to the season, they are in no position to overlook any opponent, especially on their home floor. They’ve done a nice job of bouncing back and playing competitive basketball, but the team’s margin for error is already shrinking.

“It’s a dog race where we’re at in the standings right now,” Barnes added. “Every game matters. You definitely can’t afford to have too many nights where you take your foot off the gas.”

There was a lot of disappointment to go around following the game. Buddy Hield, who missed a 26-foot 3-pointer that would have given the Kings the lead with 2:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, spoke on the frustration.

“You can’t take teams lightly, it’s a game we should have won,” Hield said. “We were down by two, I went for the three to get us over the hump. I thought it was a good shot. The momentum -- the crowd was in the game. I wish I would have made that. The game could have gone different, but I like my chances and the team likes me taking that shot.” 

Hield finished the night with a team-high 26 points, but he knocked down just 3-of-13 from long range. The guard now is shooting just 36.5 percent from behind the arc after hitting 42.7 percent last season.

The Kings had the momentum Monday, and then it quickly vanished as his shot rimmed out.

“We’re not shooting the 3-ball that well,” Hield admitted after the game. “We’ve got to find it. I’ve got to find it. It’s basketball, man. You’ve got to come ready to compete each and every day. You’ve got to love the grind, you’ve got to love the adversity that comes with it. That’s it. You’ve just got to keep on fighting.”

In addition to missing some big shots, the Kings also came out of the game even more beat up than they were before. Bogdan Bogdanovic looked a step slow and continues to struggle with his left hamstring.

“It was, but I don’t want to make excuses again,” Bogdanovic said when asked whether his hamstring was an issue. “I was just trying to play as much as I can. Obviously, I didn’t help the team tonight to get this win, but I’ve got to move forward and see what I’m going to do with my hamstring.”

Bogdanovic scored 11 points and handed out three assists in just 22 minutes of action. He’s currently limited to six-minute stretches by the team’s medical staff, but there is a possibility that he might need a break to heal up.

“I hate that I have to play [five-to-six] minutes at a time and then go out,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s really frustrating and messes with the rhythm of the play. You can’t make excuses from it. You still have to find a way to help the team, which I didn’t do, obviously.”

[RELATED: Injured Fox, Bagley will continue to remain out for Kings]

It doesn't get any easier for the Kings moving forward, and they desperately need a healthy Bogdanovic as they venture out on the road for a four-game trip.

They’ll start in Portland against the Trail Blazers, who have one of the best backcourts in the NBA. If Bogdanovic can’t play, the Kings need someone else to step up their game and contribute in his absence.

What Marvin Bagley's return means for Kings after missing seven weeks

What Marvin Bagley's return means for Kings after missing seven weeks

The wait is over. Power forward Marvin Bagley finally is ready to return to the court after breaking his right thumb in the Sacramento Kings’ opening night loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Bagley is listed as probable for Thursday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after missing the previous 22 games.

Seven weeks is a long time to be away from live action, but Bagley has been active during the layoff. He was on the court within days of the injury, working with the team’s player development staff and staying in shape.

There is no word on whether Bagley will wear the soft cast that he has sported the last two months, but it’s unlikely he will have a minutes restriction when he enters the game for head coach Luke Walton.

After starting just four games as a rookie, Bagley opened the season with the first team, but a lot has changed since Oct. 23.

Richaun Holmes wrestled the starting center position away from veteran Dewayne Dedmon after only four games. Dedmon currently is out of the rotation after shooting a lowly 40.8 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range.

In addition to Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica has played well filling in for Bagley with the starting five over the last 22 games. Bjelica started 70 games for Sacramento last season and he’s currently averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and shooting a team-best 42.6 percent from long range.

Where does Bagley fit in? Will Walton hand him his starting job back over a red-hot Bjelica? Will Bagley need time to integrate back into the system? What combinations of bigs will work together on the floor?

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, all while the NBA schedule continues. With Bjelica and Holmes playing side-by-side, the Kings have found a rhythm as of late.

Holmes is a pick-and-roll specialist that brings energy and defensive intensity. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and is second in the league in both field goal percentage and true shooting.

Bjelica is a floor spacer who Walton recently has begun using to run the offense through in certain sets. He’s posting a career-best 2.6 assists per game, including 3.4 assists per game in December.

While Holmes continues to stack up double-doubles, Bjelica has been instrumental in the team’s win in Dallas on Sunday and again in Houston on Monday when he won the game with a 33-footer at the buzzer.

Bagley is the future, and before the injury, the present for Sacramento. The 6-foot-11 big is the team’s best low-post offensive weapon and arguably the Kings’ best rebounder. Like Holmes, he has springs in his legs, but is a more versatile offensive player.

There is a legitimate concern that a Bagley-Holmes pairing would clog the lane and create issues for the Kings’ offense. Neither is considered a distributor, and they both have limited range at this point of their careers, which is why the Kings brought in Dedmon.

But the Kings don’t really have a choice. Bagley and Holmes both are dynamic players who need major minutes. Walton has shown an ability to make adjustments, and he’ll have to find a way for his two best athletes to co-exist on the floor for at least short stints. 

In the previous two games, Walton has tightened his rotation to eight players, with Dedmon sitting out both as a healthy scratch. This doesn’t bode well for a player the Kings invested a three-year, $40 million contract in over the summer.

With Bjelica playing well, Walton has his stretch player to play alongside both Holmes and Bagley. Walton also can steal minutes at the four with Harrison Barnes, but will need to figure out how to distribute time amongst a talented group.

Expect Walton to bring Bagley along slowly as they integrate him into the team’s system. The Kings slowly have began feeding the post over the last few games and the balance is needed.

[RELATED: Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again]

Eventually Bagley will get back to playing 30 minutes per game. He’ll put up numbers, but Walton has the difficult job of managing the development of a 20-year-old player with unlimited potential who has missed nearly two months of action with a new coaching staff.

After digging out of an 0-5 hole to start the year, the Kings have a soft spot in their schedule and a legitimate shot at making a run at the .500 mark over the next week. Expect Walton to be cognizant of that as he tries to add an intriguing, but inexperienced piece back into the fray.

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

The Texas two-step is turning into a nightmare for NBA opponents. Twenty-year-old phenom Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm, and he has transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

James Harden is averaging 38 points per game for the Houston Rockets and he has Russell Westbrook riding shotgun in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.

For the beat-up Kings, Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back against the Mavs and Rockets looked like a pair losses before they even hopped on the team bus. But that’s not the way it worked out.

Cory Joseph got away with a touch foul on Doncic in the final seconds and the Kings escaped Dallas with a 110-106 win. There was no time to celebrate. Sacramento boarded a flight for Houston to face Harden fewer than 24 hours later without even a shootaround to prepare for the league’s leading scorer.

In a stroke of genius, coach Luke Walton and his staff created a game plan and then used a roll of tape and the team’s hotel ballroom in Houston to walk through an idea.

“When you can’t get to a gym because you’re trying to get the guys more rest, we grabbed some tape, put a little key down on the floor and walked through sets that we need,” Walton told media following the 119-118 win over the Rockets.

Like the previous game against Doncic, Walton used Joseph, his best perimeter defender, on Harden and ran a box-and-one defense for much of the game. The plan worked to perfection.

Not only did Joseph help limit Harden to 8-of-19 shooting from the field and eight turnovers, but he also played defense without fouling.

Harden came into the night averaging 12.8 free throw makes on 14.8 attempts per game. If he continued at that pace, he would finish second all-time in free throw attempts per game.

Joseph didn’t bite on the up fakes or let Harden tangle him up when he sprawled out for 3-point attempts Monday. He didn’t reach and get his hand caught in the cookie jar and when he did make a play at the ball, he came away with two steals and just one personal foul in 38 minutes of action.

“It was a good win for us, back-to-back," Joseph said Monday. "It’s never easy, but we kept the mentality and we were strong. We turned it up mentality wise from the start to the finish of the game. We felt like these last two games, we competed at a high level and that’s what we’re going to need to do night in and night out to give ourselves a good chance.”

Sacramento paid Joseph handsomely in the offseason to back up De’Aaron Fox. An unlucky accident in practice has cost Fox major time, but Joseph has stepped in and kept the Kings afloat over the last 14 games as a starter.

Joseph isn’t the dynamic scorer that Fox is, but Walton has played to the strengths of his team without his starting point guard. He has taken the ball out of Joseph’s hands on most offensive possessions to save him for the defensive end and improve the flow.

Things will change when Fox returns, but like Nemanja Bjelica, Joseph has proven his worth to the team.

It should be noted that Joseph tweaked his lower back against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and was questionable against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday.

“You go into what Cory did, we had him on Luka last night, we had him on Harden tonight,” Walton said. “Three days ago he couldn’t even walk, we didn’t even think he was going to play. As we talk about culture and what we’re trying to build, the example that he sets with that type of effort every single night is pretty good for our group.”

Over the last three games, he has fought through the injury and averaged nearly 35 minutes per game against some of the best scorers the league has to offer.

At 10-13, the Kings continue to stick around the .500 mark in the standings despite their slow start to the season. Joseph is a big reason why.

[RELATED: Watch Westbrook say game over, then Kings hit game-winner]

The Kings flew home after the win, and they’ll face another tough guard in Chris Paul on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

There is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the last 22 games with a broken thumb. Fox stayed behind on the four-game road trip to rehab his ankle, and he is getting closer to a return as well.