Kings players are learning a simple lesson. Being selfless and doing the little things leads to winning basketball. It also gets you back on the team plane a little quicker with Super Bowl LV starting mid-flight.
“There’s a Super Bowl starting in an hour, let’s get the f--k out of here,” Luke Walton told his team following their 113-110 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday afternoon.
“When we talk about winning basketball as a team -- sacrifice, selflessness -- Harrison Barnes has been scoring like 20, f---ing 25 a night, right?” Walton said. “He’s got Kawhi Leonard tonight. He’s 0-for-7, he’s not forcing shots. He scored four points. Everything he did was about helping the team win tonight.”
As Walton talks about Barnes sacrificing personal accolades for the betterment of the team, Buddy Hield can be heard chirping in the background -- “facts, facts.”
It’s a good moment for Walton and his Kings. The buy-in is real. Heck, Buddy Hield is buying in. The Kings are finally reaching a point where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
“When we’re playing the right way, we can beat anybody,” De’Aaron Fox told media members as the team plane was warming up.
Just three weeks ago the team was sitting at 5-10 and nothing was off the table. The team was playing historically bad defense and Zoom calls with the players and coaches were starting to get uncomfortable.
With the victory over the Clippers, Sacramento now has won four straight games for the first time in the Walton era of Kings basketball. They’ve also posted seven wins in their last eight games and climbed back over the .500 mark at 12-11.
No one hit a panic button, despite the Kings playing some of the worst defense in NBA history. Walton and his staff navigated the ugly waters, made some adjustments and kept preaching that each player needed to focus on one thing -- making winning plays.
“The scouting report has been great and we’re just going out and executing the game plan,” Fox said. “Sometimes we do have to adjust and switch things up, which they’ve been able to do, being able to adjust on the fly if something’s not working. But it’s all-in-all been a team effort from the players all the way up to the coaches.”
How did the Kings go from a squad giving up 120-130 per night to a gritty club sawing through a difficult spot in their schedule?
It started with two postponed games against the Memphis Grizzlies and some much needed time on the practice floor. But change like this doesn’t usually just happen, especially not in Sacramento.
At some point, Walton and his staff have to receive some of the praise. The players are making plays, but it’s this coaching staff that made adjustments, held the team together and have found combinations of players that work.
“It’s all about just winning games, that’s all that matters,” Hield said following the game. “Everyone has the picture -- once we win games, nobody’s crying, nobody’s making any excuses.”
It is Walton who has been imploring Fox to take over games. It is Walton who trusts rookie Tyrese Haliburton to play in crunch time. It is Walton who helped discover Richaun Holmes last season and it is Walton who Harrison Barnes is playing his best basketball for.
This is a results business. When the team was falling apart early, Walton deserved some of the blame. With the team turning the corner and playing inspired basketball, the coach deserves some of the love.
Sacramento has a long way to go before we start talking about playoffs or something more. But the Kings are having a moment and the excitement is building. It’s a team effort that has led to the surge and Walton and his staff deserve to be mentioned.