Kings Lead

Kings Finding a Groove to Start 2020

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Coming into the new decade, the Kings sat at ten games below .500 with a 12-22 record. Since the calendar has turned, Sacramento has won 3 of 4 games, improving that record to 15-23. Let’s go through the matchups they’ve had so far in 2020.

1/2 vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 128-123 W

This one started out rough. As he has in the past, second-year big man Jaren Jackson Jr. dominated the first quarter against the Kings in the Golden 1 Center. Jackson Jr. put up 14 points on 5-7 shooting in the first 12 minutes, while Dillon Brooks added 10 points of his own opening the game for Memphis.

Buddy Hield gave his best effort to keep up early with the on-fire Grizzlies, but his 12 first quarter points were not enough. 42-26 ended up being the score after the first quarter, leaving Kings fans (and surely the players) anxious and frustrated. With about two minutes completed in the second quarter, the Grizzlies were able to stretch their advantage to 20 points.

Soon thereafter, however, we saw a change. In the final ten minutes of the first half, we saw truly beautiful Kings basketball. Sacramento rattled off 8 points unanswered, ignited by a much-needed Trevor Ariza three-pointer. From this point until the end of the second quarter, it was extremely exciting watching the purple and black. It was the team Sacramento fans envisioned coming into this season. It was fast-paced which translated to many quality looks for Sacramento. Even better, it was paired with the active defense Coach Walton foresaw for the Kings in the offseason.

https://twitter.com/NBCSKings/status/1212948398304686081

“MVP, MVP, MVP…”

Richaun Holmes led the charge in the second quarter comeback, scoring 13 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. While this quarter was outstanding for Holmes, consistency and proficiency have been a theme for the Kings’ center this year. If you ask any Sacramento fan who has been the Kings most valuable player this season, they will say No. 22. In the coolest moment at the Golden 1 Center this year, Kings fans chanted “MVP, MVP, MVP” for Holmes while he was at the free-throw line with just over thirty seconds left in the first half. And he totally deserved it.

Second Half

The final two quarters were also composed of two large swings. In the third, Memphis outscored Sacramento 37-27 and it was partly due to Jae Crowder’s 13 points on 5-7 shooting, including three long balls made.

The quarter closed at 97-90, with only the 4th left to play. It was perplexing as a viewer because the excellence on the court during the second quarter was non-existent opening the second half.

Losing the last eight games in a row, Sacramento’s mentality from the very start of the fourth quarter was clear. Win at all costs. Not even four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Kings took the lead at 102-101 off a pair of Harry Giles free throws.

While it did stay close until about the last three minutes, it was promising to finally see the Kings have control of a game. Fox, Hield, and Barnes all seemed able to score at will with 10, 8, and 7 points, respectively.

Two stats seem very relevant for the success we saw the Kings have last Tuesday:

  • 41.2% three-point shooting
  • The pace for the game was 107.3

It could be just a coincidence, but Sacramento got over 10 more offensive possessions than they have averaged this year. Take it as you will, but it seems plausible that quicker play translated to more open shots, which translated to better shooting from beyond the arc.

Also, Ja Morant is something very special. Morant closed the game with 23 points (team-high), 8-13 shooting, and seven assists (team high). In the last 24 seconds, he scored three consecutive that looked to be easier than any other points scored in the NBA the entire year.

1/4 vs. New Orleans Pelicans, L 117-115

Whew, this was a devastating game to watch. Unfortunately, I believe it perfectly mimicked the Sacramento Kings franchise for the last decade. The Kings give the fans hope, as soon as Sacramento faithful’s were ready to give up (only for the night at least, Sacramento does have the best and most loyal fans in the world). Sacramento does have a history building themselves up when it is completely unexpected, just to fall short. That’s not even a knock on (most) players, their effort goes without question while representing the purple and black (or red and blue).

Anyways, this game specifically was devastating for a couple of reasons.

First, the Kings just played poor basketball. They had 20 turnovers and the defense was once again lousy. It seemed like they spent so much time setting up their half-court offense, and it occasionally led to free New Orleans points. The pace for this game was 105 and again well-above Sacramento’s. The most inexcusable cases came with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter. In the closing minutes, Sacramento’s defense allowed Pelicans guard Josh Hart to simply run behind them for two free layups, and one was converted as an and-one. To reiterate, in crunch time, the Kings allowed two free layups to a subpar team in what was a very winnable game. Not a winnable game after New Orleans was up 14 points with only four minutes left, at least everyone thought.

“We Asked For a Miracle, and We May Have Just Gotten One Doug Christie”

This was Grant Napear’s call as Nemanja Bjelica hit this potentially game-tying four-point play.

https://twitter.com/NBCSKings/status/1213696434400313345

The second devastating reason is the most obvious one. In what truly was a miracle play, it sparked the Golden 1 Center into eruption. Or, at least half of the Golden 1 Center, as many fans had left early in hopes to beat the traffic.

With this shot, it seemed that this game was undeniably going into overtime, as the basketball gods had to be on Sacramento’s side. An improbable comeback and an impossible shot is what everyone would be talking about, if J.J. Redick didn’t have other plans.

Killing all of the high-emotions every Kings’ fan was feeling, Redick hit a tough left-handed floater high off of the glass to seal it for the Pelicans.

https://twitter.com/NBATV/status/1213698231399374848

You may also see Trevor Ariza leveled by Derrick Favors in the video to free up Redick for the drive. It was later decided in the NBA two-minute report that Favors committed and offensive foul. It should have been Kings ball with a chance of their own to win the game.

Zo Is NOT Better Than Fox, But in This Game He Was

De’Aaron Fox is unquestionably the better product of the 2017 NBA Draft class when compared to the number two pick, Lonzo Ball. The third reason this was a devastating game to watch, however, is because Fox was not better on this lone night.

Ball put up 24 points, six rebounds and 10 assists while only turning the ball over two times. Fox rivaled him with 17 points, three rebounds and five assists. Swipa had three turnovers.

Now, while Ball’s stat line is clearly more impressive, it was not the stats that hurt the most. With two minutes to go, the former Laker hit a deep three to put the Pelicans up nine points, and it looked to be the dagger. Thankfully for Bjelica’s miracle, it was not.

On a positive note, Sacramento hit an astounding 57.1% of their 3-pointers. They hit five long balls in the fourth quarter, and four were within the last four minutes.

With that said, it is never a positive to lose to a team who is inferior (record-wise). Especially when that team is filled with former Lakers, including your hometown point guard’s assumed rival.

1/6 vs. Golden State Warriors, W 111-98

At least the Kings won. Other than that, it is tough to find positives that came out of this game.

Sacramento was up in this contest by 31 points late into the third quarter. Truly, the Kings should have won this game by 50, although they were unable to tighten up their turnovers and defensive lapses. The Warriors’ rotation consisted of multiple two-way contract guys– and it showed.

Outside of shotmaking, it felt like the Kings were just as sloppy as the diminished Warriors in every other aspect of the game. The Kings turned the ball over and fouled five more times than Golden State did. When Ky Bowman and Damion Lee are the matchups across from De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, there is no reason Sacramento should be incapable of protecting the ball, playing smart and avoiding unnecessary fouls. There’s no disrespect to Bowman or Lee, it’s just fair to say Hield, Fox, and really the entire Kings roster is accredited to play a much higher level of basketball than the young and diminished Warriors.

With that said, the Kings did win. With a back-to-back game in Phoenix the next day, surely the Kings are allowed to relax and coast as long as victory stayed inevitable.

This victory came largely due to the Kings’ explosive third quarter, as they outscored Golden State by 14. As a team, Sacramento shot 8-9 from three-point land in the third, and Buddy Hield alone put up 15 points. Sacramento ended the game at 50% from deep. On the other hand, the Warriors shot 0-13 outside the arc in the first half.

Apart from what’s been mentioned, there is not really anything else intriguing about this game. It was not good basketball. Steve Kerr was the smartest of us all getting ejected in the second quarter. He saved himself the distress and probably got some productive tasks done with the extra time allotted to him away from the game.

Honestly, who in their right mind would enjoy watching this:

1/7 @ Phoenix Suns, W 114-103

The Kings have tied the season series with the Suns after an embarrassing 29-point loss opening night in Phoenix. And they did it in beautiful fashion. Besides the 27-6 run the Suns had in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, the Kings played wonderful basketball.

It was first game all year we have seen Sacramento play stout on defense, get to the free-throw line and make them, shoot great from three, and push the pace. Everything finally came together, and through reactions and tweets it was clearly a very promising win to Kings fans.

The Veterans Balled Out

Let me start by mentioning Dewayne Dedmon, because he undoubtedly deserves it. After recently asking for a trade, Dedmon nor fans expected to see him on the floor in a Kings uniform ever again. He logged countless DNP-CD’s and was straight up out played by Richaun Holmes and the other big men. It was apparent early that it was simply not working out, which happens in this league that is always changing. With Holmes and Bagley sidelined, Dedmon and Harry Giles were the only centers available for the contest against the Suns.

Giles started and was efficient early, but 8 minutes into the game grabbed a seat on the bench for a breather. And in came Dedmon with virtually nothing to play for as he was most likely going to be on another roster by February. His performance spoke different volumes.

The seven-footer was the player the Kings hoped for when they signed him for three years. He clearly belonged on the court and performed as a starting center would. In 32 minutes, Dedmon produced 12 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 5-6 from the free throw stripe. Also, he was part of the group that finished the game in the fourth quarter, consisting of Fox, Joseph, Ariza, and Bjelica along with him. In his post-game interview, Coach Walton said the group that ended the game earned the right to be out there.

Two other Kings offseason signings were crucial in Tuesday’s victory. Trevor Ariza put up 15 points and sevn rebounds staying hot from three with a 60% performance. Cory Joseph added 10 points and three assists of his own, while bringing the intense defense as always.

The most impressive part about them tonight? The trio held a +99 combined plus/minus rating when on the court in Phoenix.

Fox Was in Superstar Form

De’Aaron Fox is irrefutably Sacramento’s superstar of the future. Seeing him craft his game and constantly improve is a treasure Kings fans are blessed with.

Fox has always had quickness, slashing, and playmaking. Tonight, we saw him get to the free throw line and his shooting catch fire. Fox went 8-8 from the charity line and was attacking the basket at will. In the second and fourth quarters, we saw Fox working his step-back jump shot. This opened up his driving lanes as defenders closed out, allowing him to draw a foul or lay in a point-blank bucket when needed. Fox’s athleticism, shooting, and attack mentality are pivotal for opening up the game’s for the players surrounding him.  Buddy Hield loves having his point guard beside him, as Hield shot an impressive 17-33 from deep during the last four-game stretch.

Fox closed the game with 27 points and six assists, both team-highs.

This offensive production is more impressive than we think, as he was also responsible for the task of guarding Suns guard Devin Booker during the closing minutes and occasionally during the earlier parts of the game.

Final Thoughts

Giles has looked great in the new-found time he has gotten. Dedmon looked reinvigorated versus the Suns, although it was just one game. I am curious to see if Walton will treat Holmes and Bagley (more so Bagley) as plug-n-play’s once they return, or mix in quality minutes for all these guys. Holmes is the number one, as of now that will not change and it shouldn’t. Maybe it is based on who emerges on a nightly basis. Who knows, Walton has shown he is willing to try any and all rotations.

Hopefully this recent Suns game was another step towards success for the Kings. The all-around execution that was present during this game is exciting, but it needs to continue. Three wins in the last week means the Kings are figuring some stuff out, right? Last week I wrote that winning fixes everything, and Sacramento has started to win a little bit. Inconsistencies are fading, but now it is the Kings job to not let them reappear.

Up Next

The Kings return home starting Friday night for a three-game test against Milwaukee, Orlando and Dallas– three quality playoff teams.

Follow us on Twitter @Kings_Lead for the latest Kings news and insight

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About Kyle Easter

19 years old. Sacramento, California. Currently in school studying media arts- Journalism and Communications- Public Relations.

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