By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–The rope-a-dope strategy employed by the Kings that shocked the Nuggets on Saturday didn’t translate on Monday against the visiting Chicago Bulls.
The Kings again spotted their opponent a sizeable lead, but this time the comeback fell short. Behind 28 points from Laurie Markkanen, and 20 from Zach LaVine, the Bulls survived Sacramento’s fourth quarter rally to win 113-106.
The Kings failed to climb within one game of .500, falling to 8-11 on the season. The loss also dropped the Kings a game behind the Suns–who won in Charlotte Monday–for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Kings had won 8 of 13 coming in, including their unquestioned best win of the season to date over the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets, in which they trailed by 17 at the half, only to rally for an overtime win, 100-97. Against the Bulls, the Kings trailed by 11 at the half, and 10 after three, but could get no closer than 102-100 with 2:18 remaining.
Buddy Hield led the Kings with 26 points, despite missing 10 of his 13 3-point attempts. Afterwards, he pointed to the Kings’ slow start as the reason for the loss.
“When you give a team confidence, they come back and bite you quick,” Hield said of the Bulls, who had lost both of their previous stops on their current road trip, and seven of nine.
After a fast start, things unraveled for the Kings in the second quarter, when the Bulls surged to a double-digit lead behind their five reserves that saw action.
Rookie Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Thaddeus Young and Denzel Valentine each hit a 3-pointer, and along with center Daniel Gafford combined to shoot 8 for 15 from the field. Meanwhile, the Kings’ reserves committed seven turnovers as the home team fell behind by as much as 16 points, 47-31 with 3:20 remaining before the break.
Hield and Harrison Barnes combined to miss 11 of their 15 shots attempts in the first half, as Sacramento was again without Marvin Bagley III, De’Aaron Fox and Harry Giles.
Bogdan Bodanovic, the Kings’ spark off the bench, admitted afterwards that his balky, left hamstring has forced coach Luke Walton to put him on a minutes restriction where he’s limited to five minutes on the floor in any stretch. Since missing the Kings’ road game in Brooklyn on November 22, Bogdanovic has logged fewer than 30 minutes a game, and failed to make at least half of his shots from the floor. On Monday, Bogdanovic finished with 11 points, on 4 of 9 shooting.
For the Bulls, the win marked the first time this season their two, young stars, LaVine and Markkanen have each reached 20 points in a game.
“We’re still encouraging him,” LaVine said of Markkanen. “He had a great game. He needs to play that way all the time.”
The Kings start a four-game road trip in Portland on Wednesday with stops in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston after that. The Kings are in the midst of a stretch where they play 12 of 16 games outside of Sacramento.