By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–Maintaining relevance as the NBA’s 17th best team with a record seven games below .500 with just 20 games left in a 82-game season isn’t easily attained, especially for the forgotten Kings, who haven’t been on the postseason landscape since 2006.
But the Kings’ stretch of 12 wins in 17 games has turned heads, not to mention stolen attention from Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, who are fashioning themselves as the NBA’s most intriguing, non-playoff team. So how do the Kings keep the buzz down the stretch?
Don’t take games–or quarters within games– off. Beating the Wizards on Tuesday pointed to what a disciplined feat that would be.
“Offensively we had ball movement, body movement, we played unselfishly. We came too soft in the third quarter, we lost the momentum, but we also have to be proud of the guys … to fight back, get momentum back and find a way to win,” said assistant coach Igor Kokoskov, who assumed head coaching duties when Luke Walton was ejected for the first time as Sacramento’s coach.
The Kings hovered above the clouds in a 76-point, first half that had the Wizards reeling. Then the Kings’ momentum and 27-point lead evaporates as Bradley Beal and the Wiz caught fire. Walton was dispatched after growing irate over a missed foul call on Cory Joseph. And the fourth quarter commenced with the Kings in need of an immediate response.
“We did a pretty good job of closing the game,” said De’Aaron Fox, who paced Sacramento with 31 points. “The third quarter was just bad for us all around. The other three quarters I think we played pretty well.”
In the good stretches, the Kings shared the ball, and attacked the basket as Kokosov noted. Seven Kings finished in double figures in scoring, and the team shot 56 percent from the floor. But NBA games are relentlessly competitive, and Washington–in keeping with their own playoff aspirations–made a run.
“In the second half, the coach lit a fire up under us and we came out to be the team we should have been the whole game,” said Beal, who scored 35 points, the 19th consecutive game he’s scored at least 25. “I think we got the message for sure.”