Rocket Blast Of Reality: Kings start slow, squander opportunity in 118-112 loss to Houston

By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–The NBA’s done its part, providing a postseason format tailored for the Kings’ shortcomings. Now the suffering ballclub has to fall in line, and provide the needed buckets and hard-earned, defensive stops to gain a spot.

Kings are you ready?

Well, not yet.

Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. each scored 23 points, and the Rockets held on for a 118-112 win over the Kings at Golden 1 Center. The Kings fell 10 games below .500 with the loss and, for now, relinquished the coveted 10th spot in the Western Conference to the Spurs.

Buddy Hield led the Kings with 27 points in 30 minutes off the bench, and five others scored in double figures, but the hosts were doomed by a ridiculously poor start in which they trailed 13-0 and 21-5 six minutes in.

Struggling teams blow leads, that’s what they do, and the youthful Rockets followed suit. Their shooting, which topped 65 percent early, dipped to 48 percent at the half. The Kings got to the hoop and kept visiting to lead 60-55 at the half, and maintained a 88-85 advantage after three. Interim coach Alvin Gentry liked his team’s fight, but couldn’t ignore the residual effects of the lackluster start.

“They kept enough of a lead that it puts a lot of pressure on you to score,” Gentry said. “We created some really good shots. It’s just a matter of us knocking them down.”

The disjointed ballgame played in front of empty seats and fans wearing 49ers’ jerseys didn’t gain intensity until leading scorer De’Aaron Fox was ejected with 8:14 remaining. A video review revealed his Flagrant 2 foul for slappin at the ball as Houston’s Garrison Mathews attempted to cruise in for a layup. While Fox could legitimately claim he made a basketball play, Mathews fell awkwardly, landing on his hip with his legs taken from beneath him. Fox departed with 14 points, four rebounds and the Kings suddenly trailing by five.

Tyrese Haliburton was unavailable after it was announced earlier on Sunday that he entered COVID protocols, but the Kings got Richaun Holmes and Damian Jones back after protocols forced both into isolation and physical inactivity for a week. Marvin Bagley III couldn’t go due to shoulder soreness.

The Rockets remain last in the Western Conference but they’ve won three of their last four away from Houston’s Toyota Center. They opened the season with a win at Minneapolis, then lost 10 straight road games. Coach Steven Silas prefers what he sees now: an emerging team with youth, and time on it’s side.

“We’re not a playoff team yet but when we are this is what it’s going to look like,” Silas said. “We’re trying to learn as many lessons as we can. I was proud of them for that.”

The Kings host the Pistons on Wednesday, giving them three, consecutive home games against two of the NBA’s worst teams, but there’s no sweep to show for their scheduling luck.

Queeta Provides A Boost: Rookie impresses, but Kings suffer heartbreaking 109-108 loss to Cleveland

By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–The Kings’ inconsistencies are so far reaching, they intersect with everything the faltering club touches. In this case, the first NBA basket for rookie Neemias Queta was muddied by a dubious footnote.

Queta, the rookie of Portugese decent, who was a standout center for Utah State, was rushed into duty with the Kings missing Richaun Holmes and Damian Jones (COVID protocols) along with Tristan Thompson, a late scratch with a quad issue. That left the Kings with starter Alex Len and an anxious Queta to combat the Cleveland Cavaliers’ imposing front line.

Just 30 seconds after Queta’s first quarter appearance, his nifty, jump hook in the lane gave him his initial points in the NBA. But six seconds later while the Kings’ defense took a pause, the Cavaliers’ Cedi Osman cruised in for an uncontested layup at the other end.

Monday’s fourth quarter was a mixed bag as well with Cleveland riding a 20-5 run to seize control and lead by double-digits only to see the Kings answer with a 9-0 run but come up short when De’Aaron Fox’s shot in the lane was a little long. That conclusion saddled Sacramento with a painful 109-108 loss at Golden 1 Center.

The Kings’ fifth consecutive loss came one night after the team was embarrassed in Portland by the Blazers, who were without their dynamic Lillard/McCollum backcourt. Against the Cavs, the Kings battled, only to come up short at the final horn.

Their biggest issue Monday? A lethargic start in which they missed eight of their first 10 shots and dug themselves a hole they ultimately couldn’t climb out of. But after an uninspiring start–and that issue of getting back on defense after a made basket–the embattled club played hard, and hit difficult shots.

Yes, the inconsistencies. But this time, interim coach Alvin Gentry generally seemed pleased.

“We did all we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Gentry said. “If you tell me that I could get De’Aaron Fox a foul-line jumpshot to win the game, I’ll take that. If we play that way night in and night out, we’ll change the direction of our team.”

The Cavaliers–also on a back-to-back–aren’t inconsistent at all. In fact, as one the league’s hottest teams, they’ve ruled the paint against all their opponents for better than a month. They were the unfortunate opponent for Golden State’s Klay Thompson’s return on Sunday, scoring a season-low 82 points. But the Kings’ porous defense immediately had Cleveland back on track; they scored their first 17 points on Monday in the paint.

Then Kevin Love got hot, pouring in 14 of his 19 points in the first half. The Kings appeared whipped at the break, trailing by 13, and not doing enough to inspire the smallest home gathering of the season.

“We were rebounding the ball, protecting the paint, doing everything that made us a good team, said Jarrett Allen, who finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds for the Cavs. “It was a huge step in the right direction.”

The Kings made it interesting in the second half by hitting 12 of their 14 3-pointers along with some blue collar work on the glass that would yield 15 offensive rebounds. The Cavs did their part in aiding the home team with 17 turnovers.

With Fox clearly laboring, likely due to a shoulder issue he’s battled, the Kings got scoring from Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Haliburton’s three with 7:51 remaining extended the Kings only lead of significance to 94-89.

But the ensuing Cleveland run sealed it. Laurie Markkanen’s three with 2:34 remaining put the Cavs up 109-99.

Haliburton led the Kings with 21 points, 8 assists. Hield contributed 19 points while connecting of five of his eight 3-point attempts. Four other Kings scored in double figures, and Queta added 11 points, five rebounds in a career-high 24 minutes.

The Kings continue their five-game home stand on Wednesday when the Lakers visit, this time likely with the streaking LeBron James in tow. James has scored at least 30 points in 10 of his previous 11 games, with the exception being a 26-point, 7-rebound effort in a 108-103 win over Minnesota.

Metu, But Not For Two: Kings get three from an unlikely source at the horn to beat Dallas, 95-94

By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–Alvin Gentry wanted more passion and desire, Gentry’s players were desperate for a different storyline, and Kings’ fans demanded a win on a blustery, cold night.

And the key to pulling all these wishes together?

Trust your teammates. That’s exactly what De’Aaron Fox did with his decision to find a wide open Chimezie Metu with the game on the line.

“He turned the corner and went so quickly,” Gentry said of Fox’s decision. “He said, ‘I was either gonna dunk it and try to get to the line or if I saw them pull in so far I was going to try to hit the corner guy.'”

“It’s tough,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “Unfortunately if we give up a layup the game is tied, we go into overtime. But DP (Dwight Powell) went to help and they made a shot.”

Metu’s 3-pointer at the buzzer made the Kings winners, 95-94 over the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks, who were without superstar Luka Doncic for the ninth, consecutive game due to COVID protocols. The Kings found themselves in far more favorable circumstances regarding COVID with Davion Mitchell, Alex Len and Louis King gaining clearance for Wednesday’s game although only Mitchell saw playing time.

The Kings took control with a 35-13 second quarter only to see the Mavericks respond with a pair of significant runs in the third quarter, which set the scene for a tense, tight fourth quarter in which the Kings had just one lead, 92-90, until Metu’s final shot.

Gentry’s frustration with his club got the desired effect, as the Kings were better defensively throughout. But at critical junctures, the hosts had no answers for the 1-2 punch of Kristaps Porzingis and Jalen Brunson, who combined for 49 points to lead Dallas.

The Kings got efficient efforts from the rookie Mitchell and De’Aaron Fox who combined for 30 points. They were two of six Kings that scored in double figures, though none scored more than Fox’s 16.

The Kings satisfied Gentry’s desire for more focused play by shooting 38 percent from three along with a 46-40 edge in points in the paint. The Kings free throw shooting perked up as well with the team canning 13 of 15.

Defensively, the Kings were far from stout, but there was a competitiveness in their play, as they collapsed on drivers in the paint, and showed some resistance, especially with Dallas’ wings and their aggressive guards, particularly Brunson, who made tough shots throughout.

Wins on consecutive nights pulled the Kings within a half game of 10th place San Antonio in the densely packed Western Conference playoff race, and made it more likely that the club will look within for improvement as opposed to trying to orchestrate a high profile trade.

How unlikely was Metu’s decisive shot? The 6’9″ forward didn’t make a three in either of his first two seasons in San Antonio, and was shooting just 26 percent from three this season. But with game in the balance, Metu was composed and ready to shoot. His mean mug reaction to the game winner was priceless as well, as he never broke a smile even after his teammates mobbed him in celebration.

“It was a great moment,” he said. “Since I’ve been in the league, for sure one of the best moments I’ve had. For us to grind that one out, it felt good.”

The Kings again host Dallas on Friday night with the possibility that Doncic and some combination of seven other Mavericks in protocols could be cleared to play.

THE RETURN OF I.T.: Did anyone attend Wednesday’s game expecting to see Isaiah Thomas in uniform? Probably not, but Kings’ fans were ready with a hearty ovation when Thomas entered the game for Dallas in the second quarter. The 32-year old signed a 10-day deal with Dallas on Wednesday under a COVID hardship rule, and scored six points in 13 minutes. Thomas was originally drafted by Sacramento and played his first three seasons with the Kings.

Harrison’s Hot Hand: Barnes, Kings offense come alive in 4th quarter of 119-105 win over the Wizards

By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–Say you’re not LeBron, Steph or KD. But you’re not chopped liver either, a dude with a nice deal and a niche in the vast pantheon of the NBA. If that’s your bag, then Wednesday was your night, and Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center your place.

With defense seemingly optional, shot blockers and defenders nowhere to be found, the Kings got their fit in the fourth quarter with Harrison Barnes scoring 15 of his 19 points, leading to a 119-105 home win over the Wizards.

The Kings snapped a three-game losing streak and moved ahead of the stumbling Trail Blazers in the dense Western Conference playoff hunt. Meanwhile, the Wizards have dropped six of seven, including all three on their current Western road swing.

Of course, neither coach wanted a loss here. With their season tenuous, twice interim coach Doug Christie was intent on starting in the win column, and Washington’s Wes Unseld Jr. was desperate to avoid falling within a game of .500 after an impressive 10-3 start to the season.

The harsh circumstances certainly impacted 46-year old Unseld’s thoughts. But the 51-year old Christie’s as well.

“The competitive spirit always isn’t there. The collective mind-set isn’t always there. Our care factor isn’t always there. That’s my frustration,” said Unseld, no doubt pointing to a finishing stretch Wednesday that saw Wizards score just 16 of the game’s final 58 points after leading by 12 late in the third quarter.

“For us to come back and fight the way we did … if it was easy everybody would do it, but it’s not,” Christie opined.

The day began with the news that Alvin Gentry, William Bagley Jr. and Terence Davis had entered COVID protocols and weren’t available. That elevated the 51-year old Christie into his first head coaching assignment less than a year after he resigned from his role as the team’s broadcast color voice. It also thrust Chimezie Metu, Alex Len and Moe Harkless into significant roles against the Wizards.

The Kings maintained their approach of putting their most credible defenders on the floor, and Christie was the visual reminder, given his status as one the NBA’s best defenders at his peak in 2000 through 2005. But these Kings aren’t a one-game fix. They allowed the Wizards’ three-point looks, and a one-point halftime lead which they expanded with a 32-point third quarter.

Luckily, the Kings did better with shot selection and just attacking. They also dramatically reduced their turnovers after the break. For one night, sticky defense got trumped by being persistent and getting to the basket.

De’Aaron Fox best personified Christie’s wishes by eschewing deep balls and attacking the basket on his way to a 28-point night. Davion Mitchell added 13, which justified Christie playing him 29 minutes and getting his resistance defensively.

Barnes followed and he absorbed some contact in delivering some big points down the stretch. His made free throws put the Kings up 109-98 with 3:24 remaining.

Better opponents loom immediately with Memphis up twice and a visit to San Francisco in the Kings’ next five games. So which path will they follow?

Who knows. Tyrese Haliburton couldn’t supply anymore wisdom in simply saying, “the only consistent thing we’ve done is be inconsistent.”

No King? No Kings Either: Promising start devolves into a 117-92 loss against the Lakers without LeBron

By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–Alvin Gentry’s not settling for this.

The Kings’ hard earned double-digit, first half lead over the Lakers evaporated into a 25-point loss and the team’s interim coach was embarrassed.

Gentry’s been around: he was an assistant for the world champion Warriors, he’s led successful, playoff teams in New Orleans and Phoenix, and what he saw Tuesday hurt his eyes.

“They don’t deserve what they got tonight,” Gentry conceded. “As the coach of this team I want to apologize to every Kings’ fan out there.”

Worse than an embarrassed coach, the Kings had their two most recent outings as examples not to follow (loss at Memphis) or keep that blueprint (3OT win at the Lakers) and they couldn’t choose, mixing in each for one half of Tuesday’s roller-coaster.

In the first half, the Kings fought through screens defensively, controlled the glass, then backed it with 56 percent shooting and all the smart ball possession decisions they could muster. The result: a 59-50 lead at the half in which they led by as much as 13. Conversely, the Lakers looked slow, disinterested and leaderless without LeBron James, who was placed on COVID protocols earlier in the day.

But it turned out, the visitors, led by Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and wild card Malik Monk were surreptitiously waiting for the Kings to fall flat, and they did just that in a third quarter that was so lopsided it could decide 90 percent of all NBA games.

That was the prelude to a 67-33 wipe out, a second half that enlivened every Lakers fan who walked into Golden 1 Center and left the Kings and their crowd spent.

“A team goes on a run, you punch back and if there is no punch back, you’ll get run out the gym like we did,” Richaun Holmes said.

Holmes was actually the only Sacramento player to lift his fists in the third. The undersized center who returned after missing the three, previous games made all three of his field goal attempts while his teammates were 1 for 15. The Lakers shot 58 percent and with the Kings flailing, they needed just seven minutes to pull even at 72. But their run was just beginning: with the Kings in the midst of a stretch where they missed 17 of 18 shots, the Lakers ended the third on a 15-2 run to lead 87-74.

“We weren’t giving the necessary effort to transition defense and with our pick-and-roll coverages,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Sometimes you have to let them hear about it.”

Davis had 10 of his team-best 25 in the third, and Russell Westbrook 11 of his 23. Monk came up with the 41-foot, buzzer beater to end the first half, then got nine more in the third, finishing with 22 points.

Holmes led all scorers with 27, missing just one of his attempts from the floor. Chimezie Metu was just as integral with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the absence of the injured, front court trio of Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley and Moe Harkless. But all four Sacramento guards had nights to forget.

De’Aaron Fox had 17 points, but his five assists and seven turnovers were telling. Buddy Hield missed six of his seven shots and finished with five points. Rookie Davion Mitchell was a demon defensively in the first 24 minutes, but he missed 11 of his 14 shots and turned it over three times. Tyrese Haliburton missed eight of his 10 shots and finished with six points.

Rookie Louis King, a significant name from the Kings’ summer league push, got his most significant NBA minutes to date by doing a bang up defensive job on Carmelo Anthony. But King too was fallible; he shot 1 for 6 and committed four fouls in 14 minutes on the floor.

The Kings get little time to regroup, they’ll travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday to face the Clippers.

The Kings make it rain in Portland to get a big 123-111 win on Saturday night

Photo: Richaun Holmes returned to the Kings lineup on Saturday night @NBCS

by Charlie O. Mallonee

Where were you on December 8, 2012? The Sacramento Kings were in Portland and that was the last time they won a basketball game in “Rip City” until Saturday night. After suffering 12 consecutive losses over seven-plus years in Portland, the Sacramento Kings broke the curse and beat the Trail Blazers on their homecourt 123-111.

Playoff implications

The Trail Blazers (28-37) and Kings (28-35) are both fighting to jump into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. That slot is currently held by the Memphis Grizzlies who have not been able to distance themselves from the Kings, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Spurs and even the Suns who have a real chance to qualify for the playoffs.

This was the final meeting of the season between the Kings and the Blazers. The teams split the series 2-2.

The Kings started fast

The Kings started the game like a “Top Fuel” dragster. Harrison Barnes led the way scoring 11 points in the first quarter that saw Sacramento outscore Portland 40-24.

The Kings shot 55.2-percent (16-for-29) overall in the period and went 5-for-9 (55.6%) from behind the 3-point line. They dished out 11 assists in the first 12 minutes while making five steals. SAC was simply overwhelming.

The train kept rolling in the second quarter

The Kings did not cool off in the second period. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic decided it was time “to make it rain” 3-pointers. The two shooting guards combined to hit 7-of-8 shots from downtown. As a team, Sacramento shot 9-for-12 (75%) from behind the arc.

The Kings outscored the Blazers 37-30 in the quarter.

Hield put up 14 points while Bogdanovic added 11.

At halftime, Sacramento held a 77-54 lead over Portland.

The Trail Blazers did just roll over and quit

When you have CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard on your team, you are never out of contention as long as there is time on the clock. Portland did not get hot, but they did play better than the Kings in the third quarter.

Sacramento cooled off in the third stanza as might have been expected. They shot 6-for-21 (28.6%) from the field; however, five of those baskets came from 3-point land.

Portland won the quarter 26-23, but the Kings still held a 100-80 lead after 36 minutes of play.

Wave the white flag

The Kings opened the final quarter by going on an 8-2 run that broke the Trail Blazers back. Portland tried to get back into the game, but it was too late.

Terry Stotts emptied his bench and the reserves played with vigor, but it was a futile effort.

The Kings won the game 123-111.

Top Performers

Leading scorers

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic was the game’s leading scorer with 27 points
  • Hassan Whiteside and CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 19 points each

Glass cleaners

  • Whiteside was the top rebounder with 11 grabs to give him a double-double
  • Richaun Holmes – who supplied some much-needed energy to the Kings – hauled in eight rebounds

Dropping dimes

  • De’Aaron Fox made it a double-double game by dishing out 11 assists in the contest
  • Lillard and McCollum led Portland with six assists each

Up next

The Kings jumped on their plane and flew back to Sacramento where they will host the defending NBA Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.

Portland will be off until Tuesday when they will host the Phoenix Suns.

 

 

 

Disaster Avoided: Kings survive awful, third quarter, beat Wizards, 133-126

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.”

 

Kings win 104-101 in Memphis to stay alive in the playoff race

SacMem
Kings win in Memphis @NBC CA

by Charlie O. Mallonee @Espn1320

The Sacramento Kings were written off for dead just weeks ago. Marvin Bagley III has been sidelined with a midfoot sprain, and there is no timetable for his return. Richaun Holmes – who had been playing at a high level filling in for Bagley – has been out due to a shoulder injury, and there is no estimate for his return to the lineup.

Luke Walton felt he had to shake up his starting lineup in order to generate more offense. Buddy Hield was sent to the bench to become the sixth man and Bogdan Bogdanovic became a starter. To everyone’s amazement, that move worked and has paid big dividends.

The Kings also unloaded two expensive players that were not producing the way they had hoped. Trevor Ariza plus two other players were sent to Portland in exchange for Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver. Bazemore had played for Luke Walton in Los Angeles and the coach had high hopes for him. Bazemore has been a productive addition coming off the bench for Sacramento.

Dewayne Dedmon – who had requested a trade – was shipped out to Atlanta for Jabri Parker and Alex Len. Parker is still working his way back from injury, but Len is starting to have an impact in the middle for SAC.

Just when it looked like the Kings had gone into a “wait until next year mode” – the team has surprised everyone by becoming a contender for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

A Big Win on Friday night

Nine days ago, the Kings beat the Memphis Grizzlies 129-125 in Sacramento. That win made everyone who covers the Kings feel like there was a glimmer of hope for Sacramento in the playoff picture. Everyone was afraid to say anything because the Kings have let the fans down so many times in the past.

Sacramento began a four-game road trip after that victory over the Grizzlies. The Kings won games in LA against the Clippers. They beat the Warriors in San Francisco. SAC came close to beating OKC on their homecourt.

The game on Friday night was the back end of a back-to-back set on the road – the toughest game for a road team to win. Memphis is desperately trying to hold on to the eighth and final playoff slot in the West. The odds were definitely against the Kings.

Game flow

The Grizzlies came out of the chute strong, and it looked like the Kings were in real trouble as they trailed 30-21 at the end of the first quarter.

Sacramento was able to shake off the cobwebs in the second period and began to dominate the game. They outscored Memphis 29-17 in the second. As the teams went to the locker rooms at halftime, the Kings held a 50-47 lead over the Grizzlies.

The Kings played well in the third quarter outscoring the Grizzlies 31-28 to take an 81-75 lead into the final 12 minutes.

Luke Walton always talks about how NBA games get close in the final six minutes of the game. Friday night was no different. The Grizzlies cut the Kings lead to just one point with 10.9 seconds to go in the game. Buddy Hield hit two key free throws to give Sacramento a three-point lead and the 104-101 win.

The Playoff Race get tighter

The Grizzlies have now lost five consecutive games and now have four teams breathing down their necks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Kings record is now 25-34, and they are just three games out of the eighth and final playoff slot.

Kings top performers

De’Aaron Fox – who sat out the game in OKC with an abdominal strain – led the Kings scoring attack with 25 points and he added five assists.

Nemanja Bjelica was Sacramento’s top rebounder with 11 and made it a double-double game by scoring 13 points.

Harry Giles III had a huge game putting up 16 points and grabbing five rebounds.

Up next

The Kings return home to host the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at 3 PM.

 

Kings Engaged: Season may be slipping away, but 129-125 win over the Grizzlies sends the right messages

By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–The Kings might not be in position to catch the Grizzlies for the coveted, franchise-changing eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Along similar lines–and relevant to Thursday night’s post-All Star intro–rookie of the year candidate Ja Morant might not be ready to surpass Kings’ third-year guard De’Aaron Fox either.

The head-to-head matchup of future All-Star point guards went to decisively to Fox, who put up 26 points, four assists in leading the Kings to a 129-125 win over Memphis that turned into a nail biter in the final minutes. The reason for the late rush and the close finish? Morant had his hands on that with 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, but ultimately Fox’s defense and Morant’s turnovers (5) swung the outcome for Sacramento.

“Every game is a must-win and (we) have to play each game like our back is against the wall if we want to make things interesting, and we can,” Buddy Hield said.

The win pulled the Kings within six games of Memphis with 27 contests remaining in the regular season. Complicating matters, and increasing the odds of a Kings’ resurgence is the presence of the Blazers, Spurs and Pelicans with records slightly better than the Kings. But when you’ve missed the playoffs for 14 years and running, you scratch and claw until your time runs out.

The Kings overcame a huge, size disparity against the Grizzlies with superior shooting and fewer mistakes. Sacramento was outrebounded 51-27 as they again were without Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes, as well as Dewayne Dedmon, who was traded to Atlanta. Harrison Barnes aided in the process with 32 points, including seven made 3-pointers, as well as Kent Bazemore, who contributed 18 points, but only needed 10 shots to get there.

With Barnes and Bazemore giving the Kings an early advantage, their defensive strategy to fall back into the paint and challenge Memphis’ shooters to make shots played out perfectly as starting guards Morant and Dillon Brooks missed all seven of their shots from distance, allowing the Kings to grab a 37-35 advantage after one quarter, which they built on by scoring the first nine points of the second.

But in a game of runs and swings, the Grizzlies got back into behind reserve guards De’Anthony Melton (24 points), Tyus Jones and Josh Jackson. Hield spearheaded Sacramento’s bench with 20 points, but the Kings were hampered by Jabari Parker’s debut, in which he appeared out of shape, no doubt a product of the former Duke player having played in just one game since Christmas.

The Kings are expected to give Parker and Alex Len–players acquired in the deadline deals–a look, but won’t hesitate to move on from either player. Len was unavailable Thursday, but could play as early as Saturday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

The Kings run out of gas in the fourth quarter and lose in Milwaukee 123-111

by Charlie O. Mallonee

The Kings entered the game on Monday night in Milwaukee with high hopes. The Bucks superstar – Giannis Antetokounmpo – was ruled out the game because he wanted to be with his new-born son (who we all expect to be the number one overall draft selection in 2038). Without “the freak” on the floor, the Kings knew they had at least a fighting chance versus the powerful Bucks.

The Kings (21-32) fell behind early, and it looked like it might be a walkover game for Milwaukee (46-7) even without Giannis. At the end of the first quarter, the Bucks held 38-24 lead.

Sacramento rebounded in the second quarter. The Kings outscored the Bucks 34-19 in the second period behind the 13 point barrage by Harrison Barnes. Barnes went 4-for-4 from the floor with all three of his 3-point attempts finding their mark. He also converted both of his free throw attempts. The Kings went to the locker room at halftime with a 58-57 lead.

The two teams went into an epic battle in the third quarter and went toe to toe. The Kings outscored the Bucks 32-31 in the quarter and held a 90-88 advantage at the end of 36 minutes.

The Bucks started the final quarter with a 13-0 run and never looked back. Milwaukee went on to outscore the Kings 35-21 in the fourth quarter as they fell 12 points short when the final buzzer sounded.

Top scorers

  • Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe were the leading scorers in the game scoring 28 points each
  • Harrison Barnes was the Kings top scorer with 23 points

The Glass Cleaners

  • Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton made it a double-double game by pulling down 11 rebounds
  • De’Aaron Fox and Nemanja Bjelica grabbed eight rebounds each for the Kings

Dropping Dimes

  • De’Aaron Fox was the game’s assist leader with 11 which gave him a double-double game
  • Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe dropped eight dimes each for the Bucks

Up next

The Kings will be back in action on Wednesday night in Dallas.

The Bucks will travel to Indianapolis to play the Pacers on Wednesday night.