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