DOWNTOWN SACRAMENTO — Last season, the Sacramento Kings were all about playing in brand new Golden 1 Center for the first time since leaving Sleep Train Arena in North Natomas.
For the start of the 2017-2018 campaign, the team was clearly about breaking in the youth movement against the Houston Rockets to usher in what is advertised as a new era for the franchise.
Working on the backend of a back-to-back, the Houston Rockets (2-0, 2-0 on the road) barely beat the young Kings 105-100 in Sacramento’s season opener at G1C. The Rockets rode into to town after earning a 122-121 victory over the Golden State Warriors the night before.
Willie Cauley-Stein had 21 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocked shots and Buddy Hield added 19 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Kings. De’Aaron Fox had 14 points, five assists, and four rebounds in his rookie debut.
“It’s a nice way to start the season, although we didn’t get the win,” said Kings head coach Dave Joerger. “We saw a lot of things that we’re very proud about translated from practice. Proud of our guys – I thought we fought. You’re going to learn a lot from each game, some nights it’s more technical than others. I think the number one thing is that if we compete that hard we’ll give ourselves a chance in games.”
With exception of Harry Giles, the Kings had rookie Fox, Justin Jackson, and Frank Mason III in uniform for their first NBA contest. Second-year player Skal Labissiere started the game and posted 12 points and 10 rebounds alongside Cauley-Stein.
Jackson was the first rookie to crack the starting lineup out of the trio. He had five points and two rebounds in nearly 20 minutes. Fox entered the game with 4:14 left in the first quarter to replace Hield. He scored his NBA basket at the 2:38 mark of the quarter.
“Got to get my first NBA game out of the way and I think it went well,” Fox said. “We played hard. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to – we wanted to get the W – but there’s a lot of things we learned out of today.”
Obviously, Fox was comfortable about his situation from the giddy-up. An hour before the game, he was playing the video game Dragon Ball Z on a miniature electronic unit in the King’s locker room as Jackson observed. Fox is a video game fanatic.
The Kings were able to keep the game close against one of the most explosive, offensive teams in the league, a team that loves to get up and down the floor to toss 3-point shots from every direction. The Kings trailed Houston 75-72 at the end of three quarters.
The Kings got within three points of the Rockets when George Hill made one of two free throws to make the score 101-98 with 17 seconds left to play in the game. The Rockets closed the game out by making four straight free throws, two each by Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.
James Harden led the Rockets with 27 points, nine assists, three rebounds and two steals. Eric Gordon had 25 points, four rebounds, and three assists while Clint Capela finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds, and three steals for Houston.
“We just had to grind it out,” said Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni. “Give them (the Kings) credit. They played hard. They are young, but we did things the right way in the right moment and got a win. That’s kind of all we’re looking at right now is getting to the next one.”
- Hip Hop artist Lil Jon, the “King of Crunk” and with his signature howl “Yaaayaaa,” performed his early 2000’s hits at halftime.
- The Rockets made 20 straight free throws before Eric Gordon missed the first shot for the team early in the fourth quarter.
- Houston ended up 27-of-29 In the game.
- Chris Paul sat out of the game with a bruised knee for the Houston Rockets.
- Zach Randolph was not in the building for the Kings. Randolph had oral surgery on Oct. 17 and is listed as day-to-day.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer