SACRAMENTO – “I was really impressed. Their culture is changing, it’s changed drastically. Guys are committed, guys are physical, taking some pride in defense. I think Vlade (Divac) and the team have made some good moves and I think Dave (Joerger)’s don’t a great job together. They look really good. It’s impressive,” said San Antonio Spurs Coach Greg Popovich following a 104-99 defeat to Sacramento.
The victory for the Kings also ended a 14-game losing streak to the Spurs dating back to Nov. 15, 2014, when the team started off 9-6 that season. The Kings have a new identity that is forming and is taking notice across the league. After beating the Spurs.
After a 3-1 road trip, the Kings returned home to finish their four-game home-stand with a record of 2-2. The four-game home-stand was needed after a successful road trip. They had a tough challenge playing three teams that played in the playoffs last season and the Los Angeles Lakers, who are always considered a rivalry game.
“It’s pretty good. I feel like we let both of those games that we lost get away from us,” said Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox. “But it was four really good teams. Toronto, one of the best teams in the league, the Spurs are always good, the Lakers, they got LeBron [James] and all of those young guys really playing well now. I think they’ve won five to of their last six. So they’re playing well now and the Minnesota, iffy. It was pretty good for us to try and come out 2-2. It’s always good to go 2-2 in any stand.”
Fox led all Kings starters with 19 points and seven assists, while fellow starter Willie Cauley- Stein had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Bogdan Bogdanovic had a key 22 points off the bench.
The win against the Spurs is a step in the right direction as the Kings were in danger of falling to 7-7 on the seasons and 1-3 on the home-stand. Each your game was a different test and presented a different challenge each night.
The Kings started the home-stand against the East Conference-leading Toronto Raptors who were (11-1) at the time and had started the offseason with the acquisition, Kwahi Leonard. Leonard led all scorers with 25 points while also adding 11 rebounds. Leonard was perfect from the free throw line, making 9 of 9 from the charity stripe.
The rest of the Raptors followed suit as the team combined to make 21 of 23, 91.3 percent, from the free-throw line. Serge Ibaka turned in a double-double, 14-points and 14 rebounds, along with Jonas Valanciunas’ 10 rebounds off the bench. The Raptors dominated the glass, outrebounding the Kings 53-31.
While the Kings gave a good effort, at the end of the night the Raptors proved to be too much. Sacramento managed to shoot 42-88, 47.7 percent, from the floor., and had three 20-point scorers in Buddy Hield (20), Willie Cauley-Stein (24), and De’Aaron Fox (20). The Kings have been working hard to change the perceived culture of the franchise, by playing hard, with heart, energy, and effort.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger expressed optimism when talking to the media after the game.
“Really proud of our guys – I thought we fought like crazy. These are four really good teams we’re going to play here over the course of six nights,” Joerger said. “It was not a great flow to the game with a lot of free throws being called, which is what it is, and it’s a learning experience for us.”
Two nights later the Timberwolves and the Jimmy Butler trade saga came to town, as the Timberwolves got off to a hot shooting start in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Kings did a better job of defending the Timberwolves despite an All-Star performance by Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns had 15 of his 29 points in first half, and finished with 39 points and 19 rebounds.
The second half would be a different story for the Timberwolves as Minnesota shot 15 of 42, 35.7 from the field. The Kings expanded a first-half lead of two points to an 11-point win, 121-110.
De’ Aaron Fox finished with a game-high 10 assists along with zero turnovers, and also adding 16 points. After the game, Joerger was asked about Fox.
“I think he kind of started slow tonight, it was one of those nights,” Joerger said. “But his assist numbers were solid and I think as he got involved in the game (he wanted) more, I want him to attack more. I want him to make more plays.”
The night of Nov. 10 presented a different set of challenges, as the Golden 1 center turned to “Staple Center North,” as it has been referred to by Los Angeles Lakers fans. Lakers forward LeBron James had something to say about his first experience with the Laker fans of Northern California.
“It’s great to have fans that are loyal. Laker nation definitely came out tonight,” James said. James helped lead his Lakers to a 101-86 win over the Kings, where he was the games leading scorer with 25 points and seven rebounds.
A mixture of a hard-fought Friday night game and the air quality low with smoke appearing in the building, the Kings seemed tired and out of gas. The Lakers held the Kings to 32 of 92 shooting from the field,34.8 percent, with Fox 21 points and seven assists leading the way.
During the four-game homestand, Kings Rookie Harry Giles went and played a G-League game with the affiliate the Stockton Kings. During that game, Giles scored 30 points. It looked like the playing time helped, as he finished tonight with 12 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes of work. When asked about confidence being a part of tonight’s success, Giles responded with, “Definitely, I think it had more than half of it to do with (it).”
The Kings will look to rest, before a pair of back to back road games, starting in Memphis against the Grizzlies and finishing with the Rockets.
With the win against San Antonio, the Kings have improved to 6-0 when leading going into the fourth quarter, 3-0 when holding teams under 100 points, and 7-2 when outshooting opponents from three-point range.
By Russell Stiger Jr.
OBSERVER Staff Writer