The Sacramento Kings still have a shot at the playoffs. But they’re going to have to step it up if they want to cross that threshold into the postseason. At just two games above .500, they’ve performed better than expected this season, but that’s not enough. And based on recent lineup changes, it looks like Kings coach Dave Joerger doesn’t think so either.
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The Kings have missed the postseason for 12 straight years – the longest-running playoff drought in the NBA – but this time, they’re still in the running! What used to be a joke of a franchise has taken on some key new players and increased its confidence to improve drastically as a team. But will it be enough?
Changing Things Up
With a record of 31-29, the Kings are currently sitting at ninth in the West, just out of reach of the playoffs. But they’re only a handful of wins behind the Los Angeles Clippers (34-28) and San Antonio Spurs (33-29) and they’re just ahead of the troubled Lakers (who are 29-31). Things are so tight that any moving and shaking could get the Kings to that magical eighth seed.
Meanwhile, the Clippers and the Spurs both lost on Sunday, while the Kings knocked off the Thunder in a tough, up-and-down matchup (and one where Russell Westbrook put up 41 points at that). Their players are developing well and despite being in the middle of a tough stretch of games – playing the Nuggets and the Warriors back to back is no joke – they’re staying optimistic about turning this franchise around. And hey, the Kings only lost to the Warriors by two points!
Of course, their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday doesn’t bode well for closing that gap in the playoff race…
Recently, however, Coach Dave Joerger has changed the Kings’ lineup. Following the All Star break, it now includes Bogdan Bogdanovic at small forward and Harrison Barnes – acquired from the Dallas Mavericks just before the February trade deadline – at power forward. Joerger says he plans to stick with this new strategy for the foreseeable future. So how will that impact the Kings as they push toward their first potential postseason in over a decade?
The versatile Barnes, who has played small forward for the Warriors, says he’ll need to step up his rebounding game if he continues to start at power forward for the Kings, but he’s good with whatever the coach wants to do. The addition of Barnes has helped cure the Kings of their size disadvantage – he’s able to guard much bigger wings than the other, smaller players. He can also create shots and make threes. Barnes played great defense against MVP candidate Paul George during their victory over OKC, stifling a buzzer beater for the game, but the Kings’ newest player only had two points in their recent loss to Minnesota.
Joerger believes this pairing will make help point guard De’Aaron Fox run the Kings’ fast-paced offense more efficiently. With Barnes on the floor, the already speedy Fox – who averages 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game – will have more space. Fox scored 19 points for the Kings against Oklahoma City on Saturday and 23 against the Timberwolves, so he’s having an excellent run right now. At only 6’3” 175 pounds, he’s been a lifesaver for Sacramento, who drafted him fifth overall back in 2017.
Buddy Hield is another difference-maker. He led the team with 34 points against the Thunder this weekend and even hit his 200th three-pointer of the season. The on-fire shooting guard had a little recent drama with Joerger during the Warriors game when the coach scolded him for hitting a three instead of running the play they’d discussed. They say they’re still on good terms, however, and Hield is averaging 20.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Both those stats have only increased in the past 10 games.
At only 19 years old, Marvin Bagley III is crucial to the Kings’ success as well. He’s consistently racking up double-doubles – 13 this season to be specific. The former Duke player was drafted number two overall by Sacramento and his energy and passion this season are proving he was worth it. Against the Thunder, he scored 19 points and nabbed 10 rebounds in his 36 minutes off the bench. During February, Bagley averaged 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, up from a season average of 13.7 and 7.1, respectively. The 6’11” power forward has shown his worth as an indispensable, off-the-bench player.
And we can’t forget the Kings’ seven-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein who grabbed his 18th double-double this season, contributing 11 points and 10 rebounds in OKC on Saturday.
Meanwhile, we still don’t know how the Kings’ power forward through most of the regular season, Nemanja Bjelica, fits into this new scenario. He hasn’t started in the past two games and that might be part of Joerger’s plan.
According to the Kings head coach, “I told him every guy has got to be ready for their opportunity, as always.”
So will this new lineup be enough to take the Kings to uncharted territory? We’ll just have to wait and see.
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