SACRAMENTO -- Despite shutting down most of their veteran core, the Sacramento Kings continue to find ways to win. Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, it became abundantly clear hours before the game that neither team was going to field a full roster. The two teams tried to one up the other, with Sacramento added both of their point guards to the inactive list two hours before tip-off.
You can take away their depth. You can limit them to just eight uniformed players. But you can’t ask a group of NBA players to lose a basketball game, regardless of what it might mean for the upcoming draft.
“It’s tough not to think about it,” veteran Garrett Temple told NBC Sports California after the Kings’ 98-87 win over the Dallas Mavericks. “We know what everybody else knows, but the guys that are playing, there is no person on this team that can physically go out on the court and try to lose. It’s just not in our DNA, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the NBA.”
Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos, Ty Lawson and Anthony Tolliver all sat for Sacramento for one reason or another. If there was a playoff game tomorrow, the five would have been in uniform.
There isn’t a playoff game tomorrow. And for the 11th straight season, the Kings will finish on the outside looking of the NBA’s postseason. The team has shifted the focus to the young players, that includes three rookies and a second-year player. For them, this is valuable time on the court to adjust to the NBA game and they aren’t taking it lightly.
“It’s all about learning how to win, especially for us - the young crew,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “So it feels good to go out there and get some wins. We’re learning how to close out games.”
Labissiere, along with fellow rookies Buddy Hield and Georgios Papagiannis, as well as sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, all scored in double-figures in the win. They are all showing signs that they can play in the league, even if it is against less than top tier talent.
Cauley-Stein set a new career-high with 16 rebounds and chipped in 12 points and three steals. Papagiannis finished with 13 points, one off his career-high and he continued to clear space for his perimeter players with immense screens.
Fresh off his second NBA Rookie of the Month award, Hield dropped in 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range, giving him double figure scoring in 18-of-21 games in a Kings uniform.
“There are a lot of good rookies in the league, especially in the Western Conference,” Hield said. “I was really happy I got it, but I got to keep working.”
Opposing teams have made adjustments to guarding Labissiere, but he still managed to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
“It’s all about learning how to adjust to things and I’m still learning how to do that,” Labissiere said.
Ben McLemore went off in the second half to score 21 of his 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc in 16 minutes after the intermission. And Langston Galloway finished with 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds starting at the point guard spot for the first time as a King.
“They played hard and made plays and I think at the same time, some of these guys are getting 33.34 minutes” coach Dave Joerger said. “Willie, Skal, we’re playing really young guys. It’s a great experience for them, and to also play to win, compete - that’s what it’s all about. They did that tonight.”
On the downside, the Kings moved the down the board in the draft lottery with the victory. They began the night tied for the sixth worst record in the league with the Knicks, but New York held a 2-0 advantage in the season series.
Following the Dallas game, the Kings are now tied in the win column with the Minnesota Timberwolves with 31 and they hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series with the T-Wolves. With four games remaining, the Kings are teetering on moving from seven to eight in the lottery order.
Joerger is going to play the players he has available and the squad is going to do their best to compete.
“As long as we have five players to play, we’re going to go out there and try to win,” Temple said.
The Kings return to the court Friday night at Staples Center where the 22-55 Los Angeles Lakers will play host. It’s another opportunity for a win.