Inside the Kings' schedule

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Inside the Kings' schedule

Mike Kreuser
CSNCalifornia.com

Kings fans don't need reminding, but the boys in Purple have been a disaster the last three seasons. Including a second-to-last finish in the West in 2010-11, the Kings have only won 66 out of the last 248 games which amounts to a measley .266 winning percentage. The upside of all that losing is that it has netted the Kings a nice core of young talent. There are six players on the roster that the Kings either drafted in the first round themselves or first rounders they acquired on draft day. Not including undrafted free agents, the average age of the Kings is 24.2 years old with their oldest player being recently re-acquired John Salmons (32 years old). So if any team would benefit from a chaotic 66-game schedule, it should be this squad of young legs and upcoming talent, right?Sacramento definitely could benefit from this crazy never-know-what-you-are-going-to-get schedule, but if it does, it will be because of a surge in the second half of the season. The Kings drew what has to be the toughest first 33 games in the league.
For starters, Sactown will not be seeing very much of the Kings through Februrary. Despite beginning by playing four of their first five in Sacramento, the Kings are away from the capitol for 21 of their first 33 games. So for those scoring at home, after their first five games, the Kings will be on the road for 20 of 28 contests. Obviously that disparity will balance itself out in the second half, but it will be tough to get momentum when the most consecutive days they spend in California is eight in a 58-day stretch.Beyond the long and frequent road trips, the Kings play 21 playoff teams in the first half. That stretch includes home and aways with Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Denver and Portland, as well as road contests against Memphis (twice), Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Antonio. The Kings also play their only back-to-back-back in the first half of the season (Jan. 3-4-5), at Memphis, at Denver, vs Milwaukee.If Sacramento is somehow in playoff contention coming out of that first half, it will have an opportunity to thrive in the second portion of the season. At one point the Kings enjoy a league-long nine-game homestand (Cleveland and Denver are the only other teams to enjoy such a stretch). They also only face 16 playoff teams in the final 33 games (21 of which are at home). So these young Kings will be baptized by fire but if they come out in one piece, they will have an opportunity to make up some ground.The imbalanced portion of the 66-game schedule is fairly neutral. In the Eastern conference two out of the three teams they play twice are playoff teams from last year (Chicago and New York, who project to be again this season), but the third team, Detroit, is about as juicy an Eastern conference opponent as you could ask for. The teams they play only once (Boston, Atlanta, Indiana and Orlando) will all travel to Northern California. The Kings will have to play Miami and Philadelphia on the road, but also get road games against weaker Eastern teams like Toronto, Cleveland, Washington and Charlotte.In the West, the Kings play four against Oklahoma City, the Blazers and the Hornets (who are now Chris Paul-less), but also get four against the Warriors, Jazz and T'wolves. Of the three-game series, they play two roads-one home with the Mavs, Nuggets and Grizzlies, but get two home-one road against the Spurs and Lakers. So the Kings are neither winners nor losers when it comes to the imbalances of the 66-game schedule.Also, the Kings actually had more back-to-backs in 2010-11 than they will this season. They played 18 last season and are only scheduled for 17 this time around. They do pick up more stretches with four games in five nights (five this season) compared to only three a year ago. Finally they will have one murderous stretch where they play five games in six nights right at the start of the season (Dec. 31 to Jan. 5). Safe to say the Milwaukee game on Jan. 5 won't be a very pretty brand of basketball.The Kings actually have the roster to benefit in the lockout-shortened season. It will just be whether they can get it together fast enough to survive a rough first half.Here is the breakdown of their schedule by month:Games
HomeRoad2010-11 Playoff teamsWestern Conference OpponentsEastern Conference OpponentsDec.431422Jan.1751211125Feb.1358676March181268144April14868131

Mike Kreuser is a production assistant with Comcast SportsNet California.

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

There was a Willie Cauley-Stein sighting Monday in Detroit. It’s become a rarity this season to see the Sacramento Kings’ 2015 first-round draft pick play substantial minutes in coach Dave Joerger’s rotation. But the bench is getting lean and Cauley-Stein answered the bell.

“He’s putting in his work and had an opportunity,” Joerger told media members following the Kings’ 109-104 win over the Pistons. “He went and got balls out of his area, which is important for a guy that athletic.”

The former 6th overall selection has played in just 37 games this season, sitting out seven contests as a healthy scratch. He’s posting 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11 minutes a night, but with both Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi sidelined, Cauley-Stein is getting a look.

It’s been difficult for the former Kentucky star. He knows he’s on a short a leash. He doesn’t have time to settle into the game, it’s zero-60 in five seconds or the bench is calling.

“I just try to maintain a mentality of just going in, going really hard, making sure I’m talking to the guards on different plays,” Cauley-Stein told reporters in Detroit. “Just trying to stay mentally right on it.”

After playing in multiple variations of the “dribble-drive motion offense,” both in college and in his rookie season in Sacramento under George Karl, the 7-footer has had to relearn the game of basketball under Joerger. It’s a difficult path to minutes, but Cauley-Stein can be seen working overtime almost everyday.

“The amount of work I’ve been putting in, it’s starting to show, it’s starting to pay off,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m starting to get the trust of my teammates and my coaches behind me and that’s everything in this game.”

Following practice, Cauley-Stein can be seen working with big man coach Bob Thornton. When he is done there, he goes to assistant Larry Lewis for more skill work and then there are the 3-on-3 games with Ben McLemore and the rookies.

He can be seen in pregame working on his handles alongside McLemore and the coaching staff and he spent plenty of time over the summer working on his shooting stroke with Peja Stojakovic.

“It’s a great feeling to know when you put it down, you’ve got complete control where it’s going,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s the same thing with your shot. The more and more you work on it, the more and more it just comes second hand. Right now it all feels good for me.”

Cauley-Stein had a breakout 12 points and five rebounds against the Pistons on Monday. He was active and even took All-Star center Andre Drummond off the dribble for a huge two-handed dunk.

A defensive specialist by nature, Cauley-Stein still has a long way to go before he is ready to be a major cog in Joerger’s high-post offense. But at 23 years old and under team control for at least another two seasons, there is still time to salvage the quirky big man.

The Kings need Cauley-Stein to develop into a tireless worker on the glass and a player that does the little things. He still has plenty of upside and tremendous length and athleticism. He’s doing the work and earned another shot at playing minutes on the frontline next to DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos.

More nights like the one in Detroit would go a long way towards earning the trust of Joerger and his staff.

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

With their 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, the Sacramento Kings sit 10 games under .500 at 17-27. In almost any other season, that would mean that they were dead in the water in the Western Conference playoff race. But this it the 2016-17 season where anything is possible at the bottom.

Following Sacramento’s win at the Palace at Auburn Hills, DeMarcus Cousins was asked about the playoff picture.

“It’s my only goal this season,” Cousins told reporters following the game. “My only goal.” 

When pushed on the subject, he gave a more complete answer.

“Oh man, it’s eating me alive - every loss or every time another team wins that’s battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive,” Cousins added. “Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

The Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with the win over the Pistons and they came into the evening just 2-10 over their previous 12 games. 

Once they get through their current eight game road trip, they spend the entire month of February in the Pacific time zone and play 11 over their next 13 games at Golden 1 Center.  

“The one thing I can give credit to this team about is us staying together and being a positive locker room through the ups and downs,” Cousins said. “I’m still confident and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

Despite the rough patch, the Kings remain just a game and a half out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. No one is running away with that last playoff spot, at least not yet.