Kings assume spoiler role facing Jazz

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Kings assume spoiler role facing Jazz

The Utah Jazz were at their lowest point of the season when they left Sacramento last month.

The Jazz could be back in the Western Conference playoff picture with a victory in this visit to California's capital, but knocking off the resurgent Kings could be a challenge.

Utah goes for a season high-tying fifth consecutive win Thursday night when the Kings try to close out the franchise's longest homestand with a fourth straight victory.

Arriving in Sacramento with just three victories in 13 games, the Jazz (24-22) dropped their season-high fourth in a row Feb. 28, losing 103-96 to fall a season-worst three games below .500.

Utah, though, is on a roll heading into this contest, with its last two victories coming over the West's elite. After winning 103-99 at the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the Jazz beat conference-leading Oklahoma City 97-90 at home Tuesday.

"It's all about confidence right now," said Al Jefferson, who had 16 points after missing the previous two games to attend his grandmother's funeral.

If Utah can match a 5-0 run from Jan. 2-10 and Houston loses to Golden State earlier Thursday, the Jazz will hold the eighth spot in the West. They were 2 12 games out of the conference's final playoff position following the Feb. 28 defeat.

"We should be very confident right now," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're understanding that we need to count on each other, especially at the defensive end of the floor and depending on each other to make the right plays."

The Jazz are holding opponents to 96.5 points on 43.0 percent shooting during their current run, but slowing down the Kings (17-29) could be difficult.

Led by Marcus Thornton's 30.3 points per game, Sacramento is averaging 118.0 during its three-game winning streak.

More importantly, it appears the Kings are getting along as well as they have all season. Coach Keith Smart has a rule that any player out with an injury doesn't lose his spot, but Tyreke Evans - who was ready to return after missing two games with a sprained left ankle - requested prior to Tuesday's 119-110 win over Memphis that John Salmons stay in the starting lineup.

"They're starting to like each other," said Smart, whose team will try to win four straight at home for the first time since Nov. 25-Dec. 2, 2009. "And they're getting closer to that other 'L' word."

It's unclear if Evans will come off the bench again Thursday, but Smart will want to make sure to give him plenty of minutes. Evans had a season-high 31 points in a 96-93 loss in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28, and his 22.6 average versus Utah is his highest against any team.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins scored 22 points with 18 rebounds on Feb. 28 and is averaging 21.3 points and 13.7 boards in three home games against Utah.

The Jazz, who open a stretch of 11 of 17 outside Utah, have the second-fewest road wins (six) in the West, ahead of only Sacramento's four.

The Kings are trying to win two straight in this series for the first time since 2006-07.

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

The Sacramento Kings walk into the 2017 offseason with gaping holes in their roster. Free agency will play a role, but before they get to spending their $60-plus million in cap space, Vlade Divac, Scott Perry, Ken Catanella and the rest of the front office will try to fill some of their needs via the draft.

While the first batch of draft prospects rolled through Sacramento late last week, Vlade Divac, along with European scout Predrag Drobnjak spent the weekend in Istanbul, Turkey at the European Championships. Sharpshooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Fenerbahçe to its first title, further building the hype around one of Europe’s best young stars.

Divac acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft day trade last summer when the 6-foot-6 Serbian was tossed in along with picks 13 and 28 for the 9th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Divac would love to entice the 24-year-old wing to play in the NBA next season.

Even if Bogdanovic buys in, the Kings need more.

Both Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are unrestricted free agents, leaving Langston Galloway as the only point guard on the roster. Rudy Gay has already informed the team that he intends to opt out of his $14.3 million player option for next season, opening a massive need at the small forward position.

The needs are clear. Sacramento has to find a point guard and small forward of the future. They also need a point guard and a small forward of the right now. If a player fits both now and in the future, so be it.

Lady luck shined brightly on the Kings during the draft lottery. A move from No. 8 to No. 3 would have guaranteed a point guard, but a pick swap to No. 5 still has Sacramento in the running to fill one of their biggest voids.

While plenty of mock drafts have a variety of players in the top five of the 2017 NBA Draft, there is a clear group that Sacramento will likely focus on. Barring a major trade, point guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington is projected to go with the first overall selection, but then it’s wide open how the next four picks will unfold.

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is projected to go to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 in most mocks, but nothing is a sure bet. Small forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are top five selections as well, while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is an early draft climber.

Sacramento would love nothing more than to see Fox sitting on the board when they select at five. He’s slight of build, but the 6-foot-3 speedster is a high character player with tons of potential. He would step in and instantly compete for a starting job with the Kings’ young core.

There are concerns that Fox won’t make it to five and the Kings have a few options if they want to move up, but the real question is, should they?

If Fox is gone, Sacramento will still have a player on the board at a position of need. Be it Ball, Jackson or Tatum, the talent pool is rich. Finding a floor general is important, but finding a star should be the top priority. All five have potential to become more than just a starter in the league and all five fit one of the team’s two most glaring weaknesses on the current roster.

Drafting either Jackson or Tatum would instantly bump the talent level of the team. Both are considered top tier prospects and for Sacramento, likely starters on Day 1.

Jackson is a catalyst type player and personality that brings energy, as well as a tremendous skill set. He can pass, rebound, play defense at a high level and score above the rim. He’ll be an instant fan favorite wherever he lands.

Tatum has potential as a two-way player, but his offensive game should instantly translate to the NBA level. A polished scorer, Tatum would step in and give the Kings a scoring option to fill the shoes of Gay, who is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Top 10 has plenty of other high end prospects. Sacramento could chase a shooting big in Lauri Markkanen. The 7-footer out of Arizona would help to stretch the floor at the four, but their other needs are more obvious.

Fox’s backcourt mate at Kentucky, Malik Monk, is also an intriguing player, but with Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and the potential for Bogdanovic to join the team, the Kings are heavy at the shooting guard spot.

Point guard Dennis Smith has a high ceiling and would likely challenge for top five consideration if it wasn’t for a torn ACL in high school and some questions about his attitude.

If Sacramento selects a small forward with the fifth pick and Smith was still available when they choose again at No. 10, he becomes a lower risk proposition the Kings might have to consider.

Point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France would fit the bill as well in the right situation. If the Kings land Jackson or Tatum at five, they could come back with Ntilikina at 10. He’s young and inexperienced, but he also stands at 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan. His defensive potential at the point is tremendous, but he is a project on the offensive end, not a polished player like the four point guards expected to go ahead of him in the draft.

Combo forward Jonathan Isaac is an appealing prospect, but he’ll need plenty of time to develop and he’s a better target if he somehow slips to 10. Like Smith and Ntilikina, this would be a nice addition if the Kings fill their other need with the fifth overall selection.

Regardless of how they got to No.’s 5 and 10, the Kings are in a good spot. They have options and plenty of players at positions of need and there is potential to land a future star. Once the draft rolls around on June 22, the focus will quickly shift to shoring up the remainder of the squad. With two high picks, the potential addition of Bogdanovic and plenty of cap space, the Kings are primed for a big time roster overhaul this summer.

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

The Kings' playoff drought is at 11 years and according to head coach Dave Joerger, it's going to last a few more years.

Speaking on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Tuesday, Joerger was asked about the differences between his coaching gigs with Sacramento and Memphis, and outlined the Kings' timeline for reaching the postseason.

"It's different. It's been a great learning experience for me. It's going to be an interesting process. You know, three years from now we hope to be in the playoffs. And so how do we do that? We were just talking about Memphis and it's the same thing. So if you're management, there's a couple times a year, two or three times that are really hot. Trade deadline, draft, free agency, boom, boom, boom. We're in Memphis sitting there getting 50 wins a year. Okay, maybe the trade deadline came and went, maybe we got a guy, maybe not, not too stressful. Get the 23rd, 24th pick in the draft," Joerger said.

"It's different now. In this situation, it's a higher pick, now free agency has a little bit more focus on it. So how we execute in free agency, how we execute our draft picks and how we execute at the trade deadline as this thing builds, you try to go too fast, you can make mistakes. But I think slow and steady wins the race," Joerger concluded.

So Kings fans can look forward to the 2019-20 season when the team returns to the playoffs.

Joerger is at the helm of a Kings team that is in full rebuild mode. The team traded center DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break and turned the team over to several first and second-year players. They posted a 32-50 record during the 2016-17 season, good for a third-place finish in the Pacific Division.

The Kings hold the No. 5, 10 and 34 picks in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft and will add to their stable of young players.