Kings face Trail Blazers seeking first road win

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Kings face Trail Blazers seeking first road win

Programming note: Kings-Trail Blazers coverage begins on Comcast SportsNet California at 7 p.m. Territory restrictions apply.

The Portland Trail Blazers are already eager to be back at home after a disappointing trip. Facing a winless road opponent is even more ideal.

The Trail Blazers begin a six-game homestand Saturday night when they try to drop the Sacramento Kings to 0-7 on the road.

Portland (8-11) went 2-5 on a trip that ended with Wednesday's 99-92 loss to Indiana. Rookie Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers with 23 points.

There was room for optimism since the defeat came on the heels of thrilling wins against Cleveland and Charlotte that both went past regulation. Lillard scored 24 points in each of those victories.

"I liked the way our guys finished the road trip, I liked the way we competed, got some of the young guys involved off the bench," coach Terry Stotts said. "So I thought there were things that were good but I don't think any of us were necessarily satisfied being 2-5. You wanted to get one or two more on the road."

Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, continues to lead all rookies with 19.3 points per game. He's scored at least 20 in three straight games for the first time since he made a splash by doing so in his first three contests.

"Everything is going kind of smoother than I thought it would," Lillard said. "That's just what it is. I never really said I'm just going to come in and I don't know what's going to happen. I felt I was going to be productive, I just didn't know how productive."

Sacramento (6-12) comes to town enduring its worst road start since going 0-9 to begin 2007-08. The Kings have dropped six of their last seven at the Rose Garden.

Currently, though, they are on a bit of an upswing and can post their first three-game win streak of the season after beating 91-82 over Orlando on Friday. DeMarcus Cousins had 17 points and 14 rebounds while reserve guard Isaiah Thomas added 17 points.

Starting guard Tyreke Evans didn't play for the third time in four games with a sore right knee. Francisco Garcia made his first start of the season in place of Evans.

Evans, who totaled 13 points on 4 of 18 shooting in Sacramento's two losses at Portland last season, is questionable for Saturday's game. His absence could be critical since he could again face off against Lillard.

That matchup proved to be a mismatch the first time these teams met as Lillard outscored Evans 22-10 in a 103-86 road victory Nov. 13. Lillard also had nine assists compared to four for Evans.

Cousins, who has three double-doubles his last four games, missed that contest due to suspension.

Although the Kings successfully used a smaller lineup in the fourth quarter Friday, don't expect to see it against the Blazers.

"The lineup that Orlando used allowed me to do that rotation tonight," coach Keith Smart said. "They didn't look to post up their guards. In tomorrow's game, Portland will post up their twos and threes, so there may not be a situation like that."

It's unclear if Portland forward Nicolas Batum will be available after he sat out part of Friday's practice with a back strain suffered against the Pacers.

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

SACRAMENTO -- The NBA learning curve is steep. On Wednesday night in Sacramento, the young Kings faced one of the league’s up and coming players and a team fighting for a playoff spot. The atmosphere was foreign and the Kings didn’t respond well in the 116-98 loss to the Bucks.

Milwaukee came out of the gate and bullied the Kings. They threw a young Sacramento team all over the court on their way to a 69 point half. To add to the insult, some of the Bucks veterans even taunted the Sacramento crowd as they shot a stunning 61.4 percent from the field before the intermission.

“I think we got pushed around a little bit in the first half,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “But they’re trying to make the playoffs still. They’re trying to make the eighth spot. So we have to be a little bit more physical with them and not let them punk us around.”

What the Kings saw from the Bucks is the mindset of a team fighting for a playoff spot. Wednesday night’s contest is what you see in the tail end of a season when one team has something to play for and the other has gone with a youth movement.

“They’re playing physical, they’re not backing down from nobody,” Buddy Hield said. “They have something they’re playing for. Obviously we don’t right now because our season is out of reach.”

Sacramento’s veterans looked at the game as a learning experience for the younger players. They need exposure to this type of game late in the season. They need to see what the expectations will be in a year or two when the Kings hope to be in a similar situation.

“These guys have to go through it, they have to learn it and then hopefully when we make the playoffs in the coming years, they’ll be able to understand that it jumps to another level,” Garrett Temple said. “The first 50 games is one level, the the next 30 is another and that playoff is different animal.”

Building a winner usually comes in stages in the NBA. By the time you sneak into the playoffs, you have already come close once or twice and the first round matchups are usually against seasoned winning clubs.

That is something the Bucks will learn soon enough. With the win, they are now tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, but nothing is certain. They currently sit a game out of the eight spot and just 2.5 from falling to ninth and missing the playoffs entirely.

If they squeak in, they will play either the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards in Round 1.

Every game is magnified when you have something at stake late in a season and the Kings were never able to match the intensity of their opponent.

All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show. The star forward dominated every player the Kings threw at him on his way to a 32-point, 13-rebounds, six-assist performance.

“People think I’m crazy to say that - if he gets a 3-point shot, he’ll be the best player in the league,” Temple said of Antetokounmpo. “He can penetrate, he has great court vision, can handle the ball, not to mention he’s 6-11 and a wiry strength that you don’t understand unless you’re play against him. He can literally play 1-5 in this NBA and he has a mismatch at every position.”

Labissiere drew the first look on Antetokounmpo and it didn’t take long to see that the rookie was overmatched by his opponent’s versatility. Willie Cauley-Stein had some success early in the second half, using his length and getting physical with the star forward, but the game was already decided.

It’s a process. With a youth movement comes games like the one against Milwaukee. All you can ask for is effort, which Sacramento has shown. Despite the team’s 3-11 record since the All-Star break, there is progress, especially from the core of first and second year players.

“They’re getting better and better,” Tyreke Evans said. “They’re still learning the game, but as they’re playing, they’re working hard. They’re working hard in practice, getting reps up. It’s going to take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. They’re going to have good games, they’re going to have bad games. You’ve got learn from it.”

Sacramento is in the middle of a seven game stretch against teams tuning up for the playoffs. The schedule doesn’t get any easier Friday when the Kings travel to Oracle Arena to face the Golden State Warriors. It’s another chance to learn on the fly.

Instant Replay: Kings blown out by Bucks, Antetokounmpo at home

Instant Replay: Kings blown out by Bucks, Antetokounmpo at home

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO -- The Milwaukee Bucks are where the Sacramento Kings hope to be in two seasons - young, athletic and on their way to the playoffs. Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center, the visiting team jumped all of the Kings early on their way to a 116-98 win. 

The Greek Freak didn’t let up on his fellow countryman, Georgios Papagiannis. Giannis Antetokounmpo went at the Kings from the opening tip, finishing the night with 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block.  

Former Kings Jason Terry and Spencer Hawes heard boos every time they touched the ball. Unfortunately for Sacramento, they hit almost every shot they took, combining for 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

Greg Monroe added 15 points and five rebounds. Mirza Teletovic finished with 13 points off the bench and Khris Middleton hit 3-for-6 from long range to score 13. 

Rookie Buddy Hield put on a shooting clinic. The 22-year-old shooting guard dropped in 8-of-16 from the field on his way to 21 points and four rebounds

Darren Collison set up his teammates from the opening tip. The veteran point guard dropped in 10 points and a team-high seven assists, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Garrett Temple stepped up his scoring, chipping in 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting and chipped in three rebounds in the loss. 

Willie Cauley-Stein stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and four blocks. 

Arron Afflalo started at the small forward position and added 12 on 5-of-9 shooting. Tyreke Evans came off the bench, posting 18 points in 20 minutes of action behind Afflalo.

Skal Labissiere managed to shake off a rough first half to drop in eight points and grab eight rebounds, and fellow rookie Georgios Papagiannis picked up four points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes off Dave Joerger’s bench.  

STANDOUT PERFORMER

Antetokounmpo was as advertised and more. The 6-foot-11 forward gave the Kings fits from start to finish on his way to another huge performance.

TURNING POINT

The Bucks blew up in the first half, scoring 69 points on 61.4 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range. This game was over before the teams headed in for the break.

INJURY UPDATE 

Kosta Koufos and Ty Lawson both missed the game for scheduled rest. Rookie Malachi Richardson is out with a right hamstring thickness tear, but is expected back soon. Rudy Gay is out for the year with a torn left Achilles. 

WHAT'S NEXT 

The Kings hit the road again following the game against Milwaukee. They will face the Golden State Warriors on Friday evening at Oracle Arena, followed by a stop in Los Angeles on Sunday to visit the Clippers.