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.

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.

 

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.