SACRAMENTO -- Every game is another opportunity for the Sacramento Kings’ young players to learn. The Kings fell behind by as many as 22 to the high-powered Rockets Sunday afternoon, but they kept fighting. In the end, the playoff bound team from Houston was too much to handle as they came away with the 135-128 victory.
After playing against a bull in Julius Randle Friday in Los Angeles, rookie Skal Labissiere drew a completely different style of player Sunday at Golden 1 Center. Sacramento native Ryan Anderson torched the rookie in the opening 6:18 of the first quarter, dropping in a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc.
“There’s a level of experience that you have to have,” coach Dave Joerger said of Labissiere. “They’re playing at a doctoral thesis level and here is a young guy in his first year and you’re trying to spit some words out of what coverage we should be in and it just takes experience.”
“It’s not that they’re trying to mess up - they are trying to do the best they can,” Joerger added.
Joerger went to his bench quick, turning to veteran Anthony Tolliver to stem the tide. When he turned back to Labissiere in the second quarter, the rookie big looked like a completely different player.
Labissiere dropped in 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in second, helping the Kings avoid the early blowout.
“I was impressed as I always am with him, but he kept attacking offensively,” Joerger said. “If you want to take me out in the deep water and shoot these jumpers, then let’s try to get you down here in the posit. I think he was aggressive.”
The rookie forward continued to plug away in the second half, finishing the night with a team-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He added six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 31 minutes of action.
“It’s just learning how to adjust,” Labissiere said. “You play different guys in the league. Guys in the NBA are talented so you’ve just got to figure out how to guard people, make it hard for them at least.”
Labissiere’s experience was a microcosm of the Kings night. Buddy Hield faced off with MVP candidate James Harden and came out on the wrong end of the stat sheet. The rookie shooting guard started off hot, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. And then the Rockets made adjustments, limiting Hield to 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Harden found a way to keep all of the Kings’ guards off balance, scoring 35 points, handing out 15 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds on his way to his 21st triple-double of the season.
“You learn a lot,” Hield said of the experience. “He’s super talented. One of the best in the league. One of the best scorers. One of the best passers. He’s just one of the best offensive players in the league.”
Willie Cauley-Stein played well, scoring 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. With his guards on skates most of the night trying to stay in front of the Rockets’ guards, big man Clint Capella shot 8-of-8 from the field, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of play.
“Even veteran teams struggle playing against that kind of system and what they’re doing to the rest of the league right now,” Joerger said. “It was a good experience for our guys, and we never quit. We played hard all the way through and I’m proud of our guys for that.”
Sacramento received plenty of contributions from their veterans. Ty Lawson scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists. He broke down the Rockets defense and set up his teammates for easy baskets.
Ben McLemore shook off a tough start to score 18 points on 3-of-7 shooting from long range. Garrett Temple added 13 points and Langston Galloway chipped in 10 off the bench in the loss.
The Kings return to the court Tuesday when they finish up their home schedule against the Phoenix Suns. They’ll face a young, but athletic Suns team that has strung together back-to-back wins after dropping 13 straight.