Kings surrender huge lead in loss to Spurs: 'Kind of played into their game'

Kings surrender huge lead in loss to Spurs: 'Kind of played into their game'

Losing never feels good. Blowing a 28-point lead adds to the insult. The Sacramento Kings are in a tailspin and there is not a lot anyone can do to stop it.

Sacramento had the Spurs on the ropes for the entire first half, delivering body blows to a team looking for their 50th win of the season. Without Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge to slow the onslaught, the Kings built what should have been an insurmountable lead.

But this isn’t the same Sacramento Kings team that beat the Cavs, the Warriors, the Celtics and the Raptors earlier in the year. This is a team in transition, making San Antonio’s 114-110 come-from-behind win almost expected.

“Hats off to them, they played terrific, especially the last three quarters - making shots, getting to the line and they took care of the basketball after the first quarter,” coach Dave Joerger told media members following the loss. “Good for them, and congratulations on their 50th win.”

Joerger’s team built their big lead with monster first quarters from both Tyreke Evans and Kosta Koufos. Evans, who joined the Kings as part of the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, scored 13 of his 26 points in the 12 minutes of the game.

“I’m just getting back after 11 months (off due to injury),” Evans told reporters. “I’m trying to get my feet wet and just get my legs back.”

The 27-year-old wing started at the small forward position for Joerger and looked very comfortable against one of the league’s best defenses.

Koufos scored 10 of his 12 points in the opening quarter as the Kings jumped out to the 37-15 lead. The veteran big added 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double.

The veterans weren’t the only players to find success against the vaunted Spurs defense. Rookies Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere continue to show that they belong.

“We’ve got some good young talent and for them to come out here and play against that type of caliber of defense, the way the Spurs are playing, that’s something they want to take from them,” Collison said.

Hield shot the lights out early. He finished the night with 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc in just 18 minutes of action. Since joining the Kings seven games ago, the 23-year-old out of Oklahoma University is averaging 12.9 points on 51.6 shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from long range in 23.7 minutes a night.

Labissiere toiled on the Kings bench for most of the season, traveling back and forth between the parent club and the Reno Bighorns of the D-League. Since the Cousins trade, he’s finally gotten an opportunity and he’s taking full advantage.

“Sky’s the limit for him,” Evans said of the 6-foot-11 rookie out of Kentucky. “He’s young, talented, athletic. He can do a lot, he just has to keep working and get better.”

The 20-year-old Haitian-born big shows no fear. He attacked San Antonio’s veteran frontline, coming away with a career-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and chipped in six rebounds in 15 minutes of floor time.

“I’m impressed with Skal,” point guard Darren Collison said. “It seems like his continuing improvement keeps growing and that’s what you want.”

Joerger has taken it slow with the 28th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, but it might be time to turn the lanky forward loose. He’s shown the ability to rebound outside of his area and his turnaround baseline jumper is nearly impossible to defend.

Labissiere brings an energy and excitement to a Kings lineup that has now lost six straight and fallen four games out of the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff chase.

In the end, Joerger turned back to his veterans, who couldn’t stem the tide against one of the league’s best. After building a huge lead, San Antonio steadily chipped away, outscoring the Kings 99-67 after the first quarter.

“They got us off our spots, it’s hard for us to have the same continuity that we had in the first half,” Collison said. “You’ve got to give them credit, that’s what they’re known for, especially in their building and we kind of played into their game.”

With the win, the Spurs notched their 18th consecutive 50-win season. The last time the Spurs didn’t post 50 wins was in the strike shortened 1998-99 season when they won 74 percent of their games and took home the NBA title.

Following the loss, the Kings flew home to Sacramento where they will play back-to-back games at Golden 1 Center on Friday and Saturday night. They’ll face John Wall and the Wizards first, and then matchup against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

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.