Kings trying to build momentum in matchup with Spurs
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For a change, the Sacramento Kings aren’t trying to regroup after a road trip. Rather, a return to their home court offers the opportunity to sustain some momentum.
Rare times indeed, and it has some of them thinking optimistically,
“We’re developing our players,” Kings center Zach Randolph told NBC Sports California after a win over Philadelphia on Tuesday, the first of two straight victories for Sacramento to close a four-game trip. “Our young players are playing with a lot more confidence. We believe we can win. To me, this is going to be a playoff team this year or most definitely next year.”
That might be overstating it. The Kings (11-20) reside in 12th place in the 15-team conference and still stand four victories behind the eighth-place New Orleans Pelicans. But Randolph’s point is not without merit in that Sacramento’s rebuild seems to be humming along faster than anticipated.
Another measuring mark comes Saturday, when Sacramento hosts the San Antonio Spurs at the Golden 1 Center. The Spurs (22-11) are where they normally are — at or near the top of the Western Conference — but they are coming off a 100-89 loss Thursday at Utah and have lost three of their past four on the road.
Randolph’s play and presence have been big reasons why the Kings have won seven of their past 14 games overall and five of their past nine on the road. He’s averaging 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds in that stretch in about 28 minutes per game.
He tallied 48 points and 13 rebounds on 20-for-30 shooting as the Kings closed a road trip with two straight victories for the first time since January 2016.
“He’s an unbelievable man off the court,” Kings rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic told NBC Sports Bay Area. “His personality is unbelievable, and he’s always there to teach us something new each day. His experience is helping us to improve as a team.”
The Spurs, among the top three seeds in the Western Conference playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons, have beaten the Kings 10 consecutive times and haven’t lost to them sinceNov. 15, 2014. The loss to Utah was San Antonio’s first since the return of All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who missed the team’s first 29 games with a quadriceps tendinopathy.
“We are doing a great job,” Leonard told the The San Antonio Express-News. “We are third right now (in the Western Conference) with me being out of the lineup. … I just think we still have a long ways to go. It’s still December.”
Leonard has played just more than 17 minutes per game since his return. He’s averaging 10.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. Until his return, he hadn’t played since spraining his ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
“It’s been hard to tell or judge the performance,” Leonard told the Express-News. “I’m taking it one step at a time. But the minutes I am playing I feel good.”
In Leonard’s absence, forward LaMarcus Aldridge has taken over much of the offensive responsibility. Aldridge is averaging 22.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.