The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw them play basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Sacramento Kings?
Place: 11th in the West
Following a disastrous start to the season for a team that entered with lofty expectations after an encouraging 2018-19 campaign, the Sacramento Kings were making a late playoff push. They jettisoned veterans Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon, neither of whom wanted to be in Sacramento despite signing for a combined $65 million last summer to play there. An influx of new arrivals, including ever-popular teammate Kent Bazemore and former lottery pick Alex Len, boosted the young team’s confidence.
Since the trade deadline, the Kings owned a 9-5 record, fifth-best in the NBA behind the heavier-hitting Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks. They were finally outscoring opponents by a margin closer to that of the playoff teams they were chasing, led by a young core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Bogdan Bogdanovic. None are household names outside Sacramento or the diehard NBA fan, but together — with 32-year-old Nemanja Bjelica and other lesser-known veterans — they are a talented group flying under the radar of proper respect.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: Marvin Bagley III (foot)
Marvin Bagley, plagued by injury since being selected second overall in 2018, has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after suffering a right foot injury in training camp. He broke his thumb in the Kings’ season opener, returned in mid-December, and two weeks later suffered a left foot sprain that kept him out for all but four games once the calendar turned to 2020. He has been a productive player when healthy, the kind of big man who could help in an eight-game sprint for playoff positioning, and he had been declared healthy for the restart. Now, his absence stalls his development as well as the Kings’.
On the bright side, the rest of the roster is becoming whole again. Fox was cleared to play in Saturday’s scrimmage after spraining his ankle earlier in training camp. Richaun Holmes was released from mandatory quarantine after accidentally leaving the NBA’s campus border for chicken wings. And all four players who were diagnosed with COVID-19 upon reporting to the team last month have now been declared coronavirus-free. Harrison Barnes, who flew to Orlando on Friday, was the last of them.
NBA Finals odds: +30000
Championship odds: +50000
Two lineup adjustments went a long way toward solving Sacramento’s woes in January. Holmes’ sprained right shoulder forced stretch forward Bjelica into more minutes as a small-ball center, and coach Luke Walton swapped Bogdanovic into the starting lineup for Hield. Both moves made the Kings significantly better. Bogdanovic is a superior all-around player, and Hield’s combination of scoring prowess and defensive limitations makes him better suited as a scorer off the bench. Bjelica at center makes for five-out lineups that give Fox room to do what he does best — attack the basket.
In a small but not irrelevant sample size, the Kings outscored opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions when Bjelica played the five, according to Cleaning the Glass, a mark in line with some of the best lineups in the league. They averaged a remarkable 1.2 points per possession in those lineups. Sacramento also went from being ranked 21st on offense and 18th on defense to 10th and 12th, respectively, following Bogdanovic’s move into the starting lineup. These are encouraging signs that the Kings can tap into what made them so dangerous last season, even if it took three months to get there.
(All times Eastern)
July 31: San Antonio Spurs, 8 p.m.
Aug. 2: Orlando Magic, 6 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 4: Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 6: New Orleans Pelicans, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 7: Brooklyn Nets, 5 p.m.
Aug. 9: Houston Rockets, 8 p.m.
Aug. 11: New Orleans Pelicans, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 13: Los Angeles Lakers, TBD
Nobody believes in the Kings. They have by far the worst odds of making the playoffs among the three teams currently inside the four-game window to force a play-in series with the Memphis Grizzlies for the West Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed. They have a relatively light schedule, so long as they can hold their own in two games against the New Orleans Pelicans. More attention has been paid to Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson’s chances of making the playoffs, for good reason, but Fox is taking that as a sign of disrespect, and the bubble is a good place for a team with a chip on its shoulder to pop.
Should the Kings eclipse the Portland Trail Blazers for ninth place and force a play-in series, they already beat the Grizzlies in three of their four meetings this season, including twice right before the hiatus. Their talent level is right on par with Memphis. It is in a first-round series against the mammoth Los Angeles Lakers that Bagley’s absence would become more noticeable, and the Kings would be overmatched.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: 11th in the West
Finish: Failure to make the playoffs
More from our NBA restart series:
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