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Kings show promise even in defeat to Rockets

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From Willie Cauley-Stein to De’Aaron Fox, the Kings showed some serious potential.

Kimani Okearah

Well that was a fun way to start a season.

Home openers are always usually intense affairs, and the Kings had a hell of an opponent to deal with in a Houston Rockets team that just beat the defending champs on their home floor the night before. Even still, the Kings managed to hang in there and stay competitive all the way until the end. It’s unfortunate that the night had to be marred by a terrible officiating call at the end (and that’s all I have to say about that), but aside from that, it was just about everything I could have asked for from the Kings.

The Kings presented a balanced front scoring wise, with five Kings finishing in double digits, led by Willie Cauley-Stein’s 21 points on 10-15 shooting. At the beginning of the game, I was getting a little worried about Willie because he was showing those same tendencies that I saw in preseason where he would try to force some offense that wasn’t there. However, once he calmed down a bit, he had one of the best games of his career. He was crashing the glass (10 boards, including four offensive) and trying on defense (3 blocks, only 1 foul). He even hit a couple of jumpers. It was a great start to the season for the young center and hopefully a sign of things to come.

Dave Joerger’s first stab at a starting lineup was interesting, as he did indeed opt to put rookie Justin Jackson in at Small Forward. This was a pleasant surprise in terms of showing a commitment to playing the youth, even if Jackson wasn’t as effective in his time on the court as guys like Vince Carter or Garrett Temple. We’ll see how long the Kings stick with this lineup, although I’d assume Zach Randolph will enter the starting lineup for Skal Labissiere once he comes back.

Speaking of Skal, he had a mixed night. He once again showcased his smooth jumper, scoring 12 points on 5-9 shooting, but he got in trouble sometimes in the post, amassing a team high 5 turnovers. Three of those turnovers came from travels where he lifted his pivot foot as he attacked the basket. I’d like to see him utilize that sweet fadeaway a bit more when he’s in the midrange like he was in those situations. He also showed that he still needs to get stronger, as even though he got some good switch opportunities in the post against smaller opponents, he wasn’t able to push them around and get good position for easy shots. I did like his activity on the glass though, and he also finished with 10 rebounds in 32 minutes.

De’Aaron Fox’s debut was much anticipated, and he had the crowd in the palm of his hands every time he had the ball. The Golden 1 Center was electric with anticipation on every drive. Fox’s speed is incredible to witness in person, and his handle is fantastic. He got to the rim seemingly effortlessly, and only really struggled with his jumper, something we knew would be a problem early on in his career. His defensive effort was great, and Houston started resorting to double teams on him late in the game in order to try to fluster him and cause him to make a mistake. Fox finished with 14 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists in about 24 minutes and I can’t wait to see him in action again. The Kings played him a lot with George Hill and I expect that’s something we’ll see all season.

Defensively, the Kings were much better than expected, holding the Rockets to just 39.8% from the field, while Sacramento shot 47.7%. The real difference was in terms of Free Throws, where Houston shot 29 to just 10 for the Kings (and the Kings only had four till the last few minutes when fouls started happening more frequently). The Kings themselves need to be more aggressive in attacking the basket and getting to the line, because such a discrepancy will lose you a lot of games.

The Kings next play on Friday when they head to Dallas, where they’ll face fellow exciting rookie PG Dennis Smith.

For the opponent’s perspective, visit The Dream Shake.

Random Observations:

  • George Hill was a steady hand at the wheel. He wasn’t flashy, but he was reliable, and he played a large part in helping the Kings keep it close late.
  • Buddy Hield got off to a rough start in this one, but he went mini-nova in the third quarter, scoring 10 points in a row. He’s the closest thing the Kings have to a “go-to guy”. He ended up with 19 points on 8-17 shooting. His handle also seems better than last year, and he ended with 4 assists for the night too.
  • Kosta Koufos is a great defender, and when he and Garrett Temple came into the game in the first half, the defense really tightened up. That being said, there was a sequence in the second half where the Kings went to him in the post three times in a row and they all ended in disaster. Offensive plays for Kosta should be a last resort or a finishing option if he’s wide open near the rim.
  • Garrett Temple played some great defense (as usual) but he struggled with his shot, going just 1-7, including 1-6 from three. Temple had a team-high 4 steals to go with 3 assists to no turnovers.
  • The old man, Vince Carter, could still shoot it. He hit 2 of 3 of his long balls.
  • Malachi Richardson came in for a five minute stretch in the first half. He did not look great, even airballing a wide open three. I expect we won’t see Malachi in the rotation once Bogdan comes back.
  • Clint Capela is a stud for Houston. 22 points, 17 rebounds, 3 steals and a block in 28 minutes. The Rockets eviscerated the Kings with pick and rolls featuring Capela as the roll man several times.
  • It is amazing how dedicated Houston is to only shooting threes and layups. I don’t think they took a mid-range shot all game. If they did, it was probably less than five.

Game Highlights: