Kings visit Hornets in battle of playoff hopefuls
The Sacramento Kings begin a season-long six-game road trip Thursday night at the Charlotte Hornets, who know a thing or two about long road trips themselves.
The Hornets are back home in Spectrum Center after their own six-game trip that ended on Monday and culminated with a 2-4 record. But coach James Borrego says records can be deceiving.
Charlotte (20-23) won at Western Conference cellar-dweller Phoenix and finished the trip with a win at San Antonio. The only lopsided loss on the trip was in Portland, 127-96.
"I would say out of the six games, five of the games we were competitive," Borrego told the media. "I thought we played well.
"I thought we finished off the trip the right way, playing better, more focused, especially on the defensive end. I think that is where we need to focus our energy -- getting better defensively every single night and having consistency.
"If you can win in San Antonio, in that environment against that team, you can do it everywhere. If you come and defend, you can win every single night."
Sacramento (23-21) comes in on a roll, sweeping a three-game homestand that included a 104-97 victory over the Hornets on Saturday. More impressive was Monday's 115-107 victory over Portland that showed off the Kings' depth and young talent.
The bench outscored the starters 58-57, getting 18 points from Bogdan Bogdanovic, 13 points (and 11 rebounds) from 2018 first-rounder Marvin Bagley III and 12 points from 2017 first-rounder Harry Giles III.
Justin Jackson added nine points. He's another 2017 first-round pick -- as is starting point guard De'Aaron Fox, the Kings' second-leader scorer and leader in assists and steals.
Bagley is averaging 11.3 points in the past three games after missing 12 of 13 because of a bone bruise in his left knee.
"We're playing great," Bagley said on NBA.com about the second unit. "We're trying to pick up the first group, whether it's good or bad. We're trying to come in with energy and finish when we can."
That energy is what Sacramento is likely to need on a long road trip that continues Saturday at Detroit and includes a back-to-back Monday and Tuesday against Brooklyn and Toronto. Then, it's back south to Memphis then west to wrap up against the Los Angeles Clippers a week from Sunday.
Sacramento, like Charlotte, is battling for a playoff spot, which is easier to do in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte guard Tony Parker, an offseason free agent acquisition, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season. He made it in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, winning four titles.
This week's win at San Antonio was emotional for Parker ... and perhaps points the way for Charlotte.
"Before the game they were all, 'We're going to do this for you, Tony! You deserve it!" Parker told the Charlotte Observer of his teammates. "They played so hard that I said, 'Why don't we play like that every road game?'"
Kemba Walker leads Charlotte with an average of 25.2 points per game. He scored 31 in Saturday's loss to the Kings. For Sacramento, Bogdanovic led a trio of 20-point scorers with 22 off the bench.
Guard Buddy Hield leads the up-tempo Kings with 20.1 points per game, hitting 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers (143 of 322).
--Field Level Media
Updated January 16, 2019