Rookies Tyrese Haliburton and James Wiseman are thrust into the spotlight of an NBA playoff chase when the Sacramento Kings host the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
The Kings, winners of two in a row, and the Warriors, who have dropped two straight, find themselves battling several teams, including each other, for bottom-end playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Sacramento took a step in the right direction when Haliburton broke a tie by sinking two free throws with 36.6 seconds remaining Wednesday night, lifting the Kings to a 110-108 home win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Haliburton was making his fifth consecutive start, a stretch in which the Kings have won four times. He scored 17 or more points in three of those victories, including 17 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Wiseman was immediately promoted into a starting role upon returning from a three-game, COVID-related absence to play Tuesday in Golden State’s 108-98 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
He had 11 points in the game, in which he made just his second start since Jan. 23.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced before the contest that Wiseman, still just 19 years old, would be his team’s full-time starting center moving forward.
“It was good to see him out there,” Kerr said after the defeat. “He’s going to get better and better as we go. He had a week off … he needs his rhythm, and that will come.”
Wiseman’s offense figures to be critical in upcoming games with star point guard Stephen Curry having been ruled out of the next three contests due to a bruised tailbone.
Curry, the team’s leading scorer at 29 points per game, has missed five games this season, and the Warriors have lost four of them.
Wiseman, the No. 2 pick of the 2020 draft, is averaging 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. Haliburton, a 21-year-old who was picked 10 spots later, is putting up 12.9 points and 5.1 assists per game.
The Iowa State product has been a driving force in the Kings’ recent surge.
Haliburton and his teammates might be a little distracted less than 24 hours after news broke during Wednesday’s game that one of the most liked Kings, veteran guard Cory Joseph, had been traded to the Detroit Pistons for Delon Wright. Sacramento also sent Detroit two second-round picks.
“I love CoJo,” a sad Haliburton said after the game. “Like a big brother to me.”
The Warriors will be seeing Haliburton, one of the leading contenders for NBA Rookie of the Year honors, for the first time. He missed the clubs’ first meeting on Jan. 4 with a bruised left wrist.
Curry led the Warriors to a 137-106 win that night, scoring 30 points. Golden State outshot Sacramento 52.6 percent to 37.8 percent and hit 23 of its 43 3-point attempts (53.5 percent), compared to the Kings’ 10 of 35 (28.6 percent).
Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes shared team-scoring scoring honors in the first meeting with 18 points apiece.
Fox is coming off his third-best scoring night of the season. He contributed 37 points to the win over Atlanta in his head-to-head showdown with Hawks star Trae Young, who finished with 29.
–Field Level Media