Four steps forward, five steps back?
While that’s not quite how the old axiom goes, it nonetheless captures the February plight of the Sacramento Kings, who enter a Saturday visit to the Chicago Bulls on a five-game losing streak after winning a season-best four games in a row.
Each of Sacramento’s defeats during that stretch came at home, the latest a 118-110 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday that saw the Kings struggle without injured starters Harrison Barnes (strained left foot) and Richaun Holmes (sore right knee).
“We have to get back to how we were playing,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “We really miss some of our guys, but we have to be tougher. We have to pay attention to detail. We have to know these types of things going into games.”
However, as Sacramento has lost ground in the Western Conference playoff hunt, the Kings may be gained a key contributor.
With the Kings battling injuries of late, Nemanja Bjelica has become a solid part of the rotation after spending extended time as an afterthought or healthy scratch. Against the Heat, he erupted for a season-best 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting while adding eight rebounds.
“I worked my (butt) off,” Bjelica said. “That’s what everybody is supposed to do when you are, like, out of rotation or don’t play or play less. You just need to do some extra work.”
Bjelica’s sweat equity hardly has been lost on his teammates.
“We always talk about what being a pro is, and one of the things about being a pro is always being ready,” said De’Aaron Fox, who notched a double-double of 11 points and 10 assists against Miami. “Even during the stretch when he wasn’t playing, he’s always here, obviously. He’s one of the first guys in. He’s always working out. He’s shooting the ball.”
The Bulls will have a short turnaround after losing 112-105 at Philadelphia on Friday night to snap a two-game winning streak. An 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter helped the Bulls take a brief lead after they trailed by 10 points late in the third, but Chicago simply couldn’t stop Joel Embiid. The 76ers center scored a career-best 50 points to go with 17 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals.
Zach LaVine paced Chicago with 30 points, reaching that plateau for the 14th time this season. He added five points and five rebounds as he hopes to strengthen his case as an All-Star reserve.
“He’s played at the level of an All-Star caliber player,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s had an incredible year.”
Chicago leads the all-time series against the Kings franchise 82-81, including 35-34 during the Sacramento era. The Kings have won two straight overall against the Bulls and three in a row at Chicago’s United Center.
Sacramento won the teams’ first meeting this season, overcoming a career-high 36 points from Chicago’s Coby White for a 128-124 home victory on Jan. 6. Seven Kings finished in double figures, and Holmes led the way with 24 points.
–Field Level Media