The Kings were high above the forests of Northern California and southern Oregon. The fasten-seatbelt sign was off and everyone was free to move about the cabin.
Most people don’t accomplish much at 35,000 feet, but the Kings knew they had serious work to do late Thursday night in the hours after suffering a 39-point exhibition loss at home to the Utah Jazz. Rookie forward Marvin Bagley III said players cued up game film on their iPads while teammates made the rounds, sharing ideas, offering suggestions and making corrections as they reviewed the footage.
The Kings can’t fix everything overnight, but their mile-high film session might have helped because they turned in a much stronger performance Friday, fighting to the final buzzer in a 118-115 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.
“We got better at a lot of different things today,” Bagley said after their preseason finale. “We watched film on the plane and we tried to go out and execute, and we did a good job of that.”
The Kings were more dialed-in defensively, staying closer to their men on the perimeter and contesting shots at the rim. Defensive stops led to transition opportunities, perhaps none more exemplary than a sequence that occurred later in the second quarter.
What appeared to be momentary miscommunication between Yogi Ferrell and Frank Mason allowed Portland guard CJ McCollum to sneak into the paint. McCollum cut to the basket and received a nice bounce pass from big man Jusuf Nurkic, but Bagley was there to help.
Bagley blocked the shot. Mason corralled the rebound. The Kings were on the run.
Mason spotted Willie Cauley-Stein running the floor in transition and floated a well-placed lob toward the rim. Cauley-Stein went up and got it, throwing down an emphatic two-handed dunk.
“I think tonight we did what you’re supposed to do as a team and reflected on what the hell happened last night, and you come back and you fix those things,” Cauley-Stein said.
They managed to do it without the services of head coach Dave Joerger and point guard De’Aaron Fox, both of whom missed the game with a stomach illness. The team said Joerger and Fox began experiencing symptoms early Friday morning, hours after the Kings suffered a 132-93 loss to the Utah Jazz. Both were ruled out for Friday’s game and remained at the team hotel.
Assistant coach Elston Turner assumed head-coaching duties for the night.
Buddy Hield and Ferrell led the Kings with 19 points apiece. Bagley had 15 points and six rebounds. Mason and Cauley-Stein added 14 points each for the Kings, who shot 42.2 percent from the field and made 10 of 24 from 3-point range. Twenty-four hours earlier against Utah, they missed 23 of their first 27 shots and finished 3 of 18 from beyond the arc.
“This was a hell of a way to bounce back,” Turner said.
Said Cauley-Stein: “We went back and fixed all the little things we did wrong (Thursday), all the little things that matter in a game.”
The Kings will begin the regular season at home Wednesday against the same Utah team that bludgeoned them Thursday night. Ferrell said his team will be more confident after Friday’s performance.
“This felt a lot better,” Ferrell said. “This helps a lot with camaraderie. This shows that we’re able to overcome adversity. That’s the great thing about this league — there’s always going to be the next play and the next game. For us, it’s just a matter of trying to play better, not looking down on the past and just looking forward to the future.”