Sacramento Kings

Kings off and running after impressive season opener, so now what?

The Kings spent part of their day in the air after boarding a flight for Louisiana on Thursday.

They hope to hit the ground running again when they begin a three-game road trip against the New Orleans Pelicans after nearly knocking off one of the top teams in the Western Conference in Wednesday’s season opener at Golden 1 Center.

The Kings have vowed to play an up-tempo game this season after finishing last in the NBA in pace in 2017-18. The early returns are encouraging as they embark on a trip that will take them to New Orleans on Friday, Oklahoma City on Sunday and Denver on Tuesday.

Sacramento coach Dave Joerger was pleased with the team’s energy, effort and pace in a 123-117 loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. The Kings raced out to a 16-point lead and never stopped fighting, even after falling behind by 14 in the third quarter.

“We just scored 117 points on the No. 1 defense in the league,” Joerger said. “We played downhill. We played attacking.”

The Kings will have to replicate that effort during a difficult road trip. New Orleans and Oklahoma City both made the playoffs last season, and Denver is expected to vie for a postseason berth this season.

The Pelicans, led by Anthony Davis, are coming off a 131-112 victory over the Houston Rockets, who took the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals last season.

The Thunder opened the season against Golden State and played the Warriors closely despite the absence of star point guard Russell Westbrook, who is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. The Nuggets began the season with a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Kings could be buoyed by their own performance on opening night.

Twenty-six of the NBA’s 30 teams played over the first two days of the season. The Kings posted the fifth-highest point total despite facing a Utah squad that is expected to be one of the best defensive teams in the league.

After finishing 30th in the NBA in pace last season, Sacramento was 12th during the preseason and is tied for third after one regular-season game.

“It just lets us know that we need to run,” said Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox, who had 21 points and seven assists against the Jazz. “That’s the way we’re trying to play, to push the pace. That’s the best defensive team – one of, if not the best defensive team in the league – but it’s hard to guard in transition. No matter who you have on the floor, it’s always going to be hard to survive in transition. That’s something that we know we have to do.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was impressed with the Kings’ effort less than a week after Utah handed Sacramento a 132-93 loss in a preseason game at Golden 1 Center.

“They came out with a lot of energy,” Mitchell said. “You could tell from the tip they were ready. We didn’t do a good job of defending that, playing with the same energy they had.”

The Kings made 49 of their 95 field-goal attempts against the Jazz, shooting 51.6 percent. They nearly matched their 2017-18 season highs of 99 shot attempts and 50 made field goals, all while committing just nine turnovers.

“It shows that, if we can get out in transition, we can really score the ball,” Kings small forward Justin Jackson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can get up and down the court, and a lot of guys who can make plays for others and make plays for themselves. It shows that if we get out in transition – first, it’s (about) getting (defensive) stops – but if we can get out in transition, we can really put some points on the board.”

Jason Anderson: 916-321-1363, @JandersonSacBee
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