The Kings aren’t just winning games. They’re developing an identity, and it’s growing by the day.
They are young and athletic. They fly up and down the court for four quarters, throwing up 3-pointers and alley-oops, acrobatic layups and gentle half-hooks that settle softly into the net. They play with a need for speed that wears down the opposition and they’re starting to get the defensive stops they need to win close games.
They did it again Tuesday on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Miami Heat 24 hours earlier, overcoming an early deficit and withstanding a late charge to defeat the Orlando Magic 107-99 at Amway Center. The Kings (5-3) have won four in a row and five of their last six, moving two games above .500 for the first time since November 2014.
“We’ve never been in this situation before, but it’s fun,” said guard Buddy Hield, who had 25 points — his fourth consecutive 20-point game — and a career-high 11 rebounds. “... This franchise has been down for a long time, so we’ve got to try to build it back up.”
The Kings fell behind by 11 in the first period and trailed by 10 midway through the second quarter, but they stormed back to take a 59-56 lead on a jumper by Hield with 1.7 seconds to play in the half. Nemanja Bjelica scored nine of his 21 points in the second period.
The game remained close until the Kings staged a 13-2 run to carry an 85-72 advantage into the fourth quarter.
“That third quarter was really good and important,” Hield said. “We just started spraying the ball around, using our youth and our athleticism and our playmaking ability to our advantage. It was great to see guys making shots and making plays for each other.”
The Magic (2-5) battled back to cut the deficit to two with 5:27 remaining, but the Kings had an answer for that, too.
Troy Williams, a two-way player who is expected to split time between Sacramento and its G League affiliate in Stockton, buried a shot from the corner for three of his 12 points.
De’Aaron Fox, playing with a strained muscle below his ribcage, came up with a steal and scored in transition. Willie Cauley-Stein got a steal and passed ahead to Fox, who found Williams running to the rim for a layup.
“We’re going to score the ball, but our consistency is coming on the defensive end,” said Cauley-Stein, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “Our defense is definitely coming along. We’re starting to come together, we’re starting to communicate with each other and it’s making everything a lot easier.”
The Kings got stops on seven consecutive possessions and went streaking the other way at every opportunity, pushing the lead back to 11. They shot 48.8 percent while holding the Magic to 39.6 percent.
“It was a real gut check for us,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “Young bodies and young minds, and to keep playing fast, keep fighting like crazy ... good, huge win for us.”
The Kings also made an impression on Orlando coach Steve Clifford.
A day after Miami coach Erik Spoelstra admitted Sacramento’s “speed, the pace and the quickness just wore us down in the second half,” Clifford noted that the Kings are pushing the pace incredibly quickly even after their opponents make baskets.
“There are always a lot of teams that run the ball hard on misses, but after made baskets, literally, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team play this fast,” Clifford said.
Fox said the Kings are doing that by design, staying true to their identity.
“We just try to wear teams out,” he said. “We’ve seen it in a couple of games. We’ve seen some teams kind of break down in the fourth quarter and we try to keep running. Even with four minutes left —up five, up 10 — we’re still trying to go quick.”