Kings head coach Dave Joerger: ‘It’s a year of growth’
The players understand the importance of this home stand. The coaches do, too.
If the Kings want to be a playoff team — and they certainly do — their postseason push has to start now.
Following a grueling six-game trip that didn’t go as well as they hoped, the Kings (25-25) will open a crucial six-game home stand against the Atlanta Hawks (16-33) on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
The Kings are 10th in the Western Conference with seven games left before the All-Star break and 32 games remaining in the regular season. They are 2 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers.
Kings coach Dave Joerger believes his young, developing team can maximize its growth by staying in the race as long as possible.
“The more competitive we are, I think (it reinforces) the idea that nothing is given, it’s earned,” Joerger said following Tuesday’s practice. “... Every game matters, especially in the West, where it’s so tight and competitive. I think that’s how development happens, and I’m happy to see it.”
The Kings have exceeded expectations to put themselves in this position, but they know their playoff hopes could fizzle if their longest home stand of the season isn’t a winning one.
“It’s huge,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “We definitely have to win games at home. We’re .500 right now. ... We’ve just got to go on a run. We have to start playing well before the All-Star break.”
That won’t be easy. The Hawks have one of the worst records in the NBA, but they have won 10 of their last 20, including Monday’s 123-118 victory over a Clippers team that beat the Kings 122-108 on Sunday.
After entertaining the Hawks, the Kings will play host to the Philadelphia 76ers (32-18), San Antonio Spurs (29-22), Houston Rockets (29-20), Miami Heat (24-24) and Phoenix Suns (11-41) before going on the road to face the Denver Nuggets (34-15) in the last game before the All-Star break.
“Great teams coming in here — playoff teams — and Atlanta is playing really well,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “... We’ve got to go out there and be ready to fight.”
The Kings have lost nine of 15, including four of six on their recent 12-day trip. They ranked among the league leaders in scoring and pace through 35 games but have gotten away from that dynamic style of play in recent weeks, ranking 23rd in scoring and 14th in pace over their last 10 games.
“Hopefully, we’ll be better at home,” Joerger said. “We’re playing hard. We’re just not playing as well as we did earlier in the season, and we hope to find that rhythm before the break.”
Before Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, Joerger was asked if he’s more inclined to emphasize winning games or individual player development, given his team’s position in the standings.
“Probably lean more towards the former, but you can’t do one and not the other,” Joerger said. “We’re trying to be as competitive as possible. I think that’s where most development happens, to compete and be in the playoff race. Our goal is to be in the playoffs, but at the same time our guys are doing a great job of working. You see the development and growth in so many of our young guys, and you hope we continue with that work ethic and keep pushing forward.”