When Buddy Hield said the Kings needed to get “more smart, IQ-wise” late in the game, he mentioned one example of that – his airball from about 29 feet away from the basket.
“I thought I was closer and after I let it go, it was short,” Hield said. “But that all comes with the learning process. This will be a fun group in the future, I guarantee you that.”
That it was Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor late in the game might be more important than the eventual outcome, a 113-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night at Golden 1 Center.
The Lakers (25-34) won thanks to a strong third quarter and the Kings’ inability to contain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers outside the arc. Caldwell-Pope led the Lakers with 34 points and matched his career high with eight 3-pointers.
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Even facing a dialed-in Caldwell-Pope – supported by Isaiah Thomas (17 points), Julius Randle (12 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) and Brandon Ingram (13 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) – the Kings were in the game late and led 95-94 with 6:50 to play.
Still, coach Dave Joerger stayed with his younger players.
That meant late mistakes, like fouling Thomas in the closing seconds when the Lakers had no timeouts instead of trapping him to try to force a turnover.
Hield, who is in his second season, was encouraged by what he saw.
“We lost, but I like the way the team is coming along,” Hield said. “Especially how coach let the young guys play and figure it out at the end. We made some dumb plays and we made some great plays. It’ll all work itself out. If it’s not this year, but next year, another year.”
The goal, however, is to win, not just play close games. The Kings (18-41) have lost three in a row, and in each game had a chance to win. But they still have a lot of work to do to master the nuances of finishing out close contests.
“It was a game we should’ve won,” Joerger said. “Played hard. We don’t finish well in the paint enough right now ... we needed to knock in some free throws.”
The Kings’ draft lottery odds improve with each loss, but for the players on the roster who will be on the team next season, they’d like to win more games.
“It’s always good to play in those close games,” Fox said. “You wish that you could come out with a win, but it’s always a learning experience. I’ve been pretty comfortable in close games, just trying to get more efficient and not turn the ball over. Just try to finish the game stronger.”
Hield and Bogdanovic each had 21 points for the Kings. Cauley-Stein had 18 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. Fox had 13 points and six assists.
The Kings have 23 games remaining, and Hield would like to see himself and his young teammates break through more late in games. He believes it’s important for the team’s development.
“You want to win about half of those games, realistically win half of those games or above .500 in those games,” Hield said. “We lost two off the bat (after the All-Star break) … we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to keep going, trust in coach, what his plan is, and learning from the vets. They’ve been great and supportive. It’s a fun journey.”