SACRAMENTO -- With 28 games remaining in the season, coach Dave Joerger had to make a decision Friday evening. He could play his regulars, minus the departed Iman Shumpert and Justin Jackson. Or he could mix in the new guys and let the acclimation process begin.
Sacramento held a shootaround in the morning, but it was more of a meet and greet for newcomers Harrison Barnes, Alec Burks, Corey Brewer, and Caleb Swanigan. Following the brief workout with their new teammates, Barnes, Burks, and Brewer were shuttled around for press introductions.
The NBA world is a whirlwind of chaos. There is no break to move into a new home or even pack up your belongings, let alone learn an offense. Within 48 hours of playing for their previous teams, the quartet of new Kings were in uniform preparing to take on a tough Miami Heat team.
With the clock ticking on the Kings’ season, they need their new reinforcements to find their way quickly if they are going to stay in the playoff chase. Win or lose, Joerger had no choice but to throw both Barnes and Burks into the fire and let them find their way.
Through the first half, the Kings looked like they were running in mud. They looked every bit the part of a team trying to integrate new pieces on the fly.
Sacramento trailed by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second and in the third, they looked lost when Miami took at 17-point lead at the 4:24 mark.
“I thought Miami was the aggressors for most of the night - they had us on our heels and were very physical,” Joerger said. “Once we started getting some stops, we were able to run and run downhill on ‘em - kinda of broke things open for us.”
This is Kings basketball. All season long there have been moments when they find their edge and claw back into games. The fact that two new bodies were on the court seemed inconsequential.
Barnes started at the small forward spot in the first half and transitioned to the four to begin the second half. He played a team-high 37 minutes for Sacramento, finishing with 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting while grabbing seven rebound.
His late-game defense on Dwyane Wade was spectacular and he came away with a couple of big rebounds down the stretch as the Kings came charging back.
“Yeah, we were covering a lot [of] things today; late-game situations was not one, so we were definitely playing off the fly there,” Barnes said. I just tried to get out of the way and let these guys go. As we continue to get more comfortable, I think things will be exciting.”
A seasoned pro in front of a camera, Barnes said all the right things in his first post game. He complimented the sellout crowd. He touched on De’Aaron Fox’s speed. And he was slightly taken aback by the team’s ability to stay in the game.
“This is a young group, but it’s a maturing group and to see them show that poise and to see De’Aaron and Buddy [Hield] and Bogdan [Bogdanovic] play older than their age, it was good to see that, especially against a veteran team like Miami,” Barnes added.
Burks shot 4-of-5 from the field to finish with nine points in 15 minutes during his Kings debut. The veteran guard grabbed four rebounds and dished out an assist on Joerger’s bench.
“Alec got to the basket very well, made some nice savvy plays - just knowing where to be in the right place at the right time,” Joerger said. “It complemented what needed to be done.”
After playing a little over seven seasons in Utah, Burks was traded to the Cavs early in the year where he seemed to find his stride. In his first showing with Sacramento, he showed his versatility and took a lot away from the experience.
“I knew it was a young core that played hard,” Burks said. “They have the potential to be very very good in the future and that’s what I learned tonight.”
The Kings had a maintenance day on Saturday, which likely included some film work and walkthroughs. They’ll make their way back to Golden 1 Center Sunday for a matinee against the Phoenix Suns.
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It’s the final game of a six-game homestand. Sacramento enters Sunday’s contest with an opportunity to finish the run of home games at 5-1. A victory would also push them four games over the .500 mark and keep them in the middle of the mix for the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
While the early returns were strong, it will take time for the additions to find chemistry with their new teammates. The All-Star break is just around the corner, which will give everyone a chance to catch their breath and focus on the stretch run.