De'Aaron Fox

Three Things to Know: LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning. LeBron James showed no mercy to his friends and former teammates Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson Monday night as the Lakers easily rolled past the Cavaliers to their ninth consecutive win, 128-99. The Lakers scored 81 points in the second half, LeBron had 31 on the night, Dwight Howard had 21 and 15 rebounds (plus drained a three).

The game itself was also the least interesting news out of Staples Center on Monday night.

When you’ve played the game as well and at as high a level as LeBron has for going on 17 seasons now, you’re walking history. Seemingly every time he steps on the court LeBron sets a new record or moves up some all-time list. On Tuesday night, that bit of history was LeBron passing Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for eighth on the NBA’s all-time assist list (LeBron now has 9,067).

The other bit of news is the Lakers will be without Rajon Rondo for four to five days after an MRI found he suffered a “nondisplaced volar plate avulsion fracture” to his right ring finger. Those of us who are not doctors would call that a “jammed finger,” one where the hyperextension of the ring finger pulled the ligament and a little piece of bone broke off. It’s not serious, but Rondo joined Anthony Davis — who officially has a “ gluteus maximus contusion” — in street clothes for this game.

The Lakers are at home Wednesday night vs. Orlando before the Grammys force them (and the Clippers) out of the building for a couple of weeks.

2) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes history with a 20 point, 20 rebound, triple-double at age 21. The Clippers didn’t like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — of course they did it to make the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George pairing come together, you make that deal every time. That doesn’t mean trading SGA didn’t sting; the Clippers knew he was going to be special.

Now everyone in Oklahoma City sees just how special. Gilgeous-Alexander had his first triple-double on Monday night, with 20 points, a career-best 20 rebounds, and 10 assists as the Thunder beat the Timberwolves on the road.

That was a little bit of history.

Gilgeous-Alexander is just starting to tap his potential, and having a season (or more) next to Chris Paul will only help that development. SGA has the raw tools to be one of the best point guards in the game, and now we see the mental aspects coming along as well. Oklahoma City has its point guard of the future in place.

3) Watch Arron Gordon’s game-winner to beat Sacramento. If you didn’t watch the Orlando at Sacramento game Monday night because you were checking out some football game, or watching “Manifest,” we’ll forgive you.

Just know you missed a heck of an ending.

The Kings were down two late when De'Aaron Fox made seemingly made every Magic defender lose him on the way to an and-one that put Sacramento up one.

That might have been the game-winner until Evan Fournier found a surprised Aaron Gordon, who got his shot to fall.

Orlando got the 116-115 win thanks to 26 points and 15 boards from Nikola Vucevic on the night.

NBA Power Rankings: Everyone still chasing the Bucks, Lakers

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The power rankings took a week off so they could go out and celebrate New Year’s Eve last week, but they’re back — and nothing at the top has changed. It’s still Bucks and Lakers on top.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (32-6, Last Week No. 1). Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe both missed time in the past couple of weeks, and the Bucks just kept right on winning. Milwaukee is on pace to win 69 games and run away with the top slot in the East, but at what point does the franchise start to think about resting Antetokounmpo and others to make sure they are fully rested and healthy heading into the playoffs? It’s a little early for that now, but as we move into the coming weeks it’s something Mike Budenholzer needs to consider.

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (29-7, LW No. 4). Anthony Davis had a nasty fall on Tuesday night and has a bruised tailbone. The good news is the MRI came back clean and it’s just a bruise, but expect the Lakers to be without AD’s 27.1 points and 9.4 rebounds a night. Also expect a lot of Kyle Kuzma trade rumors in the coming weeks, but most likely they get Darren Collison out of retirement and he’s a better playmaker than just about anyone they land for Kuzma. Which is to say, don’t expect a trade. Also, the Lakers are ready for some football.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (25-9, LW 2). Dealing with Danny Ainge at the trade deadline should scare teams, he tends to win everything he touches as a GM. For example, that four-year, $107 million Jaylen Brown extension this summer — he has arguably been the most important Celtics player this season and that contract looks like a steal for Boston. The Celtics could use a center that can shoot threes and is more on the age timeline of Brown and Jayson Tatum. That guy may not be available at the deadline. And no, the CBA does not allow Boston to trade to get Aron Baynes back (they could re-sign him next summer).

Jazz small icon 4. Jazz (24-12, LW 12). Winners of six in a row and 11-of-12, and in those last dozen games the Jazz have a league-best +8.7 net rating, with the second best offense in the land (the defense is 10th in the league, good, but not what we expected from this team). Donovan Mitchell is at the heart of the offensive resurgence averaging 24.9 points per game on 50% shooting from the floor over his last 10 games — he won’t be a starter, but he should be an All-Star this season in Chicago.

Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (24-11, LW 5). Russell Westbrook has been more efficient of late because he is getting to the rim more and not settling for the mid-range jump shots defenders are completely willing to give him. Combine Westbrook with Harden, and eventually Eric Gordon, and you have the offense of a contender. However, unless Clint Capela can suddenly turn into a defensive force, the Rockets middle-of-the-pack defense will let them down in the postseason.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (26-12, LW 6). The lack of an identity for these Clippers nearly halfway into the season is a concern for Doc Rivers — he said as much after last Saturday’s ugly loss to Memphis — but this mostly stems from health issues. Rivers has had his full compliment of starters and top four bench players exactly one game this season, and that makes it hard to develop chemistry and continuity. The good news for Rivers: The Clippers have easiest schedule of any team in the West in January.

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (25-11, LW 3). There are moments it feels like Michael Porter Jr. is going to break out, like the 19-point game against the Kings or the 25 against the Pacers. But it’s not consistent, the next game after the Pacers he scored just seven and was -16 against Washington (I know single-game plus-minus is flukey, but it illustrates the point here). The Nuggets were counting on him this season, but he’s playing the up-and-down ball of a rookie, as we should have expected of him. The Nuggets have gone 2-2 so far on a five-game road trip that ends in Dallas Wednesday.

Heat small icon 8. Heat (26-11, LW 7). Miami is the luckiest team in the NBA this season. The Heat are outplaying their point differential by four games (via Cleaning the Glass), meaning they have played like a 22-14 team but have gotten lucky. Part of that, Miami is 6-0 in overtime games this season, which involves some luck. Also, teams are getting decent shots and just not hitting them — they have the 10th best eFG% against, but based on the shots they give up that should be 22nd (using Cleaning the Glass’ location eFG% tool). Miami’s a good team, but maybe not as good as their record suggests.

Mavericks small icon 9. Mavericks (23-13, LW 11). LeBron James is impressed with the Dallas bench: “We know not only the season that Luka’s having, but they’ve been successful because of their bench as well. Their bench gives them so much of a push. Luka comes out, KP comes out, their starters come out and their bench seems to rise to the occasion.” The Mavericks are 2-1 halfway through a six-game homestand.

Raptors small icon 10. Raptors (24-13, LW 10). Injuries continue to hobble the Raptors: Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell all missed the Raptors most recent game (a loss to the Trail Blazers. That’s why Toronto is 2-3 in its last five. Nick Nurse has done an impressive coaching job this season, getting young players to step up and veterans to take on larger roles, but if the Raptors are going to be a threat in the East they need to get everyone healthy.

Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (21-16, LW 13). Chris Paul has been the most clutch player in the NBA this season. CP3 has scored 103 points in clutch minutes this season (the final five minutes of a game within five points), and that’s far and away the most in the league. He is shooting 54.5% in those clutch minutes and has dished out 11 assists as well. Paul was at it again Tuesday night, scoring 20 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, lifting OKC past Brooklyn.

Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (23-14, LW 8). Victor Oladipo’s return is now targeted for Jan. 29 (this past week he was practicing with the Pacers’ G-League team) — and they could use him. Malcolm Brogdon has been battling back issues which have kept him in and out of the lineup, and the Pacers offense feels the pinch. After a tough game Wednesday night against Miami, the Pacers head out on the road for 7-of-9, and Indy is 8-10 away from home this season.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (24-14, LW 9). Ever since the impressive win against Milwaukee on Christmas Day, the Sixers are 1-4 with a -3.9 net rating, having played rather pedestrian ball on both ends of the court. The offensive issues are not a surprise (Ben Simmons needs to attack the rim in crunch time and stop fearing fouls because of his trouble from the stripe), but it’s the defense that is supposed to keep the Sixers afloat through tough times and that has not impressed lately. Brett Brown has to find a way to get this team out of its malaise.

Magic small icon 14. Magic (17-20, LW 16). The loss of Jonathan Isaac in a breakout year for him — he looked like a guy who could make one of the All-Defensive teams at the end of the season — is a real blow. He’s out for two months, which will dent this team’s top-10 defense, but his activity will be missed on offense as well. And Orlando can’t have their offense get any worse if they plan to hold on to one of the last couple of playoff spots in the East.

Blazers small icon 15. Trail Blazers (16-22, LW 15). As disappointing as Portland has been this season — and they are in the running for “most disappointing team in the league — they still sit tied for the nine seed, just 1.5 games out of the playoffs thanks to the surprisingly soft bottom of the West. However, Portland faces a difficult January schedule, playing a lot of quality offensive teams that will test the Blazers’ bottom 10 defense. The schedule will make it tough to climb the ladder in the West. Well, unless they can get more Carmelo Anthony game-winners.

Spurs small icon 16. Spurs (15-20, LW 17). LaMarcus Aldridge, three-point marksman. Apparently that’s a thing now. In his last five games Aldridge is averaging 4.6 attempts from three a game, a huge leap from the 0.5 attempts a game he made last season, and it doubles the less than two attempts a night from the first 20 games of this season. More amazing, he’s hitting 69.6% from three in the last five games. It could be a rough month in San Antonio the Spurs have toughest schedule in the West in January.

Nets small icon 17. Nets (16-20, LW 14). Kyrie Irving got a shot in his shoulder, hoping to numb the pain so he can get back, but if you listened to the press conference he sounded like a guy who could well be headed for season-ending surgery. That adds to the woes in Brooklyn — the Nets have lost six in a row, and it doesn’t get easier with the Heat and Jazz on the schedule this week (and it actually gets tougher the week after that).

Kings small icon 18. Kings (14-23, LW 18). The three players the Kings are counting on to be their core — De'Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III, and Buddy Hield — have played a total of 49 minutes together this season due to injuries. Kings fans can blame Luke Walton because their team went from one of the fastest-paced teams in the NBA last season to one of the slowest, but it’s tough to judge his performance without the players the Kings need healthy enough to play. The Kings had the league’s worst record over the last 10 years but have started the new decade winning 3-of-4.

Grizzlies small icon 19. Grizzlies (16-22, LW 22). Ja Morant is the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, but more than that he can be a cornerstone for Memphis to build around (probably with Jaren Jackson Jr.). Morant is incredibly fluid, his trust in his shot is growing, and he is fearless — more than once on Saturday Kawhi Leonard got switched onto him and Morant went right at him (with mixed results). Morant is also walking highlight reel and has become must-watch League Pass viewing.

20. Timberwolves (14-22, LW 28). Karl-Anthony Towns remains sidelined with a sprained knee (11 games and counting), but the Timberwolves have found some spark and have won 3-of-5 without him. This remains a team to watch at the trade deadline, with Robert Covington still drawing interest from teams. Also, stop with the Towns trade talk, that is not happening, he may be frustrated with the losing, but that’s different than going Anthony Davis and forcing his way out. Plus, in the first year of a five-year extension, everyone wants to find a way to make this work.

Bulls small icon 21. Bulls (13-24, LW 19). Chicago’s defense is tied for fifth best in the NBA this season (they have the same defensive rating as the stacked Sixers), but that hasn’t translated into wins because of their 28th-ranked offense. Still, the Bulls have the net rating of a 16-21 team (which would have them half-a-game out of the playoffs). The Bulls have lost four straight against some of the league’s better teams, but the schedule does soften up going forward.

Suns small icon 22. Suns (14-22, LW 23). Devin Booker is on fire, having scored at least 30 points in seven straight games, setting a new franchise record (Charles Barkley had held it at five games). Phoenix is 3-4 in those games seven games, and Booker has lifted their offense up to middle of the pack). He’s not going to be a starter, but Booker should travel to Chicago next month to play in his first All-Star game as a reserve.

Hornets small icon 23. Hornets (15-24, LW 21). Devonte' Graham is the clear early frontrunner to win Most Improved Player this season, he is averaging 19.1 points and 7.8 assists a game. He deserves the award, but it is all fueled by the three-ball — almost 60% of his shot attempts come from deep. To take the next step, Graham has to become a better scorer inside the arc and in he paint. Just look at his shot chart for the season.

Pelicans small icon 24. Pelicans (12-25, LW 27). Derrick Favors has been the guy at the heart of New Orleans winning 5-of-7, with him on the floor they are 6.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits. The Pelicans just look like a different team when he plays. The Pelicans are a top-10 defense in the last 10 games thanks to Favors and a scheme where they now drop their bigs back to protect the paint on pick-and-rolls. No word yet on Zion Williamson’s return, but it should be soon. Or, at least soonish.

Pistons small icon 25. Pistons (14-24, LW 20). Blake Griffin had surgery to clean up issues in his knee, and while no official timetable has been given it would be a surprise to see him back this season. That will add to the growing buzz around an Andre Drummond trade, which seems to be more and more likely at the deadline. The silver lining in the Griffin injury is that it clears the way for more Sekou Doumbouya, who has started to look like the future of that franchise.

Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (12-24, LW 24). It’s a “what actually happened to the passengers on flight 828” level
mystery — in the past week a Wizards team without Bradley Beal or Thomas Bryant or
Rui Hachimura or Davis Bertans or John Wall have beaten the Heat, Nuggets, and Celtics. Why? How? Some things are just better left unexplained.

Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (10-26, LW 29). Marcus Morris scoring 38 points against the Clippers on Sunday almost felt like an audition for playoff teams watching — “look, I can help you against elite teams.” The Knicks were competitive in that game, as they have been against some other top teams of late, and New York is 6-9 with Mike Miller as the interim coach. They are at least competing.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (10-27, LW 25). Kevin Love is clearly unhappy — even if the way he is venting it on the court is not the most professional of moves — and wants to be traded. It’s just hard to see that coming together thanks to him being in the first year of a four-year, $120 million contract extension. Love still brings value on the court, but not at the level he’s being paid, and that has team balking when it comes to making a trade. Still, the rumors are flying around.

Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (8-29, LW 30). Trae Young is going to be an All-Star this year, and if the fans get their way he will start (he led East guards after the first round of fan voting). While we can talk about his lack of defense or how he needs to grow to be the kind of guy who can lead a team deep in the playoffs, Young is a walking highlight reel and that’s what you want at the glorified exhibition that is the All-Star game.

Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (9-29 LW 26). The focus in the Bay Area has turned to the next draft, understandably, with some calls for the Warriors to get a center or rim-protecting big, wherever they end up picking. That’s the wrong strategy. If James Wiseman falls in your lap, great, but take the best player on the board. Try to draft for position and you end up saying things like “we don’t need to draft Luka Doncic we have De’Aaron Fox” or “we don’t need to draft Michael Jordan, we have Clyde Drexler.” Take the best player and work the rest out later.

Marvin Bagley out the ‘next few games’ with sprained foot

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The Sacramento Kings just cannot get healthy. Their three young stars — De'Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III, and Buddy Hield — have played a total of 49 minutes together this season.

That number is not going to be going up anytime soon because Bagley is going to miss some time with a sprained left foot.

That’s a vague timeframe. It comes after Bagley had an MRI, and the optimistic view is it could have been worse. Still, the Kings’ best big man is going to miss more time.

Bagley missed 22 games to start the season with a fractured thumb, then returned to play in nine games before this injury. Fox has played in just 14 games and is day-to-day with a back injury (he did not play Saturday).

That goes part of the way to explaining the Kings 12-20 record this season. Fortunately for the Kings, because the bottom of the West playoff picture is much softer than expected, they are just a game-and-a-half out of the last playoff spot. Sacramento could make a run — if they can just get healthy.

It takes double OT, but Timberwolves end 11-game losing streak with win over Kings

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As he watched Buddy Hield‘s last-second 3-point shot clang off the back of the rim at the end of double overtime, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins breathed a sigh of relief that had been nearly a month in the making.

For the first time in December, the Timberwolves won a game.

“All you could do was look and watch,” Wiggins said. “I was looking at the shot and it missed. Thank God.”

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Wiggins scored the first basket of the second overtime and then fed Robert Covington for another score, and Minnesota ended its long losing streak by beating the Sacramento Kings 105-104 on Thursday night.

Minnesota hadn’t won since Nov. 27 before limiting Sacramento to 11 points in the fourth quarter and then outlasting the Kings in two overtimes. The Wolves did it without Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed his fifth straight game with a left knee sprain.

“We did a lot of great things tonight,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said. “Our offense was not pretty tonight but we found ways. That locker room deserves to feel good.”

Wiggins got the Wolves going in the second OT with a short jumper that started a 6-0 run. After Jeff Teague made a floater, Wiggins passed to Robert Covington for a layup.

Gorgui Dieng‘s dunk with 3:11 left put Minnesota up 105-99. Hield scored five straight points for Sacramento to close the gap, but the Wolves held on after Hield missed the potential game-winner.

“Winning in double overtime, winning in regulation, either way I would have took it,” Minnesota’s Treveon Graham said.

Wiggins finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Dieng had 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Covington scored 19 for the Timberwolves.

Richaun Holmes had 20 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for the Kings, who have their own injury concerns.

De'Aaron Fox left two minutes into the first quarter with back spasms. Sacramento’s point guard missed 17 games this season with an ankle injury sustained in practice. Marvin Bagley III limped off the court in the third quarter and was wearing a walking boot on his left foot after the game. Bagley had also recently returned after missing 22 games because of a broken right thumb sustained in the season opener.

“Give Minnesota credit. They knocked down some big shots when they had to and we didn’t,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “We have to keep scrapping and fighting. We have to be better.”

Both teams turned chances to win in the first overtime into turnovers. In the final 0.5 seconds alone, Teague attempted an inbounds pass but threw the ball out of bounds, and Bogdan Bogdanovic tried a 3-pointer on an inbounds play with 0.2 seconds left but his shot failed to hit the rim.

 

Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis’ value to Lakers evident in loss to Pacers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) If you want to know how much Anthony Davis means to the Lakers, watch their loss to the Pacers. It’s December, this is when you rest a guy if he tweaks an ankle to make sure it doesn’t become something bigger and chronic. Which is exactly what the Lakers did Tuesday with Anthony Davis — he suffered a “mild” sprained ankle at the end of the win against Atlanta Sunday, so he sat out Tuesday vs. Indiana.

His value to Los Angeles was clearly evident in a loss to the Pacers Tuesday that snapped a 14-game road winning streak for the Lakers.

Davis is the defensive anchor for Los Angeles (and an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year), a force on his man who is also an elite help defender. Without him, Domantas Sabonis scored 26 points, and Malcolm Brogdon was getting past Dwight Howard for reverse layups that became game-winners.

Also, Davis is the Lakers’ best rebounder and his presence on the glass was missing. The Pacers grabbed the offensive rebound on 30% of their missed shots, which also limited the chances for the Lakers to get out and run — something the Lakers do surprisingly well — and Los Angeles had just 10 fast break points.

Give Indiana credit, this is a gritty team with a strong defense that deserved the win. Malcolm Brogdon has been worth every penny, and the Sabonis/Myles Turner combination seems to be clicking much better of late. When Victor Oladipo returns, if he can be close to his All-NBA self from before he ruptured his right quad tendon, the Pacers become a dangerous playoff team nobody will want to face.

That doesn’t take away from the fact the Lakers are just not the same team without Anthony Davis (and Kyle Kuzma is out as well with his own ankle issue). Davis’ status for Thursday’s showdown with Milwaukee is not yet known, but as fans we want to see him out there for what is the most anticipated game of the season so far.

2) It’s time to let the Replay Center in Secaucus initiate end-of-game reviews. At every NBA game, there is a guy at the scorer’s table with an oversized headset on in constant contact with the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. The point is so the scorers can hear quickly and directly from them on reviews of if a shot is a two vs. a three, for example.

It’s time to let the officials in Secaucus also initiate a few reviews of obvious missed calls late in games — plays not reviewed because no call was made to review (or for other reasons).

Case in point, the end of the Pelicans’ overtime loss to Brooklyn.

The game was tied 93-93 and there was about a three-second difference between the shot and game clocks. Brooklyn wisely tried to eat up as much of the shot clock as they could before taking a shot, but then Spencer Dinwiddie badly missed a three that hit the corner of the backboard. It was an obvious shot clock violation, ball out of bounds to New Orleans with 2.7 seconds left — except there was no call. The officials told Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry the ball “clearly” hit the rim. Clearly it did not. This was not even particularly close. Even the Brooklyn broadcast on the YES Network said the officials missed this one.

What is the point of having all that review technology if not to get a call like this right? Not just going over and reviewing it comes off as the referees trying to protect their egos over getting a call right. Fair or not.

Which is why Secaucus should be able to talk to the scorer’s table courtside, call over the referees, and say “review this.” Just because there was no call doesn’t mean a play should not be reviewed.

Officiating an NBA game is impossibly difficult and the officials in the league are the best in the world (fans scoff at that, but watch college or FIBA refs and get back to me). They do an amazingly good job, and when they do miss big calls it eats at them. They are professionals who want to get it right. The key is a willingness to check their egos and get things right, which is why a Secaucus-initiated review makes sense.

Would the Pelicans have hit a game-winner and snapped their 12-game losing streak? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the Pelicans airball their shot, the game goes to overtime, and that OT plays out just like the one we got and the Nets win. We’ll never know.

But at least New Orleans would have had a final shot in that scenario.

3) De'Aaron Fox returns just as Sacramento is starting to play better, could they make the playoffs? The goal in Sacramento this season was simple: Make the playoffs. For the first time in 13 years. The last time Sacramento made the postseason it was 2006 and Rick Adelman was running his corner offense in the California capital.

If the playoffs started today, Sacramento would be in as the eighth seed.

And Sacramento is just getting healthy — Marvin Bagley III returned four games ago, and on Tuesday night in Charlotte De’Aaron Fox returned to the lineup. Fox came off the bench in his first game but still led the team with 19 points and eight assists (he remains on a minutes restriction.

The Hornets won the game, 110-102, and remain in the thick of the East playoff chase, too.

Even with the loss, Sacramento has won 4-of-6, and now they’re about to get their best players back on the court. And, starting Dec. 23 (against Houston), the Kings have 10-of-12 at home. Make a run there and the Kings can start to solidify a playoff spot in the West. Sure, only because the bottom of the West is much worse than expected, but the Kings do not care.

The Kings just want a ticket to the postseason dance, and finally getting healthy, maybe they could earn one.