|Youthful Kings closing strong while Pistons stumbling|
SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- The Sacramento Kings are playing some of their best basketball this season. Unfortunately for them, they have only 3 1/2 weeks left before they pack up their belongings and scatter after the regular season for the 12th straight year.
The Detroit Pistons are playing so poorly that the future of the head coach --- not to mention the balance on his bank account --- are anything but rosy.
The two teams face each other Sunday at the Golden 1 Center, with the home team trying to buck a season-long trend, and the visitors trying to rid themselves of their recent one.
Sacramento (23-48) failed Saturday in a bid for its first three-game winning streak of the season, instead losing 103-97 at Utah in a tight finish. But the Kings are 5-5 in their past 10 contests and can match their longest home winning streak of the season (three) with a victory against Detroit.
The Kings haven't won three in a row at home since November.
"Finding our identity is something we're finding late," guard Buddy Hield told NBC Sports Bay Area. "But it's better to end on a better note."
Hield is certainly ending it that way. The second-year guard, whom the Kings acquired at the All-Star break last season in a deal involving former franchise player DeMarcus Cousins, put up 23 points and six assists against Utah, the third straight game he'd managed at least 20 and five, respectively.
He has 16 assists in his past three games after averaging less than two per contest in the Kings' first 68.
"Just making plays for my teammates and don't think selfishly about myself," Hield told the Sacramento bee. "That's going to open more doors, and that's helped me in the last five or six games. I'm going to keep building on that."
The confidence the Kings are feeling in rookie guards De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic also continues to build, despite the inevitable inconsistency. The two were 9-for-30 and combined for 23 points in the loss to Utah. But Fox is averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 assists in 28 minutes a game since the break, and Bogdanovic is tallying 12.9 points and 3.8 assists in 28 minutes over the same stretch.
The Pistons (30-39) don't have much to feel good about. A 100-87 defeat at Portland on Saturday marked their 12th consecutive road loss and their 17th in the past 18 since Dec. 15. The only exception in that stretch was a Jan. 10 victory at Brooklyn.
All of the losing has dropped Detroit into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, six losses behind the Miami Heat in the race to the final playoff spot.
The frustration reached such a level Saturday that coach Stan Van Gundy fumed openly after the game about the officiating. On Sunday, the NBA fined Van Gundy $15,000.
"I've been here for four years, and many more years before that, and I've never come in after a game, never, never come in after a game and talked like this," he told reporters after the game. "That was embarrassing."
Acquiring center Blake Griffin hasn't helped. Detroit has lost 13 of 20 contests with Griffin since getting him from the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade deadline deal. Griffin is scoring 19.9 points and grabbing 5.4 rebounds per game since the deal.