Kings hoping home helps as front-running Bucks come calling
A team that's been hot on the road runs into one that's been nearly unbeatable at home of late when the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
The matchup of one of the Eastern Conference's sure-thing playoff teams against one of the West's hopefuls will be the second of the season, with the Bucks having recorded a 144-109 blowout at home on November 4.
But that was a road game for the Kings, where they've been a rather ordinary 12-18. This one will be in Sacramento, where the Kings have won nine of their last 10, including two in a row.
The Kings will be opening a four-game homestand in the wake of a 1-3 trip, one that ended with many Kings fans shaking their heads.
Coach Dave Joerger chose Monday at Minnesota as the night on which to give star rookie Marvin Bagley III his second start of the season without offering much of an explanation as to why he'd shake up a rotation that had produced an impressive 119-116 victory at Oklahoma City two nights earlier.
Bagley made his coach's decision look like a good one, contributing a 25-point, 11-rebound double-double in the 112-105 defeat.
Reporters were left to focus their postgame attention on the fact that Kings star guard Buddy Hield hadn't played the final 5:42 of a close game, a benching Joerger said was the product of an off night.
Hield had 18 points in the game, but also committed five turnovers.
Afterward, the high-scoring guard defused a potentially volatile situation by insisting he understood where his coach was coming from.
"We're all there for the same reason: To win basketball games," he noted to the media. "If Dave doesn't think I should have been out there, that's his decision. I can't overrule the coach's decision. But I've gotta respect the guys who are out there because they're my teammates and I love them.
"When I'm doing my thing, they have my back, so I've got to have their back, too."
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer elected to sit out his star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, for the entire game in Monday's 117-106 win at Chicago that tipped off a five-game trip.
The official reason for the move: To rest Antetokounmpo's sore right knee.
It was the All-Star captain's fifth absence of the season, all for the same reason. He's never missed two games in a row.
For the third time in those five games, the Bucks were able to win without their leader. Six players scored in double figures as Milwaukee ran its winning streak to five games and extend its run of road wins to eight in a row.
"We're in a great place right now," Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe assured reporters on the eve of the trip. "We've been in situations where we've been on the road, been in tough environments, so we'll just try to carry that over."
Antetokounmpo had a triple-double with 26 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists in the earlier win over the Kings. The victory was Milwaukee's fifth straight over Sacramento dating back to February of 2016.
The Bucks have gone 14-6 against Western Conference teams this season, but just 2-3 against the Pacific Division. The Kings have the same interconference record (14-6), but theirs has been built on the strength of having had 5-2 success against Central Division foes.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 26, 2019