Kings, Thunder focus on development heading into matchup

The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings are going to be plenty familiar with each other during the last two weeks of the season.

After not playing each other for the first four months of the season, the Thunder and Kings will meet three times in eight days beginning with Tuesday’s meeting in Oklahoma City.

The Kings come into Tuesday’s meeting having won two consecutive games and five of their past eight.

It isn’t likely to be enough to lift Sacramento into the play-in tournament, as the Kings are in 12th place in the Western Conference and several games out of 10th with eight games remaining.

The Thunder have already been eliminated from playoff contention, having lost 20 of their past 22 and three in a row after snapping a franchise-record tying 14-game losing streak April 27.

But both teams still have plenty to play for, even as their seasons are winding down without a postseason to look forward to.

For the Kings, it’s been the continued development of third-year big man Marvin Bagley III, who has been severely limited by injuries each of the past two seasons.

In the two games he’s played since coming back from missing more than six weeks with a hand injury, the second overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft is shooting 56 percent from the floor and averaging 17 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“I’m just playing basketball, having fun,” Bagley said. “These last couple games, I’ve been feeling great.”

Kings coach Luke Walton said Bagley was on track for a breakout season before his injury and it was both encouraging and important for Bagley to return.

“It’s easy to come back with nine games left and say you’re not ready and wait until the offseason and next season,” Walton said. “This is a very important time for Marvin. It’s unfortunate because he was having a career year leading up to this injury.

“Even though it’s only for a short amount of games, it’s nice being able to get him back out there and get him some experience leading into the offseason.”

Sacramento might be down another of its young building blocks, though, after rookie point guard Tyrese Haliburton left Sunday’s win over Dallas with a left knee injury. Haliburton’s status for Tuesday’s game is unknown.

For Oklahoma City, the close of the regular season is about development of its large group of young players as well as coach Mark Daigneault and the Thunder front office figuring out which players — and which combinations — can help them moving forward.

“We’re integrating some new guys,” Daigneault said after Sunday’s 123-120 loss to Phoenix. “We’ve got some new faces. We need to see those guys play in these games.

“This team has competed all year. I really like this team because of the character (they have). I’m really optimistic about the guys in the room because of what we’ve shown all year.”

Daigneault’s latest players to integrate into the rotation have been 26-year-old Argentinian forward Gabriel Deck and second-year guard Charlie Brown Jr.

Brown is on a 10-day contract, and Deck recently signed a four-year deal. Both have played in three games.