• It was one of the uglier moments of Sacramento’s season on Thursday night. Not only did they drop a double-overtime loss to the Timberwolves, who snapped an 11-game losing streak in the process, but also once again lost De’Aaron Fox (back spasms) and Marvin Bagley (leg) to injuries that kept both out of the game, and possibly more games to come. 

    Sacramento have now dropped each of their last five, Buddy Hield remains mired in a shooting slump of just 25%, and could be forced to go back to square one in their mission to reincorporate Fox and Bagley into major roles within their rotations. They now sit at a 12-19 record and are 1.5 games behind Portland for the 8th seed in the West and appear to be in a freefall during the start of one of the league’s most competitive junctures. The start of the new year is make-or-break time for fringe playoff teams, as front offices use the next month to determine whether it’s best to build-up, tear-down or stand-pat with their roster constrictions before the trade deadline in February. 

    In that regard, the Kings may have something to gain with Fox and Bagley potentially returning to the sidelines. It is worth noting that Sacramento has played exceedingly better record-wise without both Fox and Bagley this year. The Kings have won no more than three games in all that those two have suited up for this season. Whether you chalk that up to the team having a better offensive rhythm with Cory Joseph and Nemanja Bjelica or the freeing up of defensive anchor Richaun Holmes to play a heavy starter’s workload, the Kings have just been better with less cooks in the kitchen. 

    Whatever the case, they have less and less time to figure out this season before things could really turn south. Perhaps rolling with what has worked so far is the best course of action until the younger Kings can get their health and consistency going.

    Adds of the Night

    Nemanja Bjelica, F, Sacramento Kings

    With Marvin Bagley potentially out for more game Bjelica has clear runway to return to his upper-to-mid-20 minute role. He was a top-65 player in both 8-cat and 9-cat with Bagley sidelined so he obviously should be scooped up if he were dropped recently. Today’s matchup forced the Kings to go smaller, relegating Bjelica to just 16 minutes. He’ll get more burn than that on a night-to-night should he return to starting.

    Gorgui Dieng, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Another streaming situation: Gorgui Dieng should be rostered and started everywhere as long as Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) remains sidelined. Tonight’s double-OT game allowed him to gobble up 15 rebounds, ultimately floating his ranking up to top-30 as a starter over his last five games. It’s possible he sees a couple more starts, which means he deserves your immediate attention if he’s on waivers.

    Drop Zone

    While you don’t necessarily have to move off from these players, they should be considered to be approaching drop territory based off of recent play or circumstances.

    Kent Bazemore

    Inconsistency across the boxscore, particularly in FG percentage, has kept Bazemore from being a player worth using in virtually all settings since joining the starting lineup in place of Rodney Hood (torn achilles). His 3-point and defensive upside is still super appealing, but Bazemore’s top-180 ranking over his nine games with this increased role just isn’t cutting it.

    Gary Payton II

    He played well tonight, so this would seem to be a weird choice initially. However, Isaiah Thomas (suspension) is returning to action in his next ball game and Jordan McRae (finger), who returned tonight, could compete to regain his 22 minutes per-game he was seeing before he went down. Payton has played great in his last two, but with these guys in the fold, it’s tough to imagine him seeing anything close to the burn he has been seeing. You can hold on for now, but Payton could return to the wire in droves before too long.

    Jalen Brunson & Seth Curry

    Luka Doncic predictably ruined any fantasy value that they were holding onto, and are both safe to completely cut ties with. It was fun while it lasted.

    Injury Report

    Isaiah Thomas: IT served the final game of his two-game suspension and is expected to rejoin the starting lineup for his next game. Jordan McRae (finger) also returned and will compete for backup PG minutes moving forward.

    Bradley Beal (leg) went to the locker room late in the third quarter of Thursday’s game and ultimately never returned. The Wizards were being blown out so there was no reason to put him back in, but he did say he was experiencing soreness there afterwards. He’s someone to monitor moving into his next game.

    News came down early Thursday morning that Luke Kennard will miss the next 2 weeks with bilateral knee soreness. He has been dealing with this pain in his knee since the summer, so while it’s good to know that he’s finally addressing it, don’t be surprised if he goes over this initial timetable. 

    Marcus Morris (achilles) and Taj Gibson (illness) came back from from one game absences and both started. Mitchell Robinson (illness) also played and returned to his bench role.

    Luka Doncic (ankle) returned to action following a four-game absence and looked great. Back to normal on that front.

    Danilo Gallinari (ankle) has been ruled out for his next three games. A committee of random forwards will continue to soak up his playing time while he’s out.

    Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) was ruled out for a fifth game in a row. Before this injury, Towns had missed a total of five games in his career.

    De’Aaron Fox (back spasms) and Marvin Bagley (leg) left Thursday’s game in a horrible break for the suddenly injury riddled young guns in Sacramento. If both miss considerable time Cory Joseph and Nemanja Bjelica will return to their starting roles.  

    P.J Washington (finger) is probable to return from a five-game absence on Friday and is unlikely to have a minutes limit should he play.

    Marcus Smart (eye) is questionable to return to action for Friday’s matchup with the Cavs.

    Deandre Ayton (ankle) will miss his fourth straight game tomorrow in what has become an increasingly frustrating and unfortunate turn of events for the recently suspended center. 

    Giannis Antetokounmpo (back) is expected to play against Atlanta on Friday.

    Malcolm Brogdon (left groin) is listed as questionable for tomorrow’s matchup against the Heat.

    Smokin-Hot Joe Ingles

    We all know how well Joe Ingles has played filling in for Mike Conley (hamstring), but his success goes farther than personal statistics. Over the 10 games Ingles has been in the starting lineup in place of Conley, he’s been the 30th best player by totals, and has been among the league’s best sources of assists, 3-pointers and steals. What’s even bigger, however, is that Utah has won seven out of those last 10 games, pulling themselves up to the 6th seed in the West.

    It’s getting hard to argue against the notion that the Jazz just have better chemistry and flow with Ingles running the show with Donnovan Mitchell than the traditional PG approach they’ve taken with Conley. Ingles’ familiarity with the personnel in the first unit make for a much smoother and effective offense than the one he was running with the reserves. One big difference in Ingles’ fantastic play of late is having Gobert as his roll-man compared to Ed Davis; a true night and day that bares no offense to Big-Ed. A reliable pick-and-roll game is something every competent team needs in their arsenal, and it just can’t be denied that the Ingles-Gobert connection is the best on their roster.

    Whenever Conley gets back into the fold, Ingles’ correlated personal success and team success will likely affect how he is played. Coach Quinn Snyder would be wise to stagger minutes in a way where both Ingles and Conley get to run with the far superior starting unit, rather than the original set up that featured Ingles creating for a bunch of bench guys who didn’t really mesh with one another. The end result there likely just ends in more minutes for Ingles at the expense of Conley’s role. As long as Smokin’ Joe’s hot play can be tied to Utah’s overall success, his fantasy outlook gets more secure, while Conley’s already frail outlook looks shakier.

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