Bjelica comes up big after long absence in Kings’ loss to Magic originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SACRAMENTO — Coming into Friday night, Nemanja Bjelica hadn’t stepped foot on the court for the Kings since Jan. 9. Most nights he had been sitting on the back line of the Kings’ bench, watching from afar.
With plenty of time on his hands, you would expect the veteran power forward to at least check in on social media to see if there are any trade rumors swirling around, but that’s not a possibility at the moment.
“A few years ago, I lost — I don’t know my Twitter password, so I don’t follow media at all,” Bjelica said following the Kings’ 123-112 loss to the Magic. “It’s too much distraction. I’m here just to play basketball. I love playing basketball. I love being on the court. I’m just trying to help the team to win and to play as hard as I can and as best as I can. It’s a great feeling to be back on the court.”
Bjelica is known for his sense of humor behind the scenes. It’s possible that he doesn’t have social media accounts or that he threw away a sticky note with his password, but it’s also possible he was deflecting a question he didn’t want to answer.
On Friday morning, Bjelica’s name came up in a rumor with the Philadelphia 76ers. Whether anything develops between the Kings and the Sixers is unknown at this time, but Bjelica may have had a little extra bounce in his step when he stepped on the court.
The 32-year-old hasn’t played in the last 14 games. At first, it appeared that he was out of the rotation, but then there was a vague messaging from the team about a possible personal issue, followed by a stretch of games missed with a back issue and then more healthy scratches.
With Marvin Bagley coming up with left calf soreness early in the day, coach Luke Walton turned to Bjelica and the veteran looked like the player that fans in Sacramento have become accustomed to over the previous two seasons.
“One thing I learned in the NBA, you have to be ready every night,” Bjelica said. “It’s always a great feeling to be back on the court with my teammates, competing and trying to win.”
Despite the Kings’ loss and not seeing court time in five weeks, Bjelica managed to drop in 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and stuffed the stat sheet with nine rebounds and six assists. In an 11-point loss, he ran a plus-10 in 28 minutes of play.
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“He’s a very talented player, I think he can really help us a lot more,” Hassan Whiteside said. “I love playing with him. He makes my job so much easier, just the way he finds me on pick-and-rolls and throwing it in the post. I love it when I’m out there with Bjeli.”
Bjelica’s ability to stretch the floor is a good thing for the Kings and more specifically, it’s good for a big man like Whiteside. The duo might make a very solid bench pairing, but Walton has used Harrison Barnes as his primary reserve behind Bagley at the four this season.
“He was great tonight,” Walton said. “Look, we have a lot of faith in Bjeli and we know what kind of player he is.
“It was good to see. As a coach, I enjoy watching him play. It was nice to see that.”
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It was one game, but Bjelica clearly showed that he could still play at a high level. He isn’t going to put anyone on a poster with his athleticism, but he makes winning plays, which is a focus the coaching staff has promoted this season.
Whether he finds his way back into the rotation in Sacramento or this was a one -game audition for 29 other teams, Bjelica proved he can still play. He’s in the final year of a three-year contract he signed in the summer of 2018. A lot can happen between now and the March 25 NBA trade deadline.
If he doesn’t fit the long term plans in Sacramento, there are probably a few teams who will wake up tomorrow, look at the box score and ask their scouting department to pull up the tape.