What Hali, Sabonis expect from emotional Kings-Pacers clash originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SACRAMENTO -- Domantas Sabonis, Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton all will square off for the first time Wednesday night in their new uniforms, nine months after the blockbuster trade between the Kings and Indiana Pacers.
Sacramento and Indiana did clash last March after the blockbuster trade, but Sabonis sat out with a knee injury. Hield and Haliburton make their anticipated returns to Sacramento on Wednesday to face the franchise for which they played 385 and 109 games for, respectively.
"Being back here will bring some added juice to the game," Haliburton said Wednesday after Pacers shootaround Wednesday at Golden 1 Center. "… It's not like every other game. There are some added emotions to it for sure. But at the end of the day, we just need to be professionals and perform. That's just what I am trying to do."
Sabonis said he is treating Wednesday night like any other basketball game, but teammate Harrison Barnes noted Tuesday that the big man was disappointed when he missed last year's test in Indianapolis. It's only natural for players to want to show up and ball out in front of their former employer.
Regardless of the storylines heading into Wednesday's game, it will be fascinating to watch.
Both teams are young, hungry and feature explosive offenses. Sacramento ranks second in the NBA in points per game (119.0). Indiana ranks eighth (115.7). The Pacers are third in assists (28.1) and 3-pointers (14.7) per game, while the Kings are close behind at fourth (27.9) and fifth (13.6) in those categories.
Buckle up. It's going to be a run-and-gun basketball game in front of a crowd that will be motivated to win bragging rights over Pacers fans that occupy real estate in their Twitter mentions.
"I see the comparisons," Haliburton said. "I think we're forever linked -- no matter what happens -- in every facet of the game of basketball. ... We're two young teams competing to get back in the playoffs, so you see the comparisons."
The early returns indicate both teams benefited from the big trade. Sabonis' addition to the Kings' offense makes coach Mike Brown's new system tick and has unlocked a new level of efficiency from star guard De'Aaron Fox. Teammates like Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk get easy looks off Sabonis screening or sneaking them the basketball on a dribble hand-off.
"We are doing great here," Sabonis said Wednesday. "I was traded here to turn things around and change the franchise. I feel like we're on a great start. There's a lot of season left."
Indiana is one of the Eastern Conference's biggest surprises at 12-8 through 20 games and in fourth place. Haliburton is on pace to set new career highs in points (19.9) and leads the NBA in assists (11.3) per game. Haliburton has 14 double-doubles in 20 games. Sabonis, meanwhile, has 12 double-doubles in 19 contests.
"Tyrese is playing amazing," Sabonis said. "He's playing at an All-Star level. It looks like [the Pacers] are having a lot of fun. Like you said, it worked out for both sides."
The Kings (10-9) continue to be one of the best stories in basketball, climbing over .500 with a recent seven-game winning streak to erase an 0-4 start. Like Haliburton, Fox also is on pace to have a career year on both ends of the floor. It just didn't quite work out when both players shared the floor for a season-and-a-half in Sacramento.
"We would have figured it out. Not my decision to make," Haliburton said of playing alongside Fox. "We're both really excelling away from each other. And I guess you have to play the 2K [video game franchise] or something to figure out what it would have been. I think we're both doing well without each other."
RELATED: How Kings can beat Haliburton-led Pacers in emotional reunion
Now, what is Haliburton expecting to hear from Kings fans once his name is announced as part of Indiana's starting five?
"I don't know what it's going to be," Haliburton said. "I had a lot of fun when I was here. I love the fans in Sacramento. Obviously, my words have been taken out of context a million times. But what can I do? I'm just going to go out here, control what I can and play basketball."