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Kings try to keep taking baby steps vs. Bulls

CHICAGO -- The Sacramento Kings will go for their third win in five games when they visit the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at the United Center.

Both teams are in the early stages of a long-term rebuilding effort, but Sacramento (6-15) has proved to be more competitive this season. The Kings split their past four games, including a road win against the Golden State Warriors, after enduring a miserable stretch in which they lost 12 of 15.

Meanwhile, Chicago (3-17) has dropped seven games in a row and 12 of the past 13. The Bulls will play on short rest after a grueling 111-110 loss against the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday night.

The season has spiraled out of control so badly for Chicago that a local television sports network now plays a "Tank Watch" animation after losses -- a not-so-subtle reference to the fact that the Bulls seem to be surrendering their season for a top draft pick in 2018. In the animation, a tank barrels down a muddy hill and crosses a multi-lane highway.

The gallows humor does little to cheer up the Bulls, who are in their third season with coach Fred Hoiberg.

The Kings are led in scoring by veteran forward Zach Randolph, who is averaging 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds. Sharpshooter Buddy Hield is not far behind at 12.1 points thanks to a 44.3 percent mark from beyond the 3-point arc.

Kings third-year center Willie Cauley-Stein is enjoying his best season with averages of 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. Rookie point guard DeAaron Fox, 19, is proving to be a quick learner with 10.2 points and 4.4 assists.

Fox shined off the bench early this season, but his production has dipped since he re-entered the starting lineup seven games ago. He scored only four points on 2-for-10 shooting Tuesday night in Sacramento's 112-87 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

"I'm still learning, but that's not an excuse for struggling," Fox said to the Sacramento Bee. "It's a bit different (to be starting). But at the end of the day, I feel like I'm getting the shots that I want. At the end of the day, I've just got to knock them down."

Chicago is also looking for better offense after posting fewer than 100 points in five of its past six contests. The Bulls are led in scoring by guard Justin Holiday, who is averaging 14.9 points per game. Rookie Lauri Markkanen offers hope for the future with 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in his first 20 NBA appearances.

Veteran center Robin Lopez has provided the Bulls with steadiness in the paint as he has averaged 13.1 points and 5.7 boards.

Bulls guard David Nwaba is expected to return soon from a sprained right ankle that has sidelined him since Nov. 4. Nwaba traveled to Denver for the Thursday game but did not play due to the coach's decision.

"This biggest thing is getting him back in shape and getting his timing to where we feel he can make a positive impact on the floor," Hoiberg said to the Chicago Tribune.

The Friday game marks the first of two meetings this season. The Bulls will travel west to face the Kings on Feb. 5.

Chicago is 2-6 at the United Center this season. Sacramento is 2-9 on the road.

Updated December 1, 2017

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