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Kings take new approach to dealing with Denver altitude

De'Aaron Fox (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings wrap up the first half of their season Wednesday night in Denver. Dealing with the altitude — Denver’s built-in home-court advantage — is one of the biggest difficulties for teams visiting the second-seed Nuggets. Kings assistant coach Bryan Gates told The Drive on Wednesday that the team took a new approach to combating the altitude.

“We flew (Tuesday) and practiced here,” Gates said from Denver. “Most of the time, sometimes, you’ll practice at home and then leave, and then when you land, you’re basically done for the day.”

The altitude in Denver’s higher elevations makes it more difficult to breathe. Gates said players spend the first five-to-seven minutes of games in Denver trying to just catch their breath. Teams have various ways of trying to adjust in time to mitigate some of the adverse effects of that change.

Typically the Kings land the day before the game and try to rest as much as possible before tipoff. That strategy hasn’t worked recently for Sacramento. They’re riding a four-game losing streak in the Mile High City, including losses by 14, 26, 17 and 12 points.

Gates said the team is trying for an opposite approach this time.

“When we landed we went literally from the plane to the practice facility,” he said. “Changed, warmed up, shot and everything. Then we played like a little three-on-three-on-three-on-three full court game and ran.”

The coaching staff ensured the players were feeling the effects of the altitude before cutting the running off and letting players shoot around and catch their breath. Then they were back to running.

“I think that’s a big part because a lot of times when you come into here the first quarter’s a big part,” he said. The Kings have struggled for the first 12 minutes recently in Denver. They’ve only won the first quarter once, and they only managed 18 points in that quarter.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out for Sacramento coming off two days of rest. The Kings are at their best when they’re getting out and running on offense. It will need to be the focal point of their attack against a very good Nuggets team, but running becomes much more difficult in Denver.

Fortunately for them, they’ve had a couple days of rest, and they’re playing their final game before the All-Star break where they’ll get a full week off. The Kings learned in a practice what their first 12 minutes will be like, and getting out to a fast start will be crucial against the 38-win Nuggets.

Sacramento doesn’t have to win the first quarter, but sticking around and not running out of gas will go a long way toward swinging an upset heading into the break.

Listen to The Drive from 6-9 a.m. Monday through Friday on Sports 1140 KHTK.