Chase Buford buoyed by Sydney Kings' mid-season NBL resolve

Shorthanded in Cairns on Thursday night, the Sydney Kings took care of business to make it 14 wins from their past 15 games. Before the sizzling stretch, Chase Buford's squad had battled the loss of key personnel through a variety of ailments to sit 5-7 and very much middle of the pack.

With expectations high entering the season, Buford remained calm, while acknowledging the need to get things back on track to keep pace with the playoff race.

"I was feeling the heat early in the season," Buford told ESPN's The Jump. "I had a house call from Paul Smith and the question was about how we get better and how do we figure this out.

"It's never easy when things aren't going well but you just have to get to work, figure out what's going wrong and figure out how to improve.

"When things get tough, I like to get to work. Anybody can do well when things are easy, but when it's not, that's when you find out about yourself and who you are.

"I think as a group and a coaching staff we really took that to heart and tried to work our way out of it instead of just hoping things would get better."

A feature of the run has been the team's ability to perform on the road, with the current streak of 10 wins the longest in the league since 1985.

"After starting 0-4 (on the road) I definitely didn't see it coming but I'm just proud of the way the guys stuck with it," Buford said. "We recognised areas we needed to get better at and kept working at it and have grown as the year went on."

Two major pieces of the turnaround have been import duo Jaylen Adams and Ian Clark, with the former a finalist for league MVP, while the latter has fit seamlessly into the stacked rotation, with Sydney holding a 9-1 record when he is in uniform.

"Ian is a really good player and a good person. I think that makes it really easy," Buford said of Clark's fit with the squad.

"He came in, the first game he's in huddles, coaching guys on the floor and on top of that he's been through more than most of the rest of us have on the basketball court. To have someone like that come in and want to be a vocal leader and want to be involved makes it really easy to integrate him."

Familiar with Adams from their time together with G League franchise Wisconsin Herd, the electric guard quickly emerged as a popular member of the locker room.

"He brings an ultimate composure and calmness, no matter the situation," Buford said. "He's the type of guy that shows up 10 seconds before the meeting starts and he'll stroll in there like he's an hour early.

"He's never phased by the moment, and I think the guys really feed off that. When things are tough, he's been the one to pull us in the right direction. He's just a fun guy to be around, he's always good for a laugh, he likes to keep it light so it's a good combo to have."

For all their regular season success, the Kings still have plenty of work to do, starting with a Sunday matchup against the Illawarra Hawks. Complicating matters has been illness in the group over the past week, with Jarell Martin recovering from COVID and Adams also away from the team.

"Jarell is coming out of protocols in the next day or today and Jaylen is still testing negative," Buford said. "He's not feeling great but hopefully he'll continue to feel better over the weekend and maybe we'll see them both on Sunday."

Depending on a series of results over the weekend, the matchup could be a precursor to a semifinal meeting, with last week's overtime classic setting the table for what's to come between the New South Wales rivals.

"The barnburner the other night, as a coach It was the coolest game I've got to coach so far with the crowd and the meaning and just the high level of play," Buford said. "I texted Goorj (Hawks coach Brian Goorjian) after and said for that to be the best game I've coached in against him, a legend, is just humbling and an honour.

"I'm excited to play them if we do, I think it would be a heck of a series. They're a really good team but I think we have a good team to match up against them."