The Kings hit their home floor for the first time this preseason in an impressive performance and victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, 126-94.
Sacramento hit 21 of 45 (.467) three-point attempts compared to Portland’s 10 of 29 (.345). Guys like Keegan Murray (5 of 6), De’Aaron Fox (3 of 3), Kevin Huerter (3 of 5), and Terence Davis (4 of 5) all stood out from that range. Even Domantas Sabonis found a way to hit 1 of 2.
They didn’t just beat up on them in that column though. The Kings had massive advantages in both the rebounding (63-37) and assist (34-18) departments as well. Plus they squeaked by with one less turnover (20-21), but the game was not as clean as the 7-turnover game in LA last week.
In this contest, the duo of Sabonis and Fox got it going early in this game and finished with nice performances. Sabonis hit half of his field goal attempts (including 1 of 2 three’s) for 13 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists. And Fox also shot 4 of 8 for 14 points and 3 assists.
However, again, it was the rookie that shined the brightest. Keegan Murray scored 15 of his 16 points from beyond the arc, nailing nearly every look with the stoic, smooth demeanor he always possesses.
“I just shoot with confidence,” Murray said postgame. “Every shot I take, I think it’s going in.”
As a whole, the Kings simply looked ready for opening night. All the months leading up to camp of guys getting together and playing scrimmages seems to be paying off. Guys are in game shape, they understand Mike Brown’s system, and the chemistry is coming along very rapidly.
By contrast, Portland looked like a team in the preseason.
It’s probably far too early to indict the Trail Blazers as a team bound for disappointment, but it’s clear the Kings are truly on to something.
Who saw action?
Ahead of this game, Mike Brown had said that somewhere between 13 and 15 guys would see the floor. Who did and didn’t play mattered in this one with first cuts looming.
As it turns out, 16 total guys played, but it’s only 14 if you don’t count the two-way players in Neemias Queta and Keon Ellis, who will both play heavily in the G League.
It’s important to note that Richaun Holmes had been dealing with a stomach ailment lately, and it kept him out of action on Sunday night. He would have been the 15th.
As suspected, Quinn Cook, Sam Merrill, and Chima Moneke did not get any action. All three of them appear to be on the verge of getting cut, but they should have a chance to play for Stockton barring another team grabbing them.
It seems KZ Okpala’s odds of making the team seem solid given Brown’s confidence in him. He started the game at the 4 and improved as the game progressed, but he hasn’t blown anyone away.
Kent Bazemore was stuck in the closing unit Sunday, and he was in the fourth unit in the first preseason game, but his vet status, defensive help, ability to run the floor, and morale boost make him valuable. Still, he’s in no way safe among this competitive group, especially if he can’t hit the three ball (1 of 5 in preseason so far).
In just under 10 minutes played, the veteran scored 3 points while posting 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block.
Speaking of lack of security, Chimezie Metu might be the guy who’s stock is plummeting the most. He looked very poor in the first half, but came out and looked a little better after halftime. However, he ultimately played subpar basketball.
Honestly, Metu might be one of the weakest three-point shooters on this team. He has the ability to get hot and hit from that range, but he needs to be more consistent, and he definitely can’t force them.
On the night, Metu scored 6 points on 2 of 6 shooting (0 of 4 from three) and grabbed 3 rebounds. Aside from the goose egg from three land, he also had 3 early personal fouls in the span of like 4 minutes and committed 2 turnovers, including a needless goaltending violation.
Mike Brown’s connection to the Nigerian National Team member might be the only thing that keeps him around.
Murray has to be the starting 4. Right?
KZ Okpala started again, but he looked really bad in the first half and early in the second. It’s one thing for Okpala to be a non factor as a primary offensive option, but he got away from doing the little things. At first, he was not shining defensively and he accumulated some personal fouls, including fouling Jerami Grant on a three-point attempt.
Later, he began to look more engaged, flying around the floor, and getting involved on the glass.
By contrast, when Keegan Murray entered the game around the 6 or 7 minute mark, the rookie plugged right into what the team was doing, not necessarily contributing much statistically in that first quarter, but definitely complementing–and not hindering–the team. Looking at the first quarter, Okpala was a +1, but Murray was a +11.
From the second quarter on, Murray again made a pretty airtight case for being the starting 4, tearing it up from the perimeter. Hell, he might be making the case that he’s the third or fourth best player on this team.
Murray is undeniably impressive and it seems inevitable that he gets the nod come opening night. Really, Brown didn’t want to just hand it to the rookie, which may just be for show, but definitely substantiates the “healthy competition” going on in the Kings facility.
While the idea of Okpala being the starting 4 begins to dissipate, it doesn’t necessarily unfurl a red carpet for the rookie.
At the start of the second half, Trey Lyles was put in with the starters instead of Okpala. Lyles was a non-factor against the Lakers and got off to a slow start in this one, posting a -6 in the first half.
However, Lyles got his groove when playing with the starters. He scored 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting (2 of 4 from deep) and snagged 3 boards.
Though Lyles has good chemistry with the starters and the rookie can contribute substantially to a good second unit, it still seems like a no brainer that starting Murray would do the best job of maximizing his impact.
And maybe the starting 4 could still be a matter of matchups. Okpala didn’t have a LeBron or another long, perimeter star to check in this game.
But damn, Murray is just so good.
A note on Monk and Davis defensively (and accountability)
The Kings are coming together defensively under Mike Brown. They looked pretty good against the Trail Blazers, but there are a few guys who need to step it up a little more.
Obviously, Malik Monk and Terence Davis are excellent scorers. Monk will provide valuable chunks of production off the bench this year, and Davis showed Sunday night that he is a significant depth piece.
However, they both aren’t great defensively.
Regarding Monk, that was obvious. He’s never been a great defender being smaller and not as sharp off-ball.
Davis, on the other hand, could have a little more expectations on him being 6’4″ with a 6’9″ wingspan. He’s not horrible on-ball, and still has the potential to step it up on that end, but he too gets a little foggy on off-ball defense. For instance, at one point in the first quarter, Davis had an ugly moment where he had no feel for where his man was, allowing an easy layup.
Other than that, Davis played terrifically. If there are nights where Monk is kind of hurting the team defensively and/or is having a cold shooting night, it will be important for Davis to provide better defense if he wants to force his coach’s hand regarding minutes.
The defense of Monk and, moreover, Davis might be worth keeping an eye on.
It’s not really a glaring issue for the team as a whole, but it is a place of improvement for those guys. But other than moments like those, the whole team looks collectively engaged defensively, so progress on that end should come along.
The long gap between the previous preseason game and this most recent one won’t be replicated for Sacramento plays again on Wednesday in Phoenix before their final exhibition action against the Lakers at home on Friday.
Tip off for the game against the Suns is set for 7 pm.