The Sacramento Kings are now 0-4 and the warm, fuzzy feeling of a week and a half ago feels like a distant memory.
They looked like they may have had a chance to get in the win column early on as the Kings were getting stops and points off of them. But as soon as much of the starting five left the floor and some role players came in later in the first quarter, the momentum was lost, and Memphis took the lead without ever giving it back.
Sacramento played well by getting said stops, securing rebounds, and playing with pace. Following that, they went out of whack and all of a sudden couldn’t play defense or secure a rebound. The Kings surrendered 125 points, lost the rebounding battle 44-51, and surrendered 11 offensive rebounds to the Grizzlies, who scored 66 points in the paint.
It was a game for the Kings where as time flowed forward, their performance declined.
They were actually winning the rebound battle at half 28-24 as well as the offensive rebound battle 6-5 while only being down 7 points, 56-63. And that was with Memphis’ bench outscoring Sac’s 23-5 in the first half.
Well, Malik Monk came out and had a great third quarter, finishing the game with 15 points and 7 assists in addition to playing a part in two exceptional alley-oops with his college teammate, scoring on one, assisting on the other.
However, even with the second unit playing a little better, Memphis began dominating on the glass, getting 3 out of their 11 offensive boards early in the third and 5 of their 12 second chance points in that period, too. Not to mention Memphis held the Kings to 54 second half points while matching any Kings run with a better run.
Sacramento saw some solid—though not astounding—production from their three best players. De’Aaron Fox scored 27 with 6 rebounds. Domantas Sabonis showed improvement, nearly getting a triple-double, posting 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. Keegan Murray, in his first start, scored 18. And for good measure, Harrison Barnes threw on an extra 20 points in an improved performance after three underwhelming performances.
On the other side, while Ja Morant scored just 22—a modest number for him this season—they let Desmond Bane have another 30-plus point game and allowed Steven Adams to put up a double-double with 11 rebounds (7 were offensive). They also got great bench contributions from Tyus Jones (14 points, 5 assists), Brandon Clarke (16 points), and rookie Jake LaRavia (13 points, 9 rebounds).
Memphis not only looked like the better team by miles and miles, Mike Brown’s squad looks like it’s lost touch with the pulse it was reading on its team identity.
Excluding garbage time, 12 different guys saw the floor, including Chimezie Metu and Chima Moneke in both early and critical minutes. And outside the starting 5, or some variation of it where maybe Monk was in, the Kings looked horrible.
On top of that, the Kings did not rebound and did not shoot the three ball well (12 of 38, or 31.6% as a team).
The Kings need to find some answers, and maybe more than initially thought.
Desperate for answers?
Outside of the starting 5 and Malik Monk, the Kings did not see a lot of production.
Davion Mitchell looked okay, playing his chest-first defense and providing 7 points. Terence Davis had his worst game of the young season, going just 1 of 5 from the field. And Richaun Holmes took a step back into irrelevance in this contest after a decent performance in San Francisco on Sunday.
But really, focus should be put on the allotment of minutes in this game.
“We’re searching,” coach Brown said after the game, winning the prize for most obvious statement of the night.
Questions have to be buzzing about some of the lineups used.
The primary instance to look at came in the first quarter when Metu came in for Murray around the seven minute mark. At that point Sacramento was up 16-8. In the succeeding seven or so minutes, the Grizzlies closed the quarter 24-12, putting themselves up by 4 points.
Sacramento started the first couple minutes of the next period with a 8-7 lead in second quarter scoring with the deficit at 3. Chima Moneke then checked in for his first minutes of the season around the nine minute mark. Memphis then went on a mini, one-minute 5-2 run before Chimezie Metu joined Moneke and company, which was followed by another mini run that puts the Grizzlies up 51-42 with just under five to play. Then the starters come in, closing the half 14-12 and finding themselves down just 7 points at the break.
If the Kings had more consistent soundness to their lineups, they would have probably been up at the half.
Just from the eye test it was clear the flow of the team was alerted negatively when certain guys came out.
Yes, it’s early and Mike Brown is figuring out what lineups work and don’t work. On the broadcast, Kayte Christensen kept saying the head coach is experimenting with lineups.
It’s evident this team is figuring themselves out. The rose colored glasses of the preseason are smashed in a gutter somewhere because right now this team does not know much about themselves other than the facts that Fox can score, as can Murray, Huerter, and Monk, and Sabonis can pass.
It’ll be interesting to see if Brown goes to Moneke and/or Metu in the next game.
Moneke may have a a few good defensive moments, he is the same type of liability as Okpala; that is, not a great floor spacer while also lacking some awareness, which probably comes from lack of experience.
And Metu may have looked good and contributed to the near comeback in the fourth quarter against the Warriors, but he was just a body out there against the Grizzlies. To be fair, Metu continues to look like the best big on the team at switching to smaller players, but he’s in no way elite. Plus the decent floor spacing he offers dwindles when he’s dinking three-pointers off the iron.
Trey Lyles may not have looked exceptional from the defensive end in his limited time this season, and he may have even put up a volume of shots deemed too many, but there is little doubt that he—being in his eighth season—is the smartest player out of him Okpala, Moneke, and Metu.
Lyles is also easily the best floor spacer, and it isn’t even close.
A week ago, Mike Brown noted that needing “to space the floor better” is an area of focus for getting Sabonis some room to work ahead of the Clippers game. And yet he’s continued to show unrelenting faith in his three former Nigerian National Team players, remaining adamant that they deserve minutes while they do very little to spread out the floor.
And maybe they do deserve minutes with what they are capable of providing defensively—Okpala and Moneke’s on-ball defense, and Metu’s ability to switch decently—but playing a combination of the three (i.e. more than one) just makes it look like Brown is wishing for answers.
Again, yes, he clearly has faith in his guys, but Thursday night was not the time to give things a try while handing a steady veteran a DNP.
That isn’t to say Brown doesn’t have a reason for not playing Lyles—maybe he does—but regardless, it’s clear that his use of rotations against Memphis was not exactly a good look.
Luckily, it’s a marathon of a season. There are still 78 left to play.
Rebounding and defense
The Kings were playing well when they were getting stops and running.
In Memphis’ game against Brooklyn this past Monday, Brooklyn went on its best runs doing that exact thing. The major difference was Steven Adams was on the bench when Kyrie Irving and company were running the floor and getting a lead in the game during the second period. Early against the Kings when Sacramento was getting early offense, the starting center was actually out there.
At the start of the second half, Steven Adams showed why it’s necessary to take advantage of when he’s resting and not a presence on the glass, disrupting Sacramento’s rebounding early in the third quarter and preventing the Kings from going on an early run (remember: they started the first quarter going up 16-8).
And throughout the second half, not only were the Kings no longer winning on the boards, their defense waned, creating large stretches where the two teams were merely trading buckets, which does not provide a chance to come back.
“I think we’re giving up too many good looks after something positive,” Fox observed postgame.
In all four quarters, Sacramento allowed Memphis to score 30 or more while never surpassing that number themselves in any one period.
The Kings have a great opportunity to dominate on the boards, and under Mike Brown they have a platform to improve defensively. While they’ve shown glimpses, they need to tie some loose knots and gain some consistency.
“Our mental focus, defensively and especially rebounding, has to be better right now,” Harrison Barnes said plainly after the game.
Difference in bench production
Losing the bench points battle 27-45 was unacceptable. Monk did a lot of work to make the final result look better regarding bench production; Memphis was leading that department 23-5 at the end of the first half.
It was noted ahead of the game that, with Murray entering the starting lineup, it would be imperative that the bench guys step it up.
Outside of Monk—who had his second good game in a row on both ends of the floor—nobody really answered the call. Davion Mitchell, again, solid, providing his defensive pressure and nice distribution in addition to knocking down a three; it’d still be great to see a bit more from the second year man. Terence Davis had exceeded expectations in the first three games, and scored just 3 points. Richaun Holmes was simply a nonfactor.
The Kings have got to see better performances from the four really valuable bench players they have, and it’s got to be consistent. Moreover, it’s got to be a combination of guys contributing, not just one guy showing up.
The second unit has too much talent on paper to be this bad.
Harrison Barnes’ 20 point game
Okay, maybe rhythm was all he needed.
Harrison Barnes still doesn’t entirely look like himself, but he made strides on Thursday night.
He scored 20 points, which included 1 of 4 from three and 7 of 8 from the free throw line (side note: Barnes, Sabonis, and Fox combined for a pleasing 13 of 15 at the charity stripe).
Nevertheless, it was a big improvement relative to the last three games. He’s got to continue to ascend into his full potential, though.
Kevin Huerter’s left shoulder
In the second quarter, what looked to be Huerter’s hand collided with Dillon Brooks as they both converged for a loose ball. Huerter immediately clutched his fist and seemed to nurse something on his left arm.
He exited for the tunnel with seconds left in the half, but came out to start the third quarter. But he only played a little over three minutes before coming out for the remainder of the contest.
James Ham reported that he’d said it was actually his shoulder that he tweaked. He also said he was “okay.”
Who knows how he’ll feel Saturday morning though? Keep an ear open about word of a potential injury to the starting two guard, but it sounds like nothing serious.
Sacramento hosts Miami on Saturday as the Heat venture to the west coast. It will be the final game of the rough five-game stretch to start the season.
Eric Spoelstra’s team is at 2-4 in the early season, but there’s no doubt they are still a contender in their conference.
After that game, the Kings will then head out for a three-game east coast road trip where they’ll visit Charlotte, Miami, and Orlando before returning to Northern California to play at the Chase Center in San Francisco once more.