Kings Get First Victory of Season Ahead of East Coast Trip

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 29: Trey Lyles #41 of the Sacramento Kings celebrates a three-point basket in the third quarter of the game against the Miami Heat at Golden 1 Center on October 29, 2022 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Go ahead and breathe. The Lakers are the lone winless team.

After an 0-4 start, the Kings got their first win Saturday, defeating the visiting Miami Heat 119-113.

Miami has now lost 5 of their last 6 games inside The Golden 1 Center in spite of a 34-point performance from Tyler Herro, who’d been quiet in his previous four games. 

The Kings matched them with a terrific game from Kevin Huerter, who scored 27 points, including going 7 of 8 from three as well as dishing out 7 assists. And rookie Keegan Murray scored 22 points in his second career start.

Sacramento played an excellent first half, scoring 71 points while holding Miami to just 49. The Kings were absolutely attacking the inside, going up 36-14 in first half points in the paint. Good defense—and maybe some fatigue for a Heat team playing the third game of their road trip—held the opponent to just 37.2% shooting from the field, which created efficient, quick offense as seen in the Kings’ 14-4 advantage in fast break points at the half. 

The Kings were cooking with Kevin Huerter and Domantas Sabonis flaunting some excellent moments in the two-man game.

After a nice half, Sacramento fell into what could be shaping up to be a dismal trend in this early season, playing a terrible 3rd quarter that Miami won 33-19, cutting the lead to 8 points. Not only were the Kings not seeing great play in the period, they also suffered from the fact Sabonis got into foul trouble. The big man had three going into the quarter and picked up two quick ones which put him on the sideline until about two minutes into the final period.

Miami rode the advantage they gained with Domas’ foul trouble and were lifted by Herro’s excellent 22-point second half.

The Kings struggled for a little bit in the fourth until Sabonis returned. The two-time all-star eventually fouled out, but his return created some offensive rhythm, and he also contributed to some team stops.

With Sabonis fouled out, Sacramento held onto their lead in the final six or so minutes of the game, getting some key stops to avoid the trap of merely trading baskets. 

Also, the Kings benefitted from the fact Max Strus shot just 3 of 11 from three-point range, and 0 of 2 in those last five or so minutes, including a crucial miss that, had it gone in, would have cut the lead to 1 with 26 seconds left.

On the other end of the floor, the Heat let six or seven seconds tick off the clock before they fouled Kevin Huerter, who hit 2 of 2 at the stripe. Then Herro missed a three—he was just 1 of 5 from the field in the final five or six minutes—and Trey Lyles laid out to land on the rebound, which put the nail in the coffin.

Closer to the full 48 minutes

After each loss, it seemed like coach Mike Brown would settle on the silver lining that his team competed a little closer to 48 minutes than the previous contest. Well, since it was the fifth game, the Kings were closer than ever to competing on both ends of the floor for the full 48 minutes.

The specific end of the floor where that ceaseless competitiveness is needed is on the defensive side.

Offensively, this team can already “score the ball with anybody,” as Malik Monk said the day before Saturday’s win.

The offense was pretty solid all the way around for Sacramento in spite of De’Aaron Fox scoring just 17 points in this game. But they did commit 20 turnovers compared to the Heat’s 8, surrendering 28 points off of those mistakes.

“The (defensive) results are there sometimes,” coach Brown reflected on Friday, a day before the game. “We just haven’t put it all together for 48 minutes.” 

Now, the Kings did not deliver great defense for the full 48 minutes. They got off to a great start, holding their opponent to sub-40% shooting from the field in the first half. With averages prone to balance by the end of the game—and they did as Miami finished at 42%— Sacramento’s defense nevertheless looked miles better on Saturday than ever before this season, and they found themselves on the winning end of things.

Again, the Heat were finishing up a road trip and—especially early on—were settling on a lot of poor shot selections, but that’s a championship caliber team that they beat.

The defense could still use some work, though. They gave Miami 31 free throw attempts and allowed 32 points in the paint in the second half. 

It’s clear the Kings need to sharpen up a few things like defending without fouling and protecting the middle, but the team looked much better on that end, especially in their rotations and switches.

Huerter-Sabonis two-man game

We all know about what Fox and Sabonis can do. And most were already getting acquainted with what Huerter could do in the two-man game. What the red headed sharpshooter was able to do in his time in Atlanta spelled special things for him as a ball-handler.

This win against the Heat was filled with terrific examples of the Huerter-Sabonis two-man game. Whether it was a good find or a dribble handoff setting up for a Huerter 3, or Domas scoring off a screen either in the paint or on a pop-it mid-range shot, the two looked excellent.

Sabonis is exceptional in the two-man game, and for the team as a whole, it’s more effective with a variance of ball-handling threats. 

Huerter looked great tonight, not only scoring 27, but dishing out his 7 assists as well.

Settling on a rotation?

Mike Brown admitted on Friday that he’s got to tighten the rotation a day after seemingly everyone saw the floor.

“I have to continue to try and do a better job of helping the guys out, helping put them in right positions to be effective on the floor, whether it be offensively or defensively,” he said. “Eventually I have to get to a point where I’m settled with a rotation and giving that an opportunity.”

Against the Heat, twelve guys saw the floor, but really the rotation was confined to nine guys. 

KZ Okpala played a handful of seconds, coming in with just ticks left in each half seemingly for his ability to press defensively and his length to contest last-second shots. Alex Len was out there for about 3 minutes, contributing his large presence to the defensive end, but ultimately he was in because of Sabonis’ foul trouble. And Terence Davis (0 points, 0 of 1 from three) saw the floor for about 5 minutes before he seemed to fall out of the tightening rotation for that particular game.

It was the typical eight—the five starters plus Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, and Richaun Holmes—but Trey Lyles also played a huge role in Saturday’s rotation.

“I got to take my hat off first to Trey Lyles,” Mike Brown said early in his postgame remarks. “Trey stayed ready. He was big for us tonight. That rebound loose ball was huge, defensively he was great, and he stepped in and let that thing go when he was open like he’s supposed to.”

Lyles finished with 10 points—including hitting 2 of 4 from beyond the arc—5 rebounds, as well as a steal and a block in 18 minutes off the bench.

After Thursday’s loss to Memphis where Chimezie Metu and Chima Moneke got heavy minutes, for Lyles to come out and not only be sound but also effective proved huge in this game.

Underrated performances according to Brown

Yes, Fox should score more than 17. And yes, Harrison Barnes should be scoring more than 11 points after averaging over 16 per game last season.

However, the two of them did impact the game in other ways.

Mike Brown, as mentioned, was recognizing certain guys like Lyles after the game, but he also highlighted the fact Fox grabbed 13 rebounds (which gave him his second double-double of the year), calling his point guard “a winner.”

Fox also played some nice defense, as he has in all five games so far. He contributed to great team defensive stops, committed just 3 defensive fouls in over 36 minutes, made excellent use of his hands, and never gave up on plays. The point guard continues to look engaged and aggressive on the defensive end, which is great for his team.

What’s more, Matt George asked the head coach about Fox guarding Herro in the final minutes, which he’d observed. Brown told him that was Fox’s idea to check the hot-shooting Herro. 

It was reminiscent of last season when Fox took charge to assign himself to Brandom Ingram, who was on fire during a game last March.

Even better, Herro, as noted, shot 1 of 5 in the final five minutes of the game. Matt George said that Herro went 0 of 3 with Fox on him according to his notes.

Additionally, Barnes got some recognition from his coach after contributing 4 rebounds and 6 assists. Through three quarters he only scored 3 points, but in all 12 minutes of the final period, he scored 8 and looked decisive.

Notably, Barnes finished with the highest plus/minus on the team at +12. Aside from a really silly turnover in the fourth, the veteran forward had a fairly solid game. 

But his individual defensive impact and his three-point shot—which is currently being hit at a 11.1% clip—still needs some work.

3rd quarter blues

Through five games this season, the Kings are averaging a -5.4 points differential in the third quarter.

The importance of coming out of halftime and playing well is vital. If a team comes out and flops in the third period, it’s not likely—especially against such great teams, such as the five Sacramento’s played thus far—that the opposition will come out as poorly prepared. 

In this game, not only did Sabonis get into foul trouble—which, admittedly, played a huge role in the bad third quarter—but Eric Spoelstra made his adjustments and the Heat players came out to compete after a poor first half.

The Kings wrapped this win up in the end, but overall, they have to be better in the third quarter.

Going forward

The Kings have their first win, but now they’re headed east for three games on the road before coming back to play at the Chase Center again in San Francisco.

They’ll play in Charlotte on Halloween Monday before visiting this Miami Heat team Wednesday. Then they’ll stay in Florida to play in Orlando the following Saturday before coming back to California.

For Monday, while Sacramento comes off the momentum of their first win of the season, the Hornets will be fresh off their Saturday victory over the Warriors at home.

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