Once again, De’Aaron Fox has demonstrated why he is one of the best players in this league.
In what seemed to be developing into the dreaded trap game in the face of the Lakers’ surprising offensive showing, the star point guard lifted the Kings to a 120-114 victory on the road in Los Angeles to give Sacramento their fifth win in seven games.
Fox scored 32 points with 12 assists on top of 7 rebounds and 2 steals. With that, Domantas Sabonis also finished with a double-double, scoring 21 along with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and a steal. And Kevin Huerter added 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks for a nice two-way performance.
Despite having the worst offense, and more specifically, the worst three-point shooting in the league coming into this game, the Lakers had several guys step up with nice games in the absence of LeBron James while hitting 40% of their looks from deep.
LA also had a pair of double-doubles. Anthony Davis, who was questionable coming into this game, finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists while Russell Westbrook put up 21 points and 11 assists in some really good play off the bench. Lonnie Walker and Austin Reaves both added 19 points each.
It was a sloppy start for both teams, and Sacramento was not attacking the inside very well out of the gate, settling on three’s, most of which were missed. Sabonis was rolling even as LA tried to trap him in the paint, and Harrison Barnes scored 9 with 6 rebounds in the quarter. But Fox and Huerter were scoreless, and there wasn’t much else in the way of production as the game was tied at 23.
While there were a few nice moments, the Kings were a little stagnant in the second, allowing the Lakers to take an 11-point lead. Out of a timeout, the Huerter-Sabonis two-man game got things going with a nice layup off the roll for the center. LA shot 62% in the period and Anthony Davis had it going—scoring 17 in the half—but eventually, in the final couple of minutes, the Kings finished it on a 14-5 run to cut the deficit to 4 points.
The Kings had given up 60 points in the half, 37 in the second alone, and were shooting 30.4% from beyond the arc.
Sacramento came out attacking, producing some makes from three, including 2 of 3 for Huerter. Meanwhile, the Lakers fell back closer to earth from deep, hitting just 4 of 12 in the second half, and they were held to below 50% in the paint. Fox also got it going as the Kings came out with a 31-28 third quarter.
With some nice defense, the Kings were off to a great start in the fourth with some solid contributions from Terence Davis, Chimezie Metu, and Malik Monk. Fox reentered the game and began to dominate, hitting one fallaway mid-range after the other to go up 3. Anthony Davis then put in a nice bucket and then Westbrook hit a three that the Kings coaching staff appeared to dare him to take, which retook the lead.
Domas got fouled on the offensive glass and Barnes got inside for two free throws. Westbrook missed on the other end and then Fox got a wide open floater as the defense was baited into following Huerter. That was followed by a great defensive stop and another Fox fadeaway jumper. LA called a timeout and fouled, but Sacramento won primarily because of their all-star caliber guard.
And just like that, the Kings aren’t just trending in the right direction, they’re on a mission.
The Fox and the Ox… but a little more Fox
Sacramento’s two best players combined for 53 points Friday night in perhaps their best joint performance of the season, showing some two-man magic and taking charge at different points.
Domantas Sabonis was awesome from the start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. Overall, he was fearless inside while also executing. He battled with Davis, getting into some foul trouble, but nevertheless never stopped playing tough basketball on both ends. And at the end of the night, he had a complete stat line.
But while it was, with 6 guys in double figures, a complete team effort—as it was on Wednesday night—Fox won the game in the fourth quarter.
In that final period, he had 8 of the team’s 20 paint points (which won them the paint points battle 60-58, after trailing 38-46 at the end of three). Plus he was hitting those critical fadeaway looks and other mid-range jumpers. He led fast breaks, drew doubles to find an open shooter, and rewarded a smart Terence Davis cut.
In the fourth alone, Fox scored 10 points, had three rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal, which was followed by a transition dunk that was actually interesting. Earlier in the game, the Kings made 10 first half turnovers. There were two moments in particular where Monk tried to get a little flashy in the second period, leading to a pair of those needless turnovers.
When Fox had that fourth quarter steal, it was him and him alone at the rim. He could have shown off a little, but just flushed it with a routine one-hander. Without risking another mistake that riddled the first half, Fox essentially stuck to the task at hand. They were up only 5 with nine minutes remaining; there was work to be done.
Moreover, the point guard continued to use his speed to get quick offense for himself and getting in the paint to set up for his teammates. He was as shifty as always and as timely as ever. And he continued playing some excellent defense.
The Fox and the Ox were great tonight for the Kings, and Fox in particular continued to play like a top-three point guard.
Huerter’s two-way value
Kevin Huerter has made a lot of strides offensively with more opportunities and better comfort with this offense. Watch his sidestep three go down.
Similarly, his defense is trending upwards as well. Anyone could see that against the Lakers.
Aside from the moment Westbrook got by him and got T’d up for taunting, Huerter had a terrific defensive performance. The guard recorded three steals and two blocks.
In fact, the late game team stop that played a monumental part in locking up this win happened in large part because of Huerter. It was him who rushed out to get in front of the talented Lonnie Walker in the corner and denied him any access to a clean lane. It’s important to note that Walker had been an issue getting into the paint all game for the most part (12 individual paint points), so to stop him in that moment with some great one-on-one defense was just what the Kings needed, and it forced the Lakers into a bad shot.
Watching Kevin Huerter on defense is almost as fun as watching him on offense.
Terence Davis stayed ready
Terence Davis appears to be that alternating 10th rotational guy, where sometimes he sees heavy minutes, sometimes he doesn’t.
Time has been spotty for Davis lately. After getting off to a really nice start to the season in his first four games, opportunities don’t come in patterns. For him, he has to stay ready.
Against Golden State on Monday, he got his minutes, seeming to matchup better versus more fluid and fast-paced opponents. Though he wasn’t great, it seems his chances are contingent on matchups.
But he’s also an insurance policy. Part of the reason he seemed to get early and ultimately a nice chunk of minutes against the Lakers was because Huerter, Fox, and Monk got off to an 0 for 7 start from three. After the team, as a whole went 2 of 13 from deep in the first period, Davis started the second.
In a little under 13 minutes, Davis scored 12 points, including going 2 of 4 from three, and had an assist as well as a steal. The guard continued being ever aggressive and showcasing solid defense.
His contributions late in the third quarter and early in the fourth helped the Kings close out the game with some momentum.
Davis showed that he can be an excellent card up Mike Brown’s sleeve if the coach ever needs him. And with the Warriors slated for Sunday night, he might have the opportunity for a second good game in a row.
Chimezie Metu was relatively solid
There’s justifiably been a lot of discourse surrounding the backup center role.
On Friday night, Chimezie Metu had arguably his fourth consecutive solid performance since ostensibly taking over the backup 5 spot in the middle of the Orlando game last weekend.
The big man came in and hit a three—his first make of the year—at a time when nobody on the team was converting. He looked better in-tune on offense regarding movement and spacing. Also, Metu showed flashes of nice defense, and he had a put back on the offensive glass.
Though, again, it’s hard to imagine him being a complete center. He is, after all, just 6’9″ and he can only do so much in the way of clogging up the paint defensively. In the third quarter, he was not aware enough, big enough, or forceful enough to protect the paint, which spiraled into an LA offensive rebound and a second chance score. And there were times where he overplayed on the help, leaving a ton of space between the man (that he came off of) and the basket, such as this Damian Jones dunk.
Still, he’s playing miles better than what anyone has seen from Richaun Holmes.
How many times have we had to say this in this young season? The Kings are set to take on the Warriors.
Sacramento will host Golden State on Sunday in already the third matchup between the two Northern California teams. The two won’t play again until the Kings’ second to last game of the year on April 7.
The Warriors are coming off a win against the Cavaliers in the lone game in between this upcoming game and the last contest against Sac. It was their second win in a row following a four-game losing streak.
But it’s safe to say Steve Kerr’s squad is still looking below standard to start the year and as has been iterated before, this is probably the best time to be taking them on. It could be a much different, more cohesive unit come April.
The Kings might just be that, too. Through 11 games, they’ve gotten on a lot of people’s radar and the team is playing better than their next opponent. Not to mention the last time they played this team, they were screwed out of an opportunity to go to overtime.
Expect this team to come out with a fire beneath them, hotter than the intensity they brought against Cleveland on Wednesday.