How the Kings Can Keep the Spurs Struggling

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 3: Devin Vassell #24 of the San Antonio Spurs plays defense on De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings during the game on March 3, 2022 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings are coming off arguably the most important win in recent memory in regards to recognition. Blowing out Kevin Durant and the Nets on TNT must have been a tremendous high, but the Spurs are in town tonight.

Gregg Popovich’s team began the year 5-2, but they have since gone 1-7 with the lone win coming against a Bucks team that was without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, Joe Ingles, and A.J. Green.  

Mike Brown has his Kings playing very well having won four straight and seven of their last nine games. The guys are likely determined to make it five in a row and eight of their last ten.

However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is the third youngest team—that hasn’t been playing all that well as of late—so the possibility that this develops into a trap game always lingers.

Sacramento faced one of those sticky scenarios when they played the Lakers after a terrific win against the Cavaliers, but they held on. But if beating the Cavs was a peak then this previous win on the national stage is effectively cloud nine.

Obviously, staying locked in will be huge after the TNT comedown, but here are four additional keys to preventing an upset.

Keep up the good work on the defensive glass

The Kings are very good at this given they have a 75.1 defensive rebounding-percentage and allow just 8.4 offensive boards a game, which are both near the very top of the league.

However, Jakob Poeltl and the Spurs do some nice work on the offensive glass, averaging 11.5 rebounds on that end. While that’s just above the middle of the pack, they are near the top in second chance points with 16.5 a game, and an impressive 20.3 in their previous three games.

It’s not only important to keep them from getting those extra opportunities, but it also allows Mike Brown’s guys to get into some quick offense. Sacramento scores 16.1 fast break points per game, and in their last three contests they’ve scored 17.3.

De’Aaron Fox can get down court in a split second, Malik Monk is showing he can kind of do that as well, and Domas is always a threat to lead the charge in transition.

Sacramento can prevent extra scoring opportunities and keep the Spurs on their heels if they keep up their play on the defensive boards.

Defend the perimeter

San Antonio is converting 31% of their looks from deep in their last three games, but they have some good shooters and, as a whole, are shooting 36.6%, which is in the top-half of the league.

Keldon Johnson is hitting 42.3% of his 8.8 attempts from three per game, and Devin Vassell is hitting 42% of his 7.4 looks. Point guard Tre Jones may just shoot 2.3 attempts, but he’s converting 40.6% of them. Off the bench, Doug McDermott is shooting 39.7% on 4.9 attempts and Josh Richardson, who shot 41.5% last season, is hitting 35.7% of his 5.0 three-pointers taken per contest.

The Spurs are 5-3 when they shoot higher than 38% from beyond the arc (so 1-6 when they are below that threshold). In their most recent two games, which were back-to-back losses, they shot 25% visiting the Warriors and then shot 31% up in Portland.

They do score over 50 paint points per game, but their offensive strength is shooting and ball movement. 

Looking at their splits, they win when they shoot well, and when they have more paint points, they generally lose. In their 6 wins, they shot about 41.4% from three with an average of 47.7 points in the paint, and in their 9 losses, they shot 33.2% and scored 53.3 inside. 

It would be a lot better to give up a few points inside—as Portland had the other night in their win over them—than to let them create great looks from deep and get hot.

That doesn’t mean go ahead and give up easy looks in the paint, but it does mean don’t allow them to get hot from three.

Make their defense pay from three

This one’s simple.

The Spurs allow their opponents to shoot the second highest clip from beyond the arc at 39.2%, and in these last three games, they’re allowing them to shoot 41.7% from that range.

That alone should have Kings players watering at the mouth. Sacramento is shooting 38.1% from three, which is in the top-five, but more specifically, in their last three, they are shooting 42.1% from three, led by guys like Kevin Huerter. 

It seems an emphasis on defending the paint has been made in San Antonio as they’re holding their opponents to 41.3 paint points in these last three, but the Kings can’t just settle on three’s, they have to continue to generate good looks, mostly by attacking inside to create on the outside.

After going 5 of 9 from deep against the Warriors on Sunday, Keegan Murray had a minor back injury on Tuesday, which could cause him to miss this game. If so, it’ would be helpful for guys like Harrison Barnes, Davion Mitchell, and others to maybe knock down a few.

Win the turnover advantage

With a 68.6 assist-percentage, the Spurs like to move the ball around, but they turn the ball over a lot at 17.3 per game. As such, they also give up a ton of points off of those turnovers, an average of 22.9 a game for their opponent. And in their last three, they’ve been sloppier, giving up 25.3 points off of 19.0 turnovers.

Sacramento has been playing improved defense as of late as opponents in their last three games average about 16.3 turnovers. They can maintain a lead if they jump on this young team’s mistakes; they’re clearly bound to make them. Plus, as noted, the Kings are a threat in transition.

At the same time, they have to make sure they take care of the ball on their end because carelessness can lose any game, especially against Popovich’s team.

Though they’re losing games, San Antonio is playing some decent defense. Opponents of theirs average 15.6 turnovers a game, which is in the top-10, and the Spurs score about 18.8 points off of them. 

On Tuesday, they had 31 points off of the Trail Blazers’ 15 turnovers. The Spurs got 26 of those points in the first three quarters, and 15 specifically in the third off of 8 Portland turnovers. San Antonio was actually up midway through the fourth, but their opponent prevailed in part by giving up just 3 turnovers in the final period.

It’s important to punish them and to not give them freebies.

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