How the Kings Can Beat Cleveland Again Despite Fox’s Lingering Pain

SACRAMENTO, CA - NOVEMBER 9: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings and Jarrett Allen #31 of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on during the game on November 9, 2022 at Golden 1 Center 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 Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

In game two of this tough road trip, things stay tough as the Kings have to go to Cleveland and beat a Cavs team that they beat back in Sacramento a month ago. Not only is it on the road, but the team’s star point guard has not been playing up to par as of late.

De’Aaron Fox’s last seven games have produced some underwhelming performances. In that span, the point guard is averaging 16.1 points on 38.2% shooting with 4.0 assists per contest and his team has gone 3-4.  

As The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Anderson reported yesterday, Fox has been playing through lingering pain for the last month-plus since he suffered a foot bruise back in Orlando on November 5. Additionally, on top of just gotten over a bug, he hurt his left thumb against the Pacers a week ago and “aggravated it” Wednesday against the Bucks. 

Fox said that his foot injury does not bring with it the risk of making it worse, saying it is a matter of “pain tolerance.” While that’s a positive thing, there remains that pain, which will—as it ostensibly has over these past seven—affect his level of play.

Against the Suns at home and the Bucks the other night on the road, Fox’s less vibrant scoring totals have helped contribute to team losses.

However, looking back to last month when this team beat the Cavaliers, Fox scored just 15 points. Granted he did also post 8 assists and shoot over 40% from the field, which are two things that seem to be missing in the stretch of his last seven, but this Kings team demonstrated that they can score 127, as they did, with their star point guard contributing a fraction of that.

It’s less than ideal, but it can be done. 

Here are four keys for how the Kings can find a way to get a win in Cleveland in spite of Fox’s lingering pain.

Win the possession game (i.e. free throws and turnovers)

When the Kings beat this team a month ago, they got to the free throw line 35 times, hitting 30 of them, while Cleveland only got their 20 times with 17 makes. Sacramento also committed just 9 turnovers compared to the Cavs’ 18. They won the possession game, which, according to Mike Brown, was the primary reason for the November victory.

It’s generally a good idea to aim to do exactly that. 

When Sacramento gets 27 or more free throw attempts this season, they’re 7-1. And when they get less than 24 attempts from the charity stripe, they’re 3-6. 

The turnover differential doesn’t appear as imperative as the free throw attempts battle. After all, this team beat the Heat in late October committing 20 turnovers compared to Miami’s mere 8, and they’re actually 6-3 when they commit 16 or more turnovers. 

While it does appear less vital, when playing on the road with the crowd rooting for your demise, turnovers and the residual free opportunities can hurt far worse, especially against the top ranked defense in the league.

Moreover, looking at Cleveland specifically, they are 11-1 when their opponent commits 16 or more turnovers. The one loss there was against the Knicks last weekend when the Cavs scored only 81 points 34.9% from the field.

So having the edge in the turnover differential is definitely critical as well.

In all, that possession game will be of the utmost importance as it was against this same team a month ago.

Attack the paint

In November, another reason the Kings won was because they were consistently aggressive when it came to attacking the paint.

That was a major reason they won the aforementioned free throw attempt battle as well as why the Kings had 30 assists.

In last month’s game, De’Aaron Fox helped Jarrett Allen get three early fouls and accrued a good deal of his 8 assists by being aggressive and attacking the paint. 

Guys like Fox and Malik Monk can facilitate well when going down hill in the paint. 

Just the other night, though, the Bucks did a pretty good job of preventing the Kings from facilitating in the lane, holding the team to a total of 19 assists. Fox had just two and Monk had only 1 assist. And the faucet on three-point shooting was essentially shut off in the second half.

So execution will be a factor, and with Fox’s lingering pain, guys like Harrison Barnes and Davion Mitchell will have to maintain this emphasis, and other guys may have to step up so that this defense can’t get too comfortable.

Push the pace

Speaking of not letting the opposing defense get comfortable, Sacramento will want to pick up the tempo and keep it high.

The Kings have played a lot of good defensive teams lately. Four out of their previous five have been played against defenses ranked in the top half of the league. Cleveland has the best defensive rating in the NBA.

Probably the best way to counteract defensively sound teams is to control and push the pace, giving them as little opportunity to get set on that end as possible. 

The Cavaliers have the lowest pace factor in the league at 96.45 while the Kings have one of the highest at 102.38.

The higher the pace the more it benefits the offensively superior team, that being Sacramento. And conversely, if Cleveland can control it and prevent that, then they will benefit.

Be felt defensively

After an excellent chain of excellent defensive performances for the Kings, the effort on that end did not look nearly as tight as usual against the Bucks.

“I didn’t think they felt us at all defensively,” Mike Brown assessed after the loss. “It was almost like — our defense was almost like a glorified scrimmage game or pickup game. Milwaukee went where they wanted to go, they did what they wanted to do.”

The head coach also noted some missed assignments and looks that were a little too good for the opponent, which came in too high a volume that night.

It will be important to get the defense back on track in this one.

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