Kings Return Home for ‘Reality Check’ in Loss to Charlotte

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 19: LaMelo Ball #1 of the Charlotte Hornets and Malik Monk #0 of the Sacramento Kings look on during the game on December 19, 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 License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

With the momentum of winning the final two games of a tough road trip on their side, the Kings stumbled in multiple ways in their return home, losing to the Hornets, 119-125.

In spite of a pair of marvelous nights from their two best players, Sacramento got crushed in paint points (58-72), second chance scores (6-24), and to top it off, shot themselves in the foot at the charity stripe with a horrid 54.8% clip.

The Hornets saw a number of guys step up for excellent nights as six of their players were in double figures and three had double-doubles. Kelly Oubre Jr. was a steady force, scoring 31 with 10 rebounds while LaMelo Ball put up 23 points and 12 assists before fouling out. An unstoppable force on the glass, Nick Richards had 14 points and 10 boards off the bench. Also, Gordon Hayward had 19 points, Mason Plumlee added 15, and Theo Maledon had 12.

It was a real shame the Kings had such glaring issues because De’Aaron Fox lead all scorers with 37 points and Domantas Sabonis had a monster game with 28 points, 23 rebounds, and 7 assists. Malik Monk had 12 points and 4 assists off the bench, Keegan Murray had 11 points on three made three’s, and Harrison Barnes had 11 points before leaving the game for good late in the third quarter with a right quadriceps contusion.

With the crowd buzzing from the very start to see their team back at home, Sacramento began the game on a roll, utilizing their kind of pace and their kind of ball movement. However, their defense allowed four early and easy baskets at the rim as the Hornets got off to a lead in paint points, fast break points, and second chance scores, the last of which was generated mostly by Nick Richards, who had 4 offensive boards and 11 points in the first. Charlotte shot over 50% and lead by 9 after one.

In the second, the Hornets continued getting inside to score as well as the Kings committed some early turnovers with points coming off of them. But when Sabonis reentered the game, Sacramento went on a 19-4 run to regain the lead. Stops occurred, Sabonis continued his excellent play, and Harrison Barnes was adamant about being aggressive inside. But Kelly Oubre lead his team to a 12-2 run to give them a 66-63 lead at the half as Sac’s defense continued surrendering easy looks.

The Hornets got off to a 13-4 start in the second half as the continued getting some easy baskets. Meanwhile, the Kings were missing a lot of shots, starting just 1 of 7 in the period and allowing transition scores off of their misses. After a timeout, Sacramento answered with a 20-6 run with some added defensive execution and excellent play from Sabonis, Monk, and Mitchell in order to get a lead again. After another quarter where the opponent scored less than 30 and after another quarter won, the Kings lead 92-91 after three. 

LaMelo Ball hit a couple of three’s early in the final period, helping to get his team off to a 8-0 start to the fourth. Fox and the Kings got some scores to keep the game close, but Ball kept ballin’ as the Hornets began to construct a decent lead amid a back and forth contest. Not only were the Hornets getting second chance opportunities, the Kings struggled to convert at times while continuing to miss free throws. Fox made another effort to be the late-game killer, but Charlotte was able to hold onto their lead going into the final minute. 

The Kings were down 6 with Fox going to the line after a Keegan Murray steal, where he hit the first. He missed the second, but Kevin Huerter came down with a rebound, allowing Fox to get a great finish at the rim and cut the deficit to 3. The Kings then curiously fouled, pushing it to 4 points as Theo Maledon hit one at the line. Fox then came up and missed a three, which pretty much sealed the loss.

Sacramento had returned home for this one, and in spite of some excellent performances, they failed in too many categories as a team—specifically on defense—giving them a loss in the first game of the 19-game stretch where they play 15 at The Golden 1 Center.

“It was a good reality check for us,” Mike Brown admitted postgame.

Charlotte’s 72 paint points

The Hornets, according to coach Brown, were allowed to get comfortable, were more physical, and were more disciplined.

“I thought we let them get real comfortable from the floor to start the game, which gave them a lot of belief,” the head coach noted after the game. “I’m disappointed in our weak side defense, it was not good at all tonight. There were countless times where guys were either late or they were there and they moved out of the way and they didn’t want to take the hit or take the charge for the team.”

Not that Mike Brown isn’t lovely to listen to, but Charlotte’s 72 paint points kind of lays that out crystal clear on its own.

Early in the game, many of the things the head coach mentioned were happening. Huerter’s weak side defense was too ambitious, allowing Plumlee a free lane. Soon after, Barnes turned to anticipate a pass, but did not step into positioning to challenge the shot (looks like he was just late). And then Huerter was non existent on weak side help as Oubre got a dunk before being late on another instance a few minutes later. 

As the game went on, the Kings continued looking off defensively. Monk at one point lost Oubre, who cut for an easy dunk and was fouled by Murray, who’d scrambled to contest it. Even as he drew a charge later and is usually doing it all of the time, Davion Mitchell failed to step into position on a Hayward layup.

Late in the game, it was much of the same as seen when Fox also had a moment of nonexistent weak side help. Things were a little better late in the game, but as Mike Brown noted, the Kings’ initial mistakes allowed the Hornets to start on a roll early.

The Kings have shown that they can play on a string to defend and protect the paint fairly well, but it was the complete opposite Monday night as it seemed like one of those early season losses where the offense was there, sure, but the defense was awful.

What happened to defensive rebounding?

As noted, Mike Brown did not feel his team brought the physicality. That was evident in the fact that Charlotte had their way on the offensive glass and killed the Kings in second chance points.

Lately, such things are beginning to become a trend.

It’s been a drop off. In the first 15 games of the season, Sacramento held their opponents to a league-low 8.4 offensive boards and just 11.5 second chance points. They were one of the very best at securing those defensive boards.

In their previous 12 games, however, the Kings have allowed their opponents to grab an average of 10.9 offensive boards for 17.8 second points per game. 

On Monday, the Hornets had 11 offensive rebounds for an astounding 24 second chance points. Nick Richards had 5 of them, but six different guys put up the remaining ones, illustrating the team-wide commitment Charlotte had on the glass.

Sacramento, meanwhile, was failing to come together to do the little things that allow them to secure rebounds. Long rebounds were not pursued well, sometimes boxing out was missing in action, and the fundamentals were absent for the most part.

Collectively, the Kings have got to mend this and get back on track.

54.8% at the free throw line

As Mike Brown corrected in his postgame press conference after James Ham called this another game that could have been won with made free throws. Coach Brown noted that his team may have “stolen the game” if they made free throws, but the defense was the reason they lost.

Fair enough.

But still, the Kings lost by 6 points in a game where they missed 14 at the charity stripe. On the night, Sacramento had a satisfactory 31 attempts, but hit only 17 for a 54.8% success rate at the free throw line. 

Fox missed a couple in the fourth quarter, going 7 of 9.

Sabonis missed some early, going 2 of 5 on the game. The big man is certainly making a convincing case for the all-star game, but over his last six games, he’s just 28 of 45 from the line for 62.2%.

Before leaving the game, Harrison Barnes was getting to the line time and time again, but he went just 5 of 8 from there.

Keegan Murray missed his two after getting fouled with a mismatch advantage, turning a promising possession into a scoreless one.

Terence Davis failed to cash in on an and-one opportunity.

And Kevin Huerter, who’s had a rough year from the free throw line (68.3%), could not convert either of his attempts.

Free throw issues seemed to threaten to haunt the Kings after their loss to New York, but they kept it together for the remainder of the road trip. It’s just disappointing to see them drop the ball regarding that aspect upon their return home.

Assessing Queta’s opportunity as the backup 5

The backup 5 seems so void of immediate solutions that it was not at all surprising that the Kings kept Neemias Queta around for this one.

Chimezie Metu may not be cut out for that role on a nightly basis, Richaun Holmes has yet to show anything despite high hopes coming into the year, and Alex Len is more of a matchups-based giant. 

Over the last couple of games, Mike Brown and his staff have not stuck with a consistent man for the role. They’ve gone to Metu late in the first at the typical juncture before calling upon Holmes for the second half relief of Sabonis.

Honestly, it felt like Holmes might get kicked this opportunity based on that minutes distribution over the last two as well as on the fact that it feels like a shot in the dark could yield better results at this point.

With a similar “what the hell?” outlook, Queta got the shot Monday night.

Why not?

Just a week or so prior, it appeared Neemias Queta could still use some work in his minutes played in Philadelphia due to his quick fouls, but in this game he looked decent, committing none while posting a block.

Early into his minutes, one could see he wasn’t great. Queta got beat on the glass by Nick Richards, had a slow recovery after providing help that allowed a dunk, and showed some indecisive help.

He bounced back, though. Early in the second he had his aforementioned block, got a feed from Monk that he put in the cup, and showed signs of nice defensive help (even as Murray got called for the blocking foul).

In two instances that followed, Queta had some great stances on the defensive side. At one point, he came out and provided adequate defense out on the perimeter before hustling back into the paint to box out and secure the stop. Soon after, he hung with the smaller Maledon to force a miss with the help of some team defense.

Before checking out, though, he had a hiccup that Kayte Christensen pointed out where Queta did not make the effort get the pass while establishing position in the post, which resulted in a turnover. And on the other end, the big man was undisciplined as he went up for a useless contest (because it was tardy) that allowed JT Thor to get the rebound and put back.

Queta was later called upon for second half relief with seconds remaining in the third quarter. He stayed in for about two minutes. In that time, Queta had a butterfingers moment that became a turnover, but he also continued showing his defensive bona fides with this nice demonstration of using verticality to disrupt shots.

It was not spectacular, there are clearly things to work on, and Sabonis had to play another forty-plus minute night, but Queta was surprisingly adequate considering the circumstances.

It will be interesting going forward how the backup 5 situation develops as it is a key for this team.

“(The backup center situation) hadn’t looked great as of late,” head coach Mike Brown said postgame when asked about it. “If you watch the games, we’ve had to run Domas forty minutes and I can’t run Domas forty minutes every night, so I need to find a guy in that spot who’s gonna defend, run the floor, spell Domas for six to eight minutes a half, and play as hard as he can while trying to follow the game plan, not fouling, boxing out, doing all of the little things that need to keep that group solid for those six to eight minutes. And we’ve found it in spurts, but I want to get to a point where it can be a little bit more consistent, so I’m going to keep searching until I feel like that person is there.”

Based on Brown’s comments it could be based on matchups for the time being. Queta’s size appeared to matchup decently against Charlotte’s inside presence. Maybe the coaching staff feels Metu matches up with the Lakers’ reserve bigs in Wenyen Gabriel and Damian Jones. Maybe the coaching staff has similar ideas for Holmes and Len.

But later in the presser, Brown also said he’s had to flip through different guys and that he’s gone to Queta for now. And it’s more likely he’d want one consistent player for that role. 

For now, it’s too early to make a final judgement on Queta in terms of this role—or anyone for that matter—but he’s at least making it interesting for now and potentially providing another skillset to consider if a matchups-based approach is leaned on.

Harrison Barnes’ quadricep

Harrison Barnes did not check back into the game in the fourth quarter after being ruled out with a right quad contusion.

Asked about it after the game and Mike Brown said he had not yet checked in on it and that Jason Anderson, who asked the question, evidently knows more about it. So further official word should be coming out today.

In the second quarter, Harrison Barnes came up with a steal that was followed by a layup on the other end. After the attempt at the rim, Barnes was in visible pain as he seemed to grab his right leg or knee, and he hobbled back up the floor before checking out of the game and getting tended to by the medical staff.

Just over a minute elapsed on the game clock before the veteran checked back in to finish the half.

He started the third quarter, making some drives to the rim, but after checking out near the end, he was soon ruled out for the remainder of the game. 

The Kings play again Wednesday.

Going forward

Sacramento’s home stand continues as the Lakers come to town Wednesday night.

Los Angeles lost Anthony Davis to a foot injury last Friday night against the Nuggets in a game they won. They then beat the Wizards on Sunday before getting smoked the following night by the Suns in a game where LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Austin Reaves were all out.

When they come to Sacramento, it will be their third game in four nights.

While 13-17 on the season, the Lakers are playing better basketball since the Kings last saw them a month ago. Back in November, LA’s loss to Sacramento was their fifth in a row as they got out to a miserable 2-10 start to the season. Since then, they’re 11-7.

Still, Davis’ injury—which will keep him out for a month—is a big blow to this team’s chances on a nightly basis. The big man was averaging 27.4 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.

The Kings will look to take care of business at home and bounce back after a disappointing loss.

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Dan Smith
Dan Smith
5 months ago

Not one for excuses, but these first games back after a long road trip are always difficult and tough for teams. I wonder what the all time stats are for returning teams after 5, 6 or 7 game road trips in terms of wins-losses. It’s disappointing the outcome, but it’s one game…roll it up and throw it away. We’ll get back on track against LA, and still have 14 of the next 18 at home. Let’s go Sacto!