Keegan Murray Looks Like a Pro; Grading Queta’s Performance in Win vs. Lakers

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 21: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings high fives teammate Domantas Sabonis #10 during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 21, 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)

The Kings looked sharper and rejuvenated in a 134-120 victory over the visiting Lakers.

Los Angeles got 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 11 assists out of LeBron James, plus four other players in double figures, but Sacramento’s guys topped them.

Domantas Sabonis lead with his second triple-double of the season with 13 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists. Kevin Huerter showed up for 26 points, De’Aaron Fox had 22, Keegan Murray put up 23, and Harrison Barnes added 20. Also notable, Malik Monk may have only had 6 points on 1 of 3 from the field, but he also had 6 assists, helping Neemias Queta score 10 points as the reserve 5.

Out of the gate, the Kings took many three’s, a good amount were generated very efficiently, but most ended with a miss. Sabonis was a ceaseless driving force into the paint who would dish it out to teammates for good looks. Meanwhile, LeBron was doing his thing early. Sacramento was playing pretty good defense for much of the period, but they were shooting a low percentage (35% in the first); they did, however, go 8 of 9 at the free throw line one game removed from a 54% night. And the Lakers did a good job of swarming Domas with success. Both teams had 6 turnovers for a sloppy start, and LA lead by one after one.

In the second, Fox and the Kings second unit were moving the ball around to create highly energetic scores, including two lobs from Monk to Queta. The Lakers did push back after giving up the lead, regaining it midway through the quarter with the help of LeBron James and Thomas Bryant. Sabonis’ presence meant openings came easier to other players—Barnes, who had 14 first half points, was aggressive inside, as wer others—and Sac retook the lead with an 11-3 run. Both the team defense, ball movement, and De’Aaron Fox all turned it up late in the period, giving Sacramento a 66-58 lead in the half. 

The Kings came out in the second half with a mission; Sabonis was creating for others and being aggressive, and guys were executing as they started on a run. LeBron was helping his team get stops and create in transition, but the Kings’ pace and energy took hold. Kevin Huerter in particular had a great period, going for quick, easy offense and going all out on the glass. WIth that and some made three’s from guys like Keegan Murray, Sac went on a 22-9 run to end the third, leading 106-86.

Starting the fourth, Terence Davis lead with exemplary effort that seemed to infect the team all night. Sabonis kept working his magic to help guys get open, but he ran into some trouble when Wenyen Gabriel’s arm came down on his head, flicking his noggin like a bobblehead; Domas took some time to hold his neck in pain. He continued playing, reaching his triple-double. 

With the game winding down, the Lakers—who got to the free throw line 13 times and were playing well in the fourth—went on 10-3 run. At that point they came up with a block—which was adamantly protested by Fox and Mike Brown as a foul—that lead to a clear path and some technical fouls as well as Fox’s ejection. This also meant LA had four free throw attempts and the ball while down 16 points with three minutes to play. Though the suspense rose for a moment, the Kings got some stops in addition to Huerter and Barnes hitting two dagger three’s.

Wednesday night’s win over the Lakers was an impressive return to Sacramento’s kind of basketball on their home floor.

High energy, good fundamentals

As one reader pointed out, chalk the loss to Charlotte up to the return home after a long road trip. There isn’t a ton of available history available upon a cursory search, but there is some evidence beyond the eye test that road trips of five or more games are, more often than not, followed up by a loss in the first game back at home.

Besides, look at this one. The Lakers scored just 50 paint points with the Kings having a +8 advantage there; Sac had 29 assists after a 23-assist night on Monday; Sabonis helped his team lead in rebounds, offensive boards, and second chance points; and they shot a far better 75% from the free throw line one game removed from a 54.8% night.

More to the point, they had a significantly higher level of energy beneath them.

The pace was really good for the most part, and it was used to their advantage anytime the Kings would go on a run. In fact, late in the first going into the second quarter, when Sacramento began to gain a lead, that’s when the pedal was stomped on.

In the second and third periods, the Kings had two 40-plus point quarters, outscoring LA by 21 in that span, which was critical to getting this victory.

For many of the guys, it was the best of their characteristic traits. Sabonis pushed the ball up the floor, dictating the flow of the ball from one pair of hands to the other. De’Aaron Fox was adamant about getting to the line, which he did 9 times (though he’d have preferred 11).  Harrison Barnes was maintaining the flow, making the right plays. Davion Mitchell was heads up enough to draw yet another charge with a +22 on the night. And on and on.

But there were some moments of noticeable effort and hustle moments that eluded a team that was on and had just finished a long roadie.

Kevin Huerter’s third quarter was terrific mostly because he exhibited high energy and high effort play to make things easy for him and his team. He ran up the floor for quick offense and helped the team get an offensive rebound as previously noted.

Terence Davis did not appear to be having a great game for a moment there. He had 0 points and 2 fouls in six minutes played during the first half. Near the end of the third, he telegraphed a silly pass to Sabonis for a Thomas Bryant interception, but he hustled right behind the big man and fouled him on the other end, which paid off when Bryant went 1 of 2 from the line.

In the fourth, Davis used the same hustle when Fox turned it over, working his tail off to get to the other side of the court to come up with a great block in transition. And a little later, as a defender in the high paint, he decisively came down to contest LeBron at the rim and came up with another block.

Up and down the board, the Kings were feeling it again.

Keegan Murray’s looks like a pro

Keegan Murray’s poise has always been noted, and rightly so. From the moment he was drafted through summer league and into the start of the season, he was cool and he was executing.

He hit a rough spell in November. It happens, but he did noticeably have some awkward moments here and there.

The common trend through it all was that he kept working at it and kept getting better. Shots maybe weren’t falling, mental gaps would occur, and some calls weren’t going his way, but he stuck with it. And in doing so, shots began to fall again—as most expected—he became more decisive, and he executed in order to get certain calls.

Murray is shooting 48.3% from three in 10 games this month, and he hit 6 of 12 against the Lakers. 

Also, as he’s done, he continued staying aggressive, generating better results. In the first quarter, Murray pump faked and drove to the rim. Sabonis had just cleared out upon passing it to the rookie, so the lane was there for the taking. Murray dribbled straight ahead, trying to dunk on Max Christie, who fouled him with the contest, earning the Kings forward a trip to the line.

It’s things like that where he looks more and more like a professional.

Furthermore, he has been getting in perfect position to draw charging fouls as of late. It seemed like for a while there he was not getting calls at all. Wednesday, he drew a pair of charging fouls, earning him the Defensive Player of the Game chain for the night.

Sticking with his defense—which was good both on-ball and off—a lot of credit has to be given to the rookie for his role in transition defense. There have been many points where he puts himself in the right position to contest or comes up with a block. In the Laker game, Murray had a few moments doing that, one on a contest that allowed Huerter a steal and the other another nice contest early in the third quarter.

The rookie is not looking like a rookie here in December.

Queta continues incremental improvement

As one could see with Neemias Queta from last season to the summer league and into this season is that he’s made his progress. As he noted Tuesday after practice, “the game is slowing down” for him.

In this one, as the backup 5, his size, length, and athleticism stood out as well as some of his floor awareness.

Queta went 5 for 5 from the field. Three of his made field goals were off of lobs. The first two came from Malik Monk in the second quarter; Monk did an excellent job of using his burst towards the rim to create enough room to get it up for the big man. And credit to Queta because he is big, showing how high he can get up for those alley-oops.

The third lob came early in the fourth from Fox, but it was again Monk who set a screen to free the big fella up. In this game, Malik Monk opened the breaker box for Queta, and the big man brought the electricity.

“If he continues to catch that backside lob, sooner or later, Fox or Malik are gonna get to the rim for layups,” Mike Brown said of Queta after the game.

Another field goal of his came from his ability to run the floor. He had contested a LeBron three-point attempt and was in prime positioning to floor it to the other end, which he did, earning himself an easy dunk. That was really impressive as he got his long legs moving to get down there.

He also used his presence inside to have a offensive rebound fall his way, which he put back for a dunk.

Additionally, he showed good awareness early in his time on the floor. He set a nice screen and then proceeded to move and utilize smart floor spacing for his teammates before setting another screen to help open for a Monk floater.

Defensively, had a solid contest despite sort of getting beat by the smaller player and had a similar, but better-executed moment in mop up time.

Queta had some good moments, showing his improvement and providing adequate rest for Sabonis, who played 37 minutes.

But with progress comes the need for more of it, which was also exhibited by the young big out of Portugal.

One of the frequent and constant critiques of Queta is just how awkward he is. He’s clumsy and displays too many butterfinger moments. 

Even in times where he makes the right play and with the right attitude, but it comes out looking all funky and uncontrolled. That was the case on a dunk attempt that got him two attempts at the free throw line, both of which he missed.

He also showed off his butterfingers. At one point late in the first, the ball popped off of Queta’s hands on what could have been an offensive board, but unable to contain it, he fouled Christie. And not long after that, he had another potential offensive rebound go loose after touching a good portion of the center’s paw.

His defense also really, wasn’t great despite a good moment or two. Queta seemed off on two particular instances that ended up in fouls for his teammates. Here, he is overzealous on his help down low, leaving the restricted area unprotected. And here, he goes up for a wild contest that looked like it spoiled a potential drawn charge for Davion Mitchell (it looked like Mitchell was bracing for both the driving player and Queta).

Queta also had a couple of fouls, one on an uncontrolled backpedal defending a driving LeBron, and the second a moment where Queta hesitated to contest a shot, trying to do so from inside the restricted area.

Overall on the night, Queta deserves a B-, and that might just be because it was the best performance from a backup center in recent memory.

He provided adequate relief Wednesday and had some positive moments, but the grade doesn’t go higher because he still has a lot to prove, which is clear through the multiple and blatant mistakes he made on the floor.

Sabonis does it all… again

In his second triple-double of the season, Domantas Sabonis again proved he’s one of the elite centers in this game. 

With just 13 points in addition to his 21 rebounds and 12 assists, it’s clear just how much every thing runs through him.

Interestingly, Domas had another fairly low scoring figure in his first triple-double performance against the Bulls. When he is able to open up things for other guys, he does not need to score, but when he’s forced to be aggressive, he does so.

Against the Lakers, it was evidently more passing. LA did a decent job earlier in the game at collapsing on Sabonis, but in the long run, he managed to set up easy looks for many of his teammates. Just for pure beauty’s sake, this assist was a beautiful feed—or reward, really—to a sharp baseline cut by Huerter, who finished gorgeously in reverse fashion high off the glass.

Plus he continued his excellent ability to be a force on the glass (7 offensive rebounds) and be a defensive anchor (even forcing a LeBron midrange miss).

“The man just plays so hard,” Mike Brown marveled postgame. “And it’s evident because it shows up in whatever he does out on the floor.”

It was more of the same from the Kings starting center: mastery, brilliance, and domination.

Brown standing up for his guys

On the ejection of Fox, Mike Brown was asked if he had a conversation with the point guard about not doing that with “five minutes” left in the game (it was actually three minutes left). 

It was a fair and useful question to ask.

The head coach pointed out that Fox “got fouled” and that the officials “missed the call.” Brown recounted that in the moment he told his guy that he’ll “ride with (him) because (he’s) one of our best two players.”

He did note that it could also be a learning experience, admitting the 16-point lead could have been erased in the remaining time.

However, it’s clear Mike Brown is sticking to a leadership philosophy of standing behind his guys at all costs.

Domas and his neck

As Kayte Christensen said on the broadcast, Sabonis will feel that aforementioned whip of his neck in the morning.

Watching the video, it did not look fun and his mom in attendance wanted nothing to do with it. Thank goodness he walked out of it okay, but it was undeniably ironic that they were advertising his bobblehead earlier in the game’s broadcast.

Alongside Harrison Barnes, Domas was listed as questionable before the game due to something with his left hand. James Ham asked him about it prior to tip-off and the big man said he doesn’t know exactly how he hurt his shooting hand, but that it was aggravated from a past issue.

His hand looked fine on Wednesday night—he did hit a three—but keep an eye on his neck in case it tightens on him.

Going forward

With a some mojo generated from this win, the Kings will host the Wizards, who are set to come to town on Friday night.

Washington is playing in Utah tonight, so it will be the second of a road back-to-back for the Wizards, who are 12-20 overall and 4-13 on the road this season as of now. 

The team had an 11-10 record at the end of November before they tumbled down into a ten-game losing streak, which ended Tuesday night against a Suns team playing without Devin Booker.

Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, and Kristaps Porzingis are all scoring more than 20 points per game, but the Wizards offense is among the bottom ten in the NBA. Similarly, their defense is in the same bottom tier.

Sacramento will look to take care of business again on Friday night before three days off through the Christmas holiday.

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Kings Talk – A Cap City Crown Podcast on the Sacramento Kings

Kings Talk: Episode 67

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Dan Smith
9 months ago

Really glad Domas ended up being alright, hopefully he can play tonite. Fox was right in his post game comments about disliking officials who ref the score, haha. Should be able to take this game against the Wiz, especially if they don’t have Kristaps or Avdija. They still have Beal & Kuz, but not much other scoring help.