Sacramento’s Defense Hits New Low After Loss to Lakers

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 07: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after fouling out of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 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. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

They are still out looking for the defense that was meant to be present, but after an offensive extravaganza, the Kings found themselves on the losing end of it against the Lakers, failing to win it down in the final minutes.

It all came down to who would bear down and play defense, and it was easy to deduce which team that might be based on the fact the Kings allowed their opponent to put up 70 paint points to their 48. The Lakers got to the line a lot and had 12 second chance points, but Sac was better in those categories, underlining the importance of paint defense.

Sacramento’s starters put up some nice nights. De’Aaron Fox lead his team with 34 points with 9 assists. Though he fouled out, Domantas Sabonis got his sixteenth double-double in a row, scoring 25 to go along with 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Harrison Barnes scored 18, Kevin Huerter put in 17, and Keegan Murray had 16. With them and in the absence of Malik Monk, Trey Lyles lead the bench scoring with 11 points.

But LA brought just a bit more, featuring four players with 20 or more points. LeBron James lead all scorers with 37 with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Thomas Bryant had a double-double with 29 points and 14 boards. Plus, Dennis Schroder dropped 27 points and Russell Westbrook had an incredible 23 points with 15 assists off the bench.

This game stated the obvious. Offense is not everything. Not even close.

“Let’s face it, we can score, but we are terrible defensively,” coach Mike Brown assessed glumly and honestly after the loss.

Game summary

De’Aaron Fox hit some early shots and the Kings looked pretty good at times defending inside (to start), but LeBron James and the Lakers were hitting their three-pointers, getting off to a 6 of 8 start. Plus, they pushed the ball very well with LeBron on the floor. But Sacramento was off to an even hotter start from deep, hitting 7 of 12 in the first, with Huerter making a pair and Davion Mitchell responsible for three. With all the offense, Sac lead 38-37 after one.

Carrying over his effort from the first, Trey Lyles and other bench players in the absence of Malik Monk were displaying tremendous hustle before some of those other role players began committing fouls and turnovers, slowing the game down. The Kings began to dial up some nice scores when Sabonis returned, but the Lakers went on a 14-4 run, taking advantage of Sac’s disintegrating interior defense scoring 20 paint points while also continuing to hit 69.2% of their threes mostly due to Schroder. The offense-dominated first half ended in a dead heat at 73-all.

The Kings began the half producing some nice looks for Keegan Murray, but Sabonis got hit with his third and fourth fouls, the second of which was contesting LeBron after LA had again forced that switch, bringing Holmes back in early. Both teams continued scoring, but neither could gain a firm grip on the lead. Los Angeles had the lead, then Sacramento did, and so on. After three, with the defense almost nonexistent, the score remained even, this time at 109.

Los Angeles began the fourth with a 12-4 run, continuing to score inside as LeBron was getting everything he wanted. But then De’Aaron Fox began to turn it on, helping his team flip it for a 11-2 run to tie it. And both teams returned to the back and forth. The question was who would play defense first. With about 90 seconds left and the game tied at 130, Keegan Murray took a hit to the face from LeBron, which forced a turnover and brought about a beautiful Fox jumper. But LeBron got to the rim with an and-one, drawing Domas’ sixth foul and retaking the lead at the line.

Down one with under 50 seconds left, the Lakers played harassing defense against the Kings, forcing an ugly shot late in the shot clock, but Trey Lyles secured another 14 seconds for his team after coming in for Sabonis. But for as well as the forward played, he inbounded a little too high off the mark to Fox, committing the turnover. The ball went out of bounds with 22 seconds remaining and the Lakers getting a side-out. 

Receiving it, Westbrook was sent to the line with 18 left, hitting just 1 of 2. Then Fox hit a stunning turn around fadeaway to tie it, but six ticks were left on the clock.

LA inbounded the ball to Schroder, who penetrated to the rim, drawing a foul from his man, Fox, who protested it. At the line, the Lakers guard hit both. Having lost their last timeout to unsuccessfully challenge the call, Fox pushed the ball up to about half court for a shot attempt, but missed, drawing the ire from the point guard because he felt he was fouled (and he may very well have been).

Fox’s late-game heroics come up short while officials gain more of his animosity

After the Lakers had gotten off to a nice 12-4 start to the final quarter, De’Aaron Fox made his presence known, something he would have to continue trying to do even after the final buzzer.

In the final period, Fox scored 17 points on 5 of 8 from the field with four separate trips to the line for 7 of 7 on free throws. 

He was marvelous, getting to the line, making beautiful shots, and even playing some difference-making defense.

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be enough. Worse, the point guard felt like the ability to decide the game was stripped from the players.

Fox appeared to be on his way to delivering a home win in spite of virtually non-existent defense, but Trey Lyles’ overly ambitious and poorly executed inbound pass with 24 seconds left put that in peril. There was still a good chance though.

The ball was then inbounded from the side to Dennis Schroder who drove downhill from half court, drawing a foul on Fox. Sac’s star point guard did a nice job of moving with Schroder as well as keeping his hands up and chest out, but the body contact appeared to be what initiated the whistle. 

It could have been a no-call, but Fox did have a visible bump with the body.

Schroder hit both at the line, getting his team up 2 points, but the fastest player in the NBA still had two seconds. And with that time, he did a nice job to get just past half court for a decent deep three, which he missed.

Fox was visibly upset, storming to the locker room in disgust.

Upon watching the replay, he had reason to as it sure appeared as if Westbrook fouled him on that last-second attempt.

Schroder’s benefit of the doubt is no issue so long as that benefit is consistent.

Sacramento’s brittle paint defense

Foul calls or no foul calls, there was a larger issue that hindered the win probability for the Kings.

When it came to points in the paint, Sacramento got whacked 48-70 as their interior defense looked like it had already been broken before the first quarter could come to a close.

Over their last 12 games, the Kings have held their opponent below 50 paint points just one time, which came Tuesday night in Utah. 

On Friday after practice, Mike Brown made direct mention of the fact they are one of the worst teams at defending the paint.

“Sometimes there are those nights where you lose because a team gets hot from the three, but you don’t ever want to walk away from a game saying we lost because a team scored 72 points in the paint,” the head coach explained.

As one can imagine, Saturday’s performance was far from satisfactory.

“The bottom line is obviously we have to figure out some how and some way to stop people,” Brown said at the start of the postgame presser. “Defensively, we are not good at all. To have a team come in here and score a 136 points on 61-percent shooting and 70 points in the paint — that’s not good.”

It did not take long for him to ruminate on what the issue is, putting the challenge on his guys.

“I’m not sure if we collectively as a group understand how important it is to try and fight like heck from the beginning of the game to the end of the game defensively,” he added, noting that the team did not give a lot of help to Sabonis down there and directly highlighting Keegan Murray’s rebound-less night.

But he cycled back to the paint defense, noting that it became even more absurd as the three ball did not fall at all for the Lakers in the second half (9 of 13 in the first, 0 of 8 in the second).

Sounding reminiscent of the first couple of weeks when he’d implore his team to compete for as close to 48 minutes as possible, Brown said “we have to commit to defending for 48 minutes.”

It was apparent in the head coach’s tone and demeanor, the defense is reaching a new low this season.

Backup center watch: Holmes’ night was a descending slope

For a bit there, Richaun Holmes looked like he was going to have a nice night, but his performance started at a descent altitude before sliding down a freshly powdered slope.

There wasn’t much to say of him at the end of the first, but at the very start of the second quarter, the big man looked to be back in the form he’d shown in the three games ahead of New Year’s. He perfectly contested LeBron—so well, in fact, it appeared “the king” made up a blow to the side of his face, forcing his coach to waste a timeout to maintain the blatant facade—cleaned up the offensive glass once, and later batted a rebound that allowed a Lyles three.

However, he began to descend shortly thereafter.

In a gruesome sequence, Holmes committed a mindless three-second violation on defense before getting whistled for a moving screen on the other end for a turnover. And soon after that, he himself was beat on the glass by Wenyen Gabriel, fouling him as well. 

Near the end of the first half, LeBron, instead of Gabriel or Bryant, began defending Sabonis in the middle. The prospect that Mike Brown could look to go small for most or all of the second half—as he has recently—seemed more than possible.

But two quick fouls to begin the second half got Holmes right back in there. Though he did not get back on the ski-lift, the downward slope evened out a bit. In that third quarter, Holmes did not make any big mistakes—though this was some erratic defense off the switch, though not his absolute worst—but the team did give up the lead.

He did have a great moment where he and Fox ran up the floor for some quick offense; the point guard hit Holmes in stride, who put down the slam dunk.

Other than that, not much else, which underlines the need for a better option at the backup center.

After Sabonis fouled out, coach Brown did indeed go to Lyles in the final 50 or so seconds.

For Holmes, this game was better than the previous couple of games where his energy seemed to wane, but the hole more or less continues to exist at the backup 5.

No silver lining for this one

Typically following some of these recent losses, there is a positive take away. While there were some individual performances that were admirable—for instance, all the starters for instance played well minus Sabonis fouling out—this has to be a wake up call.

Sacramento is 3-5 over their last 8 home games and over the last couple of weeks the screws have become dangerously loose on the defensive side of the ball.

There is nothing good about failing to protect your home floor.

Going forward

The home stand continues.

And after this loss, it will be the Orlando Magic coming to town as the Kings look to get their defense back on track.

Nearing the intrigue a contest against the Lakers always provides, fans can look forward to the second regular season matchup between first overall pick Paolo Banchero and fourth overall selection Keegan Murray.

The Magic, like any NBA team, can be very dangerous.

Though they are a young 15-25 team, don’t lose sight of the fact they beat Boston two times in a row last month to cap off a six-game winning streak. Not to mention Orlando played Golden State on Saturday night and came out with the win, their second victory over the reigning champions.

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