Barnes, the Bench, and Defense Proved How Vital They Are to the Kings

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 09: Domantas Sabonis #10 and Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings celebrate after a basket in the second quarter at Golden 1 Center on January 09, 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)

After dropping the first two of this five-game home stand, the Kings had a convincing win against the visiting Orlando Magic, 136-111.

What a way to return to the right kind of basketball. Sacramento had just 11 turnovers, matched their season-high in assists with 39, and hit a franchise record for three-pointers made in a single game with 23. Best of all, however, the Kings held the Magic to just 42 paint points after averaging over 60 in their previous 10 games.

In his postgame presser, Mike Brown came out and said he’s got to try to get in on the lottery by putting 42’s across the board, saying he’s “excited about that 42 right now” like it’s a lucky number.

Six Magic players were in double figures, but the defense didn’t allow any of them to eclipse 20 points. Paolo Banchero had 17 with 8 boards and 4 assists, Franz Wagner and Markelle Fultz both had 16 each, Wendell Carter Jr. had 15 with 7 rebounds, Jalen Suggs had 14, and Moritz Wagner had 12.

But obviously, they were no match for the Kings.

Harrison Barnes lead all scorers with a season-high 30 points on 11 of 13 from the field and 6 of 7 from three. Along with him, Domantas Sabonis had another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Keegan Murray had 15 points on 5 made three’s, Kevin Huerter scored 14 with 4 three’s, and De’Aaron Fox finished with 11 points and 9 assists. Moreover, Malik Monk returned and had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists off the bench. And Trey Lyles added 14 points while Chimezie Metu had 11. 

The Magic may not be the most imposing of teams, but any team that wants to contend has to win at home. In the big picture, it was exactly the type of game this team needed after a rough stretch of play over their previous 10 where they were 4-6. That is especially the case on the defensive end.

Game summary

It took just over two minutes of gameplay before Mike Brown called a quick timeout in the first following two paint scores and a wide open three for Orlando. Out of it, the Kings produced three excellent paint scores for Barnes as well as good looks from the outside. Sacramento got off to a great start from beyond the arc, hitting 7 of their first 11. The combination of inside and outside scores—and at such an efficient rate—led to the Kings scoring 41 on 13 assists in the first, but they did allow 31 to the Magic, 18 of which came in the paint.

Fox and a lot of the bench guys started the second period well as their effort on the glass was showing through. Sacramento then missed five straight field goal attempts and committed a few turnovers to dwindle their lead down to single digits as Orlando went on an 11-2 run. But they responded with a 22-8 run with the help of stops that actually came about consistently (Orlando had just 21 points in the quarter). Not to mention Harrison Barnes continued to look good whether on the perimeter or in the paint (like this beauty). All of which came together to give the Kings a 72-52 lead at half.

While he missed his first field goal attempt of the game, Harrison Barnes continued his hot shooting. At the same time, though, the Magic were off to a great start, hitting 5 of their first 6 three-point attempts going on a 12-2 run at one point midway through the third. But the Kings got it back on track, benefitting from some nice bench play—led by Malik Monk—and ending the quarter with a 107-84 lead.

The Kings began the first minute and a half of the fourth well, but out of an Orlando timeout, the Magic were able to begin cutting down the lead again. However, as was the case seemingly all night, Sacramento doubled any comeback effort from their opponent, stretching the lead out to 30 points. Soon after, garbage time ensued, PJ Dozier made his Kings debut, and Matthew Dellavedova’s three broke a franchise record for triples made in a game. And most important, Sacramento won at home.

Paint defense

Coming into this game, the Kings had been allowing 61.4 paint points over their previous 10 games. And the last time they played the Magic, they allowed 78 paint points.

After giving up 18 in the first quarter, Orlando managed 6 in the second, 10 in the third, and 8 in the fourth for a total of just 42.

“Usually I go on this long freakin’ soliloquy, but no it’s about 42, baby,” Mike Brown said excitedly after the win. He went on to note how happy he was to see his team take what they’d been working on the last couple of days and apply it successfully on “most possessions.”

While there were some early efforts that were decent in terms of earnest attempts to defend the paint as a team, the Magic managed to get in there a considerable amount to start. 

There were moments where it was just ugly. Here, as Cole Anthony gets a handoff, there’s a wide open lane as the three low defenders did not converge adequately. 

Here, the restricted area was just too wide open and closing it came too late as Davion Mitchell was whistled with a blocking foul; it was apparently Keegan Murray’s fault as he was too far out near the perimeter, neglecting his responsibility to rotate from the weak side (this only said because, upon watching the clip, viewers can hear Mike Brown yell, “KEEGAN!” as if to call attention to something in need of correction). 

Furthermore, here, in the second period, Murray nearly got into the right position for a rebound after a stop was so close to being achieved. However, after allowing the offensive board because it wasn’t good enough, the rookie also had issue stopping Gary Harris who grabbed it and scored at the rim.

But things got much better as the game went on. It was clear after the first timeout of the game for coach Brown that the adjustments had the desired effect.

For instance, here, the Kings—namely Mitchell—guarded the restricted area perfectly in transition, coming out with a steal. 

Really, in spite of a light offensive night (even though he had 9 assists), De’Aaron Fox deserves credit in the team’s defensive effort.

Fox was awesome on the defensive glass, rotations/help, and coming from the weak side with a vengeance, all of which contributed significantly to the defensive night. 

Still, though, this team has to tighten the screws in a lot of areas. As Mike Brown alluded to, one pretty solid defensive game is not proof that they are once again surging on that side of the ball.

“We can be even better than we were tonight,” he noted as a reminder of what this team is capable of.

Harrison Barnes had it going and has been getting it going

Harrison Barnes has been playing better and better as the season has progressed. And lately, his three-ball has been falling, which may be one of the most considerable parts of his overall impact. 

Over his last 12 games now, he’s shooting 46.2% on his three’s (30 of 65).

And he was just terrific against the magic, hitting 6 of his 7 looks.

With the outside shooting, the veteran remained aware and savvy enough to continue getting inside with 8 paint points and a modest 3 trips to the free throw line.

It feels like ages ago that the discourse seemed so fixated on Harrison Barnes’ slow start. In hindsight and in the big picture, it wasn’t that bad. Of course, given his experience and cap hit, one would expect more of an instant impact to be felt, but really it felt like his game came together fairly well.

That is, aside from his three-point shooting.

But now, that’s on the upswing, too.

From offense to defense to work on the glass, Harrison Barnes has been such a valuable piece to this team’s success. He’s not a star, but his value is unquestionable. 

Questions always remained as to when that three ball would start falling for the guy who shot 38.9% from deep in his previous three seasons combined.

It may have been a more encouraging sign to see the paint defense have the night it did, but more assured going forward is the fact that Harrison Barnes is reaching the all-around level of play his team needs him to play.

Malik Monk’s glorious return

Malik Monk missed Saturday’s game against the Lakers due to a minor calf issue. Really, it was an opportunity to rest more than anything.

His return on Monday night was simply glorious as he led the bench unit to a great game that felt reminiscent of their play earlier in the season.

Monk looked fresh in this one, looking very springy on this dunk. More to the point, aside from his 14 points, he had 6 assists off the bench. But best of all—one game removed from Mike Brown calling out Keegan Murray for posting 0 rebounds—Monk grabbed 7 rebounds, including a couple of tenacious efforts that secured stops as well as one on the offensive end. Plus, he had an awesome block as he shuffled down the lane guarding Cole Anthony.

He may not have hit any three’s—in a game where nine of the fourteen players who logged minutes hit one—but the level of energy at which the bench played seemed to stem directly back to him.

It’s a much needed return to form.

In the 10 games before sitting out against the Lakers, Monk was shooting just 37.7% from the field as the bench looked less effective in much of that timeframe.

Monk is one of the most important players on this team, and that was apparent Monday night. A short break for him appeared to pay off.

Metu as the backup 5 again and the DPOG

The carousel keeps turning.

As such, we have landed on Chimezie Metu once again for a turn at the backup center role.

Frankly, before his play subsided in early December, Metu had probably the best and most stable stretch as the backup 5. Hardly a center size wise, Metu was able to play alongside an energetic second unit, fitting right in, running the floor, and getting in the air to put down dunks.

When he was able to play among that sort of energy, he not only benefitted from it, but substantiated it with energy slams.

It was more of that on Monday.

Metu had a nice game, scoring 11 points with 9 rebounds and being on the recieving end of some nice dump offs from his teammates. Best of all, he was the defensive player of the game with nice activity and with his ability to go vertical (yes, Suggs makes this, but Metu’s contest was solid). 

His head coach again commended the fact that Metu offers “a different look than Sabonis does,” saying that it’s kind of the right idea for the backup so long as it also brings success.

For whatever issues Metu has—no player is perfect, he’s far from it—he’s shown a lot of resilience to be able to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes his way. Even as he let it slip away in December with some poor play that lacked the typical energy and featured too many moments where he drifted from the game plan, he was able to reassume the role and execute.

That was symbolically illustrated in the second when he whiffed a lob sent his way before cleaning up the offensive glass for a put back dunk not long after.

Overall, he was great on both sides of the glass.

And while he had three fouls, they were fairly spaced out and none were blatantly unnecessary.

Of course, one game is not a sign that he’s the surefire answer for the backup 5 role. He lost the role once, the Kings are probably aware that such a thing could happen again.

But once more, he has provided the best and most extensive stretches of good play as the backup to Sabonis.

While Sacramento probably continues looking for a consistent answer to that role, Metu is showing that he is more than capable of contributing when the bench already has it clicking.

The bench was feeling itself

As is kind of apparent in the two above sections, the bench was phenomenal for Sacramento in this victory, scoring 54 points.

25 of those points came from Monk and Metu, but the love was clearly spread around, to three others in particular.

Davion Mitchell had just 5 points, but he hit another three—his third straight game with one made—and played the typical standard of defense, drawing a charge as well. In fact, the offense is starting to become a more reliable—albeit limited—commodity as he’s hit 10 of his last 23 (43.5%) attempts from deep after starting the season shooting just 29% from that range in 27 games.

On a similar note, Trey Lyles continued his excellent play as well since being brought back into the nightly rotation. He had 14 points on 4 of 8 from the field and 3 of 5 from deep. Lyles also contributed 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and his characteristic high-IQ play. Similar to many of the other guys on this team, his three has been falling as of late, hitting 11 of his last 27 (40.7%) attempts over his last nine games.

And KZ Okpala provided just under 11 minutes of play, providing solid defense, posting a +15, and hitting a three-pointer. Here, for instance, his defensive abilities helped stop the ball from penetrating the paint and forced the Magic into a three-point attempt. And his coach cited Okpala as being a great source of length, which along with a slight adjustment in Barnes’ minutes (which has him playing a bit more with the bench guys), helped the bench have the night it did.

The bench play was reminiscent of earlier in the season when this team was rolling. As the Kings look to reach the next gear this season, the bench’s play is critical. This was a great sign of them coming back to life.

Going forward

For the final two games of this five-game home stand, the Kings will take on the Houston Rockets over the course of three nights.

After their loss to Minnesota on Sunday, Houston stands at 10-30 on the season having lost seven in a row and 12 of their last 13. Both their offense and defense are ranked in the bottom three among the NBA.

But like this Monday night game, the Kings have to make sure they take care of business.

Now 1-2 on this home stand, it will be imperative that Sacramento win the next two. They have to control the things they can control.

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[…] great, but end up playing well, typically in the second half. In recent memory, that was the case versus Orlando, in both Houston games, in San Antonio, in LA against the Lakers most recently, and against […]

Dan Smith
8 months ago

Good to see Fox & Domas take leadership roles defensively and lead by example. It helps set the tone, and gets their teammates to buy in. I’m glad Metu is back to performing the way he was earlier. The bench seems like it’s more effective with Mezie & TD, just like it was in first 15 or so games. It’s good if they can keep their spot with the regulars, Davion, Monk & Lyles. They only allowed 24 paint points in the last 3 quarters…that’s a great sign. Hopefully they can keep it up, and we’ll see against the Rockets. Kind of ironic Delly was the guy who broke the record, probably the worst outside shooter on the team, next to Holmes & Queta, lol.