In Los Angeles without Domantas Sabonis (illness), the Kings took the fourth and final matchup against the Lakers by a score of 116-111 and won the season series against their longtime adversary 3-1.
After giving up 136 total points and 70 in the paint alone in the previous contest, Sacramento held LA to a modest score as they managed 50 paint points. Better, nearly half of those paint points (24) came in the first quarter. Likewise, the Lakers were held to below 30-points in the last three periods following a 39-point first while the Kings also dominated on the glass for most of the game.
LeBron James had a game-high 32 points with 8 boards and 9 assists and Russell Westbrook put up 19 with 7 rebounds and 5 assists off the bench, but both combined for just 45.2% from the floor. Additionally, Kendrick Nunn scored 14, Juan Toscano-Anderson had 12, and Wenyen Gabriel added 10, all off the bench.
For the Kings, De’Aaron Fox was a guiding light, scoring 31 points on 56.5% shooting with 6 assists. Harrison Barnes had another nice game on both ends; offensively, he put up 20 points and 6 rebounds. Starting for Sabonis—his first this season—Richaun Holmes had a high-effort double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Also getting a double-double, Keegan Murray got the first of his NBA career with 10 points and rebounds each.
Maybe they weren’t able to extend their 130-plus point streak to six games, but the Kings rallied together, played hard, and put up a decent defensive performance all without Domantas Sabonis, which is far from what people were left thinking after Sacramento lost to Denver at the end of December when Domas missed that lone game due to his thumb fracture.
Sacramento is now seven games above .500 (25-18), two games over par on the road (11-9), on a five-game winning streak, and because Miami won in New Orleans, the Kings are third in the Western Conference.
LeBron James hit his first 4 of 5 attempts and the Lakers as whole got off to an efficient start from the field, shooting 65.4% in the period. De’Aaron Fox meanwhile got an early rhythm, hitting 3 of his first 5 and later closing the first on a tear that earned him 11 points in the quarter, but the Kings were shooting 44.4% in the first quarter and 22.2% from three. Even with LeBron off the floor, visions of Sacramento’s inability to defend as a group inside began to become reality once again, putting up 24 in the paint. And to top off their nice start, the Lakers managed a 19-4 run as the first was closing, ultimately leading by 11 going into the second.
Into the second quarter, it was more or less the same as the shooting percentages for Sac remained subpar, especially from beyond the arc. The Kings may have actually had a few positive defensive moments, but they were off to a sloppy start. At least the Lakers weren’t expanding their lead; in fact, out of a timeout the Kings were able to go on a 9-2 run—with the help of Russell Westbrook—that got the deficit down to 4 points. It then became a 20-7 run as Fox (20 first half points) and Sacramento got it cooking a little, ending the half with a 49% clip from the field and a 61-60 lead after Los Angeles scored just 21 points—and 10 inside the paint—in the second.
Signs of defensive success were beginning to appear; and after a couple stops, the Kings were able to use pace and get a scoring flow. The third quarter was simply yielding positive results as the Lakers scored just 4 paint points. Better, the Kings were lighting it up offensively. Kevin Huerter in particular began to turn on the heat, scoring 9 points in the third on 4 of 6 shooting. They held LA to 22 in the third—even as the Lakers closed it strong—leading 90-82 going into the final period.
The Lakers continued their late third quarter play, getting the scoring going early in the fourth. At one point they scored on 6 out of 8 possessions from the field, including three three’s and some paint scores, which got them a one-point lead with under seven to go. Fox was getting to his spots, Sac had 18 free throw attempts, and the team was hustling, but the question remained—as it so often does—whether they could chain together stops.
Neither team could command a lead and by the one-minute mark it was tied at 108-all. At that point, Harrison Barnes navigated to the rim and converted the and-one to go up by three. On the other end, with Metu on him, LeBron missed a three, handing Sacramento a stop with thirty seconds remaining. Out of a timeout Fox was then fouled, hitting 1 of 2 to go up by 4 points with twelve ticks left. Kendrick Nunn hit a three, but Richaun Holmes hit a pair of free throws. After some more of the foul game, the Kings did indeed seal the win with “Light the Beam” chants in full swing.
A double-double and the DPOG chain for Holmes
Aside from De’Aaron Fox, Richaun Holmes might have had the second most impressive performance, posting a double-double and earning the defensive player of the game honors.
In his first start of the season, Holmes went a perfect 7 of 7 from the field for 16 points with 11 rebounds an assist, and 7 screen assists to go along with it. Overall, he was radiating energy, contributing to the team’s overall hustle which earned them the win. The former starting center looked locked in from start to finish.
In a two-man game with Kevin Huerter, Holmes scored three of his buckets. Early in the first, using the pick and roll, Huerter hit Holmes going to the basket. In the second, on a clear give and go opportunity for the big man—because the lane was wide open—Holmes hesitated to cut, but Huerter still hit him for a nice finish. And in the third, another pick and roll with Huerter got Holmes on a mismatch, allowing him to score near the rim.
Among his 11 boards, he had 3 on the offensive side of the ball, including two put back scores like this slam. Probably most impressive was this rim-run effort that led to a transition tip-in.
Holmes also won the DPOG chain for the night because he played a large part in Sacramento’s in-game adjustments to defend inside with his rebounding and deflections. And viewers could see he guarded multiple people throughout the game; even at one point guarding LeBron James.
Without Sabonis, the ability to rely on Holmes worked out Wednesday night. How sustainable it would be if it had to continue is another question, but in terms of “next man up,” it was a convincing effort. And good for him, too.
The last time the Kings played the Lakers was the last time Holmes had hold of the backup center role. After being assessed two fouls and a defensive three seconds violation in near succession, Jason Anderson reported that the big man “was HOT coming off the floor, throwing several punches at a chair on the team bench.”
After this win, Holmes was visibly pumped up, showing it at various points in the game as well as afterward, being filmed saying “Hell Yeah” repeatedly.
“It’s just a great opportunity to still call myself a professional basketball player,” he said postgame.
Other than regaining his mojo, the biggest takeaway is probably that this could very well be a signal to teams around the league that Holmes is still a starting-level center.
It appears coming off the bench may be too much of an adjustment, but he certainly demonstrated that he could be an impactful starting center for other teams.
The trade deadline is three weeks away and this was both a timely and impressive audition. It’ll be interesting to see if he ends up involved in a deal or not.
Then again, maybe he can’t be moved.
Mike Brown noted after the game that Holmes “is going through some stuff off the floor that you don’t wish upon anybody,” seemingly—not certainly (always open to a correction)—alluding to the matter involving the custody of his son. That was said to be behind him—though the wisdom is that athletes rarely tell the whole truth, let alone about personal matters—but that was nevertheless an interesting and unfortunate nugget thrown in there by coach Brown. Perhaps that—more than any potential disinterest in or inability to come off the bench—has been playing more into his subpar season.
All worth keeping in mind after a really great night from Richaun Holmes.
From start to finish, De’Aaron was a steady force that propelled this team to victory. He finished with 31 points and got to that number with a pretty even distribution of scoring from quarter to quarter. He had 11 in the first, 9 in the second, 2 in the third, and 9 in the fourth. With the scoring production, he also had 6 assists and played solid defense.
He got to his spots, was often unstoppable inside, was crafty, and continuously pushed the gas offensively.
“When we were down he got us back into it, when it was closed he helped create some separation, and then he always makes big plays in the fourth,” Mike Brown said of Fox after the game. “Obviously, he is the most clutch player in the league and so him making those plays are second nature, but to be able to come on the road, do it in this building, do it when Domas is out was huge.”
With little time remaining before all-star teams start getting announced—reserves are named on February 2—Fox doesn’t have a ton of time to pad his case for a trip to Salt Lake City.
It’s already a fairly strong case. Sacramento is the third ranked team in the Western Conference right now, and everyone saw how out of whack this team was when a foot bruise was bothering Fox.
This game against the Lakers may be a crucial point in his closing argument. Without Sabonis—who is pretty much a lock for the all-star team—Fox steered his team to victory and in discernible fashion.
Fox was a steady and consistent presence in this game and it probably did him a lot of good in regards to his all-star chances.
Rebounding without Domas & Keegan Murray’s first career double-double
Domantas Sabonis leads the league in rebounds at 12.6 per game, and without him, Sacramento managed to out-rebound Los Angeles 55-45 and 14-6 on the offensive end (20-10 in second chance points).
Of the players who clocked more than two minutes on the Kings, Davion Mitchell—the shortest guy on the team—was the only player who did not record a rebound.
It was all hands on deck. Holmes led with 11 and Keegan Murray posted 10 as both had 3 each on the offensive end. Here, Murray scooped one up and went straight to the rim for a dunk.
With them, Barnes had 6, Lyles had 3 offensive rebounds for 6 total, and Chimezie Metu also had 3 on the offensive end for 5 total. Plus, Fox, Huerter, and Monk all grabbed 3 each.
But going back to Murray, the rookie may be making considerable progress in this aspect of his game. The defensive improvement might be the most palpable so far, but this one is coming along.
Everyone knows by now that after the last time these two teams matched up, coach Mike Brown called out Keegan Murray after the game for not posting a single rebound in the game. The rookie has clearly responded, grabbing 5 or more boards in three of his last five games.
Zooming back out, the whole team was terrific in the effort.
Another positive note goes to Lyles, who is making a habit of getting into double-digit scoring.
In addition to 6 rebounds, he scored 10 points on 3 of 5 shooting, making it his sixth straight double-digit scoring game. In 9 games this January, Lyles is averaging 10.1 points on top of a 59.1% clip from the field and 47.8% from three.
Trey Lyles is one of the more reliable members of a bench unit that is collectively having a good year.
Monk’s slumping on the floor
The one guy that had a bad game was Malik Monk.
He went 1 of 9 from the field (0 of 3 from three) for 2 points. He contributed 3 rebounds and a pair of assists, but he was nevertheless missing a lot around the rim, going 1 of 6 from there.
Really, Monk has not been playing very well lately. In fact after a great start to the year, his production has been declining.
In Monk’s first 20 games this season, he averaged 14.6 points on 48.8% from the field and 36.0% from three with 2.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest. However, in his last 22 appearances, he’s averaged 12.2 points on 38.0% from the field and 28.4% from deep with 2.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
His efficiency is down as well as his facilitating numbers. (Rebounding’s up, though.)
Over these last 8 appearances, he’s got the assists coming back around—only having two games with less than 3—but his scoring continues to be a non-factor. Monk’s averaging 10.0 points on 36.0% shooting and 27.8% from three over this recent stretch.
And in regards to those last 8 for Monk, it’s interesting to note that it’s over the course of 9 Kings games. Recall that he missed the previous game against the Lakers on January 7 due officially to “lower leg soreness.”
Further on the matter of being “banged up,” Monk has also been listed on the injury report over the last couple of weeks for right wrist soreness and shoulder soreness, though he did not miss any games because of them.
As anyone would tell you, everyone’s a bit banged up, but maybe Monk’s got some things bothering him. Hard to say from the outside.
Luckily the Kings’ offense has been surging lately, so this hasn’t stood out too much.
And perhaps another reason Monk’s poor stretch has gone under the radar for some is the fact that he’s sort of the glue-guy in the locker room. His coach, teammates, as well as himself have all made claim to that.
While that serves a purpose, this team could be elevated to another level if he started playing more like those first 20 games.
In the mean time, his head coach has made it known he has a long leash.
On the notion of both Monk and Huerter, Brown has said they have a lot of “freedom” in a tier just below Fox and Sabonis.
“They both have some freedom, which means if they’re in a little bit of a slump, I’m gonna give them some freedom,” he said after a practice last week. “But the one thing I’m going to make sure is: are you getting the required work in pre-practice, post-practice, or any other time? And if you are, then… I know you’re going to come out of your slump.”
After a mini road trip comes another home stand. This time, it’s four games, including a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday.
It starts with the visiting Thunder, who are 22-23 on the season after winning six of their last seven contests.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is scoring 30.7 points a game on 50.3% shooting this season, and second-year man Josh Giddey is on fire this month, scoring 20.3 points on 51.4% from the field and 37.5% from three with 7.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists in nine games this January.
There’ll be no second overall pick versus the fourth selection as was anticipated when the schedule was initially released in August. However, Oklahoma City is exceeding many’s expectations and are playing good basketball lately, so it will be important to get the first of the back-to-back at home.
What’s more, it’ll be important to take care of business at home over the next four games because once those are up, the Kings embark on a stretch of 14 games where 11 are on the road.
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