Past the midway point of this tough seven-game roadtrip, the Kings stepped on a landmine in New Orleans, getting totally shred apart in a 104-136 rout.
With De’Aaron Fox out for the second consecutive game due to “a personal matter that [the organization] won’t be discussing any further,” the Kings struggled on both ends of the floor. There have been times where the Kings looked fatigued such as the loss a few weeks ago to Philadelphia, or where they were just disrupted such as the loss to Toronto, but never had the team looked so lifeless as it did on Sunday night.
Sacramento allowed 66 points in the paint while scoring just 44 inside, and they were also -5 in turnovers and -8 in points off.
The Pelicans were without Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, and of course Zion Williamson, but they got some big performances against Sac’s defense as the team shot over 50% from the field and from beyond the arc. Trey Murphy went absolutely off for 30 points on 6 of 8 shooting from three, CJ McCollum dropped 24, and Naji Marshall scored 17. Playing many of the late minutes, Willy Hernangomez finished with a double-double at 22 points and 16 boards.
Domantas Sabonis got his fifth straight double-double, but at just 12 points and 11 rebounds. Really, the bench guys were the best performers for the Kings. Malik Monk lead the team with 16 points, Trey Lyles had 12, Chimezie Metu put up 10, and both Terence Davis and Matthew Dellavedova added 7 points each.
“I think this is good for our guys because we’ve had a pretty good year so far and we’ve experienced a lot of highs,” Mike Brown said after the loss. “Now we hit a little adversity, we hit a little adversity because we can’t make shots — and we’re getting good looks we’re getting open looks — we just can’t make them right now. We’re turning the ball over, we’re not getting stops, and we’ve dropped two in a row.
“Okay, we’ve hit some adversity. I’m interested to see how we respond from this adversity, not just short-term, but long term, as a team. But more importantly, as individuals because when you hit adversity as an individual, your true colors come out. And right now, I don’t know if we’re all in like we talked about at the beginning of the year … So right now, I’m gonna sit back, I’m gonna watch, and I’m gonna see how we all handle this adversity.”
Game summary (takeaways below)
The Pelicans kept up their roll from their win the night before, disrupting the Kings for 5 early turnovers while getting high-percentage looks with 24 paint points in the first quarter. They also took advantage in the fast break (7 early points), often forcing a stop to generate an offensive push. Sacramento on multiple occasions would drive into the paint and look to pass only for New Orleans’ length to get in the way. Sac’s second unit—which put up 19 in the first—closed out the quarter on a 14-8 run with the help of Trey Lyles, Matthew Dellavedova, and mainly Terence Davis, but they still trailed 26-34.
The second unit kept up their energetic play with Delly staying aggressive, Chimezie Metu hitting a three and blocking two shots, and Malik Monk’s juice. But New Orleans hung with them the whole way, keeping things even for much of the period before padding their lead. Ironically enough, with the starters back out there the Pelicans expanded their lead to 18, beating up on Sac’s defense. And after some back and forth play, that was the state of the score after the first half as New Orleans lead 70-52.
The Kings hooked up some shots for Sabonis and Davion Mitchell did his best to be aggressive, but the Pelicans came out firing, hitting three three’s out of halftime. Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray continued their lousy nights with the former fouling a three-point shooter and the latter committing a rough turnover. From there, Trey Murphy and the Pelicans were simply having what they wanted as their percentages from the field and three continued soaring above 50%, going up by more than 30 points. After a 34-24 third quarter, they were up 104-76 going into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was essentially mop up time. On the bright side, Kevin Huerter was able to find a little bit of a rhythm, Keon Ellis was impressive in 15 minutes, and Keegan Murray had at least a chance to work out some kinks. In the end, New Orleans won by 32 points.
Lost without Fox? Tired? A mix?
Aside from the first half play of the second unit guys, the Kings never looked like they were going to win this game, which frankly happens to any team every once in a while.
With the inability to yield any effective results driving into the paint, one couldn’t help wondering how much Fox would have helped. With extra focus on Sabonis and a concatenation of shooting slumps taking hold at once, the paint became a treacherous place for the Kings offensively, meaning lots of turnovers and pace for the opposition.
It was the second game in a row where Sac turned it over 15 or more times.
And on a night where they allowed 66 paint points, that was evidently the case on the defensive end as well, if not more so. The Pelicans had everything working, moving the ball to force rotations, hitting tough and aggressive shots, and sinking their three’s.
It’s hard to beat a team that shoots 53.8% from three, sure, but when that team is generating nice spray three’s through their movement and attacks in a similar manner to the way the Pacers did on Friday, then the defense may be partially responsible.
Add to it the fact that the first game of this road trip was a game where Sac could not contain D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards on the perimeter in Minnesota last week, and it begins to look like a bigger indictment of the perimeter defense.
Based on the year he’s had as a fundamentally sound anchor that battles on the boards—oftentimes by himself—Sabonis has proven one of the best defenders on the Kings, and he honestly deserves legitimate consideration for an all-defensive team (although, without flashy blocking statistics, which are meaningless to Mike Brown, that may be difficult; plus there are a lot of big men that earn their pay on the defensive side of the ball). However, this team’s perimeter defense—while good for stretches that range from a few games to a mere portion of a quarter—has created some issues.
“Right now, we’re getting beat off the dribble,” Mike Brown said postgame. “We gave up 40 points (in the paint) in the first half because guys were getting by us, getting to the rim, and finishing in the paint.”
A few times on this trip, such as against Minnesota and Indiana, opponents have driven deep into the paint to draw help from Sabonis, which typically leaves the opposing center virtually unguarded under the basket. That happened on Sunday, but more so than other times, it felt like Pelicans players were just taking it to the rim themselves.
Anyway you look at it, New Orleans had 56 shot attempts inside the paint.
De’Aaron Fox may not have singlehandedly solved this defensive issue, though he would have helped given the fact he has shown excellent leadership on the defensive end, applying earnest ball pressure and providing a willing ability to switch onto different guys. But Sunday night was rough for the active players.
“That is my biggest concern right now defensively: who can I put on the floor that can contain the dibble?” Brown added.
Another aspect of this has to be the fact that—while they wouldn’t admit it—the Kings know they now have five games left until the all-star break, which will offer them a much needed rest period.
As January was coming to a close, games like the loss to the 76ers were showing a team that may be feeling the cold bite of fatigue, and so it isn’t surprising that being on a seven-game trip and lacking your all-star level point guard for a pair of contests is exacerbating that weariness.
The Kings have not shot 35% or better as a team in any of the games on this road trip so far. As a whole through these five games, they’ve hit 50 of 170, good for a 29.4% clip, mustering just a 2-3 record thus far.
In the 10 games prior to this excursion to the midwest and east coast, the Kings shot 43.1% (159 of 369) from three-point range in a stretch where they went 7-3.
And in that 10-game stretch leading up to the trip, Harrison Barnes was shooting 56.3%, Keegan Murray was shooting 53.7%, and Kevin Huerter (in 8 appearances) was shooting 40.4% as the three-point shooting looked like a decisive weapon for this team.
Over the road trip, Barnes has shot well overall (38.8%), but at a reduced clip and with a pair of 1 for 4’s in Minnesota and an 0 for 1 in New Orleans. But Murray’s shot 20.0% on 6 of 30 and Huerter has shot 20.7% on 6 of 29 from deep.
As noted above, there might be some compounding factors contributing in this dip in play over the last week, and this could be thrown in among them. However, at the beginning of February after about four months of basketball and with the break within sight, it’s hard not to attribute the poor outside shooting to tired legs.
Credit to the bench guys
The lone bright spot in this game came from the encouraging play of the bench unit, which produced the most optimism surrounding the Kings in this game with their work late in the first quarter and into the initial minutes of the second.
Malik Monk was one of the lone guys on the whole team who just did his job and what’s typically expected of him. On 7 of 13 from the field (0 of 4 from three), he scored a team-high 16 points with 4 rebounds and 3 assists to go along with it. In the first quarter, his aggression—meaning his initiative to go at the basket to score, not pass out to a teammate—set the team on a decent course. Of course, it amounted to very little in the grand scheme of things, but Monk was a vibrant body among a lot of zombie performances for Sac.
Trey Lyles did his typical work, going 2 of 4 from the field (2 of 3 from three) for 12 points and a pair each of rebounds and assists. Plus he was tied with Harrison Barnes for free throw attempts, but unlike HB, Lyles hit all six, showing that he too can take it upon himself to make the right play for the team. He also showed some fire after feeling that he did not get a call late in the second quarter; whether it was meant to get his team going or if it was mounting frustration, it was a good sign relative to the oft repeated fact that Sacramento looked largely lifeless in this game.
Matthew Dellavedova brought a degree of freshness to the game, staying aggressive at various points whether it was taking a good look from deep or attacking the rim. And as he always does, he continued being that coach in uniform.
Chimezie Metu was solid when playing with the in-rhythm second unit. He stretched the floor and played some nice defense. However, when the center ceased to hold as it were, Metu unraveled a little, playing outside himself as one can see on this instance. But still, he was a positive contributor of the second unit’s most successful stretch.
Terence Davis may have shot 1 of 7 from three, but he came in and provided a quick score, some nice awareness, and a lot of aggressive and much-needed offensive push. He continues to find ways to help when the opportunity comes his way.
Still, at the end of the day, while these guys deserve credit for doing what was essentially expected of them, don’t let it confuse the matter that this was still one of the worst team performances of the season.
Keon Ellis again displayed why he’ll consistently contribute someday soon
In over 16 minutes played on Sunday, he continued to show why he’ll be a rotational contributor on this team soon enough. He went 3 of 5 from the field and 2 of 3 from deep for 10 points with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block.
He was great with his activity, awareness, and positioning, which allowed him to grab 3 offensive boards, getting his own sometimes and, at others, getting assists off of them. And with that activity, he made the right plays, occasionally on his own.
2 of 3 from deep is exciting for a guy that shot 46.9% throughout the Summer League, but his defense is his best trait, and he showed that.
Here, even though it ends with a foul, Ellis provides awesome ball-pressure, forcing a pass once help came his way, and without anyone serving as the low man, the rookie was quick enough to contest the oncoming driver. On this play, Ellis gives tremendous help underneath the basket, posting a block before New Orleans recovered a scored. And overall, he showed all his great traits, such as his excellent use of hands.
All eyes would be on Ellis next year for a potential impact to be made at the NBA level, but maybe it comes along sooner, especially with coach Brown looking for answers for perimeter defense.
It was just one game, though, so we’ll have to see.
Sacramento will head to Houston for the second of this road back-to-back. They’ll stay there to play the Rockets twice in three nights, similar to how those two teams played last month in Sacramento.
Houston is 2-2 over their last 4 games, but they’ve lost two in a row to Toronto and Oklahoma City.
At 2-3 on the trip so far, the Kings have a chance to finish above .500 by the time they return home for two games against the Mavericks and the newly acquired Kyrie Irving. However, given their last two and the likely scenario Fox misses another contest, they have to take it one game at a time.
Sacramento has not lost more than two in a row since they lost three straight in November.