Domas Looks Like MVP, Kings Look Ready For Collective Playoff Run

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 18: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings dunks the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on March 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. 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 G Fiume/Getty Images)

The Kings showed everyone what taking care of business looks like, riding the waves of offensive surges to beat the Wizards on the road, 130-118.

Sacramento assisted 34 of their 48 made field goals (.708 assist-percentage) while 22 of those 48 made shots were from three, and on 37 attempts from beyond the arc. In addition to that, they won the fast break points battle 13-4 and got MVP-level play from Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis had a hell of a night, though just falling short of a triple-double, scoring 30 points–on 10 of 12 from the field and 10 of 12 from the free throw line–to go along with 9 rebounds and 10 assists. Terence Davis thrived in his minutes off the bench, scoring 21 points with 7 boards. Keegan Murray scored 19 on 5 of 10 from three, Malik Monk scored 17 with 6 assists, De’Aaron Fox had 12 points and 7 assists in 26 minutes, and Harrison Barnes added 11 points.

Neither Kevin Huerter (right popliteus strain) nor Trey Lyles (right shoulder soreness) played, and Kessler Edwards got the starting nod in place of the former.

For Washington, Kyle Kuzma finished with 33 points and 7 rebounds despite appearing to sustain an ankle injury early in the contest. Bradley Beal scored 20 on 8 of 17 shooting, Corey Kispert added 13 points, and Deni Avdija grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench.

After being forced to play three in four nights on the road, Sacramento is 3-0 so far on their four-game roadie, proving to step up at a difficult point in the season.

“We knew this was going to be a tough stretch for us,” rookie Keegan Murray said postgame. “A lot of really good teams we had to play, a lot of wins that we had to get. I think we have just been playing 100% every single game and just see how the tables turn.”

Gazing around the West, Memphis beat Golden State to maintain a tie in winning-percentage, but still conceding the second spot to Sacramento due to the tie-breaker of conference record. What’s more, tough, is that Denver lost again, so the Kings are 3.5 games out of first place in the conference with 12 games remaining.

Game summary (takeaways below)

In their third game in four nights, the Kings initially came out a little sloppy, missed a lot of early shots, and struggled to contain Washington on the boards. Just past the midway point of the period, they were down 10 points. However, Domas was hot from the start, getting to the rim and executing like the all-NBA talent he is. Once a handful of three’s fell for Keegan Murray and Terence Davis, the Kings went on a 15-0 run. After going 6 of 10 from three–which made franchise history for surpassing most three’s made in a season–Sac lead 37-33 after one.

Sacramento’s offense was still rolling into the second, hitting shots (12 of 18 from three at the half) and pushing the pace. But their defense was struggling to accumulate stops. Near the end of the second, though, they did come around, so with that and the variance of offensive contributors, helped give the Kings a 71-60 lead.

It was much of the same story in the third quarter: the three’s were falling (6 of 11 in the third), the defense was iffy, Domas was great, and the Kings still had a double digit lead. The Kings defense wasn’t getting any better, but their offense was playing at such an unbelievably efficient level. Thus they lead 104-97 after three.

At the start of the fourth, the Kings saw some defense out of backup center Chimezie Metu, which was a nice sign. And all the better that the three’s kept falling, seemingly one after the other. Around the midway point, their lead was stretched out to 22 points. And from there, that was pretty much it as the final four minutes of the game were essentially garbage time.

Dominance from Sabonis

Nobody could stop Domantas Sabonis. 

He did his typical work: being the strongest and most relentless guy on the court.

“He’s getting hit in the head, getting knocked on the ground and he just keeps coming and coming,” Mike Brown said of his all-star center postgame, adding that Domas “is an All-NBA guy.”

There is no doubt that he will be on an All-NBA team, but his MVP-type performance is a reminder that he deserves to be in the conversation for that award. There’s no chance he wins it, but the dynamic and diverse effect he has on the game, mixed with his expert understanding and execution has allowed him to be the central engine of this team.

He’s always running at full speed, and the results vary–though there’s always a double-double and a chance for a triple-double–but when he has a 30-point night like this, it’s a sudden and vivid illustration of how special of a talent Sabonis is.

There’s not much more to say than that; he’s such a joy to watch.

He did get roughed up in this one, though. It was no avulsion fracture, but he got hit in the jaw and seemed to do something to his left hand on a collision.

Mike Brown was asked about the condition of Sabonis’ dominant hand.

“He’s fine,” Brown said, noting that was Domas’ words, not the head trainer’s.

Whatever the case–so long as it’s not serious, and it doesn’t appear so–it’s hard to imagine the toughest player in the NBA to miss a day of work for it.

No sign of rust on TD

When Kevin Huerter got injured early against the Nets in the previous game, Terence Davis did not have the most impactful night. But as has been the case before, it seemed he needed to form that rhythm first. 

A great opportunity to do that is in his spot starts, but one of those did not arise as Mike Brown gave the nod to the defense of Kessler Edwards, who was good (nice defense, 3 of 3 from the field, including 2 three’s) despite some early foul trouble.

So Davis would have to make do. After the previous game, with the injury to Huerter, Mike Brown said Edwards might very well get the start, which despite being contrary to the norm this season, actually seemed like the kind of thing Davis would thrive in. As an undrafted free agent who’s earned everything himself and with his back against a wall, having to show up off the bench with the new guy getting the start was bound to bring out the best in TD.

And such was the case as Davis put up the team’s second highest scoring total at 21 to go along with excellent activity to grab 7 rebounds and his typical aggressive style, which really helped push the pace.

“He’s just a guy that continuously keeps himself ready,” coach Brown said postgame. “He hit some timely shots for us, he had 7 boards tonight, which was fantastic to see. So he was big.”

Davis shook off the rust, and if he can maintain a rhythm over the next couple of weeks going into the playoffs, it really sharpens the point on the team’s depth. If TD is in rhythm and not rusty, he’s a weapon at a moment’s notice.

Davion Mitchell posted a +32, Malik Monk’s three ball: playoff x-factors?

It went under the radar slightly, but Davion Mitchell brought more than his typical defensive pressure. He was a force.

His +32 speaks wonders. 

Similarly, Malik Monk is getting hot at the right time. In the month of March, he’s shooting 48.9% from three, absolutely expanding his game, which is already massively effective with his facilitating and distribution.

With both Mitchell’s defense and a potentially hot-shooting Malik Monk, the Kings are only looking like a more daunting postseason opponent. Davion and Monk can be x-factors.

Just 40 paint points allowed

When the Wizards were in Sacramento in December, they dropped 70 points in the paint. The second time around between these two teams, Washington managed only 40.

Which is almost surprising, because not only was the defensive execution far from perfect for the team, there were stretches in the game where it felt like the Kings were allowing a lot of makes near the basket. But nevertheless, they responded to their head coach’s challenge.

“I give our guys credit, I challenged them to do a better job in that area and (the Wizards) scored 40 paint points tonight … so it was good to see that area change,” Mike Brown said.

A note on the backup 5

If you’ve read any of these game recaps, then there’s a good chance you’ve seen this exact title–or at least some variation of it–for many of the takeaways below.

The backup center position was one that seemed like a void of empty space as Richaun Holmes could never piece together a convincing argument to hold onto that role. So Chimezie Metu got the job, lost it in December, and got it back weeks later. 

It had always been viewed as an area in need of improvement, right up there with wing and perimeter defense as Mike Brown used the word “searching” when describing both realities regarding his rotations. 

Yet filling in the wing position with adequate defense was the superior priority, which is what makes Edwards such a good story for this team. Contributing to that notion of what was a more necessary improvement was the fact Metu had shown signs of growth.

Of course, Metu is bound to do something silly, such as getting too ambitious offensively, or mishandling a pass or lob, or something like that. But his effect on games seems to be growing. It isn’t immense, but his improvement is undeniable.

And that has been on display lately, particularly in the time succeeding the all-star break.

Metu’s second half against the Wizards felt a little like the most recent game in Phoenix. That’s because the athletic big was shining defensively. 

Prior to his play later in the game, Metu was not doing himself any favors going 0 for 2 on his first two attempts at a hook shot, but a little defense would prove to go a long way. 

Early in the fourth, Metu would accumulate three blocks in less than 90 seconds. And they weren’t prototypical blocks, the kinds Mike Brown doesn’t think mean all that much. Rather, they were all hustle.

The first one came as Metu checked Kyle Kuzma, who drove to the rim only to have the ball poked away by his defender’s nice use of hands.

The next two were all help. One being in transition where Metu’s athleticism was on full display as he soared into the air. And the other was from some heads up help defense as Monk tried to contain Kyle Kuzma’s penetration.

One of the complaints about Metu–not large, but often brought to mind–is that he doesn’t really create much for the second unit. The idea seemed to be that he was a boat on the water; at high tide, Metu rises with the water, at low tide, he descends with it. He himself appeared to have no effect.

Well, with his 3 steals a few weeks ago against the Suns–and they weren’t meaningless steals, all three were big plays, and well executed at that–as well as these three blocks, it appears Metu is more than capable of providing an individual jolt through defense. He brings jolts with his alley-oop finishes and dunks, but those are produced with the help of his teammates. The defense he’s playing is of his own will and abilities, and as noted, he is more than capable–able, not necessarily doing so on a consistent basis–of effecting the game on that end of the floor with just a few plays on a consistent basis.

But he has to do it first. Commending him for growth is warranted, but further growth is necessary.

60.9% from the charity stripe though

Obviously it did not cost them, but it was one of the more puzzling things throughout the night: there were so many missed free throws. Sabonis went 10 of 12 (83.3%) and Barnes went 3 of 3, but everyone else struggled. Fox went 0 for 3, Keegan Murray went 0 for 2, Terence Davis went 0 for 1, and at least Kessler Edwards got one, going 1 for 2.

It was bizarre given how locked in this team was on the offensive end of the floor, not to mention they shot just under 60% from three. The close proximity in the two percentages was an odd juxtaposition.

Going forward

The Kings now head in the direction of home, but they have one more stop on the road.

Monday, they’ll take on the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Utah is 5-5 in their last ten, but they will be coming off a win over the Celtics, which is a relevant team because that’s who the Kings will play back in Sacramento the very next night after playing in Utah.

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Dan Smith
8 months ago

Kings really came out all guns blazing in this one! 22 for 37 is a crazy high percentage, I think it was an all time Sac record with at least 30 attempts or something. Good points made here on Mezie & Kessler. Looking forward to seeing their growth and perhaps playing time increase!