Monk’s Energy, Davion’s Passing, Murray’s Defense, And More Headline Kings Win in Portland

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 31: Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 31, 2023 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Once again up in Portland, the Kings took care of business with the playoffs on the horizon, winning 138-114.

Shooting over 60% from the field and over 48% from three, Sacramento won fairly handily, scoring 33 or more in every period of play. They also won the differentials in turnovers (13-19 and 28-15 in points off), paint points (64-36), and fast break scores (26-17). 

Four guys finished with 20 points and seven total finished with double-digit scoring numbers. The two all-stars put up a pair of near triple-doubles as Domantas Sabonis had 20 points with 12 boards and 8 assists while De’Aaron Fox had 20, 8, and 11. Keegan Murray went 4 of 7 from deep for 20 points and Malik Monk had 20 with 5 assists. Kevin Huerter threw up 14 points (all in the first half), Harrison Barnes had 11, and Kessler Edwards added 10. Additionally, Davion Mitchell brought his defense as well as 5 assists.

The kid for Portland lead his team again as Shaedon Sharpe dropped 27 points on a more efficient percentage than the previous game. Drew Eubanks finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Skylar Mays added 14 with 6 assists. Jabari Walker went 4 of 6 from three for 14 points off the bench.

It was another game where energy in the building was hard to come by at first, but the Kings attacked the middle of the floor well, earning their tip-top shooting percentages. Moreover, the remained responsive, shutting down any threatening runs from the Trail Blazers. And really, many of those runs came either from Portland slowing it down by getting to the line or, as was the case in the third quarter, some Kings turnovers.

“I told our guys, obviously, Portland — they shut it down with their main guys a few games ago, and sometimes it’s hard to come into a team’s building and play against guys that don’t get a chance to play much,” Mike Brown noted postgame, commending his team’s ability to remain “locked-in” in order to get two games on the road.

There was a lot of action in the West on Friday. The Grizzlies beat the Clippers, the Lakers beat the Timberwolves, the Warriors edged out the Spurs, and the Suns outlasted the Nuggets. 

So as it stands now, Sacramento sits four games out of first and 2 games behind the second place Grizzlies. The Suns, Clippers, and Warriors round out the top-six. In seventh is the Lakers, then New Orleans, Minnesota, and OKC rounding out the top-ten.

Game summary (takeaways below)

The Kings had a solid start defensively, getting into a nice pace to find decent looks in transition. Portland was hitting their shots though, running with Sac to begin the first. The defense really shined in the second half of the period, but the Blazers were sinking their deep balls (5 of 10 from three in the first), which did not allow the formation of a sizable lead, which stood at 36-27 after one.

Even as the pace kept rewarding Sac with good looks, Portland came out of the gate in the second hitting 3 of 5 from deep in the first few minutes to slice into the lead. The Blazers were able to get a lot of trips to the line (14 in the second after just 2 in the first), getting into the bonus fairly early. And off a lot of free throw misses, the Trail Blazers were getting their own rebounds. With all the stoppages, it disrupted the flow and quick offense of the Kings. But Sac closed the half well without so many stoppages and with a scoring surge from Huerter, leading 71-59 at the conclusion of the first half.

Sacramento was sloppy with 3 early turnovers in the third, but they were firing from three as Huerter’s, Murray’s, and Fox’s—in addition to a step back deep two—seemed to fall in succession for a 3 of 4 start. Then they missed four straight from deep, getting away from their effective paint penetrations, but they steered things back in the right direction, finding spray three’s and good pace. After three, they lead 104-89.

Portland was able to score in six out of their first eight possessions, cutting Sac’s lead down to 7 points just past the eight-minute marker. Domas found Monk for a spray three then Monk found Murray for the same thing, and with a stop and a Sabonis and-one opportunity, Sac found themselves up 15 points again. Eventually, the Kings went on a 22-2 run to stick the dagger in it with about two minutes remaining. They were great at scoring off turnovers and in transition during the fourth.

Davion Mitchell, the point guard

When has Davion Mitchell, in his typical role off the bench, had as many or came close to having as many assists as Malik Monk?

That’s been one of the big factors in the bench unit. The fact Monk commanded—and rightfully so—so much of the ball handling and facilitating duties may have been a reason Mitchell took a while to fill out his offensive role this season.

Since the all-star break, Mitchell has looked far more confident. The apathy on offense has completely dissipated as his confidence took on an advanced form to compliment the characteristic defense he provides. And with this game, there was the sign of a wider evolution: taking on more responsibility in facilitation.

Honestly, it wasn’t so much the assists that tell the whole story. Similar to what’s been written in this space over the previous two about how Alex Len’s blocks are mere residuals of some fundamentally sound defense, Mitchell’s assists were residual effects of his awareness. That is, the awareness to continue attacking the middle of the floor when Sacramento was getting away from it.

This was particularly key in the third period. Midway through that quarter, the Kings lead-expansion stalled as the reliance on three’s—more specifically, three’s without paint touches—killed some of the flow. Davion Mitchell did an excellent job getting back into the paint, kicking the ball out to shooters. Ultimately, he finished with 3 of his 5 assists in the third, which were his first of the game. And better yet, 2 of them produced excellent spray three’s for Kessler Edwards after the team had settled on some three-point attempts that were not accompanied by paint touches.

That heads up stretch wasn’t so much akin to Monk’s typical play as it was Harrison Barnes’, who often gets things back on track with a meticulous paint score and/or trip to the free throw line. Mitchell just did the simple thing, which produced exactly what the team needed.

Four guys with 20 points

It was another balanced attack from the offense in terms of individual performances as Fox, Sabonis, Murray, and Monk all dropped 20 points.

Right now, Portland is not the toughest challenger, and in regards to slowing the Kings offense, even most playoff/play-in teams struggle to even come close. Despite that, Sacramento is continue to prove why they’re so dangerous offensively: they’re dynamic.

Murray scored half his points in the first quarter, hitting 2 of 3 three’s, and Kevin Huerter scored 9 of his 14 in the second, particularly to close it, which was a nice boost for Sac as they went into halftime. Meanwhile, Fox, Domas, and Monk were steady contributors throughout the night; in fact, Monk split up his points evenly, scoring 5 in each quarter.

Throw in there some other contributions and a night of excellent ball movement (38 assists!), and it’s easy to see how dangerous this group of players can be, and it’s probably safe to say that they never even exceeded their second gear against the Blazers.

It’s just getting redundant at this point: Sac’s offense is stupidly good.

“I’m thrilled to death with the way that we’re playing offensively,” Mike Brown offered after the game.

Nothing can stop Monk right now, not even a knee to the balls

Malik Monk had yet another terrific performance, showing he’s still moving at optimal speed ahead of the postseason. Going 8 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc, he scored 20 points to go along with a pair of rebounds and 5 assists.

Nothing can stop him right now.

In the third period, Monk made a great contest as the low man, but he was called for a foul on Kevin Knox. And that’s not even the worse part as Knox’s knee knocked Monk in the … the bag, if you will. Ok, he straight up kneed him in the balls.

Understandably so, it took a bit of an effort and some time to get back up from that—which caused him so much pain, the way he fell to the ground almost displayed another injury—but it did not take long for him to get back into stride. 

After Knox hit his and-one attempt, Monk hit a beautiful turnaround shot in the paint, proving he was more than okay and that nothing can bring him down at this moment.

Malik Monk continues to soar, and his head coach again made a case for his guy being in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year.

“He’s the true definition of what I believe a sixth man should be,” Brown said of him.

Kessler Edwards continues looking comfortable

Kessler Edwards brought a defensive edge, 10 points scored on offense, and more than anything, continues to look like a fully integrated rotational piece for Mike Brown.

On Friday night, he got 18 minutes of play and went 4 of 7 from the field, including 2 of 4 from three-point land. 

“I thought Kessler came off the bench and he impacted the game defensively as well as taking the right shots in the flow of our offense when he was out there, too,” Mike Brown said of Edwards after the win.

Of course, his defense made the immediate impact as he recorded an exceptional block early in his time. But he and Monk did have a defensive miscommunication, plus he got beat by Kevin Knox to allow an offensive rebound.

Those moments don’t overshadow anything though. He was still a great defensive presence, but really, his offense in the third quarter was what stood out on the night.

As noted above, he hit two big three’s after Davion Mitchell had driven inside and kicked the ball out to him. As he has since joining the Kings, there is no hesitation when he rises up, and hitting a pair only causes his confidence and comfort to swell. 

Best of all, he showed something new. Edwards’ defense has never been a question, he’s displayed his outside shot, and he’s even looked good on his rebounding efforts, particularly on the offensive end. But passing has not been on full display. 

Well, on Friday, fans got to see a little bit of it as Edwards hit Sabonis with a pass that was characteristic of a typical Domas dime. In the third, after a stop on some nice Keegan Murray defense, the rookie passed it ahead to Edwards, who threaded like three needles with this pass.

Murray with a nice defensive night

After breaking the record for most three’s for a rookie in a single season and amidst adding to that number, Keegan Murray had a great defensive night on Friday. 

Coach Brown said it “was great to see” his starting forward have a defensively “good” night in addition to his 20 points scored.

Here are some quick highlights.

In the first period, he did a nice job shuffling along with his fellow rookie Shaedon Sharp, getting the help from Domas to force the turnover. When Murray stays with guys like that, just look at how his length becomes a major obstacle.

Maybe he was worthy of being penalized with a foul, but without the whistle, here Murray did a nice job of jolting out to potentially close out, only to be forced to deal with a dribble penetration. With hands out, Murray forced Kevin Knox to pass before coming over to help and ending up with a blocked shot.

Here—as referenced above—Murray did a nice job of opening up a team fast break score by providing nice on-ball defense on his switch, forcing the miss. But after Portland retrieved the offensive board, Murray stepped up again, swatting the ball away with his length.

This was a nice instance as well because Murray was backpedaling to stay with his man as he retreated to the dunker’s spot, yet the rook was quick enough to step back up and get a great contest to force a miss from Shaq Harrison, who’d driven into the lane.

Clearly—as his dad and his head coach say about him—the rookie can develop into a special two-way talent due to his physical profile.

While his defensive night was great, there’s always room for growth. In the spirit of Mike Brown’s tough love for Murray, it’s important to mention the subpar moments. For all his handful of moments against Sharpe, Portland’s rookie still beat him here, but only because nobody could provide help.

Speaking of growth though, it’s noteworthy that Murray accumulated 4 personal fouls in the first half, but committed none in the second half. As coach Brown said after the game, the Iowa product made the necessary adjustments.

Overall, Keegan Murray had a great night on both ends of the floor. 

TD in GT

For whatever it’s worth, Terence Davis looked solid in garbage time.

Davis had three notable moments, all of which are extremely nice sights for Mike Brown in limited mop-up time. Davis sunk two three’s and poked the ball away on another instance to grab the steal and take the ball to the bucket himself with a nice finger roll.

If TD plays like that in garbage time, he places himself in that position to be an emergency break-the-glass type of option if the Kings, at any point, need a jolt of offense. But that’s a given.

Going forward

Now the Kings head back south down to Sacramento for a Sunday matinee against the Spurs.

San Antonio has the third worst record in the NBA at 19-58, the second worst offensive rating, and the most inflated defensive rating. In other words, they have put themselves in a good spot to potentially land Victor Wembanyama this June in the draft.

But for now, Sac will look to make it six straight wins against San Antonio. They have not lost to Popovich’s squad since November 10, 2021, which is a little fascinating because recall that the Spurs had won 14 consecutive matchups between 2014 and 2018. 

Of course, being Pop’s team, they’re still dangerous as they gave the Warriors some trouble on Monday before coming up short in San Francisco.

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Dan Smith
7 months ago

Nice recap, enjoyed reading it. You were dead on with a lot of the points you made regarding Davion’s improved aggression & focus when distributing, and Keegan/Kessler’s two way play. Hope the guys are ready for the next game…gotta go 3-2 to hit 50 wins this year, would really love to see it!