Throughout all of last season, the Kings fought through a lot of adversity, ending a playoff drought, finishing third in the conference, and being one of the better road teams. One form of adversity, however, that was largely avoided was injuries as Sacramento was one of the healthiest teams in the league.
It’s that factor that makes this a novel challenge for them.
The Kings entered Monday’s game in New Orleans with a few guys on the injury report. Trey Lyles, who hasn’t suited up all season, remains out with a calf strain. In last week’s game against Cleveland, Alex Len sustained a high ankle sprain that will keep him sidelined for roughly the next five to seven weeks. Keon Ellis sprained his ankle on Sunday in Dallas, forcing him to sit out. And Sasha Vezenkov sat out with left thumb soreness.
That on its own nearly seemed to amount to the extent of injuries the Kings faced all of last season.
Making matters worse, Chris Duarte exited the game in the second quarter due to a left hand injury and did not return to the floor. And perhaps more of a wince-generator, Keegan Murray did not play in the second half because of a lower back injury.
That’s a total of six players currently on the injury radar. And it’s worth noting that this is on top of De’Aaron Fox’s five missed games earlier this month and Kevin Huerter’s missed game on Sunday, though both of them are healthy at the moment.
Mike Brown did not have an update on any of the injuries after the Pelicans beat down the Kings on Monday night. As the head coach said postgame, he had not had the chance to talk with anyone about them.
Coach Brown reverted to the proverbial principle, proclaiming that “the next man has to step up” when asked about how his team can respond to this bevy of injuries.
He continued to comment on how the injuries barely made a difference because, regardless of who was out on the floor, there was “no resistance” against New Orleans. The Pelicans stomped all over the Kings, winning 129-93 in the second of a road back-to-back for Sacramento as Zion Williamson looked unstoppable.
The Kings were supposed to double team 2019’s first overall draft pick, but according to Brown, they couldn’t manage to do that very much, if at all.
They stay in the Crescent City and play them again on Wednesday. Many can expect Sacramento to turn out a better effort since they’ll be better rested. After all, they looked like the gas tank emptied just before the end of the first half.
But even with that, they’re going to need multiple people to step up to try and maintain the right style of play while slowing down guys like Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Though this team has stepped up to many challenges before in Brown’s tenure, Monday’s game did not lend a ton of additional hope in that regard.
In the blowout loss to the Rockets two weeks ago—that is, the second of two games in Houston—guys like Keon Ellis and Alex Len earned rotational time from their efforts and energy. The opportunity for someone else to do that came with this recent blowout against the Pelicans.
However, according to Brown, while guys stepped up in Houston, nothing of that sort really materialized in New Orleans.
“I didn’t think we had any fight tonight from anybody, especially when it came to Zion,” the head coach assessed Monday.
Harrison Barnes could hardly get the requisite amount of help against Williamson, and like many NBA players, he appeared ill-equipped much of the time against the physical specimen. Williamson finished through Sabonis’ contests, he eluded help defense, and he scored in transition. He was uncontainable.
With the injuries potentially keeping guys out, it’s even harder to pinpoint a name that can step up and try to make the New Orleans’ talented forward work.
Maybe Jalen Slawson could give it a go and get in the mix. Prior to Williamson exiting the game, the rookie had a chase down block against him. But Slawson has not necessarily proven to be close to ready to affect an NBA game. Mike Brown gave an honest analysis of the second-round pick during training camp, saying that Slawson has “a ways to go” before he’s an effective role player.
But the injuries may force him to get some time, especially if Murray, Vezenkov, and Lyles are all out since the depth at the 4 would be nearly wiped out.
Filip Petrusev, who was acquired earlier in November, got some time, but he did not look very comfortable in the offense. He also illustrated why defense is not his forte, displaying that on a weak contest at the rim in garbage time where he wanted nothing to do with a dunker.
Kessler Edwards, who started the second half in place of Murray, had a few nice moments on defense and hit a three, but he’s more of an option against Brandon Ingram, which is helpful if Duarte misses time. And Colby Jones still appears to be in the same place after falling back to earth this regular season, but again, that wouldn’t be an answer to Zion Williamson either.
Despite recently winning six straight, the Kings have their work cut out for them in the face of this new challenge. Wednesday’s game will be really telling about the extent of Sacramento’s depth as they try to get back on the winning track and contain the Pelicans’ best two players while dealing with what appears to be a bit of an injury issue.