Four Takeaways: Kings found a way to win amidst the chaos

Nov 9, 2023, 1:44 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm

Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings dribbles the ball during the game against the Houston ...

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 04: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings dribbles the ball during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on November 04, 2023 in Houston, Texas. 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 Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

Coming off of two demoralizing losses to the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings came away with a big 121-118 overtime victory over the hobbled Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. Domantas Sabonis was back to looking like an All-Star, head coach Mike Brown made some lineup changes, and the Kings pulled out a timely victory despite the chaos.

On Sacramento’s side, this was the fourth consecutive game they played without star guard De’Aaron Fox, who’s recovering from a right ankle sprain. Trey Lyles was also unavailable and has not played a game this season due to a left calf sprain.

Meanwhile, Portland had plenty of their own availability issues coming into Golden 1 Center. All of Scoot Henderson (ankle), Anfernee Simons (thumb), Robert Williams III (knee), and Ish Wainwright (calf) were sidelined, and Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) went down early in the second quarter.

It was a close battle with intriguing storylines to monitor throughout the action. Here are my takeaways from Wednesday night’s action.

1. Domantas Sabonis looked like an All-Star

Sabonis shot the ball four times Monday in Houston, his lowest total since being traded to the Kings. The Rockets emphasized shirking the floor against him, but Sacramento needed more from their All-Star in Fox’s absence, and he responded. The center tallied 27 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists on 11/14 from the field.

When asked if he came into this game trying to be aggressive, he replied, “Yeah, of course. We were finding players in different positions and that clearly shows and helps.”

The big logged nearly 40 minutes of playing time in a 52-minute competition and was essential to his team’s success. One early, significant losing streak can force teams into an upward battle, particularly in a Western Conference that projects to be highly competitive.

Coming off of three straight losses, Sabonis knew the importance of finding a way against Portland.

“Losing that one would have definitely hurt and not been good for us, for our emotional state,” he said postgame. “But I’m happy we pulled it out at home.”

Early into his postgame statement, Coach Brown highlighted Sabonis’s seven offensive rebounds as a difference-maker. He was the leader of that category, but a few of his teammates found ways to impact the offensive glass as well.

2. Offensive Rebounds

Pulling down offensive rebounds and converting second-chance opportunities was part of the gameplan coming in. “We felt that there would be opportunities to offense rebound, and our guys did that,” Brown said.

“[Sabonis] had seven offensive rebounds, which was huge. We had some other guys step up throughout the course of the game and have some big rebounds,” he continued. “Alex Len had three offensive rebounds, which was huge, and then to score 26 points off those 15 offensive rebounds was the difference in the game.”

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15 offensive rebounds tied their season-high from opening night against the Utah Jazz. Finding ways to convert off those looks was essential, notably when they led to open triples — or, as the Kings call them, ‘dagger threes.’

Sacramento managed to convert nine of their 14 second-chance looks, adding 26 crucial points on a night where their margin of victory was slim. Seven of them came from Sabonis. Backup center Alex Len managed three, while Malik Monk and Keegan Murray pulled down two of their own. Plus, Harrison Barnes contributed one.

It was a group effort from the Kings, who did all the little things to find a way to win on the margins. It sure wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.

3. Finding ways to win ugly

39 combined fouls led to 67 free throws on the night. Teams ended about even in fouls called against, but Sacramento attempted nine more free throws. After a slow start, Monk went 10/10 from the line in the fourth quarter of play and found ways to thrive amidst the chaos. His orchestration of the offense alongside Sabonis had impressive, much-needed moments.

“Every game is not going to be perfect and pretty,” Monk said. “You’ve got to find ways to win.” The Kings did just that; they won ugly.

Portland, who owned the lowest offensive rating in the league coming into Wednesday’s matchup, ended regulation with 111 points despite missing more than half of their typical starting lineup. The Kings aren’t known for their defensive prowess, and although they aim to improve notably, they would’ve benefited from cleaner rotations against Jerami Grant, Deandre Ayton, and Skylar Mays.

On top of the fouling, both teams were sloppy with their ball control. Sacramento ended the night with 19 turnovers compared to Portland’s 16. It was chaotic, ugly basketball for most of the game, but Sacramento left the night with an added tally in the win column, largely thanks to Monk and Sabonis.

“I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty,” Kevin Huerter said. “These are the ones you need. You’re going to look back at this game, and it goes in the win column. That’s kind of all that matters, and you move on. We got another one Friday, but this was a good one to get.”

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4. Sacramento continues to struggle from three

As mentioned earlier, a decent bit of the slopiness in the game resulted from the Kings continuing to be subpar from beyond the arc this season. Keegan Murray, who set the rookie record for made threes last season, was just 1/6 from three. Monk was 0/6. Sacramento converted 29.4 percent (10/34) of their attempts Wednesday as a team.

They continue to get quality, open looks but haven’t been able to convert at an encouraging rate through seven games of the 2023-24 NBA season. Currently, they rank third in attempts (41.7 percent) yet 24th in conversion rate on those looks (32.5 percent). Kevin Huerter, their most successful shooter against Portland (4/8 from three), isn’t worried about his team’s rate but emphasized maintaining their mental throughout the slump.

“There’s a lot of special players in this league on the defensive end. I think there’s more special guys offensively,” Huerter said. “And I think it’s tough for a player, and it takes maturity and development to not let your offense dictate the rest of your game. It’s a continued maturity for all of us; it’s getting to that point, but I think it’s tough. If you’re not shooting well as a player — as an athlete, you’re not hitting well. As a quarterback, you’re not making throws — I think it’s really hard to have that not trickle in a little bit into the rest of your game. So, everyone’s going to continue to get right. You only get there through work, trusting what you’re doing, and I think the results will come. We have a lot of great shooters on this team.”

Sacramento has created good looks and has a roster with plenty of good shooters. The shots will go down eventually, and their offense should rise collaterally. Maybe they won’t finish with the best offense in the association like last season, but they’ve got to continue pacing in that direction. And, most importantly, keep finding ways to win games.

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

Are you ready for some NBA In-Season Tournament action?

Sacramento will play its first Group Play game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden 1 Center on Friday while debuting their new court and City Edition uniforms.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Thunder coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, November 10th – Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder** – 7 PM PST
  • Monday, November 13th – Sacramento Kings vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 15th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, November 17th – Sacramento Kings @ San Antonio Spurs – 4:30 PM PST
  • Sunday, November 19th – Sacramento Kings @ Dallas Mavericks – 4:30 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play

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