Four Takeaways: The Sacramento Kings fall to New Orleans, yet again

Dec 6, 2023, 7:00 AM

Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots the ball against Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacr...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 04: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots the ball against Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter of an NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout Round game at Golden 1 Center on December 04, 2023 in Sacramento, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The fans in Golden 1 Center made Monday night feel like a playoff game as the Sacramento Kings faced off against the New Orleans Pelicans. Despite their hot start, the Kings were eliminated after being outscored 127-117 as the Pelicans’ bench took over.

Simultaneously, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum hit tough shots en route to the Kings’ In-Season Tournament elimination. Through 19 games, the Pelicans have already claimed the season series against Sacramento, leading 3-0 with two remaining matchups.

That tie-breaker could come back in a Western Conference expected to be crowded in the standings. In their postgame, New Orleans head coach Willie Green acknowledged the importance of each win.

Here are my takeaways from a disappointing end to their In-Season Tournament run.

1. After a hot start, the Kings cooled down and never reheated

Golden 1 Center got loud, quick. The Sacramento Kings had a hot start by getting stops and finding offensive success in transition. It helps that the three-ball was falling, too, and there’s a direct correlation.

They led 32-17 at the 4:27 mark of the opening quarter. The Kings went 12/14 from the field, 6/8 from three, and had ten assists compared to two turnovers. From there, New Orleans’ lineup of Brandon Ingram and four bench players successfully forced De’Aaron Fox into turnovers.

Sacramento’s star guard had been posting a career-low number of turnovers (2.0 per game) and acknowledged his progress as recently as the game prior. Before Monday, Fox’s highest turnover tally of the year was four.

He had four turnovers in that final stretch of the opening stint. To make it worse, they were all live-ball turnovers and directly led to six points for the opposition.

“They were errors on my end,” he said postgame. “But they got their hands on the ball, had deflections, and I just have to be better with my handle.”

Jose Alvarado’s pestering defense and creative tactics directly affected two of them. Between him, Naji Marshall, Trey Murphy III, and Ingram, they had plenty of length to build a wall to limit Fox’s downhill threat, help off of shooters but remain in position to recover, and get deflections.

Kings’ head coach Mike Brown expressed the importance of that moment in the postgame. “It was huge. I thought it was really big, and I thought Alvarado was a huge, huge, huge part of it,” he said. “I’ve got to give credit where credit was due, and I thought he was a big factor in that run.”

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Sacramento landed the first hit, New Orleans struck back, and the Kings could never recover fully. The subsequent second quarter was devastating, where the Pelicans outscored them 34-25.

The spacing, ball movement, length, physicality, and defensive pressure provided by the opposing bench were critical. Sacramento’s defensive focus on Zion Williamson, who had two huge games against them already, opened up the floor.

2. Surrounding Williamson and Ingram with shooters

The Pelicans were without CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III in their two previous matchups. While Dyson Daniels is an extremely impressive defender, the difference in spacing with McCollum is night and day.

Meanwhile, Murphy’s length trumps rookie Jordan Hawkins, who did not play Monday night. Their returns to action almost made the Pelicans feel like an entirely different offense. It marked the fifth time in 2023-24 that New Orleans knocked down 14 or more triples. They are 4-1 in those showings.

So, when Williamson touched the ball, Sacramento’s defense would shrink the floor to limit his driving. To their credit, they were successful in doing so, as evidenced by his final scoreline of 10 points, six assists, and six rebounds on a mere 5/8 shooting, including zero free throw attempts.

However, the aforementioned improved spacing took advantage. Fox was asked about the defensive dilemma postgame.

“You have to be able to do both,” he said. “They have shooters around him for a reason because of the type of player that he is and the type of attention that he draws. When he’s able to kick it out, and the ball starts moving, they have guys that can make shots, and those guys did that tonight.”

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To boot, Ingram torched them. While most of his looks were contested, the lengthy forward managed 30 points, eight rebounds, and six assists on 10/20 shooting. Between him and McCollum, it felt like every time the Kings threatened their lead, they would hit a tough basket.

3. Eliminated from the inaugural In-Season Tournament

The Sacramento Kings were vocal about their goal to win the In-Season Tournament while maintaining within perspective with the regular season. Part of their disappointment seemed to center around the fact that it was not only the tournament but also the inaugural In-Season Tournament.

Years from now, when it’s an annual staple, there will only ever be one first winner that people reflect on — similarly, De’Aaron Fox will always be the first Clutch Player of the Year.

The second Cup won’t hold the same historical weight as time passes. So, while they will get another shot at it next season, that’s a clear differentiator.

“I personally really wanted to be there in Vegas,” Sabonis said in postgame. “It’s probably the biggest stage until the playoffs this season, and I thought it would be a lot of fun.”

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Despite Sacramento’s quarterfinal exit, it’s undeniable that the In-Season Tournament has been a resounding success. As mentioned, it felt like a postseason atmosphere in Sacramento last night, and there was clear excitement within the fanbase.

“It’s a great thing,” Brown said of the tournament postgame. “I’ve said it before, the NBA knows what they’re doing, and it’s a fabulous event. It’s different than the regular season… it adds a little excitement to it because it’s one and done, and anybody can win one game. So, you’ve got to be on your best every time you step on the floor.”

Yet, while winning would have been preferred (obviously), their schedule became lighter due to their elimination. They will play the loser of the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns on Friday and have a few more days off before their to-be-determined following matchup.

Some days to heal up, review film, and discuss what needs to be cleaned up. No matter, the Sacramento Kings sit fifth in the Western Conference with plenty of season remaining.

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

Sacramento will face the loser of Tuesday’s Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns game at 6:00 PM PST in Phoenix or 7:30 PM PST in Los Angeles on Friday night.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, December 8th – Sacramento Kings @ Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Lakers (TBD)
  • December 3rd-10th: NBA In-Season Tournament Week (Schedule TBD)
  • Monday, December 11th – Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets – 7:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, December 12th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers – 7:30 PM PST
  • Thursday, December 14th – Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, December 16th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7:00 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout Round

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