SACRAMENTO KINGS

Harrison Barnes and Kings’ defense shine in 122-107 win over Atlanta

Jan 23, 2024, 5:09 PM

Dejounte Murray #5 of the Atlanta Hawks is guarded by Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings i...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: Dejounte Murray #5 of the Atlanta Hawks is guarded by Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings in the second half at Golden 1 Center on January 22, 2024 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings’ four-game losing skid came to a halt Monday night with a 122-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, largely thanks to the offensive production of Harrison Barnes and their defensive cohesiveness.

Their ‘big three’ of De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Keegan Murray struggled from the field, combining for 39 points on 11/38 (28.9 percent) shooting, but they still found a way to win.

Here are three takeaways from their second to last game in Golden 1 Center before the NBA trade deadline on February 8th.

1. An aggressive and active Harrison Barnes

The once-consistent production of Harrison Barnes has taken a step back for most of the Kings’ 2023-24 season. Coming into the night, Barnes averaged 10.6 points and 2.8 rebounds on 47.4 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three on 4.3 attempts per game.

While the efficiency remains, his 15.0 average scoring production from last season has digressed. His 32-point game Monday night was just the third time all season Harrison Barnes managed 20+ points in a game — something he accomplished 20 times in 2021-22. One came in the season opener, where he tallied 33 points against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Monday night against the Hawks was a good reminder of his capabilities. At 6’8, Barnes is a versatile scorer who knocks down open threes and can make his way to the basket to finish or draw fouls.

The North Carolina alum ended the night with 32 points, four rebounds, and one steal on 10/20 from the field, 4/8 from three, and a perfect 8/8 from the free-throw line.

“He’s always ready,” Domantas Sabonis said of Barnes postgame. “He’s one of the most professional guys on the team, stays ready, does all the work, even more, and we’ve just got to find him more. Find him more in those situations because most nights he does have a mismatch.”

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As mentioned earlier, scoring from Harrison Barnes was much needed on a night when Sacarmento’s typical primary offensive contributors struggled. After his aggressive and effective start, his teammates and coaching staff found ways to keep him involved later in the game.

When Atlanta switched most actions, they found ways to get him mismatches in the post, and success followed.

There may be more ways to involve Barnes in the offense moving forward, but finding ways to do that while maintaining their offensive flow and pace is easier said than done.

2. Searching for a winning formula

Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown has been searching for a productive and reliable bench group. After Malik Monk and Trey Lyles, predicting who will see the floor any night can be difficult.

Alex Len and JaVale McGee have been given opportunities to fill the backup center role — the roughly 13 minutes Sabonis rests.

Keon Ellis and Davion Mitchell are the two primary choices for the reserve point guard, with Monk recently emerging as an option.

For the remaining wing/forward, there’s been a handful of options, with nobody having separated themselves from the pack: Chris Duarte, Juan Toscano-Anderson (whose 10-day contract recently expired), Kessler Edwards, and reigning Euroleague MVP Sasha Vezenkov.

Recently, the formula has been Monk at the backup point guard and Len filling in for Sabonis while Vezenkov plays sparring minutes as needed. On Monday night, Brown stuck with Vezenkov, returned to Mitchell and McGee, and was rewarded for doing so.

The latter impacted the defensive end with their efforts and unique, varying skill sets. Mitchell even spent moments alongside Fox and Monk in a three-guard lineup.

Brown shared how their recent losses allowed him to reflect on what the group needed to improve upon and led to clarity leading into Monday night’s matchup.

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“Those losses were tough,” he said. “They hurt, but it also made us reflect on what we’re doing, starting with me. So, I had to watch the game, break it down, and give these guys answers as to what should happen on both ends of the floor. Tonight was probably the first night that there was a comfort level in a while — in all of us, starting with me — knowing what we’re going to do offensively with the basketball and then how we’re going to defend defensively.”

With their longest road trip of the season looming ahead, monitoring Brown’s constantly adapting rotational decisions will be interesting.

3. Showing their defensive capabilities

While the Hawks aren’t a powerhouse offensively, particularly without Trae Young, the Kings displayed their defensive potential Monday. Atlanta was held to 107 points on 38.7 percent shooting, including 41.5 percent on twos.

At a recent practice, Monk was asked about the difference between their strong and poor defensive performances, and he pointed towards being ‘on a string’ defensively. After their win over the Hawks, he agreed it was one of their better examples of doing so.

“Definitely was one of those nights,” he said. “If somebody falls down, the next guy has got to pick them up. If we miss a rotation, the next guy has got to be there, and we did that tonight.”

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While following their five defensive staples is essential every night, sometimes it goes beyond the game plan. Players are not going to (and should not be expected to) be perfect on every possession, but making up for other’s mistakes and trusting in their teammates to do the same comes with time.

Before collapsing in the final eight minutes in Phoenix, the Kings managed a stellar defensive game against the star-studded Suns’ with their Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal all active. That carried over against the Hawks, which may continue to grow and validate their internal defensive belief.

“I thought our guys defended really well,” Brown said. “They did some stuff out there defensively that I know we’re capable of doing night in and night out. Your coverages are going to break down from game to game, and that’s just when you’ve got to cover for one another. I thought our guys did a fantastic job.”

The Kings rank 17th in defensive rating (115.8) and are aiming for higher. Ball pressure from Fox, Mitchell, and Murray factored in. Sabonis and McGee did an impressive job containing the pick-and-roll, and their teammates’ weakside rotations were timely and effective.

Mitchell was deservedly awarded the DPOG crown after the game, and the group hopes to carry this performance into their upcoming road trip. It was a team-wide effort worth applauding and highlighting.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will come face-to-face with its Northern California rival, the Golden State Warriors, for the fourth and final time this season when the two teams face off on Thursday night at Chase Center.

The Kings have been seeking their first regular season win on Golden State’s home floor since February 25, 2020, as they have lost their last seven matchups in San Francisco.

Sacramento secured a nail-biting win over the Warriors during their most recent matchup on November 28th, thanks to Malik Monk’s game-winner.

 

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Thursday’s game will start a season-long, seven-game road trip for the Kings, who won’t return home until February 7th.

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

Upcoming Schedule

  • Thursday, January 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, January 27th – Sacramento Kings @ Dallas Mavericks – 6:00 PM PST
  • Monday, January 29th – Sacramento Kings @ Memphis Grizzlies – 5:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, January 31st – Sacramento Kings @ Miami Heat – 4:30 PM PST
  • Friday, February 2nd – Sacramento Kings @ Indiana Pacers – 4:30 PM PST

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