Nuggets erase early deficit to rout Fox-less Kings

Feb 28, 2024, 8:14 PM | Updated: 8:17 pm

DENVER, COLORADO - FEBRUARY 28: Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball during th...

(Photo by Alysa Rubin/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alysa Rubin/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)

It was a fun first quarter for the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday in Denver. Then, the fun stopped there.

An early 15-point lead was quickly turned into a sizable deficit as the reigning champion Nuggets shook off a rough start en route to securing a 117-96 blowout win over the Kings at Ball Arena.

Sacramento had claimed the first three matchups against Denver this season, but the Nuggets (40-19) made the necessary in-game adjustments to avoid its first four-game season series sweep at the hands of the Kings since the 2002-03 season.

With the loss, Sacramento (33-25) dropped to eighth place in the Western Conference standings as the race for a top-six spot intensifies with each passing game.

Kings vs. Nuggets Recap & Takeaways

With De’Aaron Fox sidelined due to a left knee contusion, the Kings would need to step up as a collective to fill in for the star guard’s missing 26.9 points per game (10th in the NBA).

Keegan Murray, who scored 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting (six-of-seven from deep) during Monday’s loss to Miami, picked up right where he left off when things got underway in Denver. The second-year forward scored 11 points during the first quarter, while Malik Monk (seven points) also got his offense going early.

Sacramento went seven-for-ten from downtown during the first quarter as they built an early lead–one that swelled to 15 points during the second quarter. However, the defending champs would punch back before the break, ending the half on a 33-8 run that erased the deficit and put the Kings in a 65-55 hole heading into the third.

As poised as Sacramento looked early, the wheels fell off during the second quarter as they went just nine-of-26 (35%) from the field, while the Nuggets outscored the Kings 37-20 on 14-of-21 (67%) shooting during the period.

The seven-for-ten start from deep was a thing of the past following the first quarter, as Sacramento missed all nine of its attempts from beyond the arc during the second quarter as it became clear that Denver was on the verge of blowing things open.

Much like we have seen in recent memory from reigning champions like the Golden State Warriors, the Nuggets’ “avalanche” type of run was too much to overcome for the Kings on Wednesday.

Once Denver regained momentum, a dormant crowd at Ball Arena came alive while Sacramento’s once-poised approach turned into rushed shots, missed rotations on defense, and ambitious pass attempts that turned into turnovers. In every sense, the Nuggets took complete control of this game once the Kings started getting comfortable with their early lead.

With Fox sidelined, Sacramento had no run-stopper, nobody to apply pressure to a bleeding wound that progressively got worse as the second half unfolded.

Denver outscored the Kings 35-17 during the third quarter as Sacramento continued to struggle on offense (6/18, 33% FG in the period). The Nuggets outscored the Kings 72-37 during the second and third quarters. You aren’t going to see many teams win games with that discrepancy, especially against the defending champs.

All that an already fragile Sacramento defense could do was watch as Denver erupted on offense during the middle quarters, going 28-for-42 (67%) from the field and eight-of-16 from three-point range to blow the game wide open.

The Kings lost their rhythm early in the second quarter, and the game was decided shortly after as the offense stalled.

Murray, who was Sacramento’s go-to threat early, scored 15 points during the first 15 minutes of action. The forward didn’t score again until garbage time. The same goes for Malik Monk, who scored 11 points during the first half. Over the final two quarters, the Sixth Man of the Year candidate went scoreless.

Domantas Sabonis, who nearly saw his impressive 40-game double-double streak come to a close, struggled to convert his field goal attempts, going five-of-14 (35%) on a night that the Kings needed him at his best.

Starters like Kevin Huerter (four points), Davion Mitchell (five points), and Harrison Barnes (seven points) were unable to get it going either. It was just a nightmare performance all around for Sacramento, and it’s hard to envision how much a healthy Fox would have changed things.

As well as the Kings played during Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers, they have followed the performance up with two stinkers. The current state of the Western Conference is volatile and unforgiving, with each passing game holding more importance than the last.

If Sacramento wants to avoid the uncertainty of the Play-In, they will have to put the past two games in the rearview and hope to hit the ground running in Minnesota on Friday night.

At this point in the season, the margin for error is slim. Can the Kings do what they were unable to do on Wednesday night and stop the bleeding before they lose their footing in the playoff race?

Injury Update

De’Aaron Fox was ruled out of Wednesday’s action due to a left knee contusion that was suffered during the Kings’ loss to the Miami Heat. Fox is considered day-to-day.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will finish this tough two-game trip on Friday night when they face the Western Conference’s top seed, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Kings have split the first two matchups against Minnesota this season, with the road teams winning each matchup thus far. On November 24th, Sacramento handed the Wolves their first home loss behind a significant effort from De’Aaron Fox (36 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists).

In the most recent meeting between the two West foes on December 23rd, Minnesota defeated the Kings by a final of 110-98 at Golden 1 Center.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Timberwolves coverage, beginning at 3:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 5:00 PM PST tip-off from Minneapolis.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, March 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Minnesota Timberwolves – 5:00 PM PST
  • Monday, March 4th – Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, March 6th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7:30 PM PST
  • Thursday, March 7th – Sacramento Kings vs. San Antonio Spurs – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, March 10th – Sacramento Kings vs. Houston Rockets – 3:00 PM PST

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