SACRAMENTO KINGS

Preview: Kings & Pelicans meet with NBA Playoff berth on the line

Apr 18, 2024, 7:00 PM

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 11: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings shoots over Herbert Jone...

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

While the Sacramento Kings’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night might have exorcised the demons from last year’s Game 7 defeat, another tall task lies ahead of their path to the NBA Playoffs.

After surviving the opening round of the Play-In Tournament, the Kings need one more win to clinch a first-round appearance against the Western Conference’s top seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Standing in Sacramento’s way will be the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that dominated the Kings in all five head-to-head meetings during the regular season (5-0).

The Pelicans have outscored Sacramento by an average of 19.2 points per game this season, but anything can happen in a winner-take-all postseason elimination game–especially when New Orleans will be without star forward Zion Williamson (left hamstring strain).

Williamson left Tuesday’s Play-In loss to the Los Angeles Lakers after suffering an injury during the closing minutes of play on a night that saw the former number-one pick score 40 points, grab 11 rebounds, and pass out five assists.

Both the Kings and Pelicans will enter play without critical pieces, but the task remains the same for each squad:

Win, and you’re in.

Let’s dive into what should be an exciting night at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Sacramento Kings @ New Orleans Pelicans Game Info

NBA Play-In Tournament | Single-elimination | 8th Seed Game

When: 6:30 PM PST

Where: Smoothie King Center  – New Orleans, LA

TV: TNT

Radio: Sactown Sports 1140 AM – Coverage starts at 5:00 PM on Game Night

Line: Kings -1.5, O/U 212.5

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Warriors coverage, beginning at 5:00 PM PST on Game Night before a 6:30 PM PST tip-off from downtown New Orleans.

No Zion, No Problem?

The loss of Zion Williamson is a gut-punch for a Pelicans team that enters play on Friday having lost six-straight home games, but that doesn’t ensure a victory for Sacramento.

Williamson has been a problem for the Kings’ defense this season, scoring 23.0 points per game on 65 percent shooting from the field over four appearances, including a 31-point outing at Golden 1 Center one week ago (17 points in the fourth quarter).

Losing Williamson will change the way New Orleans operates on offense, putting more pressure on CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram–who may be on a minutes restriction on Friday as he recovers from a knee injury–to produce on offense, something that both players have done well against the Sacramento defense in recent memory.

In 12 games without Williamson this season, the Pelicans hold a record of 7-5, with one of those wins coming on January 7th at Golden 1 Center–a game that saw the Kings lose by 33 points thanks to a 19-of-35 (54%) performance from deep out of the New Orleans offense.

YouTube video

Three-point shooting will be a key on Friday (more on that in a moment), but the Williamson-less Pelicans offense will have one less weapon, while the Sacramento defense will have one less matchup disadvantage to worry about.

No Williamson means that the Kings will have to focus on one area that has bitten them time and time again while facing New Orleans this season: the perimeter.

Three-Point Problems

There has been a clear trend in Sacramento’s losses to the Pelicans this season.

Over five losses to New Orleans, the Kings have surrendered 74 made triples on 164 attempts (45%). That’s right, 45 percent. For reference, the NBA’s leader in three-point field goal percentage this season was the Oklahoma City Thunder at 38 percent.

Not only have the Pelicans found success from three-point range against Sacramento, they have shot 54 percent or better in two games against the Kings this season, with both contests being New Orleans top two shooting performances of the season.

The winner of Friday’s game could very well be the team that comes out on top from deep, as both teams have lived and died by the long ball in 2023-24.

The Pelicans are 26-8 (.764) when shooting 40% or better from three-point land, something that they did in four of five matchups against Sacramento’s 29th-ranked three-point defense.

When opposing defenses lock down the perimeter, New Orleans has struggled. In 32 games they have shot 35 percent or worse from three, the Pelicans hold a record of 14-18 (.437).

On the Kings’ side, inconsistent three-point shooting has plagued an offense that is still establishing an identity following the loss of guards Kevin Huerter (shoulder) and Malik Monk (knee).

A red-hot showing during Tuesday’s win over Golden State came at an ideal time for Sacramento, as the Beam Team finished the night 18-of-39 (46%) from beyond the arc. Keegan Murray (eight-of-13), Keon Ellis (three-of-four), and Harrison Barnes (three-of-four) knocked down more triples than all of the Warriors combined (ten).

The Kings are hard to beat when shooting 35 percent or better from three-point land, holding a record of 33-14 (.702) over 47 such games this season.

When shots don’t fall, wins rarely follow, as Sacramento is 13-22 (.371) when shooting under the 35-percent mark.

New Orleans enters play with the second-best three-point defense in the NBA, holding opponents to an average of 35 percent shooting from three this year, but the final 11 games of the regular season tell a different story, as the Pelicans allowed teams to shoot 38 percent from deep losing six of those games in the process.

The Lakers knocked down 40 percent of their attempts from three during Tuesday’s Play-In game at the Smoothie King Center. If the Kings can replicate that production, there’s a very good chance a win will follow.

YouTube video

Is De’Aaron Fox Due?

The New Orleans Pelicans have not been a fun matchup for De’Aaron Fox this season.

Over five games against the Pelicans, Fox holds averages of 21.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.0 steals on 40 percent shooting from the field and 24 percent from three. Fox has also turned the ball over 20 times during five losses to a New Orleans defense that has been headed by likely All-Defensive First Team forward Herb Jones.

Jones will look to keep Fox in check once again on Friday, and Fox will hope his tough regular season numbers will become a footnote on the heels of a 24-point showing against the Warriors.

If Fox is unable to ignite his offense, Sacramento will hope for a similar group effort that we saw against Golden State, where all five starters finished the night in double-figures behind a 32-point effort from Keegan Murray.

The Kings are at their best when Fox is in a rhythm, and the reigning Clutch Player of the Year has thrived when playing on a big stage. If Sacramento can get its franchise guard going, the Kings will be in a strong position to secure a second-straight playoff berth.

Stats & Notes

  • Domantas Sabonis is averaging 18.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists on 65% FG during NOP this season.
  • The Pelicans have out-rebounded the Kings 47.2 to 33.8 this season.
  • New Orleans is ranked 9th in the league in paint points per game (51.4) and 5th in paint defense (46.5 points allowed per game).
  • Prior to their win over the Warriors, Sacramento had never won a winner-take-all postseason game since moving to Northern California in 1985. They are now 1-6 in such games.

Injury Report

Sacramento

  • Malik Monk – OUT (Right knee sprain)
  • Kevin Huerter – OUT (left shoulder dislocation)

New Orleans

  • Zion Williamson – OUT (left hamstring strain)

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, April 19th – NBA Play-In – Sacramento Kings @ New Orleans Pelicans – 6:30 PM PST
  • Sunday, April 21st – NBA Playoffs (First Round) – Kings/Pelicans @ Oklahoma City Thunder – 6:30 PM PST

NBA Postseason Schedule

  • Tuesday, April 16th-Friday, April 19th – NBA Play-In Tournament
  • Saturday, April 20th – NBA Playoffs (First Round) begin

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