Yikes: Rockets embarrass unrecognizable Kings team

Nov 6, 2023, 7:31 PM | Updated: 7:57 pm

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 06: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings battles for ball control...

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

There is no arguing that the Sacramento Kings are a much different team without their All-Star guard De’Aaron Fox, but is that a valid excuse for what fans were exposed to over the past two games?

Forty-eight hours removed from Saturday’s 107-89 loss–Sacramento’s lowest-scoring game since the 2021-22 season–the Kings turned in an encore performance in the worst way as the Houston Rockets delivered a 122-97 laugher at Toyota Center.

Fox misses his third-straight game due to an ankle sprain, but it’s hard to envision how much of a difference the All-NBA guard’s presence would have made over the past two games.

Sacramento (2-4) was utterly embarrassed by a Rockets team that finished 22-60 a season ago, although you wouldn’t know if from taking in the past two games.

A Houston team with new faces (Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks) plus emerging young talent (Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr.) completely outmatched a Kings team that might have been missing a large piece in Fox, but one that still has plenty of talent to compete better than they did over the past two games.

There’s no other way to slice it. The Sacramento Kings were utterly embarrassed by the Houston Rockets over the past two games, and while a six-game sample size might not be enough to ring the panic bell, there are some glaring concerns that get more noticeable with each passing contest.

An Unrecognizable Team

Longtime Sacramento Kings fans are familiar with the play that we witnessed on Saturday and Monday in Houston.

One game removed from being held to 89 points, the lowest-scoring output by the Kings since February 14, 2022, Sacramento looked like a complete shell of itself during the second matchup against the Rockets.

Having a day to learn from Saturday’s mistakes and make adjustments didn’t help the Kings in this one, as last year’s number-three seed in the Western Conference played like a team tanking for a lottery pick.

Not only does Sacramento’s defense continue to act as a revolving door, but a once-lethal and record-breaking offense looked entirely out of sorts against Houston’s swarming defense.

Much of what transpired in Texas has to do with what head coach Ime Udoka has implemented with a young, hungry Rockets team, but the Kings hurt themselves plenty during the two-game set.

De’Aaron Fox is the conductor of the Kings’ offense, so a drop-off in production was expected–but to this extent?

Too much dribbling and one-on-one sets on offense. Forced shots that take place with two or fewer seconds on the shot clock. Lack of ball movement. No clear go-to option when Sacramento needed a score to stop the bleeding. Playing with pace, a style that this group rode to the NBA Playoffs last year, hasn’t been there.

All of that is a problem for this current group, as Fox’s absence has made the Kings revert to their old pre-2022-23 selves, and those teams were considered a footnote in the West.

Even if he might be closing in on a return to action, finding balance without Fox will be an essential hurdle for Sacramento to clear as they hope to continue pushing forward in what is expected to be an extremely competitive playoff race.

It’s hard to imagine the defense takes a massive leap forward, even with Fox on the floor. This roster lacks defensive versatility, even with JaVale McGee manning the paint off the bench and Chris Duarte providing the Kings with a bump in physicality.

The Rockets got whatever shots they wanted during the two-game set, and by whatever shot, I mean they got solid look after solid look. Knocking down open triples, scoring in transition, attacking the paint.

Sacramento had no answer against a Houston team that finished 27th out of 30 teams in offensive rating last year.

Mike Brown has preached the importance of this team buying in on defense and making the jump into the upper half of defensive rating this season, but through six games, the Kings have looked even worse on that end of the floor.

It’s early, but we’re getting to a point where it won’t be a matter of effort that is most concerning but the reality that roster personnel could soon see a shakeup if things don’t improve.

Defense? What Defense?

Speaking of defense, not much was played during Sacramento’s loss on Monday.

The Rockets set the nets on fire by knocking down 15 of their 31 attempts (48%) from beyond the arc while converting 57 percent of their field goal attempts and 77 percent from the free-throw line.

During the first three-quarters of play, the Kings surrendered 30+ points in each period, including 35 points to a Houston offense that went 11-of-16 from the field during the second quarter.

Sacramento got bullied across the board. From the perimeter to the paint, where the Rockets held a 50-38 advantage, to fast-break points (14-11) and rebounds (39-34).

Brown and his staff will undoubtedly have a full workload for this group once they touchdown in Northern California.


A tip of the cap to the young players who kept pushing through to the final buzzer, including Keon Ellis, who scored a career-high 15 points over just 14 minutes.

Keegan Murray and Kevin Huerter had strong starts to Monday’s game but faded with the rest of the Kings’ offense during the final three quarters.

Murray, who entered play having made just one of his past 15 attempts from three-point range, finished with 12 points on five-of-11 shooting and two-of-six from deep, while Huerter added 13 points on five-of-10 from the field and three-of-eight from beyond the arc.

Injury Report

De’Aaron Fox (ankle sprain) is closing in on a return to action but did not suit up on Monday night.

The All-NBA guard told reporters he was getting close to rejoining his teammates before Sacramento departed for the trip to Houston.

“I feel like I’m close,” Fox said following Thursday’s practice. “I never felt I would miss 2-3 weeks or anything like that, I knew it would take a few days or a week or so.” Fox is considered day-to-day, and a return on Wednesday is a possibility.

Trey Lyles (calf strain) will miss both games in Houston and has yet to appear in a regular season game.

Although Lyles has been going through workouts, he has yet to log a full practice and will not suit up until he goes through a full session with the team.

Lyles is considered day-to-day as he works himself back into game shape

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

Sacramento will return home for a three-game homestand that tips off on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Keegan Murray will come face-to-face with his twin brother and rookie forward Kris Murray for the first time as NBA players when Portland arrives at Golden 1 Center.

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

Upcoming Sacramento Kings Schedule

  • Wednesday, November 8th – Sacramento Kings vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 7 PM PST
  • 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

** NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play

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