Sacramento Kings enter final stretch seeking new opportunities

Apr 1, 2024, 3:10 PM | Updated: 3:19 pm

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 12: Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings shoots a foul sh...

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

On April 1st, 2023, the Sacramento Kings were riding high.

Following an NBA-record 16-season playoff drought, the Kings had clinched the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2006 and were closing in on securing home-court advantage for a first-round series.

As far as player availability goes, Sacramento was a beacon of health in 2022-23, with the top eight players in head coach Mike Brown’s rotation logging 73 games or more.

One year later, the Kings’ path to the postseason is much less clear, and the injury bug has taken a bite out of the ‘Beam Team’ at the worst possible time.

Sacramento (43-31) currently sits in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings, two games behind the fifth-seed Dallas Mavericks and sixth-seed New Orleans Pelicans. Instead of jumping up the standings last week during a two-game set against Dallas at Golden 1 Center, the Kings dropped both games to the Mavs, who leaped out of Play-In territory and into a top-six spot.

While losing two costly games to Dallas stung Sacramento’s chances of finishing the season in position for an automatic playoff bid, the worst aspect of the Kings’ loss was the injury to Sixth Man of the Year favorite Malik Monk, who suffered a right knee MCL sprain during Friday’s loss to the Mavericks.

Not only will Sacramento have to navigate the final eight games of the regular season without starting shooting guard Kevin Huerter, who will miss the remainder of the season due to a left shoulder dislocation and labrum tear, but they also will have to learn how to live without their dynamic bench scorer and playmaker in Monk.

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For the Kings, there is no time to dwell or panic on the loss of two rotation pieces–the time to make adjustments and focus on the final eight games ahead (and hopefully more beyond that) is now.

When asked about what the team will miss most about Monk’s impact, De’Aaron Fox pointed to his ability to score and distribute the basketball.

“Obviously, I think missing such a dynamic player in terms of [Monk’s] scoring and his playmaking, but I mean, with [Monk] not going to be here obviously for the rest of the regular season, we have to find another way,” Fox said following Monday’s practice.

The loss of Monk and his 15.4 points and 5.1 assists per game undoubtedly hurt Sacramento’s already thin rotation, but the emergence of Keon Ellis and Davion Mitchell’s improved offense will come into focus during the coming weeks.

Fox alluded to the Kings having had conversations about what the new guard rotations will look like sans Monk, with Fox and his improved three-point shooting ability (36%) giving Brown the option to have Ellis or Mitchell set up the offense while Fox sets up off of the ball.

“That’s me out there with Keon a lot, me out there with Davon a lot,” Fox said. “We’ve had a conversation of what we want to run, me being off the ball and just in terms of what we’re doing offensively, and I think obviously defensively, always having one of those guys out there makes us a better defensive team. So, it works both ways.”

Losing Monk’s offense might outweigh the defensive improvements that more minutes from Ellis and Mitchell would entail, but Sacramento will be looking at more than just those two to step up on the offensive end.

The loss of Huerter and Monk–25.6 points per game, to be exact–might not be replicated by two players that will assume the duo’s minutes, but getting more offensive output from two already big-minute players could change the Kings’ approach to the final stretch.

During Sunday’s blow-out win over the Utah Jazz, Sacramento set fire to their nets by shooting 20-of-40 (50%) from downtown. A large reason why the Kings were able to find success on the offensive end was due to Keegan Murray (25 points on 5/12 3PT) and Harrison Barnes (24 points on 5/7 3pt), who scored 20+ points during the same game for the first time this season.

Good things happen for Sacramento when Murray and Barnes are involved in the offense:

  • The Kings this season when Murray scores 20+ points: 12-5 (.705)
  • The Kings this season when Barnes scores 15+ points: 18-5 (.782)

A lot of variables come into play regarding these numbers, including the play of Fox and Domantas Sabonis, as well as Monk’s undeniable impact, but there is no doubt that Brown will be leaning on Murray and Barnes as Sacramento continues to push for the playoffs.

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“Oh yeah,” Brown responded when asked if the loss of Huerter and Monk could mean an expanded role for Murray–among others–on offense.

“Somebody told me one time that adversity leads to opportunity, and the reality of it is, I don’t care what anybody says–we’ve had to deal with some adversity, especially at this point of the season. [Injuries to Monk and Huerter] are leading to opportunity for others. You know, Kessler [Edwards] stepped up and played well, Davion’s minutes have gone up, Keegan has to step up, [Barnes] has to step up, and now we got Sasha [Vezenkov] and Trey [Lyles] back.

“We still have some things down the stretch that we have to figure out, and so it’s going to lead to opportunities for other as well. I’m all for this, and and making sure that we grow and learn the right way while trying to help our guys sooner than later.”

Losing Monk and Huerter is a blow for the Kings, but the door isn’t closed on their 2023-24 season just yet.

The week ahead will teach us a lot about this new-look group as Sacramento will wrap up a five-game homestand on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers before heading east for a tough back-to-back against the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.

Getting more out of stars like Fox and Sabonis will be key for the Kings, but also getting an uptick in offensive aggression from Murray and Barnes will be a storyline to keep an eye on during this final eight-game stretch.

If Murray can carry over his plan of attack from Sunday against Utah, it will only take pressure off of Fox to lead the charge on the scoring front and allow the guard to find teammates in a similar fashion to his 12-assist effort vs. the Jazz.

Brown has often said “next man up” when the Kings have been shorthanded, and that saying will get louder with each passing game as Sacramento continues down its bumpy path to the postseason.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will conclude its five-game homestand on Tuesday night when they face the Los Angeles Clippers for the fourth and final time this regular season.

After losing the first two matchups, the Kings defeated Los Angeles by a final of 113-107 at Arena back on February 25th.

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

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Upcoming Schedule

  • Tuesday, April 2nd – Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Thursday, April 4th – Sacramento Kings @ New York Knicks – 4:30 PM PST
  • Friday, April 5th – Sacramento Kings @ Boston Celtics – 4:30 PM PST
  • Sunday, April 7th – Sacramento Kings @ Brooklyn Nets – 4:30 PM PST
  • Tuesday, April 9th – Sacramento Kings @ Oklahoma City Thunder – 5:00 PM PST

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