Kings Q&A: Potential first-round matchups, Vezenkov’s injury, and more

Feb 28, 2024, 2:01 PM

Chet Holmgren #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks to drive the ball while being defended by Harri...

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - FEBRUARY 11: Chet Holmgren #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks to drive the ball while being defended by Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings during the second half at Paycom Center on February 11, 2024 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

The Sacramento King’s polarizing play has continued post-All-Star break. Taking care of business on the road against a recently thriving Los Angeles Clippers team, only to fall to the extremely shorthanded Miami Heat the following night in Golden 1 Center, was a prime example.

As the postseason grows nearer, there seem to be more questions than answers about the Kings’ potential. That makes it a perfect time for a Q&A to try and make sense of the chaos!

Brenden Nunes and Frankie Cartoscelli give their perspective on various topics Kings fans are curious about. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions on social media and be sure to look out for more opportunities to do so in the future.

(X) @distant_meadows:  How do you see the Kings ending the season (realistically and optimistically)?

Brenden: The Western Conference is ridiculously convoluted and competitive currently. The top four, Minnesota, Denver, Oklahoma City, and the LA Clippers, are likely to remain in their own tier, with a 3.5-game difference between fourth and fifth.

That being said, in the best-case scenario, there’s still a world where the Kings go on a big-time winning streak and sneak into a position to compete for a top-four seed and home-court advantage. I would not bet on it, considering Sacramento’s longest six-game winning streak took place in November, but it’s not impossible.

I feel more comfortable saying the optimistic outcome is the fifth seed.

Realistically, it’s somewhere between fifth and eighth. I have no idea how to predict where they may land within that range.

Nobody in the Kings, Pelicans, Suns, and Mavericks grouping seems to be a clear favorite in my eyes. The Kings need De’Aaron Fox to continue his high caliber of play on both ends of the floor and remain defensively engaged and consistent as a group. If that’s the case, I feel good about their chances of finishing above the play-in at fifth or sixth.

Frankie: Since the start of last season, the Kings have handled adversity well. Even following a recent stretch where they lost four of five games from February 5th through 13th, Sacramento responded by winning three straight games before dropping Monday’s game vs. Miami. 

Until they show me otherwise, I’m going to bank on the Kings continuing to answer the call and keep pace in the West. Best case scenario, I see them as a five-seed as the teams in the top-four continue to stay the course. Worst case, I think the Kings finish in the seventh or eighth spot.

The schedule will soften for Sacramento in the coming weeks, and playing the bulk of their games in March at Golden 1 Center will give them a chance at solidifying themselves among the top-six before the calendar turns to April.

(X) @GeorgeSMuller22: Who do you think the Kings have the best chance against in the playoffs/play-in? // @ALinCALI22: Who is the best first-round matchup for the Kings?

Brenden: I want nothing to do with Denver or the LA Clippers. I know the Kings are currently 3-0 against the defending champions, but their offensive movement and the elite passing of Nikola Jokic draw concern considering Sacramento’s 20th-ranked defense.

The size and positional versatility of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, combined with the elite playmaking and shot-creation ability of James Harden, is intimidating. Not to mention that Russell Westbrook often plays well against the Kings by pressuring the rim.

So, if it’s between Minnesota and Oklahoma City, I think the Kings would face better odds against the Thunder, although both are far from a great matchup. Watching De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be elite entertainment, but the battle I think would favor Sacramento is Domantas Sabonis against Chet Holmgren.

Despite boding a 7’6 wingspan, Sabonis often excels against bigs that rely more on their length than strength. He should be able to drive through the rookie big man, while Holmgren would attempt to pull Sabonis out of the paint on the other end.

For the play-in, I think the Kings would benefit from playing New Orleans or Dallas compared to the high-end, experienced talents on the Suns, Warriors, and Lakers rosters. But, in a single elimination game, anything can happen. It’s as unpredictable as it gets. 

Frankie: This is a tough one.

The Western Conference is super deep this year, and I think Sacramento will have its hands full with any team they could face in a seven-game series. That being said, I see two teams ahead of the Kings that could end up being favorable:

Oklahoma City and Phoenix.

Over three matchups this season, the Kings hold a 2-1 record against the Thunder this year, and Domantas Sabonis has given Chet Holmgren fits during those showdowns (18.7 points, 13.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists). Sacramento matches up well against OKC, and Phoenix is another team that I feel they would have a better shot at beating in a seven-game series.

The Kings and Suns are split at 2-2 on the year in head-to-head matchups, but a blown 22-point fourth-quarter lead on January 16th separates Sacramento from owning the season series. Even during a loss to Phoenix on February 13th, the Kings held a lead with three minutes to go.

Facing Kevin Durant in a seven-game series is a daunting task, but Sacramento has proven that they can hang with–or beat–a Suns team that has had a roller-coaster of a season thus far.

@pixelatedkaiju: What are the biggest internal changes the team might make as we head into the stretch (rotations, minute adjustments, changes in preparation, etc.)

Brenden: At this point in the season, it’s hard to imagine any drastic changes. The Kings have seven consistent in their rotation, with Malik Monk and Trey Lyles being the first two off the bench, although there has been some slight variance beyond that.

Davion Mitchell has emerged as the backup point guard over Keon Ellis and has been performing well as of late. The same could be said for Alex Len in favor of JaVale McGee with some small ball lineup featuring Lyles against other small teams. And Chris Duarte seems like he will get an opportunity in the first half that will dictate his potential minutes as the game continues.

It’s hard to imagine where variance could come from there. Therefore, I think the focus in the final stretch will center around cleaning up aspects on both sides of the ball. 

Defensively, it’s been their three-point defense, where the Kings allow the worst percentage in the league. Offensively, there has been an increased emphasis on maintaining their pace in the open court and half court.

Frankie: It seems as if Mike Brown and the coaching staff have been searching for those adjustments, and to me, the emergence of Chris Duarte and consistent playing time for Davion Mitchell look like the most-notable changes that we will see during the final stretch.

Since Sacramento stood pat at the deadline, re-inserting Duarte into the rotation and handing Mitchell–who has played better as of late–the keys to running the second unit have been the changes made thus far, but finding stability at the backup center position could also help the Kings find some stability.

Monte McNair will need to take a long look at the roster this summer, but as of now, the roster is set for the playoff push.

(Threads) @Megalutou: Any news on Sasha’s return date? Still a ways out?

Brenden: There has been no update for Veznkov as of late, but he has not been seen participating in any recent practices or shootarounds. The grade three right ankle sprain that sidelined him was suffered at practice on February 10th, with a re-evaluation timeline of 4-6 weeks provided.

Re-evaluation is the keyword here – he is far from guaranteed to return to available during that time frame.

But, four weeks from the injury would be March 9th. March 23rd is the six-week mark, leaving just 13 games in the regular season for Vezenkov to attempt to return to form. The unfortunate circumstances make it tough to imagine him working up to a staple in the rotation.

(X) @ba_2_the_ba: Have you seen any Netflix personnel/film crews following Sabonis around for the upcoming series, and related, what do you think will be some storylines for Sabonis’ portion?

Brenden: Nothing confirmed, but there have been some curious occurrences. The last time Sacramento played in Golden State, the Kings sent three players to the postgame podium, along with Coach Brown, with Sabonis being the last. In almost every game, it’s typically two players and a coach that are sent out.

During that press conference, Brown, Sabonis’s wife, and Fox’s wife all sat in on the press conference, with two of them asking questions to Sabonis. Again, not sure, but that sounds like good content to me.

Also, during pregame at home against Miami, Sabonis’s wife and children were courtside, which is a rare occurrence. He spent a decent amount of time interacting with them, letting his oldest play with a basketball, etc, while plenty of cameras keyed in on him. They may have been NBA TV cameras, but you never know!

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will embark on a brief–but challenging–two-game road trip that will begin on Wednesday night in Denver, where they will face the reigning champion Nuggets for the final time this regular season.

The Kings will seek its first four-game season series sweep of Denver since the 2002-03 season after winning the first three matchups, most recently on February 14th when De’Aaron Fox’s 15-point fourth quarter completed a 102-98 comeback win at Ball Arena.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Nuggets coverage, beginning at 4:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 6:00 PM PST tip-off from ‘The Mile High City.’

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Upcoming Schedule

  • Wednesday, February 28th – Sacramento Kings @ Denver Nuggets – 6:00 PM PST
  • 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

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