Three Takeaways: The Sacramento Kings are finding ways to win ugly

Feb 15, 2024, 1:45 PM | Updated: 3:48 pm

De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings is congratulated by teammates after his basket gained the l...

DENVER, COLORADO - FEBRUARY 14: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings is congratulated by teammates after his basket gained the lead against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Alysa Rubin/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)

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

The Sacramento Kings’ last four games before the All-Star break against Western Conference playoff teams were essential. After beating the Denver Nuggets at home on Friday, they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the Super Bowl kickoff and faced a tough road back-to-back with the Phoenix Suns before their trip to the mile-high city.

Games against Western teams can significantly impact the standings in the highly competitive conference with tie-breaker ramifications. With their loss in Phoenix, the season series is tied 2-2 with one game remaining, thanks to the In-Season Tournament schedule.

Two wins in four games against the defending champion Nuggets cement a tie-breaker win for the Kings, improving to 3-0 against them on the season.

With two non-All-Stars performing at an All-Star level, emphasizing the details gave them chances to win games despite poor three-point shooting, and the break could not come at a better time for the Kings.

Here are three takeaways from the Sacramento Kings’ recent back-to-back heading into the All-Star break.

They sure look like All-Stars

Domantas Sabonis has been putting up ridiculous numbers this season, with his recent tear being the greatest. Through eight games in February, the Lithuanian center is averaging 21.8 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 10.3 assists on 65.1 percent from the field — just absurd numbers.

Wednesday’s 20 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals was just another day at the office for Sabonis.

“Everybody knows it’s going to happen, but it doesn’t seem like anybody can slow it down or stop it,” head coach Mike Brown said of the center’s consistent production. “And we need every ounce of it.”

Sabonis has registered 37 straight double-doubles. No other player currently has an active streak greater than six. Sounds like All-Star caliber numbers to me.

As for De’Aaron Fox, he’s slowed down as of late, but he reminded everyone in Denver why he was awarded the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year award last season. The Sacramento Kings guard scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including ten straight to close the frame and secure the close win.

“When you’re entire bench, and everybody who’s out there on the court with you has that confidence in you for you to go make a play, I can’t help but have confidence in myself,” Fox said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go my way, and that’s fine, but tonight it went my way, and we were able to grind out this win.”

He ended the night with 30 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, and two steals in nearly 43 minutes. That was one day after recording 40 points, six assists, nine rebounds, and three steals in close to 40 minutes. Seventy points and more than 80 minutes is less than two games, were stellar back-to-back performances from Fox.

Finding a way to win

The Sacramento Kings made 18 combined threes in the back-to-back, nine in each game. Before those showings, they had only converted single-digit threes twice, both of which were losses.

Brown has emphasized the importance of finding ways to win games when shots don’t fall because those nights are unavoidable and expected. Getting stops on the defensive end, maintaining their offensive pace in the open court and half court, offensive rebounds, hustling for 50/50 balls — those details make all the difference and gave the Sacramento Kings a chance to win both games in their back-to-back in Phoenix and Denver.

“I know they’re missing a couple of starters, but for (Denver) to shoot 39 percent from the floor and score 98 points, for us, that’s really good,” Brown said after their 102-98 victory in Denver. “That’s really, really, really good. Sometimes, you’ve got to win ugly, and you’ve just got to find a way.”

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While the Suns’ game ultimately ended in a loss for the Kings, they had a chance thanks to executing the details. Brown was emotional after the loss and spent most of his postgame press conference expressing his confusion with the late-game officiating.

Duarte, who had been out of the rotation and also recently dealt with a minor ankle sprain, logged significant minutes for the first time since Friday, Jan. 12th. In the fourth quarter, when the team needed stops, Brown looked in his direction and was rewarded for doing so. His full-court pressure, timely shot triple, and effort crucially impacted the game for the Sacramento Kings.

“(Duarte) was really really good in his minutes and he left it out on the floor,” Brown said. “He was the catalyst for us getting the win. Fox, Domas, and HB scored for us, but we had to find a way to defend and we did in the second half. We were down one with two plus minutes to go and we had four consecutive stops. That’s huge for us. So, just a lot of positive in a game that we could’ve easily just folded, especially going into the break. I love, love, love our guys perseverance.”

The All-Star break ‘could not come at a better time’

Brown began his postgame press conference in Denver by being thankful for the looming All-Star break.

“I know a lot of teams probably think the same way, but for us, the All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said. “We just got a lot of guys that are just banged up.”

As mentioned earlier, Fox played over 80 minutes in 48 hours, while Sabonis logged roughly 76 minutes. Keegan Murray took a tough spill during the action and also stepped on someone’s ankle mid-game. Trey Lyles has been dealing with an illness. Sasha Vezenkov is out with a grade three ankle sprain. Fox has also been dealing with a slight shoulder issue, and it seems like ankle issues always linger.

Luckily, thanks to their tough-fought win over the Nuggets, the Sacramento Kings can ride some positive momentum going into the All-Star break. While Fox and Sabonis had strong cases for making the All-Star team, not being voted it makes the break not include a mandatory trip to Indiana.

At 31-23 heading into the break, the Kings currently rank eighth in the Western Conference. Moving back into the top-six and avoiding the play-in tournament will be the goal for a handful of teams, including Sacramento, post-All-Star break.

“To come here on a back-to-back and find a way before going into the break, and to find a way to win ugly, it just adds to the belief that we don’t have to be this offensive juggernaut to win games,” Brown said Wednesday night in Denver. “We can win games in a lot of different ways, and tonight was a testament to it. So, hopefully, that belief will carry over and help us win some games against some tough teams that we have coming up.”

A demanding schedule sits ahead for the Kings, but that’s also an opportunity to prove themselves and continue to build upon their internal belief as the postseason rapidly approaches.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will enter the All-Star break looking to rest and recover for the final stretch of the regular season.

Once the Kings return from the week-long break, they will face rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs–owner of the worst record in the Western Conference–on Thursday, February 22nd, at Golden 1 Center.

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

Upcoming Schedule

  • NBA All-Star break – February 15-21
  • Thursday, February 22nd – Sacramento Kings vs. San Antonio Spurs – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, February 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers – 6:30 PM PST
  • Monday, February 26th – Sacramento Kings vs. Miami Heat – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, February 28th – Sacramento Kings @ Denver Nuggets – 6:00 PM PST
  • Friday, March 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Minnesota Timberwolves – 5:00 PM PST

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