3 Takeaways: Zion Williamson, Pelicans cruise to win over the Kings in New Orleans

Nov 21, 2023, 12:35 PM | Updated: 2:18 pm

Zion Williamson #1 and Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans react after a play during the...

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 20: Zion Williamson #1 and Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans react after a play during the third quarter of an NBA game against the Sacramento Kings at Smoothie King Center on November 20, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings’ six-game winning streak came to a screeching halt in New Orleans Monday night, where they suffered a 124-93 loss to the Pelicans. Zion Williamson seemed to get to a lefty layup whenever he wanted, and the Kings’ offense was never able to catch a rhythm after the opening quarter.

And, worst of all, Sacramento suffered some (hopefully minor) injuries throughout the 48 minutes of action.

Coming into the night, Trey Lyles (calf), Alex Len (ankle), Sasha Vezenkov (thumb), and Keon Ellis (ankle) were all unavailable for head coach Mike Brown and his staff.

But the Pelicans came in with plenty of absences on their end as well. CJ McCollum (lung), Trey Murphy (knee), and Larry Nance Jr. (rib) were inactive for New Orleans come tipoff.

After coming out to a blazing start in the opening minutes, Sacramento managed to end the first quarter with a 31-29 lead before it all went downhill fast. Here are my takeaways from the Kings’ disappointing 93-124 loss.

1. Failed defensive coverages on Zion Williamson

Coach Brown shared postgame that Sacramento’s game plan coming into the night was to double-team Williamson from the jump.

Against a player with his strength, quickness, agility, bounce, and touch, building a wall in transition is essential, along with forcing him to change directions (or pass) when attempting to get downhill.

It felt like the Kings hardly managed either. Zion Williamson destroyed them in the second quarter with 18 points on 8/10 from the field. All eight makes were left-handed layups.

That trend extended until his last made a bucket, an emphatic, cherry on top, breakaway dunk when the game was already out of hand.

“I thought, in the first half, we didn’t show a crowd enough. We’ve got to be better for each other in gaps and in help defense,” Kevin Huerter told reporters in New Orleans postgame. “We know he’s tough to stop when he gets downhill. He gets to his left hand. He has over the course of his career. We’ve just got to be better for each other.”

Harrison Barnes drew the initial assignment of containing Zion Williamson, but no individual can stop a freight train. The Pelicans did an excellent job of finding ways to get the former first-overall pick the ball stampeding downhill toward his left. Sacramento’s help defense failed to react appropriately.

With another matchup between these teams looming Wednesday night, the Kings need to figure out how to contain him. “You just have to try to be physical without fouling,” De’Aaron Fox said regarding Williamson.

“If you’re in a position to take a charge, take a charge. Obviously, you know you’re going to take a big hit, but we have to be better in keeping their entire team out of the paint.”

Zion Williamson ended his night with 26 points, five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and one block on 12/16 from the field, zero attempted threes, and 2/2 from the free-throw line.

2. Points in the paint and beyond the arc

Since De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis have been leading the charge, the Kings’ offense has centered around paint touches with subsequent ball and player movement from shooters.

Their five offensive staples are pace, spacing, paint touches, ball reversals, and playing in the ‘point five’ (making decisions in less than .5 seconds). On Monday, they looked nothing like themselves.

Often, ideal spacing leads to inside attempts for their star duo and cutters, but New Orleans managed to outplay them.

Zion Williamson individually made 11 shots in the restricted area, while the Pelicans finished 70.3 percent (26/37) on said looks.  They outscored Sacramento 64-40 in the paint. As a team, the Kings converted a mere 52.4 percent (13/24). That’s far from a winning formula.

Their typical ball and player movement had disappeared. A lack of stops on the defensive end limited their transition opportunities. They settled for good shots relatively early in the shot clock rather than being patient and searching for great.

Going 11/45 (24.4 percent) from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help, either. “We’ve got to figure out, if (the three) is not going in, how can we score,” Brown said. “I thought there were too many times where we felt like we had to score on the first action or the front side of a play.”

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While Sacramento struggled to convert from range, the Pelicans hit 42.9 percent (12/28) of their significantly fewer attempts. Five came from Brandon Ingram, who did not miss from beyond the arc in 26 minutes, ending with a final tally of 31 points, four assists, and three rebounds on 11/18 from the field.

His 18-point third-quarter performance extended New Orleans’s 13-point halftime lead to an insurmountable margin of 31 with 12 minutes remaining. Ingram’s looks were more contested than the layups above from Zion Williamson, but heartbreaking for the Kings nonetheless.

Considering their pace and physicality, playing on the second night of a back-to-back after flying in from Dallas the night before made for a tough battle. Yet, it wasn’t just some of the players looking tired. Nobody had it Monday night for the Kings.

During their second consecutive road loss to the Houston Rockets a few weeks ago, Keon Ellis, Alex Len, and Kessler Edwards executed their game plan well enough in the closing quarter to earn an uptick in opportunity moving forward. Nobody left a good impression with Coach Brown after their first matchup against the Pelicans.

“When your number is called, you’ve got to step up, and you’ve got to perform. I thought in Houston when that happened, we had guys step up and perform,” he said. “I didn’t think we had any fight tonight from anybody, especially when it came to Zion.”

3. Navigating a handful of injuries

With Lyles, Len, Ellis, and Vezenkov unavailable coming into the night, Sacramento’s was already thin. Keegan Murray and Chris Duarte became unavailable throughout Monday’s action as if that wasn’t enough to deal with.

Murray’s absence was due to his lower back, while Duarte’s left hand caused him to sit out. Their status heading into a repeat matchup on Wednesday is currently unknown, as is the case with most of Sacramento’s listed injuries.

It feels safe to guess that the Kings will be without a few notable pieces next game, resulting in additional opportunities for players like Davion Mitchell, Colby Jones, Kessler Edwards, or potentially even two-way players Jordan Ford and Jalen Slawson.

“You have to come in knowing the gameplan,” Fox explained regarding bench pieces potentially stepping in. “It can be a long, detailed document, but you have to come in knowing what your role is, what you need to do, and how we are trying to defend every guy.”

Sacramento benefited from minimal injuries last season (obligatory: Sabonis played most of the season with a broken thumb). Still, luck has not been on their side early into the 2023-24 NBA season. Their offseason additions were meant to bolster their depth, and moments like these are where those improvements are tested.

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

These two teams will return to the Smoothie King Center on Monday for a rematch in what will be Sacramento’s final game in New Orleans this season.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Pelicans coverage, beginning at 3:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 5:00 PM PST tip-off from New Orleans.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Wednesday, November 22nd – Sacramento Kings @ New Orleans Pelicans – 5:00 PM PST
  • Friday, November 24th – Sacramento Kings @ Minnesota Timberwolves** – 5:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, November 28th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors** – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 29th – Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, December 2nd – Sacramento Kings vs. Denver Nuggets – 7:00 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play

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