The Sacramento Kings debuted their 2022-23 NBA regular season at home against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night with a tough loss due to the ‘little things’.
Sacramento shot the ball well (and a whole lot) from beyond the arc, contained Damian Lillard best they could, and got a stellar performance from De’Aaron Fox, but it wasn’t enough.
As for injuries/unavailability, Kings’ rookie Keegan Murray was removed from health and safety protocol that morning which did not allow him to be properly conditioned and ready to go. The two-ways of Keon Ellis and Neemias Queta were inactive as well.
On Portland’s side, Gary Payton II (conditioning), Olivier Saar (wrist), and Trendon Watford (hip) were unavailable.
Let’s dive into the main takeaways from a fun, but ultimately disappointing opening night in Sactown.
1. Rebounding woes
Throughout their four preseason games, the Kings rebounded the ball amazingly on both ends of the floor. In three of their four games, they managed to secure at least 47 rebounds but came out of opening night with just 41 boards compared to Portland’s 44.
That margin may not seem significant, but it’s the offensive boards that really stood out for the wrong reason. The Trail Blazers had 11 offensive rebounds by the final whistle and far too many of those were due to an inexcusable lack of box-outs.
Portland had 11 offensive rebounds last night, a big part of the Kings falling short.
Gotta be more disciplined about putting a body on someone when a shot goes up. pic.twitter.com/ekX14rOiEF
— Brenden Nunes (@BrendenNunesNBA) October 20, 2022
“It’s just communication,” Fox said postgame. “You have to see who’s not on someone or just talk and just find a guy to box out. I mean, they have some elite rebounders… They have guys that crash the glass. Like I said, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, obviously, (Jusuf) Nurkic, Justise (Winslow) comes in. They’re all rebounders, they’re really good offensive rebounders and we didn’t do a good job at that.”
Winslow brought down three offensive boards. Grant and Nurkic each contributed two. The most baffling is three of Lillard’s four total rebounds were on the offensive end. You can’t allow an opposing 6’2″ guard to kill you there and you definitely can’t allow him to have more total rebounds than Domantas Sabonis.
2. Sacramento’s superior backcourt
Fox had himself a night with a final tally of 33 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds on 12/21 from the field but most importantly 5/9 from beyond the arc. Seeing the Kentucky product knock down triples at a high-rate on substantial volume may have been the most encouraging aspect of opening night. We’ll have to see what carries over into the following showdowns.
His backcourt partner, Kevin Huerter, contributed 23 points of his own on 8/12 from the field and 6/9 from distance. After having a somewhat limited role in a Trae Young dominated offense in Atlanta, it’ll be interesting to see if that sort of point total will become the new normal for Red Velvet.
It’s undeniable that Lillard and Anfernee Simons are the engines of the Trail Blazer’s offense and the Kings successfully slowed those two guys down. They combined for 44 points but it took 40 shots to do so including a combined 4/18 from three.
“Those are the guys that you try to take out the game, but Jerami Grant and Josh Hart had great games. And when we’re playing those guys you know that Dame or Anfernee are going to be on the court at all times. You just try to limit what they get. I think we did a good job on playing those two guys. Obviously, they made some deep ones but I wouldn’t say that either one of them won them the game,” Fox said. “I think Josh Hart and Jerami Grant did a lot and then Justice Winslow comes in, gets offensive rebounds, gets second chance points. I think that’s where they won the game. Not their two, star guys.”
3. Sloppiness on offense
One of Mike Brown’s five staples on the offensive end is playing in the “point five”. They want their players making a decision and acting on it within point five seconds of catching the ball. Ball and player movement is a clear priority for this squad and that disappeared far too often in game one.
“What concerns me more than anything else tonight is I thought we held onto the ball too long,” Coach Brown said. “We talked about playing point five basketball and everybody’s trying to go make a play when it hits their hands. We turned the ball over, we fouled, we didn’t execute, we lost the possession game.”
Sacramento had 16 turnovers in their season opener against Portland. Feels like at least half of those were practically unforced and straight-up sloppy. pic.twitter.com/Ds2BzJRkvx
— Brenden Nunes (@BrendenNunesNBA) October 20, 2022
16 turnovers isn’t a number that you like to see, but it’s also not totally egregious and insurmountable. The issue lies in the turnovers being largely unforced and often leading to easy transition buckets for the Blazers on the other end. The one blemish on Fox’s otherwise stellar night was the eight turnovers he committed.
“I don’t think we were great offensively, it’s funny that we had like 27 assists,” Fox said. “I don’t think we were very good offensively today, and I think we got staggered a lot and things like that. But, I think those other key reasons, and then the turnovers, are just reasons that we lost this game today.”
4. Playing physical without fouling
Another one of Mike Brown’s staples on the defensive end is playing physically, but doing it without fouling. That had been a weakness throughout the course of the preseason and continued to hamper their chances against Portland.
“We just got to be better. I got to be better. For us, like I said, it’s just finishing possessions,” Huerter said. “They scored too much in the paint. It starts with guards obviously, just containing the ball, being physical at the point of attack, and finishing possessions. I thought there was a lot of broken plays, kind of the shots goes up, bodies flying around, the ball bounces around, it ends up in their hands. They were getting a lot of putbacks, a couple of kickout threes in big moments definitely really hurt us. So, gotta finish possessions.”
KZ Okpala, who started the game, picked up three quick fouls when trying to chase around the crafty Lillard. Domantas Sabonis fouled out late in the game. Fox picked up five personals, Terence Davis had three as well.
On a night when Lillard and Simons are contained somewhat successfully, you can’t gift Jerami Grant 13 free throws. Portland as a team went 26/33 from the charity stripe in comparison to Sacramento’s 13/19 — not great.
5. Domantas Sabonis was quiet
Nobody could have guessed that Damian Lillard and Domantas Sabonis would have ended the night with the same amount of rebounds. And, if someone did, they probably would have assumed that Lillard exceeded expectations there to match Sabonis rather than the Gonzaga big being underwhelming himself.
It’s tough for a big to secure defensive rebounds when the opposing team is penetrating the paint at will and they’re responsible for protecting the rim. It also doesn’t help when so many of the Blazers’ buckets came in transition opportunities. The rebounding issue was team-wide but it’s shocking to see that lack of production from Sabonis and I fully expect that to be an outlier.
He also added 13 points on 5/10 shooting and five assists. I asked Coach Mike Brown about Sabonis’s lack of production following the loss.
“I thought he had his touches. He didn’t score a lot, he took ten shots, he didn’t score a lot but he had five assists. So, he got his touches but I just felt we could have moved the ball, in general, a little bit better, even when he got it,” Brown said. “There were times when he got it and there was a crowd there and he ended up turning it over or our spacing wasn’t good. But, for me, to go back and watch the tape is gonna be something that I’ll be able to speak on a little bit better tomorrow. Because, I know the one time he did get doubled he found De’Aaron in the corner, we hit a three. And, so, we just have — to all of us, including Domas — we just have to believe that that ball is gonna come back to us at some point in time and if we do, everybody is gonna touch it, everybody is gonna feel like they’re apart.”
When De’Aaron Fox was asked about Kevin Huerter’s performance, he went out of his way to highlight how much easier Sabonis makes the game for players like himself and Huerter.
“It really helps that we have someone like Domas. Someone who wants to set screens, wants to get you open, get you the ball in spots that you like, and at the end of the day you just make shots,” Fox said. “And then for us as a team, we just want to touch the paint and if we don’t have a layup get as many kick-out threes as we can.”
The Kings will need to get back to their ball movement in game two against the Los Angeles Clippers this coming Saturday which should lead to a better performance from Domantas Sabonis and an opportunity to get their first win of the season.