For the second time in three days, the Sacramento Kings were completed outplayed and out-hustled by the Houston Rockets, losing in Texas 122 to 97. Sacramento’s league-leading offense from last season has vanished without De’Aaron Fox, who sat on the bench in his hometown nursing his ankle sprain and watching his squad struggle to create any offense without him. This Rockets team is just 6 games into their time with new head coach Ime Udoka and starts three players – Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., and Alperen Sengun – as young as anyone on the Kings roster. But across these last two games, they’ve looked like the composed, coherent, and experienced squad in this matchup, while the Beam Team failed to do anything consistently on either end of the court. This was one of the more disappointing and embarrassing Kings losses since Mike Brown took over a season ago.
Brown dove deep into his reserves as the game got out of hand in the second half, and the Kings were actually led in scoring by Keon Ellis, who scored 15 points on 5-7 shooting and 4-6 from three in just 14 minutes of playing time. Rookie Colby Jones also had a promising run in garbage time, finishing with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Keegan Murray had 12 points while grabbing 5 rebounds and shooting 5-11 from the floor. He had a promising start for the Kings, scoring their first 5 points of the game on a powerful dribble-drive and a three, but he once again struggled with his deep shot across the whole contest and went just 2-6 from three.
Davion Mitchell once again didn’t live up to the opportunity presented him in Fox’s absence, finishing with only 5 points and two assists on 2-11 shooting, along with some uncharacteristic defensive miscues. Kevin Huerter quietly had a solid outing, scoring 13 points on 5-10 shooting with 3 threes. Harrison Barnes had only one buzzer-beating bucket, one free-throw, and one assist in 22 minutes.
Domantas Sabonis finished with 8 points, 8 boards, and 5 assists, but most importantly went just 3-4 from the floor. He started the game by immediately attacking and muscling Sengun out of the way for a dunk that was called a defensive foul and didn’t result in free throws. That seemed a good sign for the big man, but the early aggression by Domas wasn’t sustained. We all know that Sabonis is a player optimized by having confident, capable scorers around him, but when the team’s offense completely vanished without Fox, they needed their All-NBA center to do far more than he did. 8 Kings had more shot attempts than Sabonis did, including Ellis, Colby, and JaVale McGee (4-5 in 10 minutes). Domas’ night ended mid-way through the 4th quarter when he banged knees with Rockets reserve Jermaine Samuels Jr. and hobbled a bit on his way back to the bench, but it didn’t seem to be a serious injury.
The offensive issues for Sacramento wasn’t just that the shots weren’t falling; absent their superstar, the Kings seemingly lacked anyone who could reliably try and create offense off the bounce, and for the second game in a row they resorted to a combination of frantic ball movement and little player movement. Malik Monk (5 points on 2-6 shooting) was the only King who seemed poised to explode offensively early in the contest, but he picked up three quick fouls in the 2nd quarter and forced Mike Brown to dig deeper into the bench unit.
Houston was led by 23 points by Jalen Green, who did most of his damage by attacking and getting to the free throw line (10-12 from the stripe). Sengun once again significantly out-dueled Sabonis, finishing with 17 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds. The Rockets continued what worked in the first match up, blasting past the Kings perimeter defense and continually attacking the paint. When it didn’t pay off in layups, it paid off for in trips to the line, as the Rockets went 21-27 from the free throw stripe, while the Kings finished just 11-20.
The Kings fell to 2-4 on the season and return to Sacramento for a Wednesday match-up with the Portland Trail Blazers. Whether or not Fox plays on Wednesday, it will be key to see if the Kings will be ready to go from the jump against another young squad that, even just a week ago, would have seemed like a predictable victory for Sacramento. But these last two losses against the Rockets should teach the Kings that they can’t take anyone for granted at this point. As Kayte Christensen emphasized on the Kings broadcast, they can’t just be motivated and focused when it’s time to play the Golden State Warriors.