The Sacramento Kings notched a quality road win tonight. When I say quality, I don’t mean that the Denver Nuggets are a good, or even decent, team. Quality here simply means knocking off one of the challengers for the eighth seed on their own home turf. Right now it may be just a game, but head-to-head tiebreakers become relevant towards the latter stages of the season.
The basic story of this game was that the Kings lit up a Nuggets defense that had just played last night against the Golden State Warriors. There was very little resistance from the Nuggets all game long; the Kings posted an offensive rating of 121.3, shot 52.3% from the field and 37.9% from three for a teamwide 62.6 TS%. They racked up 26 assists and only coughed up the ball 8 times. DeMarcus Cousins led the team with 31 points on 25 shots, but a parade of Kings also scored season highs, including Darren Collison (26 points), Arron Afflalo (19), and Kosta Koufos (18).
The Nuggets, however, did bring their offensive firepower back from the Bay Area. The Kings were awful at defending the three point line, allowing the Nuggets to shoot 18/38 (47.4%) from distance. Matt Barnes was particularly bad, as Danilo Gallinari got loose for 24 points on only 12 shots. Some of the same season-long issues reared their ugly head throughout the game; the Cousins/Koufos’ frontcourt lack of speed on the perimeter, Afflalo and Ben McLemore struggling to get through screens, Collison gambling and coming up empty for steals.
The key stretch came in the second quarter, where a Garrett Temple-led lineup helped solidify the defense. The Kings went small with Barnes, Afflalo, and Omri Casspi rotating at the forward spots next to Collison, Cousins, and Temple. The Kings clamped down and built up a 16 point lead that they never fully relinquished up until the end of the game. There were some moments of anxiety in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets cut the lead to 5. But the Kings continued to execute; Collison and Afflalo hit threes, Cousins found Temple on a cut to the basket, and Temple outhustled several Nuggets for a key offensive rebound and putback. The Kings stretched the lead back to 12 with a minute remaining, and the rest was academic.
As a result, the Kings (15-19) gained a full game on the Nuggets (14-21) in the standings, with the Blazers (15-21) and the hard-charging Pelicans (14-22) hot on their heels. They still have a handful of home games coming up before the road trip from hell begins, but the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Thunder are among the opponents, so all wins are precious.
For the opponent’s perspective, visit Denver Stiffs.