In a game where they were without both Domantas Sabonis and Mike Brown, the Sacramento Kings were unable to walk away with the win against the Denver Nuggets, losing 113-106 on night one of their back-to-back against this squad.
Here are a few takeaways from the Kings' second straight loss.
Playing without Sabonis
For a team missing their best player — who is also their best facilitator and rebounder — the Kings stepped it up tonight and didn’t look as lost as I thought they would. They kept it close on the boards, only losing 40-39, and were still able to pass the ball decently well with 21 assists, only a few shy of their season average.
Sabonis is also an elite inside scoring talent that provides the same level of stability for the Kings as a checkdown pass to a running back. The Kings were able to score 54 points in the paint without him tonight. Similar to their numbers on the boards, this number was close to the team’s season average (in this case, it was even higher). Everyone looked like they understood the need to make up for the production their All-Star provides and did their part, which leads me to my next point.
Next man up mentality
With Sabonis gone, a few guys got to see a lot more minutes tonight than they’re used to.
Alex Len got his first start of the season tonight. He’s averaged about three minutes per game this year, but against the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic, acting head coach Jordi Fernandez gave Len the nod. In 14 minutes, he only produced 2 points and 4 rebounds, however, he played some decent interior defense using his size and verticality to his advantage.
After experimenting with Len, Richaun Holmes also got to see some extended minutes. In 23 minutes, he put up 8 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. He brought back his beloved push shot to help mix things up on offense and did decent on the boards. It was nice to see him back, and the fans loved it as well.
Richaun is cookin' tonight – 6 PTS in 6 Minutes
@Rich_Holmes22 | #RoarWithUs pic.twitter.com/JCnnPc9NFY
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) December 28, 2022
The last player to note here is Trey Lyles. His minutes have been up and down this year, with a big decline after being out sick for small stint. In the second half of the game, Fernandez decided to play small ball with Lyles at the five and it worked pretty well.
In 24 minutes, he managed 11 points and 10 rebounds — the latter of which led all players. Despite shooting only 1-6 from three and 4-10 overall, he provided some good minutes at the five in Sabonis’ absence.
Lyles drops in a triple pic.twitter.com/D9bT6VOyzD
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) December 28, 2022
Forcing Jokic to play at their pace
Unless you are a very casual NBA fan, you know that the Kings play fast and Jokic... not so much. Sacramento was able to exploit this for most of the game and force Jokic to run more than he’d typically prefer. He still had a good game by normal standards, but not for the two-time reigning MVP that put up 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists on Christmas day. By those standards, the Kings “limiting” him to 20, 9 and 11 in those respective categories qualifies as a success. They need to keep their foot on the gas every time he steps on the court to bring home the victory in game two on Wednesday.
Not taking advantage of 3-point opportunities
Tonight the Kings shot a meager 10-35 (28.6%) from deep with a lot of the misses coming from either wide-open or bad shots. I already stated how poorly Lyles shot, but it wasn’t all on him by any means. Malik Monk went 0-5 from three, Davion Mitchell shot 0-3 and Harrison Barnes went 1-4. In a game where they lost by only seven points, if they made just three more shots from deep (only 37%), they may be 18-14 right now instead of 17-15.
With the rare opportunity to play the same opponent on back-to-back nights at home, the Kings must capitalize. In my eyes, Wednesday is a must-win game, and a look to how this team could be in a playoff series situation. How will they regroup? How will they adjust? Will they learn from their mistakes?
What do you think?