NBA Play-In Tournament

Kings can't let Pelicans get hot from 3-point land in play-in game

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The Kings’ four regular-season games against the Golden State Warriors were decided by a total of 11 points. 

Both of their wins were by one single point each. They lost their first matchup by eight points and lost their second by one, before winning the final two contests against Golden State by one apiece. Tuesday night’s NBA Play-In Tournament over their Northern California rivals was a beatdown, just like the five times Sacramento squared up with the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Except the Kings were on the wrong side of the scoreboard all five times the Pelicans were their opposition. The Kings’ five losses against the Pelicans were by a combined 96 points, a 19.2 average margin of defeat. They suffered losses of 36 points, five points, 10 points, 33 points and 12 points respectively.

There was one commonality among Sacramento’s five losses, too. New Orleans turned the 3-point line into a Bourbon Street party, dizzying the Kings’ defense from deep. 

"Just their 3-point shooting is a big factor, what they're able to do against us behind the 3-point line,” Keegan Murray told reporters Thursday after Kings practice. “Being able to find a way to stop that is our goal."

That has to be front of mind for coach Mike Brown’s defense Friday night at Smoothie King Center against the Pelicans, as both teams fight for a chance to move on and play the No. 1-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs. 

"They shot from 3 extremely well against us,” De’Aaron Fox said. “They shot 45 percent in our five games. We have to be better at guarding that, defending the 3-point line."

Fox nearly was spot-on in the numbers games. The Pelicans shot 45.1 percent (74 of 164) from 3 against the Kings, a number Brown and the Kings’ coaching staff surely have been repeating over and over again to Fox and Co. The Pelicans’ only single-digit win over Sacramento was when they went cold from beyond the arc, going 7 of 30 (23.3 percent), on Nov. 22.

But in the final three games against one another, the Pelicans drained 14, 19 and 22 threes on Sacramento’s leaky 3-point defense. Their 3-point shooting percentage in those three games was 51.9 percent (55 of 106). 

The three-ball certainly was a point of emphasis entering the Kings’ 24-point win against the Warriors on Tuesday night. The Kings were the second-worst team at defending the 3-point line this season, and the Warriors’ 38.0 percent on threes was the seventh-best percentage in the league. The Pelicans were even better, ranking fourth in the NBA at 38.3 percent. 

Golden State and New Orleans are two different teams. The Pelicans don’t have a Steph Curry, yet they do have even more options at their disposal than the Warriors at this point, and there’s plenty the Kings can carry over from their defensive display when taking on the Pelicans’ offensive attack.

"The way that we were trying to guard Steph, just being able to throw bodies at him,” Fox said. “Trying to rotate and get to shooters when we can, that same thing applies. I think CJ [McCollum’s] shooting like 70 percent on 10 attempts against us this year, so we have to be better in that aspect. 

“A big thing for us is being able to guard the 3. We have to be able to do that. If we do that, I feel like we give ourselves a better chance to win."

Looking across the court and not seeing Zion Williamson of course will be an advantage for the Kings. Williamson will miss Friday night’s play-in game after sustaining a hamstring injury late in the Pelicans’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night after dropping 40 points with 11 rebounds and five assists. Williamson averaged 23.0 points, 5.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds in four games against the Kings – attempting three 3-pointers without making a single one. 

Still, the downhill force he plays with attacking the rim always opens the arc for flamethrowers. Yet the one game Williamson did miss against the Kings this season, McCollum went 7 of 10 from 3 in a 30-point performance while the Kings watched the Pelicans bury them by 33 points. 

McCollum made 70.4 percent (19 of 27) of his 3-pointers in the three games he played against Sacramento. The Lakers on Tuesday night held him to 1 of 9 from 3.

On any given night, McCollum can catch fire. As can Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones and even Jose Alvarado. 

The Kings can’t throw multiple bodies at one player like they could on Curry. Locking in from long distance team-wide, as they did three nights ago in Sacramento, again will give them their best chance at extending their season and catching a flight to Oklahoma City.

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