Kings Analysis

Three things Kings must improve in pivotal rematch vs. Mavs

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Programming note: Friday's Kings-Mavericks game will air on NBC Sports California at 7 p.m. PT, with “Kings Pregame Live” starting coverage at 6:30.

SACRAMENTO – In what was perhaps their biggest game of the 2023-24 NBA season thus far, the Kings crumbled under pressure as the Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving-led Dallas Mavericks handed them a 36-point blowout loss Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center.

The good news is the Kings have a chance at vengeance when they welcome the Mavericks back to their home court Friday for the second half of a two-game set.

With just 10 regular-season games remaining, the rematch won’t just be an opportunity to redeem themselves after an embarrassing, nationally televised beatdown, but the pivotal game will have playoff implications as both teams battle for the No. 6 playoff seed, the final spot that steers clear from the NBA Play-In Tournament.

Sacramento enters Friday’s contest as the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed, but a win over Dallas would result in a tie with the Mavericks record-wise, with Sacramento holding the season series tiebreaker and thus the seventh seed.

To do that, though, they’ll need to completely wipe away Tuesday’s loss and approach Friday with a clean slate. Here are three areas the Kings must improve in order to light the most important beam of the season:

Spray 3s/Offense

The Kings had a historic offense last season, centered around pace, ball movement, screening and 3-point shooting.

General manager Monte McNair and Co. brought back most of the same squad this season, but the offense hasn’t had the same success.

Still, that is the area that the Kings thrive in. As much as coach Mike Brown has emphasized defense, he doesn’t want his team to lose its identity – which is a high-scoring offense.

Sacramento scored 96 points on 38.9-percent shooting from the field and 36.7 percent from 3-point range. It was just the Kings’ ninth time of the season scoring less than 100 points – of which all resulted in losses.

The emphasis as of late for the Kings has been on spray 3s, an area Brown said his team didn’t do a good job in Tuesday’s defeat.

“Spray threes” or “sprays” are when a player dribble penetrates to the paint and kicks the ball out to a player for a 3-pointer. It is something Brown and his coaching staff have tracked all season and, especially as of late, has been a growing emphasis to get their offense flowing once again.

Brown’s spray threes count in Tuesday’s loss was 5 of 10 in the first half and then 1 of 4 in the final 24 minutes, although he was hesitant to count two of those in the second half because they came in the final two minutes of the game, when the white flag was waved after the starters were pulled.

“We're trying to get to 20,” Brown said after Thursday’s practice (h/t Fox 40). “If we do get around that number, we're not a team that can go out and shoot 25 3s and think we're going to win, we might be able to, but we want to shoot 35, 40 3s in a game if we can. And a lot of that hopefully will come from our spray game.”


Brown wants to see his high-powered offense again, but that doesn’t take away from what he’s emphasizing on the other end of the floor.

Sacramento’s defense was just beginning to look like a Mike Brown-led defense after playing its best defense in March. That was, of course, until Tuesday’s game.

Dončić had 26 points in the first half of 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. He only had to play a little over 10 minutes in the second half, as he passed the baton over to Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Irving had just six points in the first two quarters while Hardaway Jr. had seven. They finished the game with a combined 46 points on 18-of-33 shooting from the field and 8 of 15 from downtown.

P.J. Washington added 14 points with 4 triples, and Dallas’ bench outscored Sacramento’s 48-32.

“Luka was unbelievable in the first half,” Brown said Thursday. “Kyrie was really, really good in the second half. They created some problems for us to where we had to double-team, and when we did double-team, all of their guys shot the ball extremely well.

“Sometimes it's a thing where you got to pick your poison, you keep letting Luka do what he does, or you going to have somebody else beat you. Same with Kyrie. And other guys stepped up and had a hand in them winning that game.”

Sacramento will have to pick its poison wisely Friday and hope Dallas’ shooters have cooled down.

Take care of the ball

This is pretty self-explanatory, but an important key for Sacramento nonetheless.

Some of the most bitter parts of a loss are self-inflicted mistakes, and the Kings had many of those on Tuesday.

The costly turnovers primarily came from Sacramento's ball-handlers, as Domantas Sabonis (4), De'Aaron Fox (3) and Malik Monk (3) combined for 10 of the Kings' 13 turnovers.

"They were more physical than us tonight," Fox said postgame Tuesday. "They got to loose balls, which allowed them to get out in transition. They got a lot of easy buckets and then we just weren't able to get stops at the end of the day either.

"But we have to be better on the offensive end as well."

Sometimes, being "better" offensively doesn't mean knocking down your 3s or heavy ball movement. Sometimes it could just mean taking care of the basketball.

If the Kings can do that Friday, the rest of the Xs and Os will be easier to follow suit.

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