Kings Analysis

Kings facing frustratingly obvious trend, despite team's denial

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SACRAMENTO -- When it was announced that several Miami Heat players, including their star Jimmy Butler, would miss Monday’s game against the Kings, Sacramento fans had a collective mutual reaction.

“Blowout loss incoming.”

“Double-digit defeat on the horizon.”

“We are so losing this game.”

But what began as a lighthearted meme on social media has become a notorious nightmare for Sacramento.

Four months into the 2023-24 NBA season, the Kings have formed a reputation of folding when facing shorthanded squads or teams under .500. And, to the contrary, they have managed to string together impressive showings against the league’s top dogs, including the Western Conference’s top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets, and just one night ago, the Los Angeles Clippers.

It’s frustrating and confusing for the team and fans. But it’s not a trend, per Kings coach Mike Brown, who rather attributed Monday’s 121-110 loss to the fundamentals of the game.

“I mean Paul George didn’t play last night,” Brown said when asked if he sees a trend with these losses. “We’ve played against other teams where their top one or two guys didn’t play and we’ve won games. The reality of it is there were some opportunities for us to box out [and] we didn’t hit somebody. There were some opportunities early on to where I felt we could have contested better. We didn’t quite get the shooters. To me, more than anything else, that’s where the trend is.

“I’ve been saying it the last few days, I thought we did a great job defending the 3. Tonight we kind of let our guard down a little bit, and let guys who weren’t hot initially get going. And it hurt us. But I don’t feel like it’s a trend that every time we play a team and their No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 guy is out that we lose.”

Brown can deny the notion about his team, but history doesn’t lie.

When Sacramento fell miserably to the Houston Rockets in consecutive losses at the beginning of the season, things felt like they couldn’t get much worse.

How naïve were we? Let’s take a look back at some questionable outcomes.

Back on Dec. 20, the Kings got rocked by a Jayson Tatum-less Boston Celtics team, 144-119. Three days later, they lost to a Minnesota Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns, granted, Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels combined for 75 points.

The concern grew again three days later in Portland when the Trail Blazers absolutely humiliated the Kings on Dec. 26 without starting guard Shaedon Sharpe or starting center Deandre Alton.

It doesn’t end there.

The lowly Charlotte Hornets snapped their 11-game losing streak against, yes, you guessed it, the Kings, in a 111-104 stunner on Jan. 2 in front of Sacramento’s home crowd.

The New Orleans Pelicans beat Sacramento without Zion Williamson. The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Kings without Joel Embiid. And the Indiana Pacers beat Sacramento without Tyrese Halliburton. 

The list goes on and on. 

“A loss like this, it should sting,” Brown said after that Jan. 18 loss to the Pacers.

It did. The Kings went on to win their next four games, and about two weeks after losing to Indiana without Haliburton, they then beat the Pacers with Haliburton on Feb. 2. 

Are you keeping up?

On Feb. 7, the historically bad Detroit Pistons came into Golden 1 Center and defeated the Kings 133-120 without their two top scorers in Cade Cunningham and Bojan Bogdanovic.

The very next game, the Kings beat the Nuggets in Sacramento, 135-106, and one week later beat them again in Denver, sparking a three-game win streak that ended with Monday’s loss to the Heat.

Similar to Brown, Kings second-year forward Keegan Murray downplayed the severity of these losses to shorthanded teams, stating every player in the NBA is in the league for a reason.

"Every team in this league is good," Murray said postgame. "You go up and down and every team has got talented guys. So their guys stepped up. Jaime [Jaquez Jr.], Bam [Adebayo] -- a lot of the guys stepped up in different ways. So that has happened on a lot of different occasions when we've played teams that have been down their top guys, so to say.

"But we just have to come and compete every night like we did last night."

Murray had a big night on both ends of the floor, but his sharpshooting kept the Kings afloat in the fourth quarter after being down by as many as 20 points.

He finished with 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 from 3-point range, with five rebounds, one assist, three steals and one block in 36 minutes.

But, of course, basketball is a team sport, and despite the impressive showing from the young forward, Murray hopes the team will focus on what it can control moving forward.

"For us, It's just bringing the fight every night," Murray said. "That's something that we have total control over. Effort is something you have complete control over each night."

To Kings star point guard De'Aaron Fox, he doesn't look too much into whether the losses are a trend or not. Instead, he'd rather pick apart each loss for what they are and point out where the team went wrong.

He also made sure to give credit to the Heat for battling without some of their key pieces.

"I mean, we have to play better," Fox said postgame. "We have to be able to get stops. Obviously there were times when we got it down to four, six, eight [points] and then they make a shot at the shot clock. But we got to be better.

"It's not like they didn't come here and play well."

True, but that doesn't paint the whole picture of what happened Monday night, or what has happened all too often for the Kings this season.

Sacramento entered the contest as the West's fifth seed. The loss put them back in seventh.

While deflating losses will happen from time to time for most teams, it's clear the Kings have a bizarre problem when facing shorthanded teams. It was easy to laugh off at the beginning of the season, but March is right around the corner -- and the playoff race is only getting tougher.

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