Domantas Sabonis

What we learned as Kings' loss to Pels locks them into play-in game

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SACRAMENTO – Returning to Golden 1 Center didn’t offer the comforting feelings that the Kings had hoped it would provide after coming back from their miserable road trip.

Instead, it turned into another nightmare night for a team that not long ago harbored hopes of being able to move out of the play-in portion of the NBA postseason.

De'Aaron Fox had 33 points and eight assists while Harrison Barnes had his best game in nearly two weeks, but the Kings dug an early hole and couldn’t work out of it, losing to the New Orleans Pelicans 135-123 on Thursday in a game that had playoff ramifications for both teams.

Sacramento’s fourth loss in five games dropped the Kings to 45-35 and into a three-way tie with the Golden State Warriors and the idle Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. The loss also officially locked the into a spot in the NBA Play-In Tournament.

New Orleans completed a five-game season sweep of Sacramento, moving the No. 6 seed Pelicans to 48-32.

Barnes had 22 points, five rebounds and four assists but was a minus-17. Domantas Sabonis added a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Keegan Murray scored 19 and Davion Mitchell had 13.

The Kings still can move up to the No. 7 slot in the West. They trail the Phoenix Suns by two games, who come to town for a game against Sacramento on Friday. That game will determine any tiebreakers between the two teams, should it come down to that.

Sacramento got off to a horrible start in its first game back at Golden 1 Center following a frustrating and costly 1-3 road trip.

The Kings fell behind 9-0, 16-5 and 31-11 in the first quarter despite a solid effort from Fox. Sacramento’s point guard scored 12 points in the opening period, eight coming over the final 52 seconds when Fox aggressively attacked the rim and got to the free throw line.

After cutting the gap to nine heading into the fourth, the Kings pulled within 121-121 with two minutes left but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Here are the takeaways from Thursday’s game:

Pelicans Party From The Perimeter

Sacramento has not been good at defending the 3-point shot for most of the 2023-24 NBA season, and the Pelicans came out Thursday intent on exploiting that deficiency.

New Orleans made six 3-pointers in each of the first two quarters, connecting behind the arc seemingly every time the Kings tried to grab momentum. The 12 threes in the first half were as many or more than the Pelicans had in their previous five games total.

New Orleans shot a sizzling 22 of 40 on 3-pointers, a 55-percent clip.

Opponents have shot well from the perimeter against Sacramento all season, knocking down 38.9 percent of their 3-point attempts – the second-highest success rate in the NBA.

The Kings shot fairly from deep as well, but not with the frequency and at the level of success that the Pelicans did.

Too Many Open Looks

A big chunk of the blame for New Orleans’ success in the game fell on the shoulders of the Kings’ defense.

Sacramento was often either late closing out or made no attempt at all to shut down the Pelicans’ shooters. Throughout the night, New Orleans got wide-open looks. The Kings often paid the price when that happened.

The Pelicans shot nearly 53 percent overall and better than 57 percent from 3-point range in the first half.

Slumbering Sabonis

Two days after his franchise-record 61 consecutive double-double streak was snapped, Sabonis notched another one but needed more than 15 minutes to find his rhythm.

The Kings’ big man took and missed both shots he took the first quarter and didn’t score his first points until he tipped in an offensive rebound in the second quarter.

That seemed to light a spark, as Sabonis scored eight more points in the period, including a two-hand dunk after driving down the lane, another tip-in and a second dunk that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to seven.

Domas continued to have sporadic success in the second half, but offset what success he did have when he got whistled for a pair of traveling calls in the third quarter.

Give the Pelicans credit for keeping Sabonis from really going off, but he has to be more assertive moving forward if the Kings are to have hope of going deep into the postseason.

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