by Charlie O. Mallonee
Saturday night did not get off to a great start for the Sacramento Kings who were hoping to end a three-game home losing streak. The Kings announced that they would have to play the game without three of their key players. Zach Randolph could not play because of oral surgery. George Hill was unavailable due to personal reasons, and Frank Mason III was unable to dress because of the contusion to his heel that he suffered in Memphis game.
No team wants to face an opponent like the Nuggets – who average 107.7-points per game – short-handed but that is exactly the situation the Kings faced on Saturday night. FiveThirtyEight.com gave Sacramento just a 36-percent chance of winning the game before the loss of the Randolph, Hill and Mason. The situation looked grim indeed for the Kings before tipoff.
Sacramento went with a starting five of Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox. Two seasons from now, this starting five could be the norm but not now, they just do not have enough experience to carry their squad to victory on a regular basis. Fortunately for Kings fans, no one told the starting five that they could not be a winning combination.
The Kings would never trail in the game. The contest was tied one time at 27-27 with 46.7-seconds remaining in the first quarter. Sacramento was never able to open a lead of more than 12-points in the game, but they jealously held on to their lead for the entire contest.
The Kings took a 46-41 lead to the locker room at halftime knowing the real test for them was going to come in the third quarter. The Nuggets have become known as a third quarter team. On Friday night, Denver scored 38-points in the third period to put away the Jazz.
The Nuggets did come on strong in the third quarter scoring 30-points while shooting 50-percent (13-for-26) from the floor. The problem for Denver was Sacramento scored 33-points in third period shooting 54.2-percent from the field (13-for-24) that included converting 4-of-5 attempts from behind the 3-point line. Buddy Hield went a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown in the quarter. The Kings took a 79-71 lead over the Nuggets into the final quarter.
The Nuggets were able to cut the Kings lead to three-points midway through the quarter but that is as close as they would come to taking the lead. Denver could have taken the lead if they could have converted free throw opportunities.
At the 6:38 mark, Garrett Temple fouled the Nuggets center – Mason Plumlee. Plumlee missed both free throws. Less than a minute later, Vince Carter fouled Trey Lyles. The sharp-shooting forward stepped to the line and promptly missed both free throw. Lyles would grab the rebound of his second miss and hit a four-foot jumper that cut the Sacramento lead to just three-points. Converting two of those four free throw opportunities could have changed the outcome of the game.
The Kings opened up a lead of 11-points with 11.9-seconds to go in the game. Gary Harris hit a 3-pointer for the final score of the game which cut the Sacramento winning margin to eight-points – 106-98.
- Star of the Game: this award goes to the entire Kings team. They could have easily phoned this one in with Z-Bo, Hill and Mason on the shelf. Instead, they pulled it together and took advantage of a very talented team who was playing the second game of a back-to-back set on the road after beating the Jazz at home on Friday. The Kings never trailed in the game. That is a real recovery after suffering three consecutive – demoralizing losses at home.
Co-Star: De’Aaron Fox who played just over 35-minutes while scoring a team-high 18-points. Fox also dished out seven assists while using the dribble-drive to go to the hoop or dish it off to a teammate to score. The rookie PG went to the free throw line eight times and converted six of those opportunities.
- Co-Star: Willie Cauley-Stein came up big for his team on Saturday night as he grabbed a career-high seven-steals. That is aggressive basketball at any level. The big man also posted 17-points to go with four rebounds and two assists. Cauley-Stein shot 8-for-12 in the contest.
- Co-Star: Skal Labissiere makes it an all-Kentucky co-star lineup for the Kings on Saturday night. Labissiere not only made the start but he scored 12 points, blocked three shots and hauled in four rebounds in just over 15-minutes of playing time. His coach thought his third-quarter play may have been his best of the season.
- Star of the Game: Trey Lyles came off the bench to lead his team and score a game-high 19-points. The third-year forward shot 8-for-11 overall including going 2-for-3 from downtown. Lyles also grabbed nine rebounds. When Lyles and Murray are on the floor together, every team in the NBA should be very, very concerned.
- Co-Star: Jamal Murray who recorded 18-points while shooting 7-for-16 from the floor. Murray who hit 6-of-7 from 3-point land versus the Jazz on Friday cooled off against the Kings sinking 3-of-8 three-point opportunities. It may have been fatigue, but Murray really allowed his temper to get the best of him late in the game. He has to learn to let the coach do the arguing while he focuses on the game.
- Co-Star: Gary Harris really asserted himself in the second-half of the game shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor, 2-for-2 from the charity stripe and dishing out two assists. Harris finished with 17-points for Denver in 36-minutes on the floor.
Kings: Sacramento will not be able to enjoy this victory for long as they must prepare to face the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night at the Golden 1 Center. The Spurs were in Sacramento on December 23, 2017 and defeated the Kings 108-99.
Nuggets: Denver will not be able to rest on Sunday as they have to prepare to face the World Champion Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Monday night.