By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–The Kings have struggled to hold fourth quarter leads. But it didn’t matter Monday; the Magic couldn’t hold it together in the second and third quarters in hopes of applying pressure on the Kings in the fourth.
Led by De’Aaron Fox and his 20 points, the Kings led by 28 after three quarters, and cruised to a 111-95 win at Golden 1 Center. That snapped Sacramento’s four-game losing streak, and kept them in striking distance of the eight would-be Western Conference playoff qualifiers ahead of them.
After the Lakers fell to Minnesota Sunday afternoon, the Kings’ win leaves them 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Los Angeles. The Kings can clinch a winning first half of the season when they visit the Suns on Tuesday.
The losing streak didn’t dissolve the Kings’ improvement. Last season the Kings won just 13 of their first 40 games, on their way to finishing 12th in the West.
“I think we’re moving the ball a lot more,” said rookie William Bagley, who returned after missing 11 games due to a knee sprain. “You can see tonight how everybody was touching it. We passed up good shots for great shots. Everybody was in the rhythm of the game. It was exciting.”
The Kings got nice contributions from Harry Giles and Justin Jackson as the Sacramento reserves came up with 18 made baskets and 48 points.
Meanwhile, the Magic couldn’t score in the second quarter, the prelude to the team’s season-low 32 made baskets in the game. Orlando didn’t fare much better after the break. They were outscored by 24 points in the second and third quarters combined.
“It’s disappointing the way we’ve been playing,” said center Nikola Vucevic, who paced Orlando with 18 points, 13 rebounds. “We have to keep working and find a way to turn things around.”
The Magic are a bit of a conundrum offensively, and they were true to form on Monday. Their 3-point shooting isn’t bad–they made 13 threes against the Kings, but it isn’t reliable or plentiful enough to spread NBA defenses. The Kings elected to clog the paint, allowing the Magic some open looks from distance, but inside the arc the visitors suffered, missing 31 of their 50 shot attempts.
Orlando ranks 25th in the NBA in overall shooting at 44.6 percent. But Monday, they were noticeably worse at 36.8 percent.
“We have to find a way to where we have enough shooting on the floor all the time to create spacing. It’s a problem,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “There’s not a lot of room with some of the lineups out there for anybody to have a place to go.”
The Kings saw four starters score in double figures, as well as reserves Yogi Ferrell and Jackson. They hurt Orlando on the glass, outrebounding the Magic 57-46.
The Kings blew fourth quarter leads in all four games they previously lost, but they emptied the bench Monday, as Bogdan Bogdanovic was the only starter to log minutes in the fourth. Fox played just 22 minutes, and was done after he dunked with authority over Vucevic late in the third. The play drew a technical as referee Mike Callahan reacted to Fox’s emphatic ways, and probably didn’t hear exactly what the speedy guard barked at Vucevic.
“I really said something nice to him, but Mike didn’t hear it,” Fox said. “He just saw me talking and I was like, ‘Mike, you didn’t even hear what I said.'”