The Sacramento Kings (22-31) were defeated by the NBA-best Utah Jazz (40-13) on Saturday night, 128-112. In a competitive game, the Kings traded leads with the Jazz, moving ahead by as many as ten points in the third quarter. The Jazz proved too powerful in the end, crushing the Kings 54-28 in the last eighteen minutes.
De’Aaron Fox was effective all game, scoring 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting, adding eight assists. Six Kings were in double figures, and Richaun Holmes came away with a double-double on the night (25 points, 10 rebounds). Tyrese Haliburton, in his second game after a return to the bench, added thirteen points in 33 minutes. Maurice Harkless contributed impressive defense to the starting lineup, yielding 8 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
Donovan Mitchell dominated the scoring for the Jazz, adding another 42 to his impressive output of late. Mike Conley had a balanced and impressive stat line, contributing 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting and adding six rebounds and four assists. Joe Ingles (“Jingles”) gave the Jazz a big boost off the bench with 20 points, six assists. Five of his six makes came from beyond the three-point line and he shot 50% from downtown for the night.
STAR OF THE GAME
De’Aaron Fox led all Kings scorers, but RICHAUN HOLMES was the star until the fourth quarter (we’ll cover that downstream). Holmes played 34 minutes and scored 25 points with ten rebounds, a steal, and a block. He was on pace through three quarters to shatter his career-high of 28 points, shooting 10-for-13 in the most impressive outing I’ve seen this season.
MAURICE HARKLESS seems to be settling into a defensive starter’s role. He adds energy to the lineup whenever he’s on the floor and chases rebounds and turnovers unlike most of the Kings’ current starting roster. Any time he’s on the floor, the Kings’ defense improves, and he doesn’t take a lot of dumb shots. Along with Harrison Barnes, he adds balance to the game and helps the other starters take advantage of scoring opportunities.
While I didn’t like who Harkless replaced (Haliburton), I do think he injects energy into the game for the Kings. Harkless may be the missing frontcourt piece the Kings have needed to improve the overall defense. Now, all they need to do is cut the dead weight.
Remember what I just said about “dead weight”? That’s Buddy Hield. Sure, if you look at pure stats, his contribution was solid: 19 points, seven assists, five rebounds. But it is clear when one watches him play that he takes a lot of bad shots (4-for-13 from three), and you don’t see him giving a lot of defensive effort. He only appears when there’s a chance to take a three-pointer, and you rarely see him in the mix for a rebound under the basket.
Hield is a scorer—and a sloppy, one-dimensional one at that. He is too unpredictable to be a starter in this league. His skill set is limited and his decisions are suspect. The Kings would do best to reduce him to a bench role in key situations when they need a couple of quick threes. And that’s for the rest of THIS season. Obviously his contract for 2021-22 ($22m) is simply too big for him to occupy that role for long.
Richaun Holmes was done wrong in this game. He was the Kings’ best scoring option for the whole game, and then he got shut down in the fourth quarter. He was thrown to the bench for a rest to start the fourth and only ended up taking one shot (a miss) after returning. Most of his rebounds came in this period, but his lack of scoring baffles me.
When your starting center is on a scoring run to break his career-high, and he’s shooting 83%, that’s the time you lean on him to carry you to the end. This is the first time all season I’ve had issues with Luke Walton’s coaching. Richaun went cold, and it was because nobody told the team to keep dishing it to Holmes. Probably an error of omission rather than malice, but it was an error all the same. It is Walton’s responsibility to see the situation and adapt the team to it.
Free throws continue to be a problem team-wide. The Kings as a group shot 63.6% from the stripe on a total of 22 attempts. An elite scoring team will shoot better than 75%. De’Aaron Fox is the most egregious offender. He’s supposed to be the most potent scorer for the Kings, but he’s proving himself not to be a particularly impressive shooter overall, but simply an impressive athlete. His career FT% hovers around 71%, and on Saturday he shot only 66%. That makes it easy to defend against him since fouling him becomes a good strategy to prevent him from scoring. Great shooters kill you at the stripe so that they can kill you everywhere else.
The shooting woes can’t be solved until after the season. The whole team needs to spend time improving its fundamentals. But, for now, the first and most obvious move to end this six-game skid is to bench Hield and put Haliburton back on the floor with Holmes, Fox, Barnes, and Harkless.
@ New Orleans Pelicans, Monday, April 12th, 6:00 PM PT
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