The Sacramento Kings (14-22) dropped a close one with the impressive Portland Trail Blazers (21-14) on Thursday night, 123-119. Leading the way was All-Star Damian Lillard who finished with 44 points and seven assists on the night. Lillard’s play late in the game sealed it for the Blazers, who traded leads with the Kings throughout. Enes Kanter contributed “Big”ly with a whopping 21 rebounds and added 22 points of his own. De’Aaron Fox led the Kings’ scoring with 32 points while Buddy Hield followed with 21 and went 5-for-12 from three-point range.
STAR OF THE GAME
Fox overcame his recent shooting woes, at least from short-range, finishing 45.5% from the field. He was aggressive pushing inside and getting shots, still dominating under the basket among point guards. The most important change, however, is that he has settled down his aggressiveness with possession. He finished the game with ten assists, and his unselfishness showed in the Kings finishing with six players with double-digit points. This kind of well-rounded playing will make the Kings more competitive going forward. By giving the ball to other players to develop a rhythm, Fox helps himself by saving his best for late, close games.
Across the board, it was a big night for the Bigs. Off the bench, Nemanja Bjelica had 9 rebounds, while Marvin Bagley III matched. For the last several games, though, Richaun Holmes has been the story in the frontcourt. The amount of energy he has spent in recent games battling to take control of the ball has changed the tone for Sacramento. On Thursday, Holmes ended up with 11 rebounds. Add to that two steals and two blocks and you have the rare stat line that tells the whole story. Holmes has settled into the role of a true center.
Aside from Fox’s big points, there is no case for the Kings playing the Blazers that closely if not for the play of the frontcourt. The key to Sacramento’s sudden competitiveness has been the health and aggressive play of Holmes and Bagley, with elevated contribution from Bjelica. These guys are responsible for getting and keeping the ball. As long as they are sustaining this–and getting better at it each time–then Fox will have bigger games, and have the opportunity to feed it back into the forwards and centers.
Missed shots continue to doom the Kings in these close games. They struggle to hit wide-open shots early in the game. There are plenty of opportunities available for points, but the shooters need to settle down into their zones earlier.
Mistakes don’t help their cause, either. The passes are rarely crisp, if not completely off the mark. The deficiency was made apparent by some of the slick no-looks and bounce passes that Lillard was dishing across the floor. The Kings need help with fundamentals: dribbling, passing, shooting. Cleaning these things up would almost certainly change the point differential. At least, it would do so enough to make some close losses into close wins.
Seven days off, and then, after the All-Star Break:
vs Houston Rockets, Thursday, March 11th, 7:00pm PT
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