by Matt George
Another night, another tight battle between the Sacramento Kings and a tough Western Conference opponent. After blowing back-to-back leads against the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, the Kings welcomed the West-leading Denver Nuggets inside the Golden 1 Center. A significant underdog, Sacramento controlled the game for the majority of the first half, using a 36 point second quarter to build a 13 point halftime lead. But Jamal Murray and the Nuggets weren’t to be denied, outscoring the Kings 64 to 47 in the second half to secure a 117-113 win.
“Denver’s a very good team,” said head coach Dave Joerger, “I think the storyline for us is in the second half – too many offensive rebounds over the course of the game but especially in the second half. The second chance points, 23 to six – between that, the free throws, and then they got backdoors four of five times in the second half…that’s their game…”.
The rebounding battle was heavily one-sided since the opening tip, with Denver pulling down 54 boards to the Kings’ 33. 16 of those Nuggets rebounds were offensive, resulting in 23 second chance points.
Jamal Murray was the above-and-beyond difference maker for Denver, scoring 34 of his 36 points in the second half. He nearly outscored the Kings in the third quarter alone. Nikola Jokic finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the win.
Sacramento was also outmatched in getting to the free throw line, with just 15 appearances to Denver’s 30. The Kings’ ball movement was solid, finishing with 25 assists and only eight turnovers. They also attempted another heroic comeback, cutting down a 10 point lead to just two, but couldn’t close the deal.
“We never feel out of it. We always have a chance” said Buddy Hield. “Anyone can have a hot night. Whoever the hot hand (is) will carry us.”
Hield happened to be the hot hand tonight, finishing with 29 points on 12 of 19 shooting. Nemanja Bjleica added 17 points and a team-high six rebounds. De’Aaron Fox managed 16 points and eight assists in 28 minutes and Bogdan Bogdanovic provided 14 points off the bench.
“I am trying to keep our guys very positive at this point…tell me that when we came into the season that we’d be as close as we are with some of these teams or that we’d have the record (we have) – I don’t think a lot of people saw that coming” said Joerger.
Willie Cauley-Stein added, “No concern. I think we gotta just keep on doing what we (are) doing. The chips will fall where they fall, we just gotta not change what we do”.
The Kings look to avoid falling back under .500 against the Golden State Warriors in Sacramento on Saturday. The Warriors have already defeated the Kings in similar fashion to these three recent losses twice this season.