After the Kings finished last season as the third seed in the Western Conference, many NBA experts do not consider them favorites this time around. There are generally two reasons for that take: the West is loaded with star power that the Kings might not be able to compete with, and the Kings won‘t be as healthy as they were last season.
Both narratives outraged Sacramento fans, but especially the latter. The Kings have two All-Stars and a rising star in Keegan Murray themselves, and while they were lucky enough to escape any serious, season-ending injuries they weren‘t always healthy.
They were tough, playing through injuries and not resting. Every single player wants to be on the court, and all of their main rotation guys played at least 73 games. Domantas Sabonis even played with a fractured thumb from late December all the way through the playoffs. In the era of load management, that is a rare sight to see.
This season will be no different, but the Kings have so much more going for them than just health. They are a deeper team this season and their depth and resilience were on full display last night.
Kings let lead slip away from them in second half
On the 20th anniversary of LeBron James‘ very first NBA game, the Lakers came to Sacramento looking for a win. The Kings had their eyes set on the same goal, however, and got off to a great start.
After a monster 41-point quarter to start the game, they had an 11-point lead going into halftime. By the end of the third quarter, that lead had dwindled to a meager four points.
While the Kings showed a lot of good things in this game—Kevin Huerter finally found his shot, Keegan Murray once again affected the game in every aspect, Sasha Vezenkov looked comfortable out there, and De‘Aaron Fox started off his All-Star campaign with a 37-point performance—the Lakers‘ comeback was rather concerning.
This is already the second home game in which the Kings let a lead slip away from them. They need to learn how to stay ahead when they have a lead early because it might not always end as well as it did last night.
Malik Monk and Kings‘ depth grind out overtime win vs Lakers
De‘Aaron Fox is a star. He proved that once again last night, racking up 37 points on efficient shooting, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. As the reigning Clutch Player of the Year, he is also the Kings‘ go-to guy in close games.
This time around, they had to make it work without him, though. Fox went down with an ankle injury about halfway through the fourth quarter, left the game, and came back for the last six minutes of regulation to score 8 valuable points.
When the game went to overtime, he was determined to play the final minutes of the game as well but ultimately couldn’t move well enough. To top that off, Domantas Sabonis fouled out with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter.
So, the Kings had to face the Lakers, who had LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Taurean Prince, and D‘Angelo Russell all score between 17 and 30 points, without their two All-Stars. Malik Monk understood the assignment and took over the game completely. We all know how quickly Monk can get going offensively, and this was his time.
After missing nine of his first 13 shots, he didn’t miss a single one in overtime. The Lakers collectively scored 12 points in the final period. Monk scored 11 all by himself, but it wasn’t just him.
Kevin Huerter had three big rebounds and hit a crucial shot from long range towards the end of the game, redeeming his rough start to the season. JaVale McGee stepped in for Sabonis, holding down the paint, and Keegan Murray battled well against the veteran opponents.
Without Malik Monk, the Kings might not have won this game, but they did, and that shows that the team has much more than injury-luck on its side. Even without Trey Lyles, their depth proved itself by stepping up when their two All-Stars couldn’t finish the game.
This game also showed the Kings‘ willingness to battle injuries and play through them whenever possible. Hopefully, this can put an end to the narrative that the Kings ended the longest playoff drought in NBA history through sheer luck.