PREVIEW: Surging Kings aim to keep up momentum vs. Nuggets

By Field Level Media
February 3, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) shoots the basketball against Boston Celtics center Daniel Theis (27) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets’ second-half struggles continue to hinder their efforts to move into the upper tier of the Western Conference standings.

After leading by 12 at the half, the Nuggets were outscored by 33 points in the second half of a 114-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night. The Lakers shot 66.7 percent during a 37-17 third quarter in their favor, and the Nuggets — who have shot 46.4 percent over their past 10 games — lost their shooting touch (33.3 percent) in that period.

The Nuggets will look for a more complete effort on Saturday when they travel to Sacramento to play the Kings, who have won the first two meetings between the teams this season.

Denver has a 3.7 net rating overall per NBA Advanced Stats but is allowing teams to shoot 50.6 percent in the third quarter and have a minus-8.5 net rating in that period. The Lakers closed the third with a 15-0 run.

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“It so much worse than what it is when we beat ourselves,” said Jamal Murray, who finished with 20 points against the Lakers. “We go up in the half and then we just get lazy, lackadaisical. We turnover the ball and we don’t get back. It’s all of the stuff we’ve talked about since training camp. … It’s stuff we need to focus more on.”

The Nuggets were without Gary Harris (left abductor) and PJ Dozier (hamstring) against the Lakers. Monte Morris finished with 16 points, but Nikola Jokic was held to 13 points and 10 rebounds after a 47-point, 12-rebound outburst in the previous game against the Jazz.

Jokic is averaging 26.1 points and 11.7 rebounds and Murray is averaging 19.0 points and 4.5 assists per game.

“Offensively, we just didn’t move the ball enough,” Murray said. “They just ran us in that second half with layups, dunks.”

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Sacramento is in the midst of its best stretch of the season, winning five of its past six games including a 116-111 home win over the Celtics on Wednesday.

De’Aaron Fox had 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to go along with 11 assists, Buddy Hield had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Harrison Barnes scored 24 points.

“We found a way to grind that one out,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “The first half was kind of survival mode. We couldn’t make any open shots, we were missing layups, we weren’t attacking. Our guys found a way. Not the prettiest of wins, but what a gutsy performance by our guys.”

One of the keys for the Kings has been the quick rise of rookie Tyrese Haliburton, the 12th overall pick in the draft.

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Haliburton, named the Western Conference rookie of the month, finished with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting and is averaging 11.2 points and 5.4 assists off the Kings bench.

Fox (22.3 points per game) had 24 points in the Kings’ 125-115 win over the Nuggets in Sacramento on Dec. 29 and is the catalyst for a squad sporting a 112.0 offensive rating.

But holding down opponents has been the issue for Sacramento, which has a 117.2 defensive rating.

“Defensively, that has to be our hallmark,” Barnes said. “When we don’t, it gets ugly.”

–Field Level Media