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Streaking Kings set for tough test from 76ers

Jan 20, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray (13) runs up the court during the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings are one of the NBA’s top surprises and are making a solid run at ending a 16-season playoff drought.

The Kings get another chance to prove they are for real on Saturday night when they host the powerful Philadelphia 76ers.

Sacramento will be attempting to match its season-best winning streak of seven games.

The Kings also will be aiming to snap an eight-game skid against the 76ers. Sacramento’s last win in the series was a 115-108 home decision on Feb. 2, 2019. De’Aaron Fox is the only current Kings’ player to participate in that game.

Philadelphia is equally hot, having won six of its past seven games, including all four heading into the finale of a five-game road trip.

While the 76ers were off Friday night, Sacramento was continuing its hot streak with a 118-113 home victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

All-Star candidates Fox (25 points) and Domantas Sabonis (fifth triple-double of the season) were key contributors as usual, but rookie Keegan Murray was the main man for the Kings.

Murray established season bests of 29 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 10 of 12, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

“Every shot I took was shots I’m good at,” said Murray, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2022 draft. “I didn’t try to rush anything. I let everything come to me, and that showed with good shot selection and me making shots.”

Sabonis, who returned from a one-game absence caused by an illness, was impressed with Murray’s arsenal.

“I told him to be aggressive,” Sabonis said. “He made a couple (shots) and they started pressuring him and he showed he has more to his game. He can dribble, he can penetrate, he can dunk on someone, he can find open guys. The more comfy he gets at playing this game, he’s going to be big for us.”

Sabonis recorded 18 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds while stretching his franchise record to 21 consecutive double-doubles.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia star big man Joel Embiid ranks second in the NBA with a 33.6 scoring average and has scored 30 or more in each of his past seven games and 11 of his past 12 appearances.

Embiid had 32 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots on Thursday when the 76ers notched a 105-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Philadelphia’s James Harden added 16 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his fourth triple-double of this season and 73rd of his career.

Harden aggravated a foot injury during the contest and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.

Embiid and Harden have been teammates for 11-plus months, and Embiid is more than pleased with their partnership.

“I think from the beginning it was easy. When you’ve got two guys with high basketball IQs, you can figure out everything easy,” Embiid said of mixing well with Harden. “So it’s all about just playing off of each other. We’ve been doing a wonderful job of doing that.”

Philadelphia never trailed against Portland and led 57-34 at halftime. The 76ers were up by as many as 26 points before the Trail Blazers narrowed the gap late in the contest.

The 76ers are 8-2 in January, a strong follow-up to December, when they recorded a season-best, eight-game winning streak.

“I think we’re good, and I think we can be really, really good,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “But we have work to do.”

Embiid poured in 31 points and Harden added 21 points, 15 assists and five steals as the 76ers rolled to a 123-103 home victory over the Kings on Dec. 13.

–Field Level Media

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