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Winning streaks collide as Thunder visit Kings

Jan 15, 2023; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) is fouled as he drives to the basket by Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the third quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Two Western Conference squads enjoying winning streaks square off Friday night when the Sacramento Kings host the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Kings have won five straight games, their second-best stretch behind a seven-game streak in November. They are a surprising third in the Western Conference race.

The Thunder have matched a season-long four-game winning streak, with the victories coming by an average of 15.8 points. Oklahoma City is in the mix for a playoff spot during a season in which it was predicted to be one of the worst teams in the conference.

The Thunder’s rise has occurred despite losing No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren to a season-ending foot injury during the summer. But they sit just one game under .500 after winning seven of their past nine games.

The victories include a 150-117 whipping of the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, a 133-114 rout of the host Philadelphia 76ers and a 112-102 road win over the Brooklyn Nets.

“I think the team is growing in confidence, and the confidence is kind of a collective confidence,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said after Wednesday’s 126-106 home trouncing of the Indiana Pacers. “It’s not like an individual player is just playing on a ridiculous streak or anything like that. The group is gaining confidence together, and we want to be a team that the whole is better than the sum of the parts.”

Oklahoma City had many contributors in the win over Indiana, its lone home contest during a seven-game stretch.

Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 23 points and so did reserve Isaiah Joe, who matched his career highs for points and 3-point baskets (seven). Lu Dort recorded 22 points and a career-best 11 rebounds, and Kenrich Williams had 12 points and a career-high 10 assists.

“It’s just the hours that I put in the gym,” Joe said of his 3-point success. “I feel like if you put the work in, whenever you step out on the court you should have the most confidence and trust in your skills so that’s what I do each and every day.”

Sacramento has beaten the Thunder three straight times and six of the past seven.

The Kings produced a 116-111 win over the host Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday and did so without star center Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis missed the contest with a non-COVID illness and also sat out Thursday’s practice. He could be in danger of missing a second straight game.

Prior to the victory over the Lakers, Sacramento topped 130 points in five straight games.

Against Los Angeles, De’Aaron Fox led the way with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting and Harrison Barnes added 20.

Kings coach Mike Brown was glad to see such a complete effort without Sabonis on the floor.

“It was a good win by our guys,” Brown said. “We’ve been saying all year we feel like we are a deep team. Having that next-man-up mentality has been huge for us.

“Domantas is a huge part of our offense. And to have Fox step up the way he did was fantastic. When we were down, he got us back in it and when it was close, he got us some separation.”

Kevin Huerter chipped in 18 points and Richaun Holmes made up for Sabonis’ absence with season bests of 16 points and 11 rebounds.

“Domantas isn’t a guy you can replace as one person,” Holmes said. “We wanted to step up as a committee and I wanted to control the glass as much as I could.”

–Field Level Media

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