De'Aaron Fox, Kings grind out tough 113-109 road win vs. Pelicans

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Fox, Kings building momentum, grind out win vs. Pelicans originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

During the course of the Kings' 113-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on Friday night, Sacramento blew multiple double-digit leads.

The Kings built a 10-point lead late in the first quarter only to see the Pelicans quickly erase the deficit and take the lead less than three minutes into the second quarter.

Less than a minute into the third quarter, the Kings had a 13-point lead, their biggest of the game. Eight minutes later, the Pelicans took a 70-69 lead.

With 1:20 left in regulation, the Kings took a commanding 107-95 lead on two De'Aaron Fox free throws, but the Pelicans didn't throw in the towel, hitting three straight 3-pointers to cut Sacramento's lead to 107-104.

The good news for Luke Walton's squad is that they were able to close out the game to improve to 3-2 on the season and 3-0 on the road. Finishing games is going to be key for the Kings this season. Good teams win close games. If they are to get to where they want to go, which is the NBA playoffs, these are the games they have to win.

NBC Sports California's Kyle Draper and Kayte Christensen-Hunter spoke to Fox after the game and asked him what it took to pull out the win.

"Just to grind it out," Fox said on "Kings Postgame Live" on Friday night. "Every team in the league is good. Every team in the league is going to fight no matter how much you've got them down, and they were able to fight back and we were just able to grind out this game."

Fox finished with 23 points on 9-of-21 shooting along with seven rebounds and five assists. Four other Kings finished in double figures, led by Richaun Holmes, who had 21 points. Harrison Barnes had 18 points and 12 rebounds, while second-year pro Tyrese Haliburton had 17 points and eight assists. Buddy Hield poured in 20 points off the bench.

The Kings' win over the Pelicans is the second straight where they've had to scratch and claw at the end after squandering a big lead. Barnes' buzzer-beating 3-pointer saved the Kings in Phoenix on Wednesday night. But every game is a learning experience for Fox and the young team.

"Just talk and communication," Fox told Draper and Christensen-Hunter. "That's what it takes. We've had bad stretches and then we've had good stretches in just about every game we've been in. For us to have this close game, for us to be able to grind it out is definitely good for us."

It's still early in the 2021-22 season, but the Kings quickly are showing they plan to hang around in the Western Conference playoff race. Their three wins have come against the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and the Pelicans, and Sacramento played well in losses to the Utah Jazz and Warriors.

"It's definitely great because we've played, at this point, we've played a lot of teams that have been in the playoffs the last few years and we've been in every one of these games," Fox said. "So continuing to gather momentum while playing in this Western Conference is definitely great no matter how you put it, no matter if it's the first couple of games, if it's in the middle of the season or if it's at the end. You want to be able to string together games and build momentum for yourself."

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The third stop on the Kings' four-game road trip is in Dallas on Sunday where they will play MVP candidate Luka Doncic and the Mavericks at 12:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California. Slowing the Slovenian down is no easy task, but if Sacramento can limit him, they have a good shot at a three-game winning streak.

Right now, though, it's all about building momentum, stringing wins together and forming good habits for Walton, Fox and the Kings.