Kings creatively fill Domantas Sabonis-sized hole in loss to Nuggets

Kings creatively fill Domas-sized hole in loss to Nuggets originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

If it wasn't already clear how important Domantas Sabonis is to the Kings, Tuesday's 113-106 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Golden 1 Center made it painstakingly obvious.

Sacramento's big man missed the game with an avulsion fracture of the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb and left Sacramento with an All-Star-caliber void that proved to be irreplaceable down the stretch.

Alex Len started at center, scoring just two points and collecting four rebounds in 14 minutes on the court with a minus-4 in plus-minus. However, Richaun Holmes had the bigger impact in 23 minutes at center, scoring eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field with seven rebounds and two assists with a plus-3 in plus-minus.

Len and Holmes did their best to fill the void left by Sabonis, but Sacramento was forced to experiment with a small-ball lineup that consisted of veteran power forward Trey Lyles. The experiment worked well, and Lyles recorded an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double in 24 minutes off the bench.

In speaking to reporters after the game, guard Kevin Huerter was asked about the creativity of acting head coach Jordi Fernández and if the Kings knew they would have to go small against Denver.

"We didn't, that was an adjustment they made mid-game," Huerter said of the small-ball lineup. "It wasn't something we practiced, but I think every NBA team has lineups where they're able to go small, trying to take advantage of looks on the offensive side of the court.

"I thought it was effective, I thought Trey [Lyles] was really aggressive when we went small and he needed to be, just trying to make plays. He made a late three that was big. It's a lineup we haven't used a lot, but I thought it was pretty effective."

Not only did the Kings' small-ball lineup work well, but Sacramento went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the Western Conference without Sabonis. As a result, the Kings led Denver by as many as 20 points midway through the second quarter and carried an 83-79 lead heading into the fourth.

No single player will replace what Sabonis does on the court. Sacramento does not need a savior if the All-Star-caliber big man is to miss an extended period of time. Instead, filling the void left by Sabonis will be an incremental team effort.

"We don't need anybody being a hero," Huerter said postgame. "Domas is a big piece of our team, there's no hiding that. But we just need everybody to be a little bit better. That's all nine guys that are out there playing each and every night. I thought Alex [Len] started the game great, Richaun [Holmes] gave us good minutes, Trey gave us good minutes. Everybody being a little bit better trying to make up for Domas obviously being out."

Despite Sacramento letting a big win slip through its fingers in the game's final minutes, the Kings, from a pure production standpoint, did an OK job of replacing Sabonis. All three of Len, Holmes and Lyles combined to score 21 points with 21 boards, a familiar Sabonis-like stat line.

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"I'm very happy with the way we competed throughout the game, especially Alex Len, Richaun and Trey at that five spot," Fernández told reporters postgame. "They had combined 21 points and (21) rebounds ... those three guys combining for 22 rebounds is pretty big against this team. We didn't get hurt on the glass."

"We're going to be 1 percent better tomorrow, and we're going to show a fight again."

Unfortunately for the Kings, who face this very same Nuggets team in the second game of a back-to-back tomorrow, 1 percent might not be enough without Sabonis.