Kings' secondary scorers go silent during loss to Pelicans

Kings' secondary scorers go silent during loss to Pelicans originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

NEW ORLEANS – Though the New Orleans Pelicans were without star Zion Williamson, who can add a “super” in front of his star title many times, they clearly were the deeper team Friday night at Smoothie King Center in the Kings’ season-ending 105-98 loss in the NBA Play-In Tournament.

The Kings’ two stars, De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, produced stat lines that always should equate to a win. While Fox wasn’t efficient shooting the ball, going 12 of 29 (34.8 percent) from the field and 4 of 16 (25 percent) on 3-pointers, he scored a game-high 35 points and added seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Sabonis gave the Kings 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and also had seven assists, three steals and one block.

Fox’s five turnovers also were a game-high, followed by four from Sabonis.

They needed help. Mike Brown searched. His coaching staff dug deep to find answers. None could be found.

“They both tried, they both left it out on the floor,” Brown said. “They scored 58 points between the two of them. HB (Harrison Barnes) helped out with 17, but they didn’t get much help from many other guys.”

Keegan Murray and Keon Ellis, the Kings’ remaining two in the starting lineup, combined for 11 points. All 11 came from Murray, who certainly had a night to forget shooting the ball.

Sacramento’s depth has been severely tested during the absences of Malik Monk – who is entering unrestricted free agency -- and Kevin Huerter who have missed time due to injuries. The final game of the season was the latest example in the worst way possible. The Kings’ bench scored 12 points. Davion Mitchell, known more for his defensive prowess than being an offensive weapon, was responsible for 10 of those points.

Trey Lyles ended with a zero next to his name in 13 minutes. As did Alex Len in four minutes. Reigning EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov scored two points on four shots, playing 11 minutes off the bench.

“(Jose) Alvarado, (Larry) Nance and (Naji) Marshall scored a combined 34 points,” Brown said. “When playing a game of this magnitude, and as low scoring as this was, great night for the Pelicans, tough night for us.”

It was just last game, one where the Kings forced countless eulogies on the Warriors’ dynasty, when so many stepped up around Fox and Sabonis. Murray -- the leading scorer of that win, dropping 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting -- was lights out from long distance, going 8 of 13 from beyond the arc. Barnes’ 17 points were much more productive then compared to Friday night. Ellis even scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 3 of 4 on threes.

Murray’s struggles garnered the biggest spotlight of all. The second-year pro was off from the start. He fought through left hip soreness after slipping on wet spot with a little under three minutes remaining in the first half, knowing the stakes and showing his toughness. But even before then Murray was 1 of 8 from the field and 1 of 6 past the 3-point line.

He battled the pain and scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in the second half. Brown wishes Murray was more assertive after the opening tip.

“I thought Keegan could have been a little more aggressive,” Brown said. “Even when he didn’t have the ball, he danced in one spot too much and when he’s really good – if he doesn’t have the ball he might make a move but then he’s making a basket cut and he’s surfacing out the other side and coming off DHOs trying to turn the corner and stuff like that.

“He probably could have been a little more aggressive. I don’t know what to make of the hip injury. Other than that, he’s a young guy going through this and I’m sure he’s going to grow from it and realize what he can do better to help us win going forward.”

The 23-year-old, selected No. 4 overall in the 2023 NBA Draft, knows this loss can be a major learning lesson for himself.

“I just want to get healthy, and then honestly, I think it’s a big offseason for me just to get stronger, evolve my game more," Murray said. "I feel like I took a leap this year and want to continue taking them every single year.”

Ellis admitted he didn’t really have any preseason goals and expectations before proving what an important piece he is for the Kings’ present and future, earning a standard NBA contract in February and starting in Sacramento’s final 10 regular-season games. Ellis averaged 10.5 points in that span, was a defensive menace and shot 47.2 percent from three before his huge performance in front of his home fans against the Warriors.

Yes, Murray made another leap this season. And yes, the Kings expect more.

There’s plenty the Kings can hang their hats on from the development of a high draft pick and an undrafted gem. But the Kings’ secondary scorers went silent on a night when a little more would have gone a long way.

Changes are coming to Sacramento's roster construction. The Kings aren’t a laugher in the stacked Western Conference. They also aren’t running from reality.

The team needs more to be the contender they strive to be, and their exit in the play-in tournament was a tough example to look back on.