What we learned as Kings lock up No. 9 seed with win vs. Blazers

What we learned as Kings lock up No. 9 seed with win vs. Blazers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SACRAMENTO – Domantas Sabonis notched his NBA-leading 77th double-double of the 2023-24 NBA season, and the Kings locked up the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference with a 121-82 win over the extremely short-handed last-place Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday at Golden 1 Center.

The victory sets the Kings (46-36) up for a shot at revenge in Tuesday’s play-in game against the Golden State Warriors. After Sacramento ended a 17-year playoff drought last year, the Kings were knocked out of the postseason in the first round by Golden State.

The Kings pulled out the needed win against the Blazers after stumbling down the stretch with five losses in their previous six games that dropped them down in the Western Conference standings.

Sabonis helped prevent the slide from continuing with another stellar effort. Sacramento’s big man, who had a streak of 61 consecutive double-doubles, got the Kings going early and finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to finish plus-37.

His effort on Sunday tied Sabonis with Moses Malone for the most double-doubles in a season since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976.

De’Aaron Fox scored 24 points, Harrison Barnes had 17 and was also plus-37 as the Kings had six players in double figures. Keegan Murray added 12 points and Davion Mitchell had 11.

Sacramento needed the win to avoid going on the road for the win-or-go-home play-in game.

It helped that Portland played without a large chunk of its team in the regular-season finale. The Blazers, who lost 15 of their last 17 games, finished with the worst record (21-61) in the Western Conference.

The Kings took a 12-point lead in the first quarter, led by 28 at halftime and were never threatened in the second half.

That sets the stage for what should be a thrilling matchup with the Warriors on Tuesday at Golden 1 Center.

Here are the takeaways from Sunday’s game:

Fox Hunt

Fox played like a man fully invested in carrying the Kings on his shoulders in what was the team’s most important game of the season thus far.

Sacramento’s veteran point guard did a little bit of everything and set the tone with a phenomenal first half. Fox put up 17 points and snatched three steals in the first two quarters, marking his 28th consecutive game with at least one.

Fox finished the season tied with Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the NBA lead with 150 steals. Fox also had 24 games with three steals or more, second-most in the league.

Kick 'em while they're down

With nothing to play for other than pride and self-respect, the Blazers opted to hold out the majority of their regular starters and went with a group of mostly no-name players in the season finale.

Portland played without eight of its top nine leading scorers including Anfernee Simmons, Jabari Walker, DeAndre Ayton and Scooter Henderson.

The Blazers were so short-handed that they signed Taze Moore, one of their former G League players, to a contract early Sunday before the game.

That worked out perfectly for the Kings, who needed all the help and luck they could get while trying to slow their late-season slide.

Sacramento took full advantage, forcing seven of the Blazers’ 19 turnovers in the first quarter while building an early 12-point lead. The Kings scored 26 of their points off turnovers.

Defending the arc

The Kings were much sharper defending the Blazers from deep and benefited from Portland’s insistence on continuing to shoot behind the arc.

Sacramento, which surrendered 45 3-pointers over the previous three games, limited the Blazers to a stunning 1 of 20 on 3s in the first quarter and were content letting Portland continue to shoot from the perimeter rather than attacking the rim more frequently.

Portland finished the game 7 of 45 (15.6 percent) on 3s.

Conversely, the Kings were more selective with their perimeter shooting and outscored the Blazers 39-21 from 3-point range.