How Monk injury alters Kings' mindset before final playoff push

How Monk injury alters Kings' mindset before final playoff push originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The injury-riddled Kings have their backs against the wall with nine games remaining in their 2023-24 NBA regular-season schedule.

At 42-31, Sacramento is 0.5 games behind the No. 7-seeded Phoenix Suns (43-31) and two games behind the No. 6-seeded Dallas Mavericks (44-29) in the Western Conference playoff race while down Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, Trey Lyes and Sasha Vezenkov due to injuries.

Not much recently has gone in the Kings’ favor regarding their 2024 NBA playoff chase, yet they remained optimistic and dialed in when talking to reporters at practice on Saturday at Golden 1 Center.

“I think we got a really good, deep team,” Kings guard Davion Mitchell said about Monk's absence. “I think that’s what’s good for us. Chris [Duarte] is going to come in and be more aggressive. When he’s aggressive, he’s really good. Kessler [Edwards] has played good.

“It’s always been a next-man-up mentality.”

Some Kings must step up as the team will be without key rotational pieces -- specifically guards like Monk and Huerter -- for an extended period.

Keon Ellis is a name to watch, as he’s been on a flurry -- averaging 10.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists over his last five games before Monk went down -- and will be asked to do even more down the stretch.

The “next-man-up” mentality will be important for Sacramento moving forward, and Duarte and Edwards likely will have their names regularly called by coach Mike Brown.

Monk, in particular, will be challenging for the Kings to replace, considering the Kentucky product averaged 15.4 points and 5.1 assists before suffering a right UCL sprain when contesting a Luka Dončić finish on Friday.

The Kings also will need forward Keegan Murray to find another gear offensively.

“I’ll have more opportunities,” Murray admitted. “But obviously, Malik is a [NBA] Sixth Man of the Year [candidate]. It’s a big burden to try and fill. I’m going to do my best to try and do that.”

Murray has averaged 18.0 points over his last five games, compared to his season average of 14.9 points. He will have to sustain that figure and ideally increase it to help Sacramento’s offense run as smoothly as possible to end the regular season.

Brown is concerned about the second unit’s impending decrease in pick-and-roles without Monk and the Kings’ overall decline in versatility.

Without four key rotational players, including two bigs, Brown will turn to unfavorable four-guard lineups more often.

Nonetheless, Brown wants to maximize his roster’s availability as best he can, echoing Mitchell’s sentiment.

“The injuries obviously are tough,” Brown emphasized. “We just got to have the next guy, whoever he is, step up and try to contribute as best he can on both ends of the floor without trying to do too much.

“[We’re] missing a lot. But we have to continue trying to figure it out as a group and not rely on one guy figuring it out by himself.”

The Kings aim to make the NBA playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since making eight straight appearances between 1998 and 2006.