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Monk injury puts Kings in unfamiliar territory amid playoff push

SACRAMENTO – During the most important stretch of the 2023-24 NBA season, the Kings are experiencing something they haven’t gone through as a team.

When Malik Monk went down with a reported MCL sprain after Luka Dončić fell on his right leg in Friday’s 107-103 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Kings coach Mike Brown turned to his bench with an important decision to make.

Chris Duarte was the answer. At least for the time being.

That decision will continue to be one Brown has to make with the status of Sacramento’s reliable sixth man unknown for the final nine games of the regular season.

Monk is the second two-guard Sacramento has lost to injury recently. Kings sharpshooter Kevin Huerter will undergo season-ending left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, per his agent, after sustaining the injury during the first quarter of Sacramento’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies on March 18.

Before Friday’s game, Brown said Huerter is “definitely going to be missed” while acknowledging and enforcing the team’s “next man up” mentality.

About two hours later, Monk’s injury occurred.

“It’s unfortunate,” Kings veteran forward Harrison Barnes said postgame. “Obviously we’re still trying to figure out the severity of it, but that’s part of the business. Last year, we were extremely healthy and we didn’t have to worry about that as much. This year, we’ve been a little bit injury-plagued and toward the end of the season more than usual.

“So it’s just next-man-up mentality, and I thought Kessler [Edwards] came in and provided us with some good minutes tonight. We’ll need more of that moving forward.”

It was a totally different story for the Kings last season, who were mostly healthy for a majority of the campaign. Their starting five played more minutes together than any other first-five unit in the NBA – and it wasn’t close.

But an early-season injury to Kings star point De’Aaron Fox gave Sacramento some premature adversity. And the injury bug hit sporadically over the course of the season with several other players.

Two of those players include Kings forwards Sasha Vezenkov and Trey Lyles, who still remain out for Sacramento but are nearing a return.

So, that’s no Vezenkov. No Lyles. No Huerter. And no Monk.

When Huerter went down, rising young Kings guard Keon Ellis stepped in nicely, to say the least. Ellis uplifted Sacramento’s defense to new heights while becoming more confident shooting the ball.

When Monk went down Friday, Edwards had a similar impact in a small sample size.

Edwards, who is averaging 1.6 points in 4.9 minutes this season, finished Friday’s loss with nine points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point range, with two rebounds and one steal in 11 minutes off the bench.

While the Kings suffered a painful loss to the Mavericks, Barnes was proud of the way guys off the bench have stepped up during the flurry of injuries.

“It’s huge. Kevin going down and Keon stepping up was big. Malik going down, Kessler stepping up,” Barnes said. “Davion [Mitchell] stringing together good games, impactful minutes for us.

“That’s going to be huge for us down the stretch. Every single guy, just being ready to step in, whether they’re playing five minutes or 20 minutes, whatever it may be, just trying to give us a positive lift.”

In their most challenging test yet, the Kings responded well, aside from the loss.

Monk, the leading candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, is averaging 15.6 points on 44.3-percent shooting with three rebounds and 5.2 assists in all 71 games this season.

He hasn’t missed a game this campaign, and he has been one of the few consistent Kings players during an up-and-down season.

Meanwhile, Huerter’s shooting numbers are down, but his absence alone impacts the way the Kings’ offense operates. He also was making massive strides on the defensive end of the ball.

Without those two – and until a more clear update is provided on Lyles and Vezenkov – Brown and the Kings’ coaching staff is left with several more important decisions to make.

Until then, the team is pretty confident in its depth as the NBA playoff race tightens.

“Obviously that’s a big blow,” Fox said postgame. “We’re hoping for the best [with Monk], but if he is out for some time, we have nine games left.

“There’s no looking in the rearview mirror now.”

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