The Kings improved their record to 13-9 with a 110-101 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday at Golden 1 Center, their best 22-game start since the 2004-05 season.
“It sounds like a broken record,” Kings coach Mike Brown said, “but (the players) have worked hard. They’re connected. They’re trying to play for each other, and when you get that with a talented group and two All-Stars in (De’Aaron) Fox and Domas (Domantas Sabonis), and a lot of guys who can step up, including Sixth Man of the Year (candidate) Malik Monk, you get some nice wins.”
The victory over Chicago was the Kings’ third in a row, but it was ugly.
Sacramento played an afternoon game for the second day in a row following Saturday’s road win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
For Brown, a long-time defensive-minded coach, he appreciated the way his team won because winning in that style hasn’t been easy over the first quarter of the season.
“I don’t know if we’ve won an ugly game this year,” Brown said. “It was really, really ugly. It was a grimy, grind-it-out type of game.”
Monk led the team in scoring with 20 points off the bench while six other Kings were in double figures. Sabonis posted his first triple-double since coming to Sacramento midway through last season, logging 11 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Harrison Barnes had 17 points while Fox added 16 points with seven rebounds.
Of course, the first 22 games of a season can often mean very little. But the mark is notable in the Kings’ case because of the historic 16-year playoff drought the organization is trying so desperately to snap. Eighteen years ago, Sacramento began the year 15-7 and finished as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
As of Sunday night, the Kings were fifth in the West, where teams are tightly grouped for the top 10 spots. The Phoenix Suns (16-7) are leading the conference, but they are only 4 ½ games ahead of the 10th-place Dallas Mavericks (11-11).
Some teams in the Kings’ position — playing the second game of a back-to-back — might have rested key players. But the Kings had all of theirs available Sunday, with the exception of reserve swingman Terence Davis, who was out with a back issue.
“I don’t really believe in resting,” Sabonis told The Sacramento Bee before Sunday’s game. “That’s what we’re paid for as professional athletes and (to) perform. But, yeah, the West is packed. If other teams want to rest players, it’s to our advantage to go out there and take that win.”
Sabonis, Barnes and Kevin Huerter have played in every game this season while Fox has appeared in all but one. Huerter played despite rolling his ankle in the second half against the Clippers. He struggled from the 3-point line, shooting 1 of 11, but made 4 of 7 inside the arc while finishing with 12 points. Rookie Keegan Murray followed his 23-point performance in Los Angeles with 11 points while hitting three 3s.
Brown indicated before Sunday’s game he’s cognizant of the standings and noted the crowded conference race means the Kings likely won’t have the benefit of resting players.
“It seems like every year, the last five to seven years, everybody has gotten a lot more competitive,” Brown said. “There aren’t many quote unquote games that you know you can go into and you’re gonna win. And even if teams rested this guy, rested that guy, it’s a dogfight every time you step on the floor. So the West is deep.
“We don’t have the luxury nor the experience to rest guys here and there. We got to try and go win, and win now.”
After beating Chicago, the Kings’ plus-3.8 net rating ranks sixth in the NBA. Their defensive rating has steadily climbed to No. 16 after being in the low 20s earlier in the season. The Bulls’ 44.2% shooting was the fourth-lowest for a Kings’ opponent on the campaign.
Sacramento finished each half strong, limiting Chicago to 20 points in the second quarter and 23 in the fourth. Chicago was making its final stop on a six-game road trip, finishing 2-4.
“You know that team won’t go away,” Fox said. “They have some guys that can really go get it. They did that tonight, and we were just trying to throw different looks at them, but I think in the fourth quarter we were able to get stops when we needed them.”
The Kings were outscored by 11 points in the third quarter after taking a 15-point lead into halftime. LaVine had 15 points in the frame, five off his season high for a quarter. Turnovers were a problem for Sacramento throughout. The team finished with 19, leading to 23 Chicago points.
The Kings will go on to play a back-to-back against the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers before finishing the trip against the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons. Sacramento’s next home game will be Dec. 19 against the Charlotte Hornets.