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Kings 120, Nuggets 113: Taking care of business

The Kings took advantage of a tired Nuggets team that lacked the willpower to play defense

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings notched a quality road win tonight. When I say quality, I don’t mean that the Denver Nuggets are a good, or even decent, team. Quality here simply means knocking off one of the challengers for the eighth seed on their own home turf. Right now it may be just a game, but head-to-head tiebreakers become relevant towards the latter stages of the season.

The basic story of this game was that the Kings lit up a Nuggets defense that had just played last night against the Golden State Warriors. There was very little resistance from the Nuggets all game long; the Kings posted an offensive rating of 121.3, shot 52.3% from the field and 37.9% from three for a teamwide 62.6 TS%. They racked up 26 assists and only coughed up the ball 8 times. DeMarcus Cousins led the team with 31 points on 25 shots, but a parade of Kings also scored season highs, including Darren Collison (26 points), Arron Afflalo (19), and Kosta Koufos (18).

The Nuggets, however, did bring their offensive firepower back from the Bay Area. The Kings were awful at defending the three point line, allowing the Nuggets to shoot 18/38 (47.4%) from distance. Matt Barnes was particularly bad, as Danilo Gallinari got loose for 24 points on only 12 shots. Some of the same season-long issues reared their ugly head throughout the game; the Cousins/Koufos’ frontcourt lack of speed on the perimeter, Afflalo and Ben McLemore struggling to get through screens, Collison gambling and coming up empty for steals.

The key stretch came in the second quarter, where a Garrett Temple-led lineup helped solidify the defense. The Kings went small with Barnes, Afflalo, and Omri Casspi rotating at the forward spots next to Collison, Cousins, and Temple. The Kings clamped down and built up a 16 point lead that they never fully relinquished up until the end of the game. There were some moments of anxiety in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets cut the lead to 5. But the Kings continued to execute; Collison and Afflalo hit threes, Cousins found Temple on a cut to the basket, and Temple outhustled several Nuggets for a key offensive rebound and putback. The Kings stretched the lead back to 12 with a minute remaining, and the rest was academic.

As a result, the Kings (15-19) gained a full game on the Nuggets (14-21) in the standings, with the Blazers (15-21) and the hard-charging Pelicans (14-22) hot on their heels. They still have a handful of home games coming up before the road trip from hell begins, but the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Thunder are among the opponents, so all wins are precious.

Some Observations:

  • This is the most aggressive Collison has looked in a long time. The Nuggets gave him acres of space to get his shot up, and he gladly obliged. For the most part. There was a stint in the third quarter where he started pounding the ball again by being passive again, but reoriented himself in time for the fourth quarter.
  • Afflalo also looked really good tonight. His three pointer was on-point, and he was peppering in his little post-ups as well. To be fair, the Nuggets didn’t work all that hard in denying him position in the post, which is half of the battle with Afflalo; countless Kings possessions have been wasted away trying to get him the ball down there. But a solid game, and hopefully his jumper is back because the Kings could really use his scoring off the bench with Rudy Gay still ailing.
  • With Ty Lawson injured, backup PG duties fell to Temple, and lets just hope Lawson isn’t out too long. Temple is not a point guard; he struggled to get the Kings into their sets and he shot blanks on that Beno-esque midrange pull-up jumper.
  • Dave Joerger has pretty much had enough of Willie Cauley-Stein. It originally looked like Willie was going to be cut out of the rotation altogether, as Joerger reinserted Koufos for Cousins in the first quarter at the time Willie usually gets in the game. Willie would make his appearance later in the second quarter, but only saw a minute of game action before he was benched for fumbling away a turnover with his terrible hands.
  • That Nikola Jokic kid can pass the hell out of the rock. He’s Serbian so the natural comparison is Divac, but some of the no-look, over-the-head, whizzing-past-the-defender’s-shoulder stuff he was trotting out reminded me of Arvydas Sabonis. He’s a fun, fun talent to watch.

For the opponent’s perspective, visit Denver Stiffs.