The Kings showed signs of life in their loss to Dallas Tuesday, getting off to a hot start and putting forth a meaningful defensive effort for the first time in the seeding games. They just couldn’t score enough to edge past the Mavericks.
The hot start and the defensive intensity carried over against New Orleans Thursday, and Bogdan Bogdanovic provided the requisite scoring push to put Sacramento in the win column. Bogdanovic had a career-high 35 points, hitting his seven shots to give the Kings an early lead en route to a 140-125 victory.
Bogdan Bogdanovic started out on fire, eager to atone for his 1-of-15 shooting performance against the Mavericks Tuesday. Bogdanovic hit from everywhere on the court: floaters, spot-ups, and pull-ups from distance. He only missed two shots in the first half, both of which came at the buzzer to end the first and second quarters.
Bogdanovic stayed hot in the second half, but he expanded his game to do more work with the ball in his hands. He fought through the New Orleans frontcourt trees on one possession to get two offensive rebounds and a finish with some English, including the and-one. He also had a nice fake on the perimeter to blow by the Pelicans for a driving lay-up on the ensuing possession.
New Orleans has one standout perimeter defender in Jrue Holiday, but Holiday was attached to De’Aaron Fox early, giving Bogdanovic the freedom to go off. Fox wasn’t too shabby himself, despite the extra defensive attention, finishing with 30 points and 10 assists. He was aggressive early, as he has been in the bubble, and he had 11 points and four assists in the first quarter. The Kings as a whole scored 49 points in the first quarter, a Sacramento franchise record for any quarter.
The Pelicans were almost equally efficient on offense to start, and the Kings found themselves only up two midway through the second quarter despite their offensive fireworks. Sacramento kept a seven-point lead at halftime by shooting 58% in the first half (including 10-of-16 on 3-pointers) and turning the ball over just five times, and then created some extra separation in the third quarter.
Richaun Holmes was excellent for the Kings throughout, but the team really benefited from the resurgence of Alex Len. Len made his Orlando debut against Dallas but finally seemed to have his legs underneath him in the third quarter against New Orleans. He actively captained the defense when he was in the game, cleaned the glass, and kept the Pelicans out of the paint, even if they finished quite well once they got to the basket. The Kings needed 48 minutes of solid interior defense, and they got a semblance of that with Holmes and Len able to play the majority of the contest.
The best thing the Kings did on defense was keep the Pelicans out of transition. They played fast, thanks to both offenses scoring at a high clip, but the possessions generally took place in the halfcourt, where the Kings were able to put some resistance instead of getting blown by on the fast break.
Sacramento needed this win to keep its playoff hopes alive. It will still be an uphill battle to get into the postseason, but kudos to the Kings for capitalizing on a winnable matchup and generating some positive momentum for the second half of the seeding games.