Wednesday, March 22, 2023

NBA Preview: Sacramento Kings (34-25) at Oklahoma City Thunder (28-31)

Two days after playing in the second-highest scoring game in NBA history, the Sacramento Kings return to action to face the host Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

The Kings probably need more than one day off after outlasting the Los Angeles Clippers 176-175 in double overtime on Friday. Malik Monk scored a career-high 45 points off the bench to lead Sacramento, while De’Aaron Fox added 42.

The teams combined for 44 3-pointers, tied for the most in a game in NBA history.

The Kings were down by 14 late in the fourth quarter and trailed in both overtime periods before rallying for the win.

“We could have cashed it in on numerous occasions, but the way they fought and their belief in what we were trying to do was big time,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “I felt it from those guys and I wanted them to see my appreciation for what they did on the floor tonight.”

Fox has scored 30 or more in six consecutive games for Sacramento, which is a season-best nine games over .500 with 23 games remaining in the regular season.

The Kings have won their first two games out of the All-Star break as they look to end the longest playoff drought in NBA history after 16 straight losing seasons.

Just 1 1/2 games behind second-place Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference entering Saturday, Sacramento may point to the dramatic win over the Clippers as a turning point.

“Our guys just kept fighting,” Brown said. “I’m really, really proud of them because this is the type of stuff that I’m looking to see if we have. Now, let’s sustain it.”

Sacramento now turns its attention toward consecutive road games against Oklahoma City, which could be without All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the second straight contest.

Gilgeous-Alexander sat out Friday’s 124-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns due to right ankle soreness and a left hip flexor strain.

With Gilgeous-Alexander sidelined, Isaiah Joe scored a career-high 28 points in the loss to Phoenix. The third-year guard shot 11 of 17, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range.

“Teammates were finding me, I was in the right position, knocking down shots,” Joe said.

Joe has been a pleasant surprise for Oklahoma City, averaging 12.2 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from 3-point range in nine games this month.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said Joe has also provided a spark on the defensive end.

“The points are loud, the 3-point shots are loud, but he is invested in the invisible things that help your team win,” Daigneault said. “That’s what is so encouraging about him as a player to me. There’s a reason he’s in the NBA, it’s that (shooting) skill, but when a guy’s committed to the invisible stuff like that, that’s when you know he’s got a real shot.”

Oklahoma City’s impressive young roster also includes second-year guard Josh Giddey, who is averaging 16.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

The Thunder are looking to avenge a 118-113 loss to Sacramento on Jan. 20, when Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 37 points.

Oklahoma City has played well against the Kings at home, winning 19 of the last 24 meetings.

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