Saturday, September 23, 2023
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NBA Preview: Sacramento Kings (5-7) at Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6)

The Oklahoma City Thunder are figuring out how to finish games.

The Sacramento Kings are searching for answers on how to start.

The teams meet in Oklahoma City on Friday, the Thunder on a three-game win streak and the Kings having lost three in a row.

Oklahoma City is coming off a 108-100 win Wednesday in New Orleans where the Thunder built a 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Pelicans made it close, climbing to within six late.

That was different than their first three victories — Oklahoma City won just once before the streak began — in that in those three, the Thunder fell behind big early only to chip away and pull out the victory in the end.

The early season victories have held lessons for the Thunder, the NBA’s youngest team.

“As a young team, we’ve been together for 10 games or whatever it is, we’ve been in a few tight situations,” rookie Josh Giddey said. “I think learning late-game situations is something we’re gonna have to adapt to.”

The win in New Orleans provided a different lesson than the Thunder took away from their first three wins of the season or from their losses, which have come by an average of nearly 17 points per game, with just two being decided by less than 10 points.

“We gotta learn the lessons of 48 minutes when you’re holding a lead like that,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said of Wednesday’s victory.

Oklahoma City is looking for its first four-game winning streak since late in the 2019-20 season.

The Kings are coming off a 136-117 loss in San Antonio on Wednesday. Sacramento trailed by as many as 19 in the first quarter.

During their current losing streak, the Kings have trailed by at least nine in the first quarter of each game and twice have trailed by at least 13 in the opening frame.

“Once a team kind of hits you first, then you’re on your heels and they try to keep it rolling,” Sacramento forward Maurice Harkless said. “You’ve got to try to figure out a way to stop it.”

The Kings were in the first two games of the streak right until the end, losing those by a combined eight points. Sacramento’s first six losses of the season came by an average of less than seven points per game. Four of those losses came by six or fewer points before Wednesday’s blowout.

“Maybe there’s some fatigue kicking in, but we’ve got to be able to fight through that,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “We can’t give in to that this early in the season, so whatever the reason was, it’s not a good excuse. We’ve got to get back and start playing some better basketball again.”

Friday’s game is the first of four meetings between the teams this season. The Kings won all three meetings last season, all in an eight-day span late in the season.

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