HomeBasketball TodayKings fall short in shocking loss to Zion-less Pelicans: Who's to blame?

Kings fall short in shocking loss to Zion-less Pelicans: Who’s to blame?

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The Kings have to assess what went wrong in their play-in loss vs. the Pelicans before they address a ton of offseason roster questions.

It has been 30 years since a team lost all six of their games against a team in a single season without facing that said team in the playoffs. But the Sacramento Kings did just that; the New Orleans Pelicans, in a rare showcase of domination over a single team in a single season, defeated the Kings on Friday night, taking a 105-98 win in the play-in tournament that marks the end of Sacramento’s season.

All season long, the Kings have found no answers for the Pelicans; on Friday, even though the Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson for a minimum of two weeks, the Kings had trouble dealing with their pace and energy. Sacramento was unable to carry the momentum they gained from their rousing victory over the Golden State Warriors this past Wednesday, and now, major questions loom as they head towards a long offseason.

But before the Kings think about how to remain competitive in the deadly Western Conference, they must first assess what went wrong. After all, learning from one’s mistakes is crucial to the process of improvement. With that said, here are some players who must shoulder some responsibility for less-than-stellar play against the Pelicans.

De’Aaron Fox shoots poorly from the field

The onus to lead the team falls on the shoulders of their superstars. De’Aaron Fox, in particular, did not have his best game. He may have scored 35 points to lead all scorers, but he needed 29 shots to get to that number. In fact, Fox took 16 three-pointers and made just four of them — a putrid level of output, especially for someone who does plenty of damage in the midrange and at the rim.

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But Fox carried the heaviest shot-creation burden of the night. He also faced the suffocating defense of Herb Jones. He is the team’s best player, and oftentimes, when the going gets rough, you trust the superstar to make plays and do the bulk of the creation for the team — even when the box score ends up making it seem as if he was a ballhog and that he was a shot-chucker.

Make no mistake about it, however: De’Aaron Fox did not have the best of games. Taking 16 threes in a game is not the way, even for someone who has improved mightily from beyond the arc. It’s hard not to feel that Fox settled for plenty of outside looks when he could have fashioned shot-attempts of better quality.

The Kings’ youngsters struggle in the limelight

It may not be too fair to rag on Keegan Murray and Keon Ellis. But given their importance to the team, they fared well-below expectations on Friday night — contributing to their defeat.

Murray, who was coming off a 32-point night in their 9/10 play-in win against the Warriors, went ice-cold. He shot just 4-12 from the field, and he doesn’t get to the foul line often to compensate for the topsy-turvy nature of jump-shooting. The 23-year old forward finished with just 11 points. This isn’t the worst night, but he could have been a lot better for a Kings team that needed his floor-spacing badly.

Meanwhile, Keon Ellis, who was so crucial in slowing down Stephen Curry back on Wednesday, hit a bit of a rookie wall against the Pelicans. Ellis has been nothing but helpful for the Kings, emerging as a energetic, defense-first wing despite going undrafted back in 2022, but he was a no-show on Friday.

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The make-or-break skill for Ellis will always be his scoring; his defense is sure to earn him some minutes, but his ability to make shots will determine for just how long he can stay on the court. Against the Warriors, not only did Ellis finish with three steals and three blocks, he also made five of his eight shots from the field, scoring 15 in 39 minutes.

But against the Pelicans, Ellis played poorly. He finished the game scoreless after missing all five of his shot-attempts, and he was a game-worst -20 in his 28 minutes on the court.

The Kings have unearthed diamond in the rough with Keon Ellis, for sure. But on Friday, the roughness in his game was ever so apparent, and it was clear that Sacramento was missing both Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter.

Sacramento’s bench: MIA

The game turned in favor of the Pelicans thanks to contributions from three key bench guys in Larry Nance Jr., Jose Alvarado, and Naji Marshall. Those three combined for 34 points off the Pelicans bench and they were also being pests on the defensive end, combining for six steals on the night. Meanwhile, the Kings barely got any contributions from their reserve players.

Only Davion Mitchell stood out as a helpful player off the Kings bench. In his 24 minutes, Sacramento was a +10, as he helped them cover more ground defensively. The likes of Trey Lyles, Alex Len, and Sasha Vezenkov barely impacted the game, and the bench battle became heavily lopsided in the Pelicans’ favor as a result.

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Again, the injuries to Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter have haunted the Kings, this time exposing the team’s lack of quality depth, which thereby forced De’Aaron Fox to shoulder a heavier offensive burden than he can handle.

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