Turn out the lights, the party is over.
After a promising run to get back into contention for a playoff berth, the Sacramento Kings took their seventh straight loss Monday night in New Orleans.
Through 24 minutes, the Kings looked completely disengaged and ready to head off for summer vacation. Led by the incredible performance of De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento made a run to get the score down to four points in the fourth, but the damage was done and the Kings fell to the Pelicans by a final of 117-110.
“We kinda found that fight in the second half and that was great to see,” coach Luke Walton said. “That’s the fun and energetic team that we need. We’ve got to fight through this and we will.”
Times are tough, but Fox continues to shine for Sacramento. There have been a few games where the Kings point guard puts up numbers that don’t impact the game all that much, especially during this down turn. That wasn’t the case against New Orleans.
After trailing 68-45 at the half, Fox backpacked his team and if it weren’t for a few technical glitches, the outcome could have been different. These are defining moments where a loss is still a loss, but maybe this was the push that Fox needed to continue his ascension as a player.
“I think the growth was not letting down -- being down 20 and bringing the game within four,” Fox said.
Fox made a run at his career-high of 44, finishing just one point off the mark. He was stellar, beginning in the third quarter where he dropped in 15 points and it could have been much more.
It was a moment where he carried his team and while he made some mistakes, the outline of what he can be as a leader was on display.
Two main issues stood out for Sacramento. They missed their first 14 3-point attempts and as a team, they failed miserably at the free throw line.
The 3-point issue is slightly skewed by Buddy Hield coming down with a late illness and having his streak of 272 consecutive games played snapped. The free throw issue is on Fox, but also the other five players that missed one or more at the line.
“Where we lost this game, we can talk about the first half and not making shots, but free throws -- I think I missed seven and I think we were 22-for-37 overall,” Fox said. “We were getting to the line, but if we make free throws, then it would be an entirely different game.”
When you lose by seven points, 15 missed free throws stands out. Despite the brutal first half and the lack of 3-point shooting, an 80 percent shooting night from the stripe likely would have led to a victory. A 59.5 percent free throw shooting night cost the team dearly.
Fresh off a $20,000 fine from the NBA for lashing out at the officials for a lack of free throw opportunities in the previous game, Fox hit 8-of-15 from the line. His aggressive play led to calls, but those seven misses loomed large.
“The only thing we can control is if we go there and make it, so when we are getting to that line or when I’m getting to that line, we definitely have to convert,” Fox said. “We’re doing better as a team, but tonight, we just weren’t making our free throws.”
These are important learning lessons for Fox, but also for his teammates, who need to step up and join the fight when their leader is trying to rally the team. Fox can miss some free throws on a 43-point night, but the rest of the squad needs to be held accountable for their struggles as well.
“I’m just looking at him right now and telling myself that I’ve got to help out, I’ve got to do better,” rookie Haliburton said.
The final box scores won’t matter when the season is over. This was another loss in a long stretch of failures. But Fox and Haliburton and plenty of other players on this roster can glean something from this.
With the defeat, the Kings have dropped seven straight games. More importantly, they fell a full three games behind the Pelicans and three and a half back of the Warriors for the tenth spot in the Western Conference standings with 18 games remaining on the schedule.
Sacramento also lost the season series to New Orleans, which makes their place in the standings that much more difficult.
This season has to mean something in the grand scheme of things. The chances of the team making the playoffs is dwindling by the game, but if Fox and a few other players can take the necessary strides this year, while disappointing, that can have value.
There is value in battling back and scoring 43 points in a must-win game, even if the team ultimately comes up short.