The Sacramento Kings have a free throw problem. This isn’t Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals all over again. There isn’t some grand conspiracy. In fact, it’s pretty simple.
Players like Luka Doncic know how to draw fouls and the Kings do not.
On the season, the Kings rank 28th in free throw attempts per game. They also rank 18th in fouling their opposition. In the team’s 114-110 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks, these two issues converged into a perfect storm.
Sacramento committed a total of 37 personal fouls against Dallas on Tuesday, leading to 50 free throw attempts for the Mavs. It’s difficult to win a game when you are outscored by 31 points at the stripe.
“Hopefully it’s games like this that really help speed that lesson along, because that’s a game we probably should have won if it wasn’t for sending them to the foul line 50 times,” coach Luke Walton said following the loss. “Maybe we fouled them everytime, I’ve just never seen that before where one team shoots 50 free throws and another shoots 12.”
If it was just Doncic camped out at the line knocking down freebies, that’s one thing. The All-Star went to the charity stripe 11 times, scoring eight of his 34 points on free throw attempts.
“It’s part of the game,” veteran Kent Bazemore said. “Anytime you give teams free points, they’re going to be tough to beat.”
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But the Kings fouled everyone, all game long. Kristaps Porzingis, went to the line 11 times, Dorian Finney-Smith shot nine freebies and Tim Hardaway Jr. went 7-of-8.
“At the end of the day, we can’t allow a team to shoot 50 free throws, whether it’s us actually fouling or if it’s the refs, it is what it is,” De’Aaron Fox said. “But we can’t allow a team to shoot 50 free throws.”
Fouling players is a huge issue and it almost seemed like it became contagious for the Kings. 10 players stepped on the floor for Sacramento. All 10 had at least two personal fouls. Eight had three fouls or more, with Richaun Holmes being the lone player to foul out.
Sacramento was more physical than what we saw in Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Magic, but there is a way to battle an opponent without constantly grabbing or getting caught in a compromised defensive position.
“I think there is a good amount on our players,” Walton said. “We talk about it all the time. We show film on it. We can’t grab to get around screens. We’ve got to keep our hands out -- show our hands and not come down. I do think when I go back and watch the film, there’s going to be a good amount that’s on us and that’s something we continue to harp about with our guys.”
Fouling on one end is an issue, but the Kings also lack the ability to get to the line themselves. Fox, who leads the Kings with 6.8 free throw attempts per game, managed to get to the line just twice, despite taking 27 shots on the afternoon.
Richaun Holmes led the Kings with four attempts, which is less than five different players on the Mavs.
For the Kings to take another step, they have to show improvement in both of these areas. They have to clean up the mistakes and they have to create contact on the other end.
Against the Mavericks, Sacramento continued to make one error after another, on both ends of the floor, from the opening tip through the overtime session. The team’s inability to refrain from fouling in combination with their lack of physicality, cost them dearly.
With his team up 95-91 with 4:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, Harrison Barnes had Doncic off balance in the post and instead of going into his body and drawing a foul, he took a fade away jumper, which came up short.
After giving his team a 102-99 lead with 3:30 remaining in overtime, Buddy Hield fouled Hardaway Jr. shooting a 3-pointer, which allowed the Mavericks to tie the game.
These snippets replay themselves again and again throughout the game and the end result is a backbreaking four point loss in overtime and an 0-3 start to the seeding tournament.
The Kings still have five games remaining in the restart schedule. They played better against the Mavericks, but this is equivalent to playoff basketball. So far, the Kings haven’t played well enough for 48 minutes, or even 53, to come away with a win.