Just when you think you’ve figured out the Sacramento Kings, they go and do something unexpected.
After an embarrassing 49-point loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, it looked like the start of another extended losing streak for the Kings.
Hours before facing the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers, it was announced that LeBron James was set to make his return after missing 20 games with an ankle injury. To make matters worse, the Kings were still without the services of De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes.
Like so many times this season, the Kings threw everyone for a curve ball. Behind the stellar play of rookie Tyrese Haliburton and a solid team all-around team effort, Sacramento stunned the Lakers on their home court with a 110-106 win.
“That last loss kinda woke me up a lot,” Haliburton said after the game. “It's one thing to lose. It's another thing to be disrespected, you know, to not play with any pride. It definitely was a wakeup call.”
Haliburton scored 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-for-8 from long range. He also set his teammates up for 10 assists, many of which result in highlight reel dunks. He orchestrated the offense and put his teammates in positions to succeed.
“When we needed him, he made plays for us,” coach Luke Walton said. “When we started to get a little sloppy, he demanded some sort of action.”
The beneficiary of many of Haliburton’s assists was center Richaun Holmes, who posted another 20-point performance for Sacramento. The two are building incredible chemistry on the court, especially in the two-man game.
Haliburton is growing into his role as a leader on this team and the results are stunning, especially with Fox and Barnes on the shelf. Since moving back into the starting lineup in place of Fox, who currently sits in the league’s health and safety protocols, the 21-year-old is averaging 18.5 points and nine assists per game.
“It’s important for me to step up with those two gone,” Haliburton said. “I think my voice kinda carries weight. That’s just kinda who I am as a person. People know that I come from a pur place and they know that I come from an honest place. I’m always going to be honest with everybody. I just want to win.”
Haliburton was the first Kings rookie to score at least 20 points and have 10 assists in a game since Ray McCallum accomplished the feat on March 31, 2014 when he posted 22 points and 10 assists against the New Orleans Pelicans.
It wasn’t just the play of Haliburton and Holmes that stood out. Seven Kings in total scored in double-figures, including tremendous efforts from Terrence Davis, Delon Wright, Damian Jones and Marvin Bagley, who returned to action after missing 23 games with a hand injury.
“That’s what we need right now, especially without De’Aaron and Harrison,” Walton said. “It’s going to be the only way that we can kinda compete and give ourselves chances to win, is for everyone to play that style.”
Davis scored all 15 of his points in the second half as the Kings battles. Wright dropped in eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Kings erased a deficit and held on for the win.
“This has to be how we play,” Wright said. “When we’re moving the ball and not just running pick-and-roll, I feel like to help get other guys involved, me and Ty, whoever else is ball handling, just has to find ways to get other guys involved. I think we did that today.”
If the Kings are going to win games without two of their top three scorers, it will take efforts like this from multiple players. Shocking as might sound, the Kings beat the Lakers without Fox, Barnes and with Buddy Hield scoring just two points in 32 minutes.
With nine games remaining in the season, the Kings continue to struggle with consistency from one night to the next, which is why they are on the outside looking in of the playoff chase.
Sacramento is now 4-3 over their last seven games, but the way they got to that record is symptomatic of an entire chaotic season.