LOS ANGELES -- There is a moment in every season when a struggling team cashes in. They look at the standings and realize that they are likely playing for a lottery spot and not a playoff berth.
For the Sacramento Kings, that moment might have already come and gone. After a disappointing start to the season, the team came out Wednesday night on their home floor and laid an egg against a solid Thunder team.
The loss dropped the Kings to 17-30 and just 8-14 on their home floor.
Following the game, head coach Luke Walton struggled to come up with answers. What he could muster sounded wasn’t all that flattering for his team. They needed to play with more effort. They were pushed around. The Thunder were the more physical team and he needed more from his group.
The Kings traveled to Los Angeles late after the game where they faced the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back. Kawhi Leonard was a late scratch with a back issue and Paul George was on a minutes restriction, but Doc Rivers’ team is pacing for 58 wins. They are a beast, with two superstars and then a few superstar role players.
In what looked like a sure loss, the Kings came out swinging. De’Aaron Fox was in attack mode from the opening tip. His energy gave his team a fighter’s chance and then they started to hit their 3-point shot.
“I just wanted to come out aggressive,” Fox said following the Kings’ 124-103 victory. “I know earlier, most of the games, I don’t come out as well as I do finishing games. So it was just to come out and throw the first punch and not take the first punch.”
The Kings set a new franchise record, knocking down 21-for-41 from long range. With the ball falling from the perimeter, it opened up spacing for Fox to run right to the rim.
Fox took his game to a new level. He roasted the Clippers for a career-high 34 points on 14-of-24 from the field and plenty of those numbers came against star defender Patrick Beverley. He hit 3-of-4 from behind the arc and dished out eight assists to his teammates planted on the perimeter.
“I think that’s what you have to do if you want to be one of the better players and if I want to help my team win,” Fox said of going into attack mode. “Obviously, you still want to choose your spots, but at the end of the day, I feel like when I’m being aggressive, I’m able to get to my spots and either score the ball, get us a good shot or be able to playmake.”
It’s a maturation process for the 22-year-old, but he just capped off the best month of his three-year career. During the month of January, Fox posted 22.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in 33.3 minutes per game. He’s inching close to the 20 points per game mark on the season and he’s showing signs of making another leap forward in his progression.
“These are the things that we talk about throughout the season, what it takes, the challenges of being the leader, the head of the snake, the guy that sets the tone for us,” Walton said.
The head of the snake is something you hear plenty about when it comes to Fox. The franchise built the roster to support his incredible skill set. He is getting closer to what the team envisioned, but he still has plenty of room to expand his game.
“From the jump he came out and was assertive,” veteran guard Cory Joseph said. “He took that game over. He’s the head of the snake, and we are going to need him to do that some more. He looked good tonight. Getting people involved, going down-hill, he’s a problem when he gets to the paint and they have to respect him because of his finishing ability, and he was finding guys when [the Clippers] collapsed.”
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With the victory, the Kings picked up their 18th win of the season. They have now won three out of their previous four games.
This season hasn’t gone the way the franchise had hoped, but if Fox can continue to make strides like he did in January, it might not all be for not. The Kings have handed the keys to the car over to their speedy point guard. He needs to find a way to keep it on the road in the final 34 games of the season and build towards next year.