SACRAMENTO -- For the second time this season, the Kings have stumbled into a three-game losing streak. They’ve also dropped back to .500, and they are frustrated.
It didn’t look like Thursday's 117-113 loss to the Denver Nuggets would turn out that way in the first half. Sacramento jumped all over Denver early, leading by as many as 15 before halftime. The Kings were forceful and fast, and the Nuggets had no answer.
And then it all shifted.
Jamal Murray turned from Clark Kent in the first half to Superman in the second, trashing Sacramento for 34 of his 36 points after the intermission.
“Guys got him open with good screens,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We ran some good plays for him to get open shots, but Jamal deserves the credit. He stepped up and made play after play and tough shot after tough shot.”
[RELATED: Former coach Malone pokes Kings in Sacramento return]
The Kings went from 13 up at the break, to even heading to the fourth. Denver started the fourth on a 16-6 run to take a 10-point lead with 5:56 remaining, but the Kings didn’t go away.
Buddy Hield caught fire from the outside, burying three 3-pointers in the span of 1:31 to bring the Kings within three. De’Aaron Fox took over the scoring reigns, rattling off seven points over a 55-second stretch to keep the Kings close.
In the end, Sacramento couldn’t stop Murray, who hit back-to-back threes in the final minute to seal the deal for Denver.
“You hate losing, whether it’s one game, two games, three games, so we’re going to go back and look at what we can do better and hopefully try to change it for next game,” wing Justin Jackson said.
It’s a mini-slump for the Kings, but they’ve been each of the last three games all the way down the stretch. That includes an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, where they led by nine with three minutes remaining.
“We’ve got to finish games, man, just lock in and finish games,” Hield said. “It’s not the ‘young’ excuse, we’re right there. So we’ve just got to finish games and protect the lead and find a way. Every team in the league, they find a way how to win, we have to find a way to win.”
The path to redemption doesn’t get any easier. Sacramento plays host to the World Champions on Saturday. The Warriors are coming off a wild overtime loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, and will likely come in motivated.
The Kings have played the Warriors tough all season, losing two games to their closest geographic rivals by a combined six points.
Thursday marked the first time the Kings have fallen back to the .500 mark since Dec. 1. They’ve battled through an incredibly difficult stretch in the schedule that included 12 games against Western Conference opponents who are either in the playoff chase, or made the playoffs a season ago.