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The Kings’ four-guard lineup, Davis’ scoring could be signs something good is happening

·5 min read
Randall Benton/AP

Are the Kings rallying? Are there signs of hope from a franchise that fired its coach the morning after a courtside fan lost his lunch, over and over, on the hardwood just two weeks ago?

Sure, there are a few reasons for optimism at DOCO, particularly after winning back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Clippers, including Saturday’s 104-99 win.

Marvin Bagley registered his first double-double of the season. Terence Davis put up season highs in points in consecutive contests. Sacramento held its opponent to fewer than 100 points for just the third time all year. Tyrese Haliburton aggressively looked for his shot in what heretofore has been a puzzling second NBA season.

Since that embarrassing loss to the depleted 76ers in interim coach Alvin Gentry’s debut Nov. 22 after the firing of Luke Walton, the Kings are winners of four of their last six, all coming against teams in the mix for the Western Conference playoffs. Sacramento needs to beat teams like the Clippers to end its storied playoff drought; the Clippers occupy the No. 5 seed.

The Kings’ recent uptick has come with swing man Harrison Barnes missing the last five games with a foot injury while wing Maurice Harkless has been sidelined three games with a knee issue.

Which led to an interesting wrinkle late in Saturday’s win: a four-guard lineup featuring De’Aaron Fox, Haliburton, Davis and Davion Mitchell around center Richaun Holmes.

That’s the lineup Gentry used in crunch time to close out the win, which hadn’t been used at all this season. The Kings didn’t outscore the Clippers with that lineup, but it did enough to hold them off. At the 5:29 mark, the Kings led 90-82. And when Buddy Hield entered the game for Mitchell with 10.4 seconds remaining, Sacramento’s lead was trimmed to just three before the Kings won by five.

It might be a one off, but it could also be a club in Gentry’s bag he uses against other teams. The Clippers are one of the bigger teams in the NBA, with 6-foot-8 Paul George starting the game at shooting guard alongside forwards Marcus Morris Sr. (6-8), Serge Ibaka (6-10) and Ivica Zubac (7-0) at center.

Fox, Haliburton, Mitchell and Davis are all listed at 6-foot-5 or below, and they were faster than the Clippers, who used Luke Kennard down the stretch, and defended them well despite giving up size.

That super small lineup was not something the Kings tried much in practice, let alone planned to use in a game. Gentry said it was largely a product of Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue going heavy on zone defense, and using four guards allowed the Kings to drive into zones and create open shots for others. Without Barnes or Harkless available, the guards were the obvious candidates.

“In my opinion, Ty Lue is probably the best in the league at (making adjustments),” Gentry said. “And so, we just tried to look and see what they were doing, and what they were trying to accomplish, whether it was going to be to play a big lineup or what, and then we tried to make an adjustment with what we felt like we could have an advantage. So it wasn’t anything that was planned or that we had talked about doing. It just kind of fell into place over the course of the game.”

Said Haliburton: “It was just about pushing the pace, making them play at our pace and running. So I thought we did a really good job of that.”

Over the final 5:29, Davis scored 10 of his season-high 28 points while adding three rebounds and a steal. He finished 6 of 11 from 3-point range three days after setting a previous season-high with 23 points against the Clippers in L.A.

Whether or not Davis’ scoring can continue when Barnes comes back remains to be seen. The Kings might find out next week when Barnes is expected to return.

Davis hasn’t been a regular in the rotation. He was available but didn’t play in seven of the team’s 23 games before Saturday. He was shooting just 26% on 3-point shots, well below his 36% clip for his career. As a player general manager Monte McNair traded for, the 24-year-old could stick around for the long haul, while other players like Barnes and Hield were brought in by the previous regime under Vlade Divac.

Davis continuing his scoring run would be a welcome development given the Kings haven’t had much reliable firepower on the perimeter. His shooting numbers could normalize after beginning the year shooting 37% from the floor following up a 44% mark last season and 46% clip when he was named to the All-Rookie Second Team with Toronto in 2020.

“His confidence has always been there. It’s something he definitely does not lack,” Haliburton said. “He’s obviously not had the year he’s wanted to so far in terms of making shots. But we all have a lot of confidence in him.”

The Kings signed Davis, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal in August hoping he could develop into a reliable scorer off the bench. He started Saturday for the fifth time this season in what’s been a frustrating year.

“It’s been tough,” Davis said. “As a shooter, when you’re not hitting shots, it’s very very frustrating. Just because that’s what they pay you for, to hit shots. When it’s not going in, it’s just really, really frustrating. You start to question yourself. Lately, I’ve been feeling really good. My teammates have been encouraging me to keep shooting.”

McNair traded a second-round draft pick for Davis to provide scoring. He was attainable in part because he was facing domestic violence accusations of which charges were eventually dropped. His teammates had glowing things to say about him Saturday, including Haliburton.

“He’s just such a good guy, such a good teammate. He wants to see everybody succeed,” Haliburton said. “It’s good to see him make shots and we all have a lot, a lot of confidence in him.”

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