The Sacramento Kings join the NBA in-season tournament party against a team already desperate for a win in the new competition when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the California capital on Friday night.
The Thunder have won two straight, but those came after losing 141-139 at home to the Golden State Warriors in the opener of round-robin play among the five teams in West Group C of the soccer-inspired event.
Thunder standout Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed the Golden State game with a sprained left knee.
The standout guard returned for the Thunder’s next game against Atlanta and appeared to be fully healthy when contributing 30 points to a 126-117 home win over the Hawks and then 43 points to a 128-120 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Gilgeous-Alexander has scored 30 or more points five times already this season, including 31 and 34, respectively, when the Thunder opened the season with road wins at Chicago and Cleveland. Oklahoma City hasn’t played a road game since.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault warns observers not to get carried away with Gilgeous-Alexander’s scoring totals. His star has also had seven or more rebounds four times and six or more assists on five occasions. He’s even had at least two steals four times.
“I call a play for Dub (Jalen Williams), he’s not rolling his eyes,” Daigneault said of Gilgeous-Alexander’s unselfish mentality. “It’s not a protest. He runs the play, and he wants to up the score because he wants to win the game.”
The Kings will be making their in-season tournament debut in a group that also includes the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves. They will play all four of their tournament games in a 19-day span that ends Nov. 28 at home against Golden State.
Sacramento got a much-needed win Wednesday night, catching the Portland Trail Blazers late in regulation and then securing a 121-118 overtime triumph at home. Domantas Sabonis, who began his NBA career with the Thunder, had 27 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the win.
“That was a grimy, gritty, ugly win,” Kings coach Mike Brown boasted afterward. “I’m proud of our guys because there were plenty of times down the stretch that they could have folded and just said, ‘Hey, we fought hard, it was close and we’ll just go get ready for the next one.’ But to our guys’ credit, they found a way to win.”
The Kings were once again without star point guard De’Aaron Fox, who continues to rehab a sprained right ankle. He was replaced for the first time by Keon Ellis, who chipped in with four points, four rebounds and three steals in the first start of his two-year career.
Sacramento swept three high-scoring affairs from the Thunder last season, with Sabonis averaging a triple-double with 18.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 10.3 assists.
Fox averaged 29.0 points in the two games he played in the season series, while Gilgeous-Alexander poured in 37 in his only meeting with the Kings, that coming in Sacramento in January.
–Field Level Media