Kings react to up-and-down season after loss to Pelicans

Just about everything that went right for the Sacramento Kings in their play-in opener against the Golden State Warriors went wrong in their season-ending 105-98 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday at Smoothie King Center.

A limping Keegan Murray had a forgettable 11-point performance three nights after scoring 32 points against the Warriors. Breakout guard Keon Ellis, whose defense was invaluable against Stephen Curry on Tuesday, was held scoreless as Sacramento opened up a 20 lead in his 28 minutes.

The contrast in the performances against the Warriors and Pelicans epitomized the main problem that has plagued the Kings all season and ultimately prevented them from reaching the playoffs after finishing in third place a year ago.

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“I feel like we had really good wins and really bad losses,” Murray said afterwards. “So it was really an up and down season for us. That’s something the top teams in the West are just consistent all season long.”

Murray made four of his 12 shots while making 2 of 7 from three-point range after making 8 of 13 against the Warriors. The Pelicans presented a much different challenge than Golden State, with Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones defending the perimeter.

“I think Keegan could have been a little more aggressive,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “He’s a young guy going through this and I’m sure he’ll be better for it and realize what he can do better to help us move forward, just like everyone else.”

Murray made marked improvements in his overall playmaking and attacking the rim in his second season after spending most of his rookie season as a spot-up shooter. And given their limited resources going forward, Murray’s improvement will be crucial for Sacramento to make the playoffs and advance next season.

Murray missed his first four shots to start the game and never found a rhythm like he did against the Warriors.

“At the end of the year, only one team can win a game,” Murray said. “So it’s a learning lesson for everyone. Obviously I just want to get healthy and I think it’s a big step this offseason for me to get stronger and develop my game more because I feel like I’ve made a leap this year and every year wants to keep making leaps.

The Kings went 46-36 this season. They fly home to Northern California on Saturday, while the Pelicans travel Sunday to play the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of a seven-game playoff series.

Players had varying answers when asked about the nature of the season after the loss.

“That’s always the question: how do you become consistent?” said star guard De’Aaron Fox after scoring a game-high 35 points. “I think we have to get there defensively. … It’s always a make-or-miss competition, but if you can be physical on that end of the floor and keep your pace up as much as possible, then that kind of consistency of your game style becomes in force – but sometimes you take photos, sometimes you miss photos.

Said Kings center Domantas Sabonis: “Right now we just have to take a few days to decompress and think about it. A lot of our exit interviews with the coaches and the GM – we’ll talk about that in a few days.

The team made strides defensively while the rest of the league caught up with their offense, setting a record for efficiency last season. Ultimately, the Western Conference improved and the Kings finished two games worse in the regular season, settling for the play-in tournament after earning the No. 3 seed a year ago.

“It’s a little tough right now,” Brown said. “I still think about this match and the loss. … Our guys faced some things this season that they didn’t face the season before and they tried to stay with it, tried to fight through it. We just came up short and we hoped we wouldn’t do that.”

Sabonis had 23 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to complement Fox’s scoring. But the Kings — who were missing Sixth Man of the Year candidate Malik Monk — had a 34-12 lead over their reserves. They struggled shooting overall, making just 41% of their field goal attempts and 27% from the three-point line.

The Pelicans’ length was too much for the Kings, just like when they went 5-0 against the Kings during the regular season. Sacramento lacked consistent scoring to complement Fox, who had 28 points through three quarters with the game within reach.

“That’s the question for the coaches and general managers,” Fox said. “My job is to go out there and try to make plays, go downhill, try to make shots for myself and try to make shots for my teammates.”

The Kings trailed by nine at the end of the third quarter, but they went 1 of 11 from the field to start the fourth, while the Pelicans extended their lead to 20 on a Jose Alvarado 3 that set the home crowd in Crescent City set on fire.

Ultimately, after overcoming injuries to Monk and Kevin Huerter in their win over the Warriors, the Kings couldn’t muster enough offense to reach the playoffs after ending the longest playoff drought in history last spring the history of the NBA.

“Clearly there is still something to build on,” Fox said. “The West isn’t getting any easier, so of course it’s a disappointment not to be in the play-offs, not to be one of the top eight teams, but we have something to build on and you look forward to next entering the season. ”

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Chris Biderman covered the 49ers from 2013 to 2021, starting with The Sacramento Bee in August 2018. He previously spent time at the Associated Press and USA Today Sports Media Group. He was born in Santa Rosa and graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in journalism.