Kings weekend observations: Malik Monk steps up, Kevin Huerter finds his groove and more

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 132-127 in overtime Sunday to improve to 2-1. The victory came on the heels of Stephen Curry — who’s scored a combined 91 points on 59.6-50-81.8 shooting splits in his last two performances at Golden 1 Center — and the Warriors handing the Kings a 122-114 loss Friday. Sacramento broke even during a Pacific division-filled Halloweekend despite their All-NBA guard, De’Aaron Fox, having to miss the final minutes of overtime with an apparent right ankle injury.

Let’s get into a few notes from the weekend.

Fox’s absence leads to Monk’s mastery

Fox went down with 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter after what looked like a tweaked right ankle. He stayed down for a bit before walking off the court under his own power and later returning with 6:43 left in the fourth to a standing ovation from the Golden 1 crowd. Fox had an obvious limp but scored eight fourth-quarter points after returning (13 fourth-quarter points in total) en route to a 37-point, eight-assist, four-rebound performance.

For anyone counting, Fox had back-to-back games with at least 37 points on at least 50 percent shooting.

He even tried to pull a fast one on coach Mike Brown to stay in the game, but it didn’t work for long.

“It got to a point where (Fox) was limping real bad,” coach Brown said after the win. “There was a timeout, and I put somebody else in. … I’m talking to my coaches at the end of the timeout and (Fox) is on the floor. So I start calling him, and he was ignoring me. I said, ‘OK, well he’s ignoring me, so I guess I’ve got to leave him on the floor.’ We left him on the floor, then he continued to limp. And we ended up subbing him out.”

Brown and the Kings had no update on the reigning Clutch Player of the Year, and it remains to be seen what Fox’s status will be moving forward.

Fox subbed out for good with 3:31 remaining in overtime and Malik Monk knew it was time to cook. Fox’s Kentucky Wildcat counterpart dropped 11 points on 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range and dished out an assist in his five overtime minutes.

Monk finished with 22 points, three assists and three boards, shooting 4-of-9 from distance and 4-for-5 from the free-throw line.

Kevin Huerter, who made more 3s on Sunday than he had through the first two games combined, spoke to Monk’s impact throughout the game.

“Malik was huge,” Huerter said after the Lakers game. “We don’t win this game, for sure, without his play really all game but especially in that overtime. He made every play — getting to the rim, making big shots, making plays for everybody else.”

Through three games, Monk is averaging 13.7 points and 5.3 assists in 22.0 minutes per game.

Kevin ‘DPOG’ Huerter finds stride right on cue

Huerter had a tough time finding his rhythm against Golden State on Friday, going scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting from 3-point range in 16 minutes. But the sixth-year Maryland man turned it around Sunday, scoring 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks — all season highs.

He earned himself Sacramento’s defensive player of the game chain but spared reporters of his bling during the postgame news conference.

It’s been a less than ideal start to the season for Huerter individually — shooting 7-of-29 from the field and 4 of 17 from distance — but his teammates’ confidence in him hasn’t wavered.

“I shot with (Kevin) this morning and I knew that he’d do something tonight and he did that,” Keegan Murray said after Sacramento’s win over the Lakers. “As a team, we all have faith in him.”

Huerter’s authenticity and self-awareness Sunday undoubtedly stood out.

“A lot of times, and it’s probably something I need to get better at,” Huerter said. “Your happiness for a lot of ways is dictated based on how you perform on the court in front of everybody else. … I know I can still play a lot better, but I’ll remember that shot. At the end of the game, it was obviously a big shot and big moment that felt really good. The last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, for sure.”

You could almost see the weight lifted off Huerter’s shoulders as he drained that clutch 3 in overtime to put the Kings up five with 32 seconds remaining. He opened up about his happiness, staying the course and not letting the downs he spoke of outweigh the ups. Let’s see if this is the type of performance that can spur a string of quality games to get Huerter back into his groove.

Murray’s bond with Brown continues to grow

In most cases, if you’re saying “Eff you” to your coach, you’re likely on a one-way ticket to the bench for who knows how long. But if you’re Murray talking to Brown, that type of passion is welcomed.

Murray seconds away from pulled from the game when he passed up an open 3 in transition, tried to take it to the rack off the bounce and got called for a travel. Had Sasha Vezenkov made it to the scorer’s table in time, Murray would have found himself on the bench for not shooting the ball. But Murray responded by knocking down a 3 on the next possession — and let Brown tell it, the 22-year-old had some words for his coach.

But the bond these two have is special. When I asked Brown what it meant for Murray to respond to his coaching style the way he does, he simply said, “the world.”

“If you think about it, he started off slow in our playoff series,” Brown said. “And he showed a mental toughness I hadn’t seen from somebody that young in terms of turning his game around. He was phenomenal during that series. And I tell ya, sky’s the limit for him and he’s just scratching the surface. When he gets right, whew, he’s going to be a lot of fun because he can go get it.”


Inside the Sacramento Kings’ quest for greatness: ‘Good is the enemy of great’

The second-year wing did go get it in the second half after going scoreless through the first 24 minutes of the game. All 17 of his points Sunday came in the second half and added 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block.

Murray has the ultimate green light this season and if he doesn’t use it, Brown will be sure to sit him down — so long as whoever he’s subbing into the game makes it to the scorer’s table before the official inbounds the ball.

Brown said after the win that Murray is one of the best shooters he’s been around, and Warriors guard Klay Thompson said after their matchup Friday that Murray has “star potential.” The mental fortitude Murray already possesses coupled with Brown’s strategic approach should equate to that potential Thompson mentioned in due time.

Vezenkov’s learning curve through 3 games

The 28-year-old rookie continues to look more and more comfortable each game. He’s an intuitive cutter, fits into the Kings’ offensive schemes and gets Golden 1 on its feet anytime he touches the ball past half court.

Vezenkov has scored more in each game he’s played in, dropping 8, 10 and 11, respectively. He’s knocked down two 3s in each game, and was playing the passing lanes well defensively Sunday night. Those deflections didn’t result in any steals, but he did log a block.

He caught a lob from Domantas Sabonis, as well — although he laid it up.

It’ll take time for things to continue to click on the defensive end, but Vezenkov has looked more and more comfortable with each game in the books.

The next time the Kings take the floor will be their fourth matchup with the Warriors including preseason in the last three weeks. This time from Chase Center in San Francisco at 7 p.m. PT.

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