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Mar 30, 2024 9:08 pm

Embattled Kings face Jazz, aim for an easier time

keegan murray

The Sacramento Kings land a much-needed rare soft spot in their closing schedule when they host the tail-spinning Utah Jazz on Sunday night.

Consecutive home losses to the Dallas Mavericks have dropped the Kings (42-31) into the heart of the shuffle for play-in position in the Western Conference playoff race.

Sacramento will take the court Sunday in the eighth spot in the West, a half-game behind the No. 7 Phoenix Suns (43-31) and 1 1/2 games ahead of the No. 9 Los Angeles Lakers (41-33).

The Suns are off until Monday, when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans, while the Lakers visit the Brooklyn Nets earlier in the day Sunday.

The Kings are now halfway through a gauntlet of seven likely playoff teams in an eight-game stretch. They opened the sequence with wins over the Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers, before the twin killing at the hands of the Mavericks.

After seeing the Jazz (29-45), who have lost eight in a row and have been eliminated from playoff contention, Sacramento will complete a five-game homestand against the Los Angeles Clippers, then open a four-game trip at New York and Boston.

Sacramento will be without guard Malik Monk, who will be sidelined four to six weeks with a sprained MCL in his right knee, according to multiple reports. Monk was hurt when he collided with Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter of the Kings’ 107-103 loss on Friday night.

The timing of the injury means Monk, one of the leading candidates for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, will miss the rest of the regular season.

Even before Friday’s loss, the Kings received bad news when it was disclosed that starting guard Kevin Huerter would be lost for the rest of the season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Kings coach Mike Brown attempted to soften the blow by saying Huerter might still help the team’s cause even while injured.

“Him talking to guys, whether it’s on the bench, in practice, shootaround or off the floor, it’s going to be huge,” Brown noted. “He’s going to be around as much as he can.”

The injury occurred March 18 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Keon Ellis has moved into Huerter’s starting spot, and while he’s averaged 9.7 points in six games since, it’s been Keegan Murray who has taken up a majority of the scoring slack, going for 22 and 23 points that stretch in which he’s averaged 16.7 points on 51-percent shooting.

The Kings have had little trouble handling the Jazz in the teams’ two meetings, winning by 16 on opening night and then 21 in a December rematch. Murray had a career-high 47 points — 14 more than he’s scored in any other game – in the 125-104 home win in December.

While Sacramento will be enjoying a break in the schedule, the Jazz get no such thing. Eleven of their past 12 games have been against playoff contenders, and their final eight will be against teams currently in the fight.

Utah is coming off a winless three-game homestand against Dallas, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, but were competitive in each defeat, falling by a combined 18 points.

Impressed with the effort in a 101-100 home loss to the Rockets on Friday, Jazz coach Will Hardy insists his team won’t be a pushover for teams with postseason aspirations.

“That’s the intensity, physicality that we have to play with every single game,” he observed. “If our team can continue to channel that energy level, that level of physicality, we’re gonna be just fine.. … I was very, very pleased with the effort tonight.

“I think that’s a representation from an intensity standpoint of who we want to be.”

–Field Level Media

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