The Sacramento Kings are riding high following their impressive 123-117 Friday night victory against the defending NBA Champion Denver Nuggets. The Kings were firing on all cylinders against the Nuggets and had big performances from their two star players, De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, and their other premier guards, Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk. Sacramento has won 3 of its last 4 games against notable Western Conference opponents, and they have ramped up their overall level of play. However, the Kings’ next matchup may be their most important one so far this season. 

The Kings will be facing off against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night in the Quarter-Final of the In-Season Tournament. Unfortunately for the Kings, the Pelicans have had their number this season. New Orleans won both of their matchups against Sacramento in back-to-back games right before Thanksgiving Day. However, Sacramento looks a lot more poised and in command than they did then. Nonetheless, this will still be a difficult matchup for Sacramento, but all hope is not gone for them to come away with a big win on Monday. Here are three keys to success for the Kings against the Pelicans. 

Three Keys to Success for the Kings Against the Pelicans 

Limit Turnovers 

While this may seem fairly obvious, the Kings winning the turnover battle against the Pelicans will certainly be a factor in them coming away with a victory. Both teams are nearly identical when it comes to their turnover averages for the season. The Kings average 13.7 turnovers per game, ranking them 12th in the league. The Pelicans average 13.8 turnovers per game, which ranks them 14th. Each team does a decent job of protecting the ball on most nights against their respective opponents. However, turnovers have gotten the better of the Kings in their previous two matchups against the Pelicans.

In their first matchup this season, the Kings committed 13 turnovers, while the Pelicans committed 10. In their subsequent matchup, the Kings committed 15 turnovers, while the Pelicans still only committed 10. Luckily for the Kings, the Pelicans did not capitalize much on points off those turnovers. However, they did result in New Orleans having more possessions in both games, which meant more scoring opportunities for the Pelicans. 

While turnovers won’t likely be a significant determining factor in this game, it is something the Kings should do their best to limit. While New Orleans hasn’t shown it much in their previous two games against Sacramento, they are still in the top one-third of the league in points off turnovers at 18 points per game. Ensuring that New Orleans doesn’t get additional fast break opportunities or offensive possessions off turnovers will be a small key to success for the Kings against the Pelicans.

Control the Paint

Arguably the biggest reason for the Kings losing both of their previous matchups this season against the Pelicans was them getting obliterated in the paint. The Pelicans had their way in the paint area against the Kings, both in terms of their rebounding and points near the basket. 

The Pelicans only rank 12th in the league in rebounding with 44.2 a game. However, one wouldn’t project that based on how they’ve controlled the glass against Sacramento. Through their two games against the Kings this season, the Pelicans averaged 51.5 rebounds per game, while the Kings averaged just 37 rebounds per game. On top of that, the Pelicans won the offensive rebounding total, 13-4, in their second matchup this season. The Kings will have to do a much better job boxing out, and accounting for New Orleans’ size down low this time around. The Kings could potentially benefit from incorporating a bigger lineup throughout the game with Trey Lyles or JaVale McGee. One way or another, the Kings have to prepare for New Orleans in a way that will help limit their control of the glass.

New Orleans also has had their way with points in the paint against Sacramento. Through those two games, the Pelicans averaged a ridiculous 63 points per game in the paint. Conversely, the Kings only managed to score 34 points per game in the paint through those two games. The Kings will undoubtedly have to secure their defensive scheme against the Pelicans this Monday. They will have to work cohesively on taking away angles to the rim, and possibly putting two bodies on the Pels most dangerous interior scorer, Zion Williamson. One way or another, the paint area results will be very telling in the success of the Kings against the Pelicans on Monday.  

Win the Three-Point Battle

One final key component to the Kings optimizing their chance to beat the Pelicans on Monday will be their ability to be better from the three-point line. While both teams have struggled shooting from three this season, they each still have capable shooters that can get a hot streak going at any moment. Last season, the Kings were one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league, averaging 37% shooting from deep. This season, they have dropped off a bit, now averaging 35.5% from deep. 

In their first matchup this season, the Pelicans outshot the Kings from three-point range. The Kings shot 11/45 (24.4%)  from three, while the Pelicans shot 12/28 (42.9%). In their second matchup, the Kings were able to vastly improve from the first matchup, shooting 15/44 (34.1%). They also held the Pelicans to just 23.3% shooting from three that game. This had a huge influence on the second game of that back-to-back being much closer than the first game blowout by the Pelicans was. 

The Kings have had their struggles this season defending from three, allowing their opponents to average 37.3% shooting from deep. However, if they can ramp up their defensive switching on the perimeter and close out well on the Pelicans’ three-point shooters, they could give themselves a better chance. The Kings have to make a collective effort to communicate effectively on defense to slow down the Pelicans’ ability to beat them from beyond the arc. 

The Last Word

If Sacramento manages to beat New Orleans in at least two or even all three of the aforementioned components of the game on Monday, they will give themselves a great chance to finally beat the Pelicans and advance in the In-Season Tournament.

Akash Mahi, a dedicated enthusiast of the game, is a recognized expert in the domain of tennis balls. With a keen understanding of materials and aerodynamics, he has contributed to the evolution of tennis ball design, enhancing playability and performance. Mahi's expertise continues to impact both casual players and professionals alike.