SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It won’t take much for progress to be shown by the Sacramento Kings. Being competitive for the first time in a week would be a start.
Against a Denver Nuggets team that’s playing well, even that low bar might be tough to reach.
The Kings (12-25) host the Nuggets (21-17) on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in the fifth of a six-game homestand that will equal a season high. They’ve lost the past three by a combined 48 points.
They haven’t seemed that close.
“When you play against us, it’s kind of like, pick whatever you want to do,” Kings guard Garrett Temple told reporters after Sacramento’s 131-111 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
The 131 points allowed marked a season worst for the Kings, as did the 72 points they allowed in the first half against them. That effort surpassed the 64 Sacramento allowed in the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.
The Kings’ past three opponents have averaged 118.7 points and shot 53.2 percent from the floor.
“We just aren’t guarding in the pick-and-roll, whether it’s one-on-one, people get into the paint and do what they want to do,” Temple told reporters. “We got to defend. As simple as that.”
Said coach Dave Joerger to reporters: “Teams are definitely confident they can come in and shoot well.”
The Nuggets aren’t the easiest team to defend. The Nuggets built a 21-point lead in a 99-91 home victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night, and they average 108 points per contest. They averaged 117 per game in their four previous contests before the win over Utah.
The victory also put the Nuggets four games above .500 for the third time this season. They will be playing the second game of a back-to-back for the sixth time, and are 1-4 in the previous five. They beat the Kings 114-98 in the second of a back-to-back set on Nov. 20.
Trey Lyles scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the victory over Utah. Jamal Murray also added 26 points.
After the game, Lyles pointed to Denver’s defense, which allowed 105.9 points per contest, the ninth-best mark in the NBA entering the game.
“We started locking down defensively,” he told reporters after the game. “We made it hard for them to score and get what they wanted. When we play defense like that, we can score with the best of them.”
The Nuggets blew out Utah with a 38-point third quarter. Such quarters have been typical against Sacramento’s recent defense, which has dropped to 13th in the league in opponents scoring (106.4 per game) with its recent efforts.
“It has me speechless,” Temple told reporters. “There’s nothing to say. We have to guard. We have to man up and play defense, defend.”
Sacramento needs all the defense it can get, because it remains last in the NBA in scoring at 97.4 points per game.
Rookie guard De’Aaron Fox scored 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting in his first game since Dec. 19. Fox had missed six straight games because of a partially torn right quadriceps muscle. He played 33 minutes, his most since Dec. 8 at New Orleans.
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