Not again: Sacramento Kings fall to shorthanded Miami Heat while Jimmy Butler is suspended

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The Kings have lost a number of games this season due to their maddening tendency to play down to the level of competition against shorthanded opponents.

They did it again Monday night against the Miami Heat.

Bam Adebayo, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Kevin Love taught the Kings a lesson in Heat Culture, leading a depleted team to a stunning 121-110 victory before a crestfallen crowd of 17,832 at Golden 1 Center. The Kings stormed back from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to get within two with 3:41 remaining, but Jaquez and Adebayo hit big shots down the stretch to dash Sacramento’s comeback bid.

Jimmy Butler, Thomas Bryant and Nikola Jovic were all serving suspensions for their roles in a melee that occurred in last week’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Tyler Herro (knee), Terry Rozier (knee), Josh Richardson (shoulder), Orlando Robinson (back) and Dru Smith (knee) were all out due to injuries.

That didn’t stop Miami from doing what it has done for years under team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra, executing a winning brand of basketball no matter who is on the floor.

“It’s like a running joke,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “Regardless of who Miami puts out there, it looks like that’s a team that played in the Finals or played together for a while. They have guys who do their job and they have guys who come out, regardless of how long they’ve been with the team, they play hard. ... So it’s just their continuity. They play hard. They understand what they need to do. They played zone probably 80% of this game, and it’s their continuity in that defense, just being able to be disruptive, being able to get their hands on the ball.”

Just last season, the Heat went to the NBA Finals with several undrafted players, including Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Haywood Highsmith. Brown was asked if there is a way to replicate the Heat’s culture, which is defined by professionalism, toughness, fitness, consistency and a next-man-up mentality.

“You can’t replicate it,” Brown said. “You’ve got to have your own culture in my opinion. It’s hard to do the same thing that somebody else is doing, but the reality of it is, from top to bottom, they believe in toughness and they believe in playing hard and playing the right way. They’re not looking at offensive numbers. They’re looking at defensive numbers, how you compete and how tough you are, and then they’re trying to develop those types of players and put them on the floor.”

Adebayo had 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Heat (32-25), which has won six of seven to move into sixth in the Eastern Conference. Jaquez scored 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting. Love came off the bench to post 19 points and seven rebounds. Martin had 16 points and six rebounds while Delon Wright, who just signed with Miami last week, added 13 points, five assists and two steals.

The Heat outscored the Kings 60-50 on points in the paint and 20-7 at the free-throw line. At one point, going into the fourth quarter, the Heat had a 17-4 advantage in points off turnovers. Fox committed seven of Sacramento’s 15 turnovers. Domantas Sabonis had four.

“They came in here and they played well, both offensively and defensively,” Fox said. “Obviously, we fought back and got into the game, but we have to be better. We can’t turn the ball over and I can’t turn the ball over like I did, but it’s not like they didn’t come in here and make some tough shots. I do think they beat us to a majority of the 50-50 balls, so some of the effort, we need to be better, but they just played better than us.”

Keegan Murray scored 28 points for the Kings (33-24), who fell from fifth in the Western Conference into a tie for seventh with the Dallas Mavericks. Fox had 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Sabonis had 14 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, posting his league-leading 21st triple-double of the season. Sabonis also recorded his 40th consecutive double-double, giving him a league-high 53 on the season.

Fans began to get anxious early when Miami outscored Sacramento 15-10 over the first 4:18 and went up 25-19 after going 4 of 8 from 3-point range to start the game. The Kings are 30th in the NBA in opponent’s 3-point percentage (.397), which has been a big point of emphasis for Brown coming out of the All-Star break.

Brown was disappointed in the way his team defended the 3-point line 24 hours after holding the Los Angeles Clippers to 29.6% in a 123-107 victory at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.

“I thought last night we did a great job defending the 3,” Brown said. “Tonight, we kind of let our guard down a little bit and let guys who weren’t hot initially get going, and it hurt us.”

The Kings came back to take a 33-32 lead at the end of the opening period. There was some concern when Fox came up limping late in the first quarter. He motioned to the bench that he was all right and appeared to be moving much better in the second quarter, but he was clearly experiencing some discomfort in his left knee.

The Kings staged a 10-2 run to take a 43-34 lead and went up by 10 with 6:03 to play in the first half, but the Heat battled back to take a 62-61 lead on a 3-pointer by Highsmith. Despite shooting 58.5% from the field and 50% from 3-point range in the first half, the Kings found themselves trailing 65-62 at the break after being outscored 13-4 on points off turnovers.

The Kings were only down by four with five minutes to play in the third quarter. They were outscored 20-4 over the last 4:45 and trailed 101-81 going into the fourth.

That’s when the Kings came alive after switching to a zone defense early in the fourth quarter. Murray made three 3-pointers in a span of 1:43 to fuel a 14-1 run as the Kings rallied to cut the deficit to six on a pullup jumper by Fox. They got within two when Fox scored again with 3:41 to go, but Jaquez hit back-to-back midrange jumpers and Martin threw down an emphatic dunk to punctuate the win as Heat fans howled and Kings fans headed for the exits.

The outcome was a big letdown for the Kings following a big road win over the Clippers on Sunday.

“Every team in this league is good,” Murray said. “You go up and down, and every team has talented guys, so their guys stepped up. Jaime, Bam, a lot of their guys stepped up in different ways, so that’s happened on a lot of different occasions when we’ve played teams that have been down some of their top guys. We just have to come to compete every night like we did last night (against the Clippers).”

Up next

The Kings will hit the road to face two of the top three teams in the Western Conference when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

The Timberwolves (40-17) and Oklahoma City Thunder are tied for first in the West. The Nuggets (39-19) are third, 1 ½ games back.

The Kings are looking for a season sweep of the Nuggets after winning the first three games 123-117 on Dec. 2, 135-106 on Feb. 9 and 102-98 on Feb. 14.

The Kings are 1-1 against the Timberwolves. They picked up a 124-111 victory on Nov. 24 in Minneapolis and suffered a 110-98 loss on Dec. 23 in Sacramento.