Booker scores 44; Brown says Kings ‘don’t know how to do it yet’ following loss to Suns

Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com

It was a high-level game between two high-scoring teams. The Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns nearly matched each other, shooting 52.3% and 53.2%, respectively. There were 16 ties and 11 lead changes. It was a three-point game with 6.8 seconds remaining.

But the Suns shined brighter, dealing the Kings their third consecutive loss, 122-117, on Monday at Golden 1 Center.

“We just don’t know how to do it yet,” Kings coach Mike Brown said afterwards.

Star shooting guard Devin Booker scored 44 points in 41 minutes with eight rebounds and six steals, while the Kings had another down performance from De’Aaron Fox, who had 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Fox scored just three points in the second half and was minus-four during his 8:26 in the fourth quarter. He was the only Kings player to have a negative plus-minus in the frame.

Fox, who came into the game averaging 25.1 points per game on a career-best 53% shooting, was asked how much his team missed his firepower.

“I mean, we lost by, what, four or five? And I didn’t play well at all,” he said.

The Kings’ seven-game winning streak from Nov. 9-22 included two wins over teams that were over .500, while their current three-game losing streak has come against the top two teams in the NBA — the Boston Celtics and Suns, currently the No. 1 seeds in the East and West — and the Atlanta Hawks, who are fifth in the East.

The loss dropped the Kings to 10-9 and seventh in the West, where the top eight teams are separated by just 3.5 games.

The Suns (14-6), who were missing veteran point guard Chris Paul, got key contributions from swingman Damion Lee, who scored 11 points with three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. That spoiled a 30-point performance from Kings’ playmaker Malik Monk. Domantas Sabonis added 17 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.

Brown cited Sacramento allowing 17 second-chance points as key to the loss while his team tries to learn how to remain consistent amid the rigors of an 82-game schedule.

“We just don’t know how to do it for close to 48 minutes quite yet,” Brown said. “Especially with our execution on both sides of the ball.”

The Kings became one of the stories of the young NBA season with their seven-game winning streak. And their No. 2 offensive rating in the NBA has raised outside expectations beyond just making the play-in tournament.

But Brown offered his team context just 19 games into the campaign. Ending the franchise’s 16-year playoff drought will require staying power beyond a seven-game winning streak, which included five victories at home.

“I told the guys, around game-20 mark, you’ll start to see some separation because the newness of the season is about worn off,” Brown said. “Now, you’re kind of starting to get to the daily grind of what an NBA season is like when it comes to the practices, shootaround, game day, and all that other stuff. And you’ll see a little bit of separation because it’s hard, and not everybody is capable of doing it, and not everybody is talented enough to do it.”

Brown said teams typically experience another level of separation around the All-Star break in February, and after the All-Star break when bad teams start tanking for draft positioning.

“We have to know that now is the time to try to turn it up,” Brown continued. “And that doesn’t mean just on the floor during the game. Our focus has to be even better during practice. Our focus has to be even better during shootaround. Those little things matter because it’s gonna get harder.”

The Kings season has been defined by streaks. They began the year 0-4, then won seven in a row, and now are hoping to end their current skid Wednesday when they host the Indiana Pacers, who will bring former Kings guards Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield back to Golden 1 Center for the first time since the February trade for Sabonis.

What’s certain for the Kings is they’re going to need more from Fox, who is 17 of 49 (34.7%) from the floor in his last three games. He shot 55.5% over his first 15 games of the season after never shooting better than 48% over a full season previously.

“I’m sure Foxy would tell you the same. He’s going to have to play player better,” Brown said, “and he’s more than capable of playing better. ... Everybody goes through their highs and lows or ups and downs throughout the course of the season. So, it’s not anything that I’m worried about. He just didn’t have a great game tonight.”