One night, it’s Russell Westbrook. The next night, it’s Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard or Stephen Curry. Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox has seen them all.
“You always have to be ready,” Fox said. “You have to play against a good point guard every night in the NBA.”
This time, it was Kemba Walker, a two-time All-Star who poured in a career-high 60 points against the Philadelphia 76ers and scored 47 against the Washington Wizards earlier this season. Fox welcomed the challenge and walked away with the win after leading the Kings to a 104-97 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night at Golden 1 Center.
Fox had 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals for the Kings (22-21), who forced 20 turnovers for the third consecutive game, this time against a team that was second in the league with an average of 12.7 per contest. Fox also had nine pass deflections.
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“When your point guard is applying that pressure to one of the best point guards in the league ... that’s big time,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said.
Walker had 31 points for the Hornets (19-23) but made just 11 of 24 field-goal attempts and 3 of 12 from 3-point range while committing a team-high six turnovers.
“It was a lot of bad turnovers, but we just have to take care of the basketball,” Walker said. “We’re not usually like that. It was just tonight.”
Bogdan Bogdanovic came off bench to score a team-high 22 points for the Kings, who have won three of their last four games. The Kings earned their 22nd victory last season on March 14 — after they had already lost 47 games.
“It’s happened faster than a lot of people expected,” Fox said.
The Kings improved to 10-3 against Eastern Conference teams. They will conclude a three-game home stand against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night before departing for a season-long six-game trip that will pit them against the Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers.
Buddy Hield also scored 21 points for Sacramento. Cauley-Stein had 12 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth double-double in five games. Rookie Marvin Bagley III posted 11 points and nine rebounds.
The matchup between Fox and Walker was a focal point before, during and after the game. The Kings trailed 70-65 in the third quarter when Fox made two plays during a key sequence to swing the momentum in Sacramento’s favor.
First, he drove to the basket from the right wing, finding a seam between Walker and Bismack Biyombo. Fox made a pretty move to get into the paint and scored on an uncontested layup.
On the ensuing possession, Fox stepped up to pressure Walker as he brought the ball across the half-court line. Fox poked the ball away, came up with the steal and outran Walker to the rim for an easy dunk.
“(Walker) is definitely one of the toughest players to guard in this league,” Fox said. “He’s small, but he gets his shoulders by your hips and he’s just a difficult guy to stay in front of.”
Walker had high praise for Fox, saying he has come a long way since last season.
“He was a rookie. He’s not a rookie no more,” Walker said. “He has gotten better. He has gotten a chance to see (what) this league really is about. I think everybody knew what kind of player he was going to be. You can see he works hard. You can tell he works hard. He’s really good. He’s a special talent and he makes his team go.”