The Kings had won three consecutive home games, but the Denver Nuggets were coming off a disappointing loss at the Los Angeles Lakers and looked determined not to drop back-to-back games to teams with losing records.
Will Barton had a game-high 25 points and Gary Harris scored 20 as the Nuggets won 114-98 Monday night at Golden 1 Center. Nikola Jokic finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds for Denver (10-7).
George Hill and Kosta Koufos each scored 16 points for the Kings (4-13).
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Hard knock life in the paint
The Kings will struggle a lot of nights with physical frontcourts. Monday was a reminder of that. Even without injured star Paul Millsap (wrist), Denver had the strength to muscle the Kings around in the paint. That led to a 49-34 rebounding advantage and a 19-6 edge in second-chance points for the Nuggets.
One of the young bigs (Skal Labissiere or Willie Cauley-Stein) has to become more of a force in this area and not rely on Zach Randolph and Koufos to be the main rebounders.
Third point guard makes an impact
Amid all the lineup and rotation changes, rookie Frank Mason III has quietly shown he’s capable of contributing. He followed up his season-high 13 points in Saturday’s loss at Portland with 11 points and six assists Monday.
He adds a level of toughness off the bench the Kings had lacked this season and is capable of scoring and facilitating. Before the move to start George Hill and De’Aaron Fox, Mason was buried on the bench most nights.
But with his recent play, it will be hard to keep Mason out of the lineup.
Picking it up on both ends
There’s been a lot of attention paid to Hill’s willingness to be aggressive on defense, but what might be just as important lately is his activity and aggression defensively. Hill, who had four steals, has to maintain that defensive intensity.
As long as he’s starting with Fox, he’ll be expected to defend the bigger guard in the backcourt and not expose Fox to those situations.