It is no coincidence that, after winning nine of the previous 12 games with guard De'Aaron Fox orchestrating their high-scoring offense, the Sacramento Kings dropped both of the contests that Fox missed prior to his return to the starting lineup on Monday against the Houston Rockets.
And right oncue, the Kings appeared whole again, throttling the Rockets 140-120 to square their record at 3-3 on a seven-game road trip, which concludes Wednesday with the second half of a two-game visit to Houston.
Fox paired 16 points with eight assists and added four rebounds, two steals and one block in 29 minutes. The Kings, who through Monday were first in the NBA in scoring at 119.3 points per game and second in offensive rating (117.2), eclipsed 130 points for a league-best 12th time this season.
"All-Star point guard," Kings reserve guard Malik Monk said of Fox. "It's huge to have somebody like that. It's huge to miss somebody like that, too, so it's always good to have him back."
Fox was not selected for the All-Star Game but appears likely to earn a spot as an injury replacement with Warriors guard Stephen Curry expected to be sidelined for several weeks with a leg injury.
With Fox back in the fold, the Kings appeared as offensively vibrant as ever, with five others joining Fox in double figures paced by rookie forward Keegan Murray, whose career-high 30 points were punctuated by eight 3-pointers, a new franchise mark for a rookie.
Murray needed only 17 shots to set his personal best in points and added six rebounds and one assist to his glittering stat line. He was 1-for-16 from behind the arc in his three previous games.
"We just think he's that good of a shooter," Kings coach Mike Brown said of Murray. "Now, I'm not saying he's going to go 8-for-12 every night, but we've seen Keegan shooting the ball at a high, high level this year and so it's not surprising when it happens."
Rockets coach Stephen Silas was equal parts livid and bewildered in the aftermath of a second consecutive blowout defeat and third this season against the Kings.
Houston failed to produce a competitive effort on Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then showcased minimal defensive intensity against the Kings, who shot 58.4 percent overall while hitting 21 3-pointers.
The Rockets have allowed the Kings to shoot 53.5 percent over three games this season, including an eye-opening 60-for-129 from behind the arc, good enough for 46.5 percent. The Kings have averaged 138 points against Houston on an incredible 64.7 percent effective field goal percentage. For comparison, the Brooklyn Nets lead the NBA in effective field goal percentage at 58.1 percent.
"It's youth," Silas said when attempting to explain why the Rockets were complicit defensively. "Are we going out there and doing everything we can possibly do to win the game? Or are we just going out there and playing the game? That's what it is. It's disappointing.
"These are the lessons we have to learn and all that stuff. But that is not right. What we did tonight on that floor was not right."
--Field Level Media