Harrison Barnes carries Kings past Hawks to snap four-game losing streak

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After scoring a game-high 19 points in the first half Monday, Harrison Barnes was back on the floor getting shots up before any of his Sacramento Kings teammates emerged from the locker room.

He’d gone 7 of 12 from the field, a perfect 3 of 3 from long range and made both of his free-throw attempts. His eagerness to return to the hardwood foreshadowed a final 24 minutes in which he wouldn’t let up.

On the heels of a two-point outing in Thursday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers, Barnes’ 8.0 points and 6.2 field goal attempts per game through 10 games in January were the fewest he’s averaged in any month since being in Sacramento. But Barnes became the offensive catalyst in the Kings’ 122-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

The 12-year veteran finished with a team-high 32 points and four rebounds on 10-of-20 shooting (4 of 8 from 3-point range) and connected on all eight of his shots from the line. He was a huge reason Sacramento was able to prevent its four-game skid from snowballing to five.

“He was really aggressive,” Kings coach Mike Brown said postgame of Barnes. “If he felt like he was open, he stepped in and shot the ball. … If he got an angle to the rim, then he was drawing a foul or looking to score. Seeing him be as aggressive as he was tonight, it was good because we needed it with the way our big three shot the ball.”

De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray combined for 39 points on 14-of-38 shooting from the field (2 of 13 from 3) with Murray accounting for both made triples.

But Barnes had his most productive game since his opening night heater against the Utah Jazz exploded for 33 points on 16 shots — and Sacramento needed it. Brown has been open this season about letting Barnes find his shots in the flow of the offense rather than drawing up plays specifically for him. This time around, Barnes gave Brown no choice but to grab the whiteboard and scheme up some looks for him.

“Once he got going like that, we started going to him,” Brown said. “Down the stretch, we went to him three or four straight times where we called his number. And good things happened almost every time he touched the ball. He had a great game on the offensive end of the floor for us.”

Barnes turned back the clock to his days with the Dallas Mavericks — when he averaged a career-best 18.7 points per game in his three years. And he was doing it from all three levels.

Barnes opened up his scoring less than 90 seconds into the game on a 3-pointer. A few possessions later, he hit a fadeaway jumper over Saddiq Bey just outside of the paint. Kevin Huerter then found Barnes on a kick-out 3 from the top of the key that had the ultimate shooter’s touch, careening off the backboard and through the net after taking a lap around the rim.

Fast forward a couple more possessions and Barnes took Bey to the opposite block for another fallaway jumper over his left shoulder.

Barnes’ assault on the bottom of the net was constant throughout the evening. Malik Monk, the habitual life of the party for Sacramento, attributed Barnes’ big night to rest.

“Three off days,” Monk said sarcastically when asked about Barnes’ performance. “We just need to get HB a few more off days, so hopefully he does this pretty often.”

Sacramento did practice on Saturday and Sunday. While Monk was jokingly alluding to their three-day stretch without games and how it affected Barnes, there could be something to getting some downtime in between two long road trips.

Monk led the Kings’ bench — as he often does — with 13 points and a team-high eight assists, and the bench as a whole was crucial in the win, outscoring Atlanta’s second unit 43-19. Davion Mitchell showed his impact after being in and out of the rotation and logging his most minutes since a Nov. 8 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“Davion was really good,” Brown said. “He was our defensive player of the game. It was well deserved because his ball pressure throughout the course of the game when he was in really changed the flow of the game for us. It got us out in transition and gave us a boost of confidence that we needed.”

Although the Hawks were without All-Star Trae Young, who’s in the league’s concussion protocol after taking a hit to the head in Atlanta’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, holding any NBA team to 38.7 percent from the field is something Sacramento can build on. Especially after the defensive lapses the Kings showed over that four-game losing streak.

“We were flying around defensively, and that’s great to see,” Brown said. “That’s a good team, and they score 107 points on 38, 39 percent from the field. That’s really good for us. … When you defend like that, it gives you energy, it gives you juice. And it can help you in a game where you don’t have the high-volume production from your top-three scorers.”

Dejounte Murray paced the Hawks with his second-highest-scoring game this season. He went for 35 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and a block on 6-of-10 shooting from behind the arc.

As impressive as the defense was apart from that, Barnes picked up the slack for his younger counterparts who pack the brunt of the Kings’ punch offensively.

“He’s always ready,” said Sabonis, who grabbed a game-high 21 rebounds Monday. “He’s one of the most professional guys on the team. Stays ready, does all the work. We’ve just got to find him more in those situations because most nights he does have a mismatch.

“We’re dangerous. We have more options, other guys can score. … We’ve just got to look for that, call the right plays and for him to be aggressive in them.”

Aside from Fox, who was drafted in 2017, Barnes has spent more time in Sacramento than any player on this roster. He’s halfway through his sixth season as a King after being traded from the Dallas Mavericks in February 2019. He signed a three-year, $54 million extension last June and spoke on his excitement about being included in Sacramento’s rebuild just before the season began.


A conversation with Harrison Barnes on his return to Kings and their next step

One consequence of being part of a rebuild with younger, more offensively gifted players is seeing fewer touches as a result.

“If you think about most of HB’s career, he spent a lot of time getting the ball as he did down the stretch,” Brown said. “Get him into the post or get him at the nail. It was a lot of play calls that he had for him. We have a lot of guys on this team that can score.

“You’ve got Fox, you’ve got Domas, you’ve got Keegan taking high volume, then you’ve got Kevin and Malik probably next. It’s a little tough for HB, but he’s a guy that you can throw the ball to when you need a basket because you know he’s going to get a good look and/or he’s going to get to the free-throw line.”

Barnes stayed ready on Monday. He led the Kings as they improved to 24-18, good for seventh in the West, as they embark on their longest road trip of the season. It’ll span seven games and 12 days, starting Thursday in San Francisco against the Golden State Warriors, the teams’ fourth and final matchup of the regular season.

(Photo: Rocky Widner / NBAE via Getty Images)

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