Fox void gives Keegan new challenge in Kings’ loss to Nuggets

NBC Sports Bay Area

There is no replacing De’Aaron Fox, but Keegan Murray did his best in the Kings’ 117-96 blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at Ball Arena.

Fox was ruled out of the contest just minutes before tip-off due to a left knee contusion he sustained in Sacramento’s loss to the Miami Heat on Monday. Kings third-year guard Davion Mitchell replaced Fox in the starting lineup as he and Sacramento’s sixth man Malik Monk took turns as the primary ball handlers, but it was Murray who accepted the challenge to fill Fox’s void against the defending NBA champions.

Kings coach Mike Brown told reporters postgame that he will push and encourage the second-year forward to continue being aggressive with the ball.

“Yeah, I’ve had and will continue to have conversations with Keegan,” Brown said. “We want Keegan to be aggressive because we feel like his development is necessary for us to continue our climb as a team.”

Murray took the opportunity and ran with it early in Wednesday’s game, completing an impressive first quarter. He contributed 11 points in the opening frame with three 3-pointers and two rebounds to help give Sacramento the early 35-28 lead.

The 23-year-old cooled off in the second quarter and those following — as did the rest of the team. Murray played all but two minutes in the first half and finished the game with a team-high 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field and 3 of 7 from deep, with four rebounds, one steal and one block in 33 minutes.

Chris Duarte and Malik Monk combined for 32 points off the bench, and Domantas Sabonis extended his double-double streak to 41 games with 13 points and 10 rebounds. 

But it wasn’t enough to even compete with the defending champions led by two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić, who picked up his fourth consecutive triple-double with 14 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.

Still, Murray did his best to rise to the challenge and tried to step up with the Kings’ star player out. It’s unknown at this time how much time Fox will miss, but Brown would like to see that same aggression from the young forward with or without Fox on the floor.

“So not just because of tonight, but going forward, I’m always going to tell him, ‘Hey, be aggressive,’ ” Brown said. ” ‘Just because this guy’s in the game or that guy’s in the game, you go ahead and you take the lead and if you see any opportunity to take advantage of the defense or the defender, we’re all for it.’ “

In his second season, Murray has shifted his focus to sharpening his game on defense as he works toward becoming an elite two-way player in this league. He often guards the opposing team’s best players, from Steph Curry to Luka Dončić to Donovan Mitchell. There really is no challenge Murray will back down from.

There surely will be more on Murray’s plate and new tests for him to take on as the Kings continue their push back into the NBA playoffs this season. And just like Fox, Murray will play a vital role in the team’s postseason aspirations.

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