SACRAMENTO -- The schedule has finally caught up to the Sacramento Kings. They're hanging tough with some of the best teams the Western Conference has to offer, but for the third straight game, they came up short late.
Jamal Murray caught fire in the second half, torching the Kings for 34 of his game-high 36 points after the intermission. Big man Nikola Jokic added a 26-point, 13-rebound, six-assist performance to help Denver improve to a Western Conference best 25-11 record.
Sacramento currently stands at 19-19 on the season. Here are a few positives and negatives from the team's 117-113 loss to the Nuggets.
Flattened in the Third
The Kings have made their money running over teams in the third and fourth quarters this season. Denver turned the tables on Sacramento, outpacing the Kings 31-18 in the 12 minutes following halftime.
Murray got loose, scoring 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the quarter and he continued that trend into the fourth quarter where he added another 17 points to lead Denver to the win.
The Nuggets are a good team. They can score in a variety of ways, but the Kings walked into the third with a 13 point lead and walked out tied. Sacramento's style of play lends itself to major runs for both teams, but at some point, you have to get stops and you have to tighten up your shot selection.
Trouble with the Jumper
Iman Shumpert has been a solid addition to the squad both on and off the court this season, but he's in a shooting funk.
Over his last three games, Shumpert is a combined 7-of-30 (23.3 percent) from the field and he's hit 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) from behind the arc. He is getting open looks, but the ball just doesn't seem to want to settle in the net.
When the shot isn't falling, a lot of players look to get to the free throw line to try to snap out of the rough patch. Shumpert has taken a total of two free throw attempts over his last five games.
After playing in just 14 games last season, it's possible Shumpert has hit a wall. It's also possible that he's just having a bad shooting streak. Coach Dave Joerger will likely continue to go to the veteran and allow him to play through the issue.
Hield on Fire
Buddy Hield continues to amaze. After a two game downturn coming out of the Christmas break, Hield has posted 21, 27 and 29 points for the Kings. He's hit 14-of-28 from 3-point range over the stretch and pushed his season scoring average to 20.2 points per game.
During the fourth quarter on Thursday evening, Hield launched and knocked down three 3-pointers in the span of a minute and 31 seconds. He brought the team back and made it a game.
Hield has reached a point where he is a reliable No. 1 scoring option. The team is focusing on new ways to get open and Hield is playing with an incredible amount of confidence.
Denver is a big team, but what they did to the Kings on the boards was next level. The Nuggets destroyed the home team in the rebounding battle by a final of 54-33.
Jokic and Mason Plumlee combined for 26 rebounds, but the Nuggets rebounded as a team. Denver grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, which led to a 23-6 advantage for the Nuggets in second chance points.
The Kings desperately miss rookie Marvin Bagley III on the glass. They need better individual effort from almost every player and they needs a team effort to overcome their lack of size and strength down low.