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Kings look to end Spurs' series dominance

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- Not long ago, the Sacramento Kings prepared to host the San Antonio Spurs with optimism oozing. They had won the final two games of a road trip for the first time in a calendar year, and they were looking at seven home contests in an eight-game stretch.

The Spurs come to the Golden 1 Center again Monday night, and the Kings would prefer not to see a repeat of the result or the troubles that followed.

The Spurs (27-14) have beaten the Kings (13-25) 11 consecutive times, including six straight at Sacramento's home floor. San Antonio also is 22-1 in its past 23 meetings against Sacramento, dating back to 2012.

The Spurs will try to repeat their success without a full deck, but that's been coach Gregg Popovich's challenge all season. San Antonio beat Sacramento three weeks ago without Kawhi Leonard and may not have him again Monday. Leonard missed San Antonio's 111-110 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night with a strained left shoulder and has played in only eight of the Spurs' 41 contests this season.

Forward Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis), guard Tony Parker (return from injury management) and guard Danny Green (groin tightness) also did not play, and their status for Monday's game is iffy.

The injuries have placed an added load on Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes, the latter of whom has played 59 minutes with 26 points over the past two games. Mills, who has shifted between the point and shooting guard spots, was averaging 9.5 points on 41 percent shooting entering the Portland contest and scored just seven points in 28 minutes on 2-for-6 shooting with only two assists.

"It's been tough for him," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters last week. "He's been all over the place (on the court). He's trying to help us any way he could. It's hurt his numbers a little bit."

The Kings' own numbers recently were looking ghastly until a 106-98 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. Sacramento ended a three-game losing streak during which it allowed 118.7 points per game and 53.2 percent shooting and lost by a combined 48 points. Their first loss to San Antonio began a string of five losses in six games before the win over Denver.

But the Kings rediscovered fight and intensity on defense against Denver, keeping the Nuggets to 46 percent shooting overall. One game after allowing a franchise-worst 72 first-half points, the Kings let Denver get only 41 in the first half Saturday, including just 14 in the second quarter.

In all, Sacramento's defense had 34 deflections and forced 25 turnovers. The Kings forced just four turnovers in a 131-111 loss against Charlotte on Jan. 2, their most recent contest before Saturday.

"That was a step forward for us," coach Dave Joerger told reporters.

The Kings have received some bounce from rookie point guard De'Aaron Fox, who scored 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting against Denver and has tallied 35 on 11-for-23 shooting in two games since returning from a partially torn right quadriceps muscle.

Center Willie Cauley-Stein also will try to build on one of the best defensive games of his three-season career. Cauley-Stein had a career-best seven steals, part of a season-best 16 for the Kings. The steals complemented his 17 points and four rebounds.

Veterans Zach Randolph (mouth surgery) and George Hill (personal reasons) missed Saturday's game, and their status is uncertain, as is backup point guard Frank Mason's. Mason hasn't played in two straight games because of a bruised right heel.

Updated January 8, 2018

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