January 28, 2018, 3:24 am
After earning back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-December, the Kings look to carry that momentum into San Antonio for a battle with the Spurs.
The Kings have played with energy and effort over their last two outings, something that has been absent for much of their play in 2018. With energy and effort comes effective defense and that’s exactly what has helped Sacramento gain an edge on their recent Eastern Conference opponents.
They managed to take down a Magic team that had won two of their last three coming in, and they also beat the Heat in Miami for the first time in 17 years; a pretty impressive accomplishment. The Kings managed to play with consistent effort on the defensive end that made life difficult for both those teams, holding the Magic to under 45 percent and the Heat to under 40 percent shooting from the field.
It’s the little things that matter in a season like this. Sacramento’s youthful roster has played well at times this season, with notable wins over the Cavs and Warriors, but inconsistency always seems to come back and bite them just when they gather momentum.
They’re facing a stiff test against an opponent that’s beaten them twice already this season and currently sits third in the Western Conference. However, in both prior meetings the Kings managed to remain within striking distance for most of the night, keeping the final deficit within 10 points on each occasion.
They were low scoring outings and you should expect more of the same tonight. The Kings remain in last place as far as scoring is concerned, averaging 97.8 point per game. The Spurs aren’t much better, sitting at 100.6 points per game which is 28th in the league. Would a game like this favor the Kings? Potentially given their recent stretch of play, however, the Spurs have thrived as a low scoring team that defends at a high level so it won’t be easy. After all, San Antonio sits at No. 1 as far as points allowed are concerned, restricting teams to just 97.4 points per game.
The Kings have been lucky enough to avoid Kawhi Leonard all season long but so has the rest of the league. He’s not going to play tonight, along with former King Rudy Gay who’s sidelined with a heel issue.
Restricting LaMarcus Aldridge should be a focal point for the Kings and it’ll make their life easier in general if they can limit his opportunities. He’s been dominant in the two prior meetings this season, dropping 29 and 31 points in each. The scary thing is, he didn’t hit a single 3-pointer in his 31-point performance on January 8 which points to his excellence when operating within the arc.
To make matters worse, the Kings will be without their best defender in Willie Cauley-Stein who’s dealing with a bone bruise in his right knee. He suffered the injury in Thursday’s victory over the Heat and was able to play through it, but an MRI following the game disclosed the seriousness of it. He’ll miss the next two games as a result. Cauley-Stein would have been the No. 1 option to defend Aldridge, but the team will have to turn to a guy like Kosta Koufos to help fill the void.
Koufos isn’t as quick and mobile as Cauley-Stein, but he’s got a great reputation as a post defender so he should be able to utilize that tonight. The last thing the Kings want to do is have Zach Randolph running around trying to guard Aldridge because that’s a disaster waiting to happen; Skal Labissiere hasn’t fared well in prior matchups either.
Their two recent wins, coupled with the fact that the Kings have given the Spurs a run for their money this season, does give them a shot in this one. Defense should be the No. 1 focus regardless, and the offense should flow-on from there. The Kings haven’t won three straight games all season; could tonight be the night?
PG – De’Aaron Fox
SG – George Hill
SF – Bogdan Bogdanovic
PF – Zach Randolph
C – Skal Labissiere
Skal Labissiere (shoulder) – PROBABLE
Harry Giles (knee rehab) – OUT
Frank Mason (heel) – OUT
Willie Cauley-Stein (knee) – OUT
HOW TO WATCH
Where: NBCS California
When: 4:00 p.m. PST (7:00 p.m. ET)