Sacramento Kings game previews between December 19 and December 25, including games against: Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz.
One minute, they’re taking down playoff-caliber teams, the next they’re losing by 20 points to the worst team in the league — the Kings are as enigmatic as ever. B but if they have any hope of making the playoffs, they can’t be laying eggs like they did against the Mavericks. Despite their 10-17 record, the Kings are only two games away from the eighth seed. At the same time, they are also three games away from the bottom of the Western Conference; it's a perfect representation of their performances this season. With some tough match-ups ahead, they’ll need to perform like a playoff team this week.
Portland Trail Blazers
Tuesday, 20 December 2016 at 10:30 PM ET Home
After taking on the Trail Blazers on the road in an overtime thriller earlier this year, Sacramento gets their second look at Portland in the Golden 1 Center. Last time, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum went off for a combined 67 points and are likely to do so this time around as well. Lillard is having himself quite a season as he sits at sixth in the league in terms of scoring, averaging 27.4 points per game. Defensively, Garrett Temple has been playing well and can give even the best players trouble; however, having Temple cover Lillard leaves McCollum open to have a field day. The potent one-two punch in the Trail Blazers' backcourt is as good as any, and finding an answer for them will be no easy feat for the Kings.
What kept the Kings competitive in their first meeting was impressive contributions from all around the team. DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison (off the bench at the time), led the way with 33, 29 and 20 points respectively. Arron Afflalo and Kosta Koufos also added 15 and 10 points of their own. If the Kings want to come away with the win, they are definitely going to need a similar performance. Cousins, while an immensely talented player, cannot do everything all the time. This was proven by the disappointing showing Sunday against Dallas, where Boogie put up 33 points and nobody else did much of anything. The guards were particularly cold from the floor, and that won’t fly against Portland. Gay and Collison need to come ready to play again because Lillard and McCollum certainly will.
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 09:00 PM ET Away
On Wednesday, the Kings return to Utah, the site of their last match-up against the Jazz, which resulted in a disappointing loss. If the Kings want to win this game, they absolutely cannot have a fourth quarter performance akin to last time, in which they put up a measly eight points. Despite poor performances throughout, this game was relatively close, but the wheels really fell off in the fourth. The Kings were also completely out-rebounded and didn’t take advantage of the Jazz’s tendency of turning over the ball, neither of which helped their cause. Rebounding needs to be much better, particularly when you have one of the best big men in the league.
The challenge here, besides overcoming the issues above, will be Cousins matching up with Rudy Gobert. Gobert previously gave him trouble as Boogie only put up 16 points, one of his lower scoring nights and a far cry from his 28.1 average on the season. Very few centers can slow the force that is Cousins, and they typically tend to be the rangier bigs like Gobert. Now, a 16-point performance isn’t a bad night, but it isn’t ideal for a guy who is the team’s primary scorer and is regularly capable of putting up 30+ points. I’m sure Cousins is eager for the chance to attack Gobert again and will have that 16-point night in the back of his mind, which could fuel for a big performance.
Friday, 23 December 2016 at 08:00 PM ET Away
The Kings cap their week with a trip to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves in their first meeting of the season. The struggling T-Wolves were pegged by many to be the surprise team out of the West this year, with a good young core led by new head coach Tom Thibodeau. Unfortunately, it looks like they won’t be making any surprise appearances in the playoffs this year, but their future does look promising. Karl-Anthony Towns is well on his way to being one of the top players in the league, leading the T-Wolves with 22.1 points per game, the second highest for centers in the league behind only Cousins himself. Beyond KAT, Andrew Wiggins is growing as a player, having a great year himself, and Zach LaVine is having his best season yet.
Despite the young trio’s impressive performances, the rest of the team has been lagging behind.
The big factor behind the Timberwolves’ record is the lack of good defense; this is perhaps what is most surprising about their season given that defense is Thibodeau’s forte. Minnesota is towards the bottom of the league in points allowed, giving up 106.9 per game. All in all, it should be an interesting game with KAT, Wiggins and LaVine matching up against Boogie, Gay and Collison. The battle of the former UK Wildcats Towns and Cousins is a battle that is bound to impress for years to come. The conversation for best big men in the league over the next five years is very well going to be between these two and Anthony Davis. Good on you, Kentucky.