Preview & Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Darius Soriano —  March 2, 2012 — 62 Comments

Records: Lakers 21-14 (4th in West), Kings 12-23 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (17th in NBA), Kings 100.7 (24th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (11th in NBA), Kings 108.7 (28th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings: Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (probable); Kings: J.J. Hickson (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Not much new on the Lakers’ front. While trades are still on the minds of the fans, health is still on the minds of the players. Andrew Bynum’s knee looks to be in good shape and he says that it feels as good as ever. Kobe, meanwhile, is still dealing with the repercussions of his concussion, missing shootaround today in favor of seeing a neurologist to look into the neck pain he’s still feeling. Kobe’s expected to play tonight – and will still be decked out in his Phantom of the Mamba mask – so there’s not too much to be worried about from that standpoint. I’m hoping (like I’m sure we all are) he can get past this soon and that the lingering effects of the hit he took almost a week ago can finally wear off.

The Kings Coming in: First, the good news: the Kings, the city of Sacramento, and the NBA have tentatively agreed on a deal that would finance a new arena to be built that would keep the team in the state capital. Regardless of how you feel about that team due to old rivalries with the Lakers, this is a wonderful development for the organization and their fans. I’ll never forget the last regular season game they played there last season (coincidentally against the Lakers), where the announcers had a tear-filled and heartfelt signoff to what was assumed their last game in Sacramento, with Derek Fisher joining in a circle with Kings players as a show of unity after the buzzer sounded. That scene reminded me of how much a team could mean to a city. So now to have such significant progress made towards having them stay, I can only feel good for their fans.

Of course, what also matters is how the team plays on the court and that still isn’t that great. The Kings lost 6 straight before bookending the all-star break with back to back wins, but last night fell to the Clippers in Sacramento. And while there are bright spots on the roster – rookie guard Isaiah Thomas was rookie of the month for the Western Conference for February and DeMarcus Cousins continues to develop into a beast of a big man – there’s still much work to do and some concerning trends to address. Tyreke Evans’ game has plateaued (or even regressed) since his rookie season as he’s shooting a lower percentage, assisting less, and turning the ball over just as frequently. Marcus Thornton is proving to be a good scorer, but he’s a volume shooter whose shooting percentage is also down from last year’s stretch of 27 games with the Kings. Meanwhile, Jimmer Freddette is struggling in all the ways scouts thought he might, as he has trouble creating separation off the dribble and is shooting under 40% on the season.

This lack of solid play on the wings makes it hard to win on a nightly basis and is complicated by the fact that most of these guys prefer to play in isolation rather than in a more structured, team-oriented offense. Basically, these players love to create their owns shots, but do a poor job of converting them at a high enough rate to produce even a league average offense. When you combine that with poor defense across the entire roster, you have a bad record. To be fair, though, Keith Smart has done a better job of getting through to the players than the dismissed Paul Westphal, but the results haven’t yet followed.

Kings Blogs: Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom both offer strong analysis and coverage of the Kings. Check them both out.

Keys to game: While these two teams have already met once this year – a 100-91 Kings win in the middle game of the Lakers back to back to back to start the season – I’d just as quickly throw out the results of that contest as lend a lot of credence to them. Remember, that was the Kings’ home opener, the Lakers were without Andrew Bynum, were still starting Devin Ebanks, and were fresh off a condensed training camp with only marginal familiarity with their offensive and defensive schemes. To say things have changed since that game would be a major understatement.

Tonight, then, offers a new contest between two pretty different teams. A few things I’ll be watching for:

  • The Bynum/Cousins match up intrigues me to no end. Bynum will need to use his size to his advantage and do his work before he catches the ball because Cousins has the strength to keep Drew from simply backing him down for easy baskets. It will be interesting to see if Bynum can draw fouls on Cousins (he averages 5 fouls per 36 minutes) and then use that to his advantage to draw softer coverage. On the other end of the floor, Cousins has been better at taking more shots closer to the rim (6.8 this year compared to 4.1 last), but he’s only converting at 52% on the season at that range. Bynum’s length and defensive presence should continue to bother Cousins in close, but Bynum will need to work to keep Cousins off the glass and not just rely on his length to outrebound the young King (Cousins has the 3rd best offensive rebound rate in the league).
  • Outside of Cousins, the Kings’ big men (Chuck Hayes, Jason Thompson, J.J. Hickson) all lack good size, so the Lakers need to make a concerted effort of going inside. I know this is a key every night, but tonight this is especially true. Even though Hayes is one of the better low post defenders in the league, he’s listed at 6’6″ and that’s simply too small to keep Bynum and Gasol from getting good looks at the rim should they be willing to fight for position. I’m hoping to see a more post-centric offense and for the bigs to make themselves available to the guards and wings to make it happen.
  • Rebounding will be very important tonight. The Kings are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league (it’s not just Cousins) and need to be accounted for on the glass. Their wings are “power” players and are good athletes who will sneak in for rebounds when they bounce long. Their bigs are active in the paint and will go to the ball to rebound out of their area. The same can be said on the other end of the floor, though. The Lakers are also one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league and the Kings are the 5th worst defensive rebounding team. If the Lakers can get second chance opportunities and make the Kings get multiple stops on a single possession, the game should tilt in the Lakers’ favor.
  • Isaiah Thomas’ presence in the starting lineup means that the game will be much faster tonight. He’s the classic waterbug PG that pushes the pace in the open floor and darts into open creases in the defense to draw attention. He’s a nifty finisher around the rim and is not afraid to attack in isolation or coming off a pick. The Lakers must not let him collapse the D, and should play off him to make him a long jumpshooter when he’s in the half court. In transition, the Lakers must hustle back and build a wall until everyone can recover and set up.

Ultimately, this is a game the Lakers need to get and it being a home game, the expectation should be for the team to come out rested and ready to go (but you know, that actually needs to happen). If it does, the Lakers should be able to impose their will over the course of the game. If they don’t, the Kings have the athletes and talent to keep the game close and pull out another win.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on Fox Sports West. If you’re an out of towner, don’t forget that your cable or satellite provider should be offering a free preview of League Pass (through March 4th) as well. Also, as always, listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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62 responses to Preview & Chat: The Sacramento Kings

  1. As a reminder, please keep the comments in this post about the game. If you want to talk about other speculation based stuff, go here:

  2. Nice write up. It’s been so long, I actually forgot the Kings beat the Lakers in that 2nd game of the season w/o A. B. Don’t want to appear to take this game to lightly, but really, should we have any concern w/ the Lakers playing this team at home?

    As far as match-ups, I’m also looking forward to seeing the Bynum-Cousins match-up. I’ll be very happy if the Lakers win by a double figure number which will allow Coach Brown to rest Kobe & Pau for at least 15-16 mins each. I know he found that difficult vs the T’Wolves even with a 19 point lead w/ about 5 mins to go in the 4th, but I hope he’s seen the error of his ways.

  3. BigCity: The Kings also beat us at Staples last year in January. We had our full squad on the floor and Cousins went nuts. This was on a night that Kobe got 38. The Lakers need to bring their game tonight.

  4. @ Rob, well let’s hope our guys are not already thinking about the Heat’s visit on Sunday.

  5. The Bynum/Cousins matchup does not intrigue me at all. It’s a giant advantage for Drew. Cousins doesn’t have the quickness or length to match up with Drew.

  6. #6. Cousins has a standing reach of 9 foot 5 inches standing reach and a 7 foot 5.75 inch wingspan. That’s pretty much right on par with Bynum.

  7. Pretty much on par but not on par. You need to be longer if you want to make up for a lack of foot speed. If Cousines were white he would be known a skilled big man with limited athletic ability.

  8. Umm Darius…why are you bringing facts to an argument with Aaron? He “feels” Bynum can destroy any other player in the league. Therefore it is true! 😛

  9. Trust me… Darius has enough experiences with me he is now rethinking his stance on the Bynum/Cousins matchup. The guy is a 6-11 guy shooting what… Like 44 percent?

  10. Last January – I sat right behind the Lakers bench – during the Kings game. Kobe got 38. Unfortunately Cousins got 27 + 10 vs. AB’s 12 + 4.

  11. Speaking of facts…I was spot on… Cousins is shooting exactly 44.0 percent. And last year Cousins was playing more PF and was going against Gasol more often than not.

  12. I am predicting a victory tonight, however I am just not using the recent history between these two as a basis for that:

    Last game: #2 of this year: Loss
    Last Game of 2011: OT victory
    Last January at Home: Loss

  13. Honestly, i think bynum should still be able to take cousins, but i especially think gasol should go off. But what i’d like to see in this game more than anything is kobe not playing. After all, he’s got all of those various injuries going on, and the kings are a low-ranked team. Without him hogging the ball, we can destroy in the paint, especially if we can draw fouls on cousins. That would be a complete win-win, even if we end up losing the game.

  14. Also, where can i find league pass? I believe i have time warner cable, but i never see it anywhere. Help,please?

  15. Aaron: I think the Lakers will win tonight. However I was at last year’s game and I also have a copy of the game tape. Drew and Cousins covered each other and it was not pretty. I think PJ probably remembers the game, as not only was it ugly on the floor, he had me in his ear the whole game making my usual annoying comments : )

  16. Robert,
    Friendly wajor on who will out play who tonight between the two big men?

  17. Aaron: I never bet against the Lakers in any form : ) As I said, I think we will win. I also think AB should play well. I am merely stating facts on what happened the last time we played at Staples and the fact that we lost 2 out of the last 3 to these guys. Hopefully MB is reminding everyone about these facts as well : )

  18. same way kobe gave the post screen to pau. Kobe should get one as well

  19. Looks like Drew is defending Jason Thompson, but Cousins is defending Drew when the Lakers are on offense. And the official scorer credited Kobe with that tip-in when it appeared to be Drew who tipped in his own miss.

  20. We have Kobe and nobody else does !!!!

  21. Nice, Gasol to Bynum for the reverse slam.

  22. is it me or does the whole team have a collective sour puss on tonight?

  23. man is Cousins a lazy defender

  24. Giving up too many second shots so far.

  25. Does Thornton ever miss against us?

  26. mini-mamba!

  27. feels like im wathing Golden State vs Phoenix

  28. Man, it looks like Drew has to get mugged while shooting in order to get a whistle. He’s set up two guys for layups so far, but both were missed.

  29. i can’t believe how well the kings are shooting from mid-range.

  30. This feels like our offense is meant to, but LA is just not getting enough stops. Need to lock things down in the third.

  31. Great D at the end of the quarter. Run out to Chuck Hayes beyond the arc with two seconds left on the shot clock and leave Garcia wide open for the corner three. I don’t know who that was on the Lakers, but that was pretty funny.

  32. KB: 20 puntos on 6-9.

    He is “masking” all of his injuries quite nicely

  33. Lebron passed the ball on the last possession. He was super hot in the fourth and had just hit two huge 3’s. He got Haslem a wide open jumper, and it was the right basketball play, but if your the best player on the planet (and I don’t think there’s much doubt that he is currently that) and your hot, you need to take that shot.

  34. El Presidente looks a lil’ pissed off, ha ha. Good tap pass to Drew.

  35. Wow – Kobe has come to play – again : )

  36. Mavs lose. Rockets lose. Clippers are losing…not a bad night if we win!

  37. up to 3rd tonight, comon on Suns!

  38. Kings defense sucks but I like the ball movement and great team play. Since were playing well I expect to see a good game SUnday.

  39. Miami was down 17 halfway through the 3rd quarter. They had the 2nd toughest possible back to back, with a game in Portland last night and the loss of one hour to play at altitude in Utah. Our guys won’t have a better opportunity to beat them than this Sunday.

  40. some astronomically stupid plays this quarter

  41. Atrocious defense.

  42. Now, you know why MB gets nervous. Let the bench play, indeed. The Lakers are up by 20 at the start of the 4th and the bench lets the opposing team get back in the game.

    Blake is too passive. One game he shoots and the next game he doesn’t. He’s supposed to be the anchor off the bench.

  43. andrew was looking pretty nimble in space vs fredette

  44. Kobe 3 gives Lakers some breathing room.

  45. Kobe needs to change the mask to the Jason hockey mask and stare at the officials.

  46. Thank God for Derek Fisher and MWP!

  47. OT, lebron is the biggest coward. Brings his team back and passes the ball on the last play. What a coward!

  48. KB – incredible – right at the shot clock buzzer – just a dagger

  49. urgh Clipps 7-0 run

  50. @drrayeye – Fish’s good games are definitely coming with more frequency. Maybe one out of every five now 😀

  51. Good win; smooth 38 for Kobes

    Big one on Sunday

  52. With all the drama and whining we are now in third place. And with all the expectations and bragging by the Clips we are still the superior team in LA!

  53. Clippers lose 🙂

  54. The Jimmer thought he was in college tonight. And by that I mean he was going against a division 2 college basketball player in Derek Fisher.

    And I’ll take apologies on those who thought Bynum verse Cousins was a fair fight. They are in two different leagues. Did Cousins even see the rim the hand full of times he was guarded by Andrew?

  55. Darius… Hello… Darius 😉

  56. Aaron, Drew is a significantly better player on both ends than Cousins, but the latter is able to close the gap slightly by going after every offensive rebound. I’d like to see Drew show more activity on the offensive boards than he normally does. With his height, reach, and renewed hops, he should be pulling down a minimum of five offensive boards per game.

  57. @ Dude

    He is rarely gets himself into good offensive rebounding position after he shoots. He stands and watches instead of getting into rebound position when someone else shoots. He moves methodically and is not a player like Howard who moves more fluidly. Both he and Pau rely more on height than they do athletic ability.

    Disappointing points were Pau only taking one shot in the second half (and of course missing it). Only two shots by Blake was bad and so was 11 shots (too many) by MWP.

  58. Kobe really had a terrific all around game, and the bench came through in the first half, but if it wasn’t for the team leadership and play of Derek and MWP in the fourth quarter, the Lakers still might have lost.

    Some of that missing Laker chemistry is beginning to bubble up–and some players are getting their MOJO back.

    Bynum was really having fun the whole game.

  59. From the game last night, it appears that nobody wants to leave the Lakers and no one wants to sit on the bench. Imagine if the Lakers play at this tempo at first half of the season, they’d be contending in the 1st place. If Kobe could maintain this pace, he’ll surely get the MVP as the Lakers will win more games in the 2nd half as they did last year. Having said the upside, they still need a PG who would feed the bigs and maintain stability when our present PG’s are not in sync. Like A. Goudelock was great in offense and then lagging in the movement of the ball in the 2nd half, he got into traps and spent lots of time dribbling the ball from nowhere. He’s still many seasons to spend before he becomes the real Mamba.

  60. Off topic, it was reported that LO was sent to D’League to stretch his legs. That would surely be a new episode in the reality TV. I was just wondering whether Lakers can apply the same thing to Luke Walton, he needs to strengthen his legs at the D’Fenders. Right now, he’s a very expensive spectator in the bench. If he can find his vigor in the D’league, possibly he could help the team and also extend his NBA career with another team.

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