GAME 10 - vs Utah

Detroit at home was a test. At Golden State was a test. Hosting San Antonio was definitely a test.

But the truest test of Sacramento's ability to compete with the best might come tonight against Utah.

Detroit ended up being a blowout as either a) the Pistons couldn't hit a damn shot, or b) Sacramento's defense was beyond stifling, depending on your perspective. Golden State was a Sactown disappointment, as an incredible performance by Baron Davis buried the Kings into an insurmountable hole - a feat I wouldn't bet would be replicated in the teams' three remaining battles. And San Antonio was the first team to physically beat the hell out of our Kings (with the help of the zebras), and showed us the boys in purple might not yet be the big bruisers we thought they were.

But scorching-ass Utah - 10-1 to start the season, with numerous come-from-behind wins and outrageous box score lines - might be the best test to see where this Sacramento team stands.

The Jazz are not as good as they look. Few would be so f'n insane bold to say Utah is better than San Antonio. In fact, because the Jazz have won an inordinate amount of close games, the Spurs boast a better expected win percentage, which uses point differential to estimate the likeliest win percentage a team that has scored and given up a certain amount of points will have. (An example: the Bucks started off with a really strong win percentage last season, among the top five or so in the Eastern Conference. But the majority of their wins were in really close games, while their losses were blowouts. While their winning percentage was in the .600s, their expected win percentage was just below .500. Using expected win percentage, folks guessed the Bucks would tail off by the end of the season because you just can't win all the one-point games. Sure enough, the Bucks barely made the playoffs and finished around .500. Go figure.)

But the Jazz are good, damn good so long as the health sticks around. It's cliche to say because everyone is saying it, but: the Jazz will be good as long as they stay healthy. You don't have the amount of injuries they have had over the last couple years and expect all questions to evaporate after 11 games of relative wellness.

Carlos Boozer has been the story out of Salt Lake so far, but don't sleep on how great Deron Williams has been. Maligned last season because he wasn't Chris Paul, Williams has a PER over 20 and has been shooting and passing very well. Matt Harpring has also come back from the dead, and he could cause problems if he's getting open looks.

How about our Kings? Well, as most expected, the defense crashed back to normalcy. The offense has slowly gotten better, though it still ranks among the bottom half-dozen in the league. Mike Bibby is shooting 27 percent from three and Ron Artest is shooting 18 percent from three. Even if Kevin Martin slows down (and who knows if he will), Bibby and Artest will get better soon. That alone will propel the Kings offense above the league mean.

Containing Williams, limiting open shots for Mehmet Okur and Harpring, and keeping a body on Boozer on the defensive glass will be key. The Kings don't need to outrebound Utah, but it'd help a lot to keep the margin close.

Projected starters, the betting line, and other game thread stuff is behind the "Read More" curtain...




STARTING LINEUPS:

SACRAMENTO
PG - Mike Bibby, in his current state as a turnover/brick machine, may not be the best point guard on the roster, given current health.
SG - Not only is Kevin Martin Sacramento's best player right now, it would be very hard to find someone argue the point.
SF - Ron Artest needs to buy a Lincoln Navigator and a chauffer.
PF - Kenny Thomas needs to decide whether he's going to be Good Kenny Thomas or Bad Kenny Thomas before tip-off, so we know whether to watch or not.
C  - I'm not mad at Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

UTAH
PG - Deron Williams is damn near a grown man. He is ten times better than he was last season.
SG - Your AARP membership is due to be renewed, Matt Harpring.
SF - Andrei Kirilenko has been a nonfactor in Utah's incredible start. If that's not scary, nothing is.
PF - The Curse of Backstabbing the Blind Man is not gone forever, Carlos Boozer.
C  - Mehmet Okur is from Turkey. Tomorrow is Turkey Day. I say we put Mehmet Okur in the fryer.


THE LINE:
The Jazz are getting four points, which is pretty amazing. It's like everyone knows Utah is over their heads, right? I feel good about this one for Sacramento, though, and I'm taking the Kings -4 and the under at 205. And I think I'm still 2-4 for the season.

INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT POINT:
Kings-Jazz has always been an underrated rivalry. The teams always play tough, and Kings fans especially have a special decibel level for dirty Jerry Sloan teams. It won't be like it was for Karl Malone and John Stockton, but I expect the Sactown faithful to give the Jazz hell.

PREGAME HAIKU:
I'd be thankful for
a win tonight. But a good
show would also work.

(Is that even haiku?)

PARTING SHOT:
Comcast at 7. Let's go Kings! Stay above .500!

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