Last time these teams played, we were just amazed the Kings could hang with good teams. A loss in Dallas dropped Sacramento to 5-6. The Kings have a worse record now -- 14 wins to 18 losses -- but, if anything, the original amazement at our team's not-completely-awful quality has fossilized into a we-can-beat-anyone mentality. See: every game in the past 10 days, except for the Sixers game. It's not completely useful to permanently harp on this, but: the Kings could have beat the Cavs once and Lakers twice in the past two weeks. The team had opportunities to win the first two games of the triptych in regulation, and had a two-point lead with four seconds left in the third game. You win those games, and this team is 17-15, one game behind Utah and OKC for the eighth seed in the West.
We don't have mulligans in this sport, and a game out of the 8th seed in January means little, but that tells you about the quality of our favorite team. This team is good. The Mavericks are really good, but so were the Cavs, Lakers and Nuggets. The Kings can hang with really good, and beat really good.
Last time around, Jason Kidd killed the Kings with five threes as Sacramento looked to double down on Dirk Nowitzki off of Kidd. Jason Terry also managed to spring for 12 fourth-quarter points, a number the brilliant Tyreke Evans tried to usurp but couldn't. Andres Nocioni and Jason Thompson earned their paychecks limiting Dirk, but Dallas managed to jump on the Kings frontcourt early with eight first-quarter offensive rebounds (despite being a mediocre offensive rebounding team). The Mavs are 4th in the league in shooting defense. Evans isn't expected to play.
THE KEY BATTLE
Of course, it's Jason Thompson vs. Dirk Nowitzki. J.T. didn't play well in L.A., alternately frustrated by missing open shots and getting called for questionable whistles. So long as Jon Brockman is playing short minutes, Thompson is the team's entire painted area scrap factor, so the team desperately needs him to play well enough on both ends to stay in the game. (Even when J.T. wasn't in explicit foul trouble on Friday night, it was difficult for Paul Westphal to keep him in the game. I can't remember the last time that's been the case.)
Dirk's offense has calmed down a bit of late -- he's at 20 points per game over his last 10. But the Mavericks have excelled on defense. Shawn Marion might be the most important acquisition of the summer for any contending team -- bigger than Richard Jefferson, Rasheed Wallace or Vince Carter. That's a miracle, isn't it? Kudos to Donnie Nelson for going out on a limb by re-signing Kidd and getting Marion, both fellows past their prime but still effective. Err, back to Dirk -- Marion's stellar defense allows Dirk to ease up a little, and focus on being the best scoring power forward since Karl Malone. That's what the Kings defense has to contend with, and that's always worrisome.
By my count, Spencer Hawes and Thompson have simultaneously rocked in one game this season. One of 32. We'll look at it more closely this week, but it'd be nice to get them going together in this game particularly, both to put pressure on Dirk, to force Rick Carlisle to keep Erick Dampier in the game (which hurts the Dallas offense) and to take pressure off the strained backcourt.
Spencer Hawes will not score 30 points.
Kings by 1.
7PM Pacific on Comcast/1140 AM. Game thread at 7, post-gamer at 9:45.