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Kings vs. Thunder Preview: A wounded opponent is a dangerous opponent

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings started off their four game road trip with a gutsy double-overtime win on Friday against the Phoenix Suns and now look to extend their win streak against the depleted Oklahoma City Thunder.  Despite the Thunder missing several important players, the Kings can't take any team lightly, especially on their home floor. Tonight's action tips off at 4:00 pm this afternoon on Comcast SportsNet California and on KHTK 1140.

3 THINGS TO LOOK FOR

1. The Thunder injury list reads like a very good NBA roster.  As most of you well know, both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are out for the foreseeable future, but Perry Jones III, Anthony Morrow, and Andre Roberson are all questionable to play themselves.  That's without mentioning end of bench players Grant Jerrett and Mitch McGary also being out with injuries.  As a result of all these injuries (Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb just came back from injuries of their own), Oklahoma City has started just 1-5 on the season, with their lone win coming against a Nuggets team that is proving to be kinda bad.  Sacramento has yet to have a player miss a game due to injury so far this season, but could be without Rudy Gay, who the Kings have listed as questionable to play due to a stomach virus that was bothering him in the last game.  Should Rudy not play, the Kings will likely start either Omri Casspi or Derrick Williams in his spot.

2.  Considering all the injuries to key players for the Thunder in this game, this is one that the Kings should win, which kind of scares me.  We've seen the Kings of years past lose to injured opponents over and over again, and if they're really turning the corner, games like this are ones that have to be won on a consistent basis.  Oklahoma City isn't going to simply lie down and go away either, and guys like Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson can be dangerous in their own right.  One thing the Kings have going for them is that Oklahoma City's offense has been awful without Durant or Westbrook, as their team is just 28th in Offensive Rating for the season so far.  The Kings meanwhile have the 9th ranked defense and 12th ranked offense and will hopefully get off to a better start than they did Friday in Phoenix.

3. DeMarcus Cousins has been incredible this season aside from one category: fouling.  He's still fouling too much for his own good, especially when he's not going up against particularly great offensive centers.  That will again be the case today, as neither Steven Adams or Kendrick Perkins are huge threats.  The Kings need Cousins on the floor, and the more time he spends off of it due to foul trouble hurts us as a team.  According to basketball-reference.com, the Kings offense has been 11.5 points better with him on the floor and the defense has been an obscene 21.1 points better, for a net rating of +32.5.  Right now Cousins is averaging just 29.8 minutes a game compared to 32.4 last year.  Ideally, he'd be somewhere around 34-36 minutes, but he'll have to keep himself in the game and cut out some of the silly fouls he still picks up (like reaching in the backcourt).  He's shown huge progress in many areas this season, so I'm optimistic that his fouls will also come around.

MATCHUP OF THE GAME

Jason Thompson vs. Serge Ibaka

With Durant and Westbrook out, Ibaka is the de facto star of this Thunder team.  Once known as merely a defensive force, Ibaka has developed a diverse offensive game over the years and has become an exceptionally good outside shooter as well.  In 6 games so far this season he's averaging 17.7 points a game on 54.2% from the field and a very good 46.7% from three despite shooting 5 attempts a game.  Thompson meanwhile, has become a bit of a defensive stopper for Sacramento this year, with Sacramento being 13.1 points better defensively with him on the court.  According to NBA.com, he's allowed just  41.4% shooting against him despite the average field goal percentage of the players he's guarding being 49.3%.  If Thompson can keep Ibaka in check, the Thunder will have even less to work with and Sacramento will have a great chance to extend the winning streak to six.

PREGAME LIMERICK

Who knows if the Kings are for real,
but this opportunity is pretty ideal.
The Thunder are hurt,
it's up to the Kings to convert,
and make the opponents kneel.

PREDICTION

Kings 104, Thunder 89 after Scott Brooks is forced to become "Player-Coach" due to Reggie Jackson and Sebastian Telfair fouling out.