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Kings have to take advantage of easier December schedule

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a great start to the season, the Kings have gotten through a rough first month with a .500 record at 9-9 despite facing the toughest schedule in the NBA.  It's even more exciting to think that Sacramento's record could probably have been even better than that but for a few injuries and a couple of big road collapses.

This month however, the schedule gets decidedly easier.  They did drop their first game of the month at home to the Toronto Raptors, but Toronto is a very good opponent, unlike many of the other teams they face the rest of this month.  In the 14 remaining games on the schedule for December, only 3 opponents have a winning record (Milwaukee is at .500).  The Kings play just four road games this month, and only one against a team with a winning record.  After only playing two Eastern Conference teams through the first 18 games of the season, Sacramento faces 7 in the next 14 games and the only one with a winning record is a young Milwaukee team.

Let's break the schedule down game by game, with each opposing team's current record in parentheses:

12/5 vs. Indiana (7-11)
Last year the Kings lost both games to the Pacers but this is not the same Pacers team.  Even without DeMarcus Cousins, this should be a win for the Kings.  The Pacers recently got back David West, but with no George Hill and no Paul George, Indiana shouldn't have enough offense to beat the Kings.  Indiana's currently relying heavily on guys like Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan and Chris Copeland.  Sacramento has to win this game.

12/6 vs. Orlando (7-14)
The Magic have a lot of young talent but they're also hurt by injuries and will be without Aaron Gordon for sure and possibly Nikola Vucevic.  DeMarcus Cousins will be absent for this game as well but the Kings should still be take advantage of Orlando's inexperience and youth.  Sacramento won both these games last year and should win this one, especially at home.

12/8 vs. Utah (5-14)
Utah actually played the Kings very competitively last year, winning two of the three matchups and only losing a single game in Utah that went to Overtime.  DeMarcus Cousins should be back in the lineup by this game and if he is, I don't see the Kings letting this happen again, especially as Utah is one of the worst defensive teams in the league (29th in defensive rating).  A win here is necessary to make this a successful homestand.

12/9 @ L.A. Lakers (5-14)
Sacramento somehow lost three of four to the Lakers last season, partly because the Lakers went insane from beyond the arc last year.  That's not the case this year though as new head coach Byron Scott has trimmed the Lakers attempts to just 23rd in the league (they were 7th in attempts and 2nd in makes last year).  They also have a historically bad defense, easily the worst in the entire league.  Sacramento shouldn't have any issues with this team, even on the second night of a back to back.

12/11 vs. Houston (14-4)
The Rockets are a difficult team and a shorthanded Rockets squad was still easily able to take care of business against a shorthanded Kings squad last month.  Last year the Kings and Rockets split four games but it will take a much better effort than the one the Kings displayed in Houston to beat them this time.  Houston should also be much healthier with Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley back by this time.  This will be a difficult game.

12/13 vs. Detroit (3-16)
Detroit is one of the rare teams with enough size to match up with the Kings fair and square, but this is a Pistons team in disarray.  The Kings dropped both games to the Pistons last year, but this year their offense is even worse at 29th in the league.  This is a team that loves to shoot threes despite not being very good at it (8th in attempts but 02th in percentage) and they're even worse at twos (30th in 2P%).  Sacramento needs to win this game at home.

12/16 vs. Oklahoma City (5-13)
The Kings already lost to the Thunder in Oklahoma City this season even though the Thunder were without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  Now Durant and Westbrook are back and by the time these two teams play, both should have shaken off their rust.  This will be a packed house for Peja's jersey retirement and hopefully the Kings are up for the big game because this will be a difficult game to win.  Last year the Kings lost all four games to the Thunder by an average of 11.2 points.

12/18 vs. Milwaukee (10-10)
This is a much better Bucks team than the one the Kings swept last season with two blowout wins.  While this Bucks team still has trouble scoring efficiently, Jason Kidd has them playing at a high level defensively with the 8th best defense in the league.  They are full of long athletes and are among the league leaders in blocks and steals.  Still, their record is a little inflated from being in the East and having the 4th easiest schedule in the league to date.  Sacramento needs to take care of home court.

12/21 vs. L.A. Lakers (5-14)
This is the second time the Kings play the Lakers this month and this time it's at home.  The Kings should win both games.

12/22 @ Golden State (15-2)
This is probably the only game all month that I just don't see the Kings winning.  Golden State is on another level as a team, and they match up incredibly well with the Kings.  Andrew Bogut is one of the few guys in the league who consistently frustrates DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala does the same to Rudy Gay.  Meanwhile the Kings don't have real answers for their deep bench or three point shooting.  In Oracle Arena, it would take Sacramento's best effort to win this game and I just don't see it happening barring serious injuries to the Warriors before these two teams play.  There once was a time when the Kings and Warriors would seemingly always play close games regardless of how good the other team was, but that hasn't been the case for a while now as the Warriors easily swept the Kings last year and will probably do the same this year.

12/26 vs. Phoenix (11-8)
The Kings beat the Suns once already this year with their one real comeback of the year but this is still a very tough opponent.  Isaiah Thomas had a very bad game in the first Kings-Suns matchup and I don't see that being the case when he comes back to Sacramento.  This will be Sactown Royalty Night II by the way, so hopefully we can fill up the arena and beat a good opponent.  This will not be an easy game by any means.

12/27 vs. New York (4-15)
The Knicks are simply not a very good team.  They have no real depth, a clunky offense and a non-existent defense.  First year coach Derek Fisher is going through some growing pains as he attempts to teach the Triangle to players that haven't played it before.  The Knicks split games with the Kings last year, but this year they don't have Tyson Chandler to defend DeMarcus Cousins and that's a decided advantage for the Kings.

12/29 @ Brooklyn (8-9)
The Nets are a team that the Kings have had trouble with in the past and so I don't think this is a gimme by any means.  These teams split the series last year with both winning at home and I could see that being the case again this year.  Brooklyn has a lot of veteran players and Brook Lopez always seems to have great games against Sacramento.  This is probably the toughest game of this four game road trip for the Kings and if they can find a way to win it they could have a real shot at sweeping all four games by riding the momentum.

12/31 @ Boston (5-11)
The final game of the month comes against a plucky Boston team that also gave the Kings problems last year, splitting the series.  Jared Sullinger in particular had very good games against the Kings and this year Rajon Rondo is back.  Boston's defense isn't very good though and their offense isn't much better.  A win this night would be a great way to cap the month and head into the New Year.

***

Now we all know that teams sometimes lose to opponents that they should beat and beat opponents that they shouldn't, but with this schedule the Kings have a chance to grab some real momentum heading into a very tough January.  If the Kings have any playoff aspirations at all, I think 10 wins over these next 14 games is a necessity and anything less would be a bit of a disappointment.