It feels like we've played the Rockets five times already, but this will actually be just the third time this season, which is still a lot this early in the season. The Rockets are starting to play better as of late, winners of five of their last 7, though they are coming off a loss. The Kings will also be without Rajon Rondo, who was rightfully suspended for today's game. Today's action tips off at 7:00 pm on CSN California, NBA TV and on KHTK 1140.
1. What does this Kings team look like without Rondo? There's no question that Rondo has been a big part of this team so far, particularly in running the offense. Without Rondo, the Kings will rely on Darren Collison and Seth Curry, both of whom are better scorers than Rondo but less talented as distributors. I will be particularly interested to see how this impacts the Kings defensively, as Rondo has been particularly ineffective on that end of the floor. I expect the Kings will rely on heaping doses of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in Rondo's absence.
2. Can the Kings finally defend the three ball? Houston loves shooting the three and will do so at every opportunity. The Kings give up a ton of three point attempts, the second-most in the league. This is not a matchup I particularly like for Sacramento, although ironically enough I think having Rondo out of the game will actually help the Kings defensively since Collison is probably one of Sacramento's better perimeter defenders.
3. Can Sacramento keep Houston off the line? In their last matchup against the Rockets, which Sacramento had a chance to win, the Kings shot just 13 free throws compared to a whopping 43 attempts for Houston. That's a difference of 30 in a game decided by 7. Few teams can survive such a discrepancy. Dwight Howard and James Harden combined for 30 of those attempts alone.
MATCHUP OF THE GAME
Ben McLemore vs. James Harden
James Harden is a certified Kings-killer and the Kings have yet to figure out a solution for him. Ben McLemore is probably their best hope thanks to his athleticism, but he also has to defend Harden without fouling him since that is where Harden gets most of his rhythm and points from. Harden has the potential to catch fire even if you are playing good defense on him so it's critical to not jumpstart that process by giving him easy baskets or opportunities.
Rockets 109, Kings 104. I really don't like this matchup for the Kings due to how much Houston likes to shoot the three and how much the Kings like to give up open threes.