After a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, the Kings head to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz. Similarly to New Orleans, the Jazz have been rife with injuries this season; At one point four of their five starters were out due to various ailments, and they're still trying to keep some semblance of health.
Like the Pelicans they have a big man that blocks shots with ease and looks to be a defensive anchor for years to come. Unlike the Pelicans, the Jazz are already sitting on a playoff spot. The Kings face up against a Quin Snyder coached squad that currently sits at 2 games ahead of the Kings for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, and will look to create a bit more space between them and a Sacramento team that right now couldn't build an extended winning streak if they played the Washington Generals every other day for a month. This game can be seen on CSN-CA, can be heard on KHTK 1140 and starts at 6pm. Let's talk Kings basketball.
A Few Things to Consider:
Willie or won't he?: It might be time to start getting loud about Willie Cauley-Stein and his minutes with the team. In Wednesday night's loss to the Pelicans, Cauley-Stein recorded only two points in his 16 minutes of play but his impact on the court was absolutely felt on the defensive side of the ball. In Sacramento's 4th quarter run (where a 28 point deficit was cut down to 14), Willie played inspired defensive basketball. He did everything that fans could want in a defensive center. Willie spent his fourth quarter running the floor to chase down missed shots, intimidating shooters off of switches into misses with his speed and length, and capped his night off with a sensational block on Anthony Davis in which he not only saved a sure lay-up, but also had the mind to keep his feet in bounds as he corralled the ball to a Kings player for an extra possession.
Wednesday night's matchup against the Pelicans saw only two Kings with a positive plus/minus, with Willie Cauley-Stein being one, posting a team high +14. As the rookie center continues to get his game wind and heal from the frustrating finger injuries, the coaching staff for the Kings should be taking a long hard look at playing Cauley-Stein more serious minutes with the starting crew. The Jazz would present a prime opportunity to go up against both a prime defensive presence in Rudy Gobert, and a really good offensive forward in Derrick Favors, with Willie presenting unique challenges to each of those two players with his combination of speed and defensive ability.
Quinning Games the Right Way: There is something to be said about the Utah Jazz and the ability of their coaching staff and players to keep their team afloat as they lost key cogs to start their season. With seemingly only the Pelicans seeing more injuries to their team, Quin Snyder's squad has been playing with a "next man up" attitude. When slated starter Dante Exum went down with a torn ACL, the Jazz found meaningful minutes out of Raul Neto and Trey Burke. When starting shooting guard Alec Burks fractures his tibia, they turned to Rodney Hood. With Derrick Favors nursing a sore back, Trevor Booker steps in. The consistent effort from a team with as many odd dings as what the Jazz have had is something that the Kings sorely lack.
The Jazz are currently tied for fourth in the entire league in opponents points per game, and that's with their defensive key in Rudy Gobert playing 17 games this season. The Jazz don't usually take nights off and play with an intelligence to their preparation for the coming games. If the Kings want to beat the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, they will have to come out with the a better consistency and effort level than was present for all but 8 minutes in the 4th quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Pelicans.
Odds and Ends:
An odd story came out of the NBA world last week when a Utah Jazz fan was banned for a year from any and all NBA when he was caught flashing a laser pointer in the eyes of Rockets shooting guard James Harden. While shooting free throws in the middle of the 3rd quarter, Harden complained to the referees that "some guy was lasering me".
Prediction: The referees do the Kings no favors on the road, Rondo gets himself on every highlight reel in America with some neat-o passing and the Kings finally break out from deep, hitting trey after trey: Kings 112, Jazz 100.