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Kings vs Nuggets Preview: An Eighth Seed Showdown in Denver

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With their lead for the 8th spot down to half a game, the Kings take on a Denver Nuggets team nipping at their heels, and face off against former head coach Mike Malone. 

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on New Years Eve, the Kings come marching into the new year, ready to turn over a new leaf and start playing consistent basketball with the first step being to start the season undefeated! “New year, new team”, right? Oh, no wait, that’s their off season motto. Anyways, the Kings come into the year with a couple days off and fresh to face a Denver Nuggets squad on a back to back, having lost to the Warriors by eight points on Monday night. With a young, talented core, a former Kings coach leading the charge and that special Mile High City brand of oxygen deprivation, this game could get rough. Welcome to the first game of 2017, folks!

When: Tuesday, January 3rd; 6:00 pm PST

Where: Pepsi Center, CSN-CA, KHTK Sports 1140 AM

For Your Consideration

Kings Focus: When you think about Mike Malone’s time in Sacramento, you think of defense, right? You think of that slowed pace, that grinding teams down and executing on the defensive end and a fairly simplistic scoring strategy. Or, maybe you think of Souza bands and Pete D’Allesandro grinning like a fool over while staring at an empty vial that reads “Meningitis”, but more to the point, Mike Malone is a defensive-minded head coach. It’s a point of pride with him. The Denver Nuggets are currently 26th in opponent points per game, allowing 110.2 a game. With the cadre of talented bigs, they’re 26th in the league in opponent points in the paint, with teams averaging 45.8 points per game from in the paint; only Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers give up more. Denver also allows teams to shoot nearly 51% from inside the arc on any given night, while allowing 37% from opponents from deep. Step One for the Kings tonight? Let the Denver be what they want to be on defense; namely, bad. If they’re going to allow DeMarcus to walk into the paint and score, take it. If they double down on DeMarcus, then trust that the ball movement will find someone open for three, and then hit your shots. Executing on offense with limited errors will expose the Nuggets players, and holes will arise. Speaking of executing, the Kings are currently 11th in the league in turnovers, averaging only 13.9 a game, with 12.9 of those coming from Matt Barnes! As a comparison to last season, the Kings finished 28th in turnovers at nearly 17 a game, with exactly zero coming from Barnes! The Kings should be able to get the ball where they want it tonight with Denver being 29th in steals per game and 25th in blocks, and if they can capitalize on the Denver youth movement also being the eighth most foul happy team in the league, the Kings should be able to score at a rate they’re comfortable winning at.

On the other side of the coin, Coach Malone has the fifth highest scoring team in the league under his thumb, and running at the sixth fastest pace. Fast pace, no defense, high scoring? [Insert George Karl joke here]. George Karl is a joke! Wait.

Mike Malone has his team scoring well, at a nice Denver Nuggets quality pace, all while their shooting is right about middle of the pack for the league, averaging 35.5% from deep (14th in the league) and 49.4% from inside the arc (15th in the league). They’re the fourth best team at scoring from in the paint, and they run up against a Kings squad who is second in the league in paint defense, where they allow only 37.7 points in the paint to Denver’s 47.4 points scored in the paint per game. The Kings battle on the inside and at the rim will be the biggest difference in who wins this game. If the Kings can defend the rim without fouling, especially with a bruiser like Jusef Nurkic down there, the Kings will win this game. The Nuggets have ten players averaging over eight points per game, and six averaging over 10 points per game, with Danilo Gallinari leading the team in scoring with 17.0 points per game. The Kings by comparison have three players averaging over eight points a game, the same three that are averaging over 10; DeMarcus, Rudy and Darren Collison. With Denver’s scoring-by-committee approach, the Kings will have to play as a cohesive unit tonight on the defensive side of things, or they risk fighting from behind in the standings, with an absolute brutal schedule coming up in the second half of January.

Prediction: Mike Malone is going to throw big body after big body at DeMarcus in the hopes that he can draw some early fouls, and frustration, out of the Kings big guy. The Kings will start slow, with three days of rest being good for the body, but three days of celebrating or recovering from New Year’s bad for the shooting percentages. Kings pull this game out in the second half, and the Kings retain the 8th spot for another day, with Portland, Denver and New Orleans nipping at their heels.

Kings: 109, Nuggets: 103