Coming off of a sixteen point victory of the Boston Celtics at the hands of the Sacramento Kings Bench-a-teers on Wednesday, the Kings will once again have to focus on a playoff team coming into Golden 1 Center, looking to snatch a victory from a team hobbled with injuries. But the Kings are a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. They can’t beat cellar dwellers but can take down the dynasty builders and hell, the best games of the year have been played without either one or both of their best players; as they seemingly weaken, they only grow more powerful. Grab your Tylenol and a comfortable neck brace, because something tells me tonight we’re in for another round of whiplash. Let’s talk Kings basketball.
When: Friday, February 8th, 7:30 pm PST
Where: Golden 1 Center, CSN-CA, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
For Your Consideration
Arrivals and Departures
Remember when Atlanta was dead in the water earlier this season? They had this stretch where they lost ten of eleven games and we had to start worrying about how much further mortgaging of the future the Kings would do to grab restricted-free-agent-to-be Paul Millsap. Questions got brought up about how stupid must Dwight Howard feel to go to a team thinking he’d make them a contender, only to watch as they rebuilt around him. The end was nigh for a Hawks team whose championship window was only ever cracked open, and now was slammed shut and walled over.
On December 28th, the Hawks opened up an eight game win streak on the back of a particular soft part of the schedule and since then have played basketball to the tune of 16-6 since the start of the streak. They’re 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, relatively healthy and suddenly, life doesn’t look so bad for the Hawks. Yes, Kyle Korver is gone. The entire core of that 60-22 team is gone save for Millsap. But when people offer up “Well, it’s a long season and anything can happen” it’s nice to see that a team as consistently good as the Hawks have been in previous years can still pull back from the brink of a rebuild and play good basketball again.
Here’s a little something that surprised me when I went to look it up. The 2016-17 Atlanta Hawks; they’re an old team right? Dwight Howard is getting up there in seasons played (12 seasons), Paul Millsap has been in the league for a minute or two now (10 seasons), heck even a guy like Thabo Sefolosha has been playing in the NBA for a decade now! The Atlanta Hawks have 9 guys on their roster with 5 seasons or less in the NBA with three rookies that they’re bringing along. The Kings have 5 players with less than five years experience; the three rooks, Willie and Ben. The Hawks are getting production out of young talent, out of mid-level draft picks and guys that they’ve developed along the way.
Can the Kings just be the Hawks of West, already? (Have I pined enough yet?)
Alright, let’s get to how we beat these guys.
The Hawks are a pretty middle of the road team when it comes to statistics worth picking apart. They’re in the bottom ten in points per game at 104 a contest, bottom five in offensive rating, they’re even the 7th worst three point shooting team in the league at 34.3%, a far cry from a few years ago when Kyle Korver shot roughly 105% from long range and ruined NBA stat books forever. They’re 15th in total field goal percentage, they’re 14th in total rebounding, 16th in free throws attempted, 16th in blocks. They are pretty damn middle of the road, right?
Well, employing Dwight Howard means that the team will automatically find themselves struggling to make free throws. The Hawks are the third worst free throw shooting team in the league; Dwight has his free throws up to 55.6% this season, but of the players in the top 10 in minutes for the Hawks, the only two players to shoot over 80% from the line are Dennis Schröder and Mike Dunleavy. So, in a game where we will see heavy minutes from inexperienced players prone to fouling, and Matt Barnes prone to acts of idiocy, it’s nice to know that the Kings might not be punished so severely than if they were playing most NBA quality teams.
Speaking of fouling, the Hawks are very composed on the defensive end of the floor, fouling less than all but three other teams. However, they’re also rather thin in the front court, and a rested DeMarcus Cousins could spell trouble for the Hawks if Boogie can get Howard into early foul trouble. Without him, the Hawks would be looking at sending Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries and Paul Millsap to stop DeMarcus.
Lastly, the Hawks are turnover happy. They’re 24th in the league in turnovers, and if the Kings can execute off of the Hawks miscues, it’ll go a long way to giving them a chance at victory. Point guard Dennis Schröder is responsible for 3.3 turnovers a game, and is tied for eighth in the entire league in turnovers per game. Pressure from Darren Collison and Ty Lawson tonight would keep the ball away from an offensive set, and a bad night from Schröder could really offset whatever the 6th highest turnover producer in the NBA is doing, DeMarcoughCouscough.
Capitalize on the turnover happy Hawks giving the Kings extra possessions, work Dwight Howard as hard as Kobe Bryant tried to, and win the battle at the free throw line, while not being afraid to get a little extra physical or grabby tonight.
DeMarcus Cousins and Mike Dunleavy are playing against each other in a game tonight. One is getting ejected, just for the sake of continuing the weirdest beef in the NBA. If it’s Dunleavy, the Kings will win. If it’s DeMarcus, the Kings will win by more because, well, we don’t adhere to your preconceived notions of logic, NBA!
Kings: 106, Hawks: 101