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Kings vs. Rockets Preview: Fear the Beard

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James Harden is having an MVP caliber season leading the Rockets’ high-octane attack.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kings fans haven’t had to think about the MVP race in a long time, but if you’re also a fan of the NBA in general, this year’s race is perhaps the closest in recent memory with several qualified candidates. One of those has to be James Harden, who has had a resurgent year for Houston.

The Rockets have taken a big step forward under new coach Mike D’Antoni (speaking of awards, he probably should have a decent shot at Coach of the Year), with none other than Harden leading the way. Harden’s always been a fantastic scorer, but he’s stepped up his playmaking in a big way. Houston has surrounded Harden with shooters, and Harden is using his slashing ability to find the open man when defenders inevitably try to close in on him. Harden is leading the league in assists a game at 11.2 this season, while still averaging a career-high in points at 29.2.

The Rockets offense as a whole is one of the best in the league. They’re 2nd in free throw attempt rate (Harden leads the league in fouls drawn), 1st in three point attempt rate and 3rd in effective Field Goal Percentage and Pace. Almost every player in their main rotation can shoot from outside, with the exception of their centers. The additions of guys like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams have given the Rockets a ton of firepower.

For the Kings, this will be a tough one to keep close, especially if Houston is bombing from outside. Sacramento will be playing without Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos and Tyreke Evans. That’s a lot of experience to be missing against a veteran team like the Rockets. Still, it should be a good lesson for the young guys. Skal will have to deal with stretch fours like Ryan Anderson, and Buddy will get a up close and personal lesson with one of the hardest players in the NBA to guard.

Houston’s gonna want this one to be a shootout and ended early. We’ll see how much fight the Kings can put up. This group’s done a pretty good job of surpassing my expectations so far.

Tip-off’s at 3:00 p.m. Go Kings!