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Kings vs. Rockets Preview: One last stand for Sacramento

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The Kings will need something resembling a miracle to remain in playoff contention.

Houston Rockets v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Sacramento’s win over Houston earlier this season was one of the highlights of the 2019-20 campaign — maybe the second most exciting moment after De’Aaron Fox’s spectacular intentional missed free throw against Minnesota.

When the Kings take on the Rockets tonight, the mood doesn’t figure to be anywhere near as festive. It’s possible that the team will be eliminated from playoff contention before the final buzzer even sounds, not exactly the magical bubble experience Sacramento was hoping for when the Kings descended on Disney World last month.

As a refresher, here’s what needs to happen for the team to remain alive in the chase for the ninth seed.

Unfortunately, merely getting a win could prove challenging against Houston, which has had a few of the most impressive victories of the restart.

Game Information

Where: The Field House, Orlando, FL

When: 5:00 p.m. PT

How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, AT&T SportsNet Southwest, TSN5, KHTK Sports 1140 AM, KBME/KTRH/KEYH

Projected Starting Lineups

Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles III

Rockets: James Harden, Ben McLemore, Danuel House Jr., P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington

Injuries/Absences

Kings: Marvin Bagley (foot) — OUT, Richaun Holmes (hip) — OUT, Kent Bazemore (calf) — QUESTIONABLE

Rockets: Bruno Caboclo (ankle) — OUT, Eric Gordon (ankle) — OUT, Russell Westbrook (quad) — OUT

The key for the Kings will be their defensive effort. They have had difficulty containing 3-point shooters over the scrimmage and seeding games, allowing opponents to shoot 38.8% from distance, which is 20th in the bubble. The Rockets don’t need any invitations to shoot threes. They will shoot with reckless abandon, and the Kings have to be ready to close out on them and chase them off the 3-point line. Keep an eye on the attempts: When Sacramento beat Houston in December, the Rockets shot 39 threes, but they are averaging 51.4 3-point attempts in the bubble.

It will be more challenging to put forth a stout defensive effort without Holmes in the lineup. Len is a bit too slow to succeed against Houston, and Giles is a defensive sieve. It would be interesting to see the Kings go small and start Corey Brewer or another wing in Holmes’ place — we’ll see if Walton is willing to be that creative.

Playing a five-out lineup could help the Kings juice their offense, because the Rockets have been surprisingly stout on the defensive end of the floor in Orlando. Running against Houston might seem counterintuitive given the team’s collective speed, but the Rockets get sloppy in transition. That is where Sacramento needs to pounce.

Even if the postseason is out of reach, the Kings came to Orlando to work on building a winning team of the future. It is still possible to achieve that goal.