The Kings are reeling. There’s no way to put it mildly; this team looks like a shell of what it was two weeks ago when the Kings were clutch-time fiends and De’Aaron Fox won player of the week. Now, the Kings can’t keep games close enough for crunch time to come into play.
It’s the defense that has really let Sacramento down in recent games. Each of the last five opponents have dropped at least 118 points on the Kings. The team’s next challenge will come in the form of Zach LaVine, who is essentially an offense in and of himself.
LaVine is averaging 28.5 points per game while shooting 58 percent on twos and 43.7 percent on threes. He put up 32 the last time these two teams met in Sacramento, and he’s been even more efficient since that matchup, in line for a potential All-Star berth. The Kings would be wise to focus the bulk of their attention on LaVine, even if that means Fox takes the assignment while Buddy Hield covers Coby White, because it’s hard to imagine the Bulls generating enough offense if LaVine doesn’t score.
Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
When: Saturday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Opposing perspective: Blog a Bull
Projected Starting Lineups
Kings (12-16): De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes
Bulls (12-16): Coby White, Zach LaVine, Garrett Temple, Patrick Williams, Wendell Carter Jr.
Kings: Harrison Barnes (left foot), Richaun Holmes (right knee), Glenn Robinson III (right knee) — QUESTIONABLE; Chimezie Metu (right wrist) — OUT
Bulls: Chandler Hutchison (right leg), Lauri Markkanen (right acromioclavicular sprain), Otto Porter Jr. (back spasms) — OUT
If the Kings can make LaVine’s life uncomfortable, they should able to force turnovers and get run outs against the Bulls because White isn’t the best ball handler in his sophomore season.
Much of Sacramento’s success will simply come down to who is available. Without Richaun Holmes, the Kings have been starved for rim protection. Sacramento has kept Hassan Whiteside glued to the bench, even when Holmes has been out, presumably to keep some semblance of a defensive anchor with the second unit. It might be better to start Whiteside against the bulkier fives rather than make him work against smaller bench lineups.
Harrison Barnes’ absence meant that the Kings didn’t have a secondary creator on the court with Fox in the starting lineup. Fox had one of his less productive outings on a night that the Kings needed him give more.
Welcome back to the floor, Belly pic.twitter.com/IJLAn2sU9j— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) February 13, 2021
One silver lining of the recent stretch has been the unearthing of Nemanja Bjelica. Despite not playing for five weeks, Bjelica has been a connector on offense while hanging defensively as a backup 5. The Kings are only minus-5 in Bjelica’s 94 minutes despite losing the last four games by 44 points. Whether Bjelica has made a case for staying in the rotation or simply enhanced his trade value, his performance has been a treat to watch.
This is the first game in a five-game road trip, and the quality of opponent basically improves from here on out. After a disaster of a homestand, perhaps the Kings can find some connectivity on the road and get this train moving back in the right direction.