A reeling team like the Kings would be well-served to face the Thunder or the Pistons, or another team that could commiserate with the struggle Sacramento is going through.
Instead, the Kings — fresh off of playing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks — continue their road trip in Brooklyn against the blazing hot Nets. Even with Kevin Durant for four out of the five games on their west coast swing, the Nets swept the trip, beginning with a win over the Kings in Sacramento and capped off by a victory over the full-strength Clippers.
James Harden, the newly-crowned Eastern Conference player of the week, and Kyrie Irving are rolling. Against a Kings defense that has been inviting dribble penetration, Harden and Irving could have unimpeded access to the rim. If and when the help comes, that just means more threes for Joe Harris and Landry Shamet, as Sacramento learned last week.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
When: Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 4:30 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Opposing perspective: Nets Daily
Projected Starting Lineups
Kings (12-18): De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Cory Joseph, Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes
Nets (20-12): James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Jeff Green, Bruce Brown
Kings: Harrison Barnes (left foot), QUESTIONABLE; Chimezie Metu (right wrist), Glenn Robinson III (not with team) — OUT
Nets: Tyler Johnson (left adductor), Iman Shumpert (left hamstring) — PROBABLE; Jeff Green (right shoulder), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right hip) — QUESTIONABLE; Kevin Durant (left hamstring) — OUT
The good news for the Kings is that the Nets are fairly banged up. In addition to Durant, Brooklyn could be without Jeff Green and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, both of whom had to leave Sunday’s game early with injuries. As a result, the Nets could be relying on Nic Claxton in the frontcourt and Tyler Johnson and old friend Iman Shumpert on the wings.
The key, however, will still be solid individual defense on Irving and Harden. The Kings don’t exactly have a lithe guard-stopper who can stay in front of Irving, though Cory Joseph will be given a chance. Buddy Hield and DaQuan Jeffries will also be tasked with staying disciplined on Harden, who is averaging 6.8 free-throw attempts per game in Brooklyn.
If the Kings can make life just a little difficult for the two stars, they have a hope and a prayer of rotating when the ball starts to whip around the court on drives and kicks. The Nets have deceptively good cutters, particularly Bruce Brown, so they keep defenses working throughout the possession.
Sacramento may be able to expose a depleted Brooklyn team on the defensive end. These Nets haven’t shown the same commitment to defending against sub-.500 teams as they have on national TV games, so the Kings could catch them napping. That was the case in the last meeting, but Sacramento’s 125 points weren’t enough when Brooklyn scored 138.
This game is probably the last chance De’Aaron Fox has to bolster his All-Star case before coaches turn in their ballots for reserves. A strong outing against the hottest team in the league would go a long way to boosting his candidacy, particularly as Fox goes toe-to-toe with Irving. Fox also just needs to be more productive for the Kings to have a shot at winning as the team’s best player. (UPDATE: never mind, the coaches’ ballots were due Monday)
At some point, streaks are meant to be broken. Can the Kings end their rut and put the Nets back in their place? We’ll see tomorrow.