A month ago, the Kings were in a rut. At 5-10, losers of nine of their last 11 games, it seemed like the season was headed sideways early. Then the Knicks came to town. Sacramento won, got a bit of a schedule reprieve, and reeled off six more wins in the next seven contests.
Now, the Kings are in another lull, and this one’s even worse. The team has lost eight in a row, opponents are averaging 124.5 points per game, and there have only been four clutch minutes during that stretch. That means during the final five minutes of each of these eight games, the Kings have only been within five points for four minutes, or 10 percent of the time.
Fortunately, here come the Knicks again.
This isn’t to say that New York isn’t a good team — the Knicks are almost .500 and firmly in the playoff picture, and Julius Randle was named an All-Star — but at least this isn’t a team that can really pour on points. The Knicks have a slow pace and the 25th-best offense in the league. They win games with defense; at this point in Sacramento’s development, the Kings are better suited to break down good defenses than slow good offenses.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
When: Thursday, Feb. 25 at 4:30 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Opposing perspective: Posting and Toasting
Projected Starting Lineups
Kings (12-19): De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Cory Joseph, Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes
Knicks (15-17): Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel
Kings: Chimezie Metu (right wrist), Jabari Parker and Hassan Whiteside (health and safety) — OUT
Knicks: Nerlens Noel (left ankle) — PROBABLE; Elfrid Payton (right hamstring) — DOUBTFUL; Mitchell Robinson (right hand) — OUT
The last time these two teams met, the Kings had 14 blocks and held the Knicks under 40 percent shooting. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett got theirs, but Sacramento limited the rest of the team to 47 points. That type of defensive effort has been missing from the Kings recently, but they’re capable of doing so against this particular New York squad. The last time Sacramento faced a bad offense was Orlando, and that didn’t go well, but the Knicks don’t have a floor-spacing center, and De’Aaron Fox is playing, which means the Kings won’t be giving the ball away willy-nilly and allowing transition points.
The Knicks excel at offensive rebounding and getting a ton of shots up at the rim, so it will be imperative for Richaun Holmes to protect the paint and not get into foul trouble. The Kings don’t have Hassan Whiteside available for backup duty, and their only true backup center is new signee Norvel Pelle. It will be interesting to see how Luke Walton doles out the frontcourt minutes against a bruising Knicks front line.
The Kings showed progress in their last loss, even taking a short-lived fourth-quarter lead against the rollicking Nets. They didn’t have to travel, they have their starters healthy, and they’re on more even footing with this opponent. A win is there for the taking.