The Kings are about to start a five-game home stand in the midst of playing their best basketball of the season. The conditions are primed for this team to continue its run in its march up the Western Conference standings.
In Sacramento’s path Tuesday is the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers have won five of their last six games — including the last five they’ve played with Ben Simmons in the lineup — and have mostly recovered from their Covid-induced absences earlier in the season.
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
When: Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Opposing perspective: Liberty Ballers
Projected Starting Lineups
Kings (12-11): De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Sixers (17-7): Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Kings: DaQuan Jeffries (left ankle) — DOUBTFUL; Jahmi’us Ramsey and Rob Woodard (G League) — OUT
Sixers: Mike Scott (right knee), Paul Reed and Rayjon Tucker (G League) — OUT
The Sixers are one of the best defensive teams in the league, but they’re best-suited to guard wings on that end with their collection of big perimeter players. That could be a problem for Harrison Barnes, who had been averaging 22.1 points per game over the last two weeks until he scored four points in the win over the Clippers. Barnes’ defensive effort against Kawhi Leonard was key to the team’s victory, however, and Barnes will be called upon once again to check Simmons or Tobias Harris, who is averaging 20.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
De’Aaron Fox is the type of player who the Sixers struggle to contain due to his quickness, and that’s before considering Fox’s hot streak that led to him earning Western Conference Player of the Week. Fox should be able to get to the paint at will, as he has over the past two weeks, but waiting for him will be the imposing frame of Joel Embiid, one of the best rim protectors in the league. Fox was able to finish around Ivica Zubac and Tristan Thompson; Embiid is at another level.
Embiid also presents challenges of his own as an offensive player. Embiid is having one of the most efficient scoring seasons in modern history — seriously, his true shooting percentage combined with his usage is at peak Stephen Curry levels. Richaun Holmes will have his hands full, and though Hassan Whiteside’s bulk could come in handy, he’ll have to be more disciplined than he’s been in recent outings. Keeping Philadelphia off the foul line will be paramount.
Transition defense will also be important for the Kings, as Simmons is a terror in the open court. Stopping the ball has to be a team-wide emphasis, not just limited to individual matchups. On the other hand, the Kings can exploit their speed in transition, as the Sixers are known to cough the ball up frequently.
Philadelphia will be a tough opponent, but Sacramento has been able to rise to the challenge against similar-caliber teams, having just beaten the Celtics, Nuggets, and Clippers in consecutive games. The difference is that the Sixers will be at full health, presenting an even bigger test for this surging Kings squad.