The last time the Kings played the Rockets, James Harden was still in Houston and both teams had their sights set on the postseason. This game is going to look a little different.
Now, the Kings have seen their season somewhat sputter away by losing 11 of 13 games; that stretch put Sacramento 4.5 games back of the no. 10 seed, a.k.a. the play-in tournament. That means the vultures are circling around the Kings, hoping to pry away one of their veterans for the stretch run.
Houston is in similar straits. Harden is gone, and the team’s best player in his absence, Christian Wood, has missed the last 13 games. Without Wood, the Rockets didn’t win any of those contests, as they’re one of two teams in the West sitting below the Kings in the standings. Houston also has a number of players of interest on the trading block, including P.J. Tucker and Victor Oladipo, each of whom has shown out in the playoffs in recent seasons.
As a result, the intrigue in this game might not come from what it means for the two teams involved, but rather for how the players on the court would look in different uniforms.
Where: Golden 1 Center
When: Thursday, March 11 at 7 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Opposing perspective: The Dream Shake
Projected Starting Lineups
Kings (14-22): De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Rockets (11-23): John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Sterling Brown, Jae’Sean Tate, P.J. Tucker
Kings: Chimeze Metu (wrist), Hassan Whiteside (health and safety), Robert Woodard II (left hamstring) — OUT
Rockets: Eric Gordon (left foot) — QUESTIONABLE; Dante Exum (right foot), Danuel House Jr. (right knee), Rodions Kurucs (left oblique), David Nwaba (right wrist), Christian Wood (right ankle) — OUT
But there’s still two weeks until the trade deadline, so let’s spend some time on the team the Kings currently have. After a bit of a lull, De’Aaron Fox ended the first half on a strong note; even though he couldn’t out-duel Damian Lillard in the final game before the break, Fox put up an admirable fight, rediscovering his clutch bona fides from earlier in the season.
Harrison Barnes has also recovered nicely from a brief foot injury. He had been averaging 7.4 points per game while shooting 30.7 percent in the five contests before his three-game absence. Since returning, he is back to 21 points per game while making 53.8 percent of his shots over his last six. As the only forward-size player Luke Walton trusts at the end of games, Barnes being at his peak has been critical for the Kings.
It will also be exciting to see Tyrese Haliburton back on the court after he missed the last four games of the first half. Haliburton wasn’t advertised as a scorer coming into the draft, but he was starting to discover his individual offense before he got hurt. The rookie averaged 10.7 point per game in December/January; that bumped up to 16.2 in February. As Haliburton becomes more feared as a scorer, his distribution will become even more difficult to contain for defenses.
At the risk of ascribing too much to one game, a loss tonight against a Houston team that hasn’t won in over a month would be a bad signal for Sacramento’s second half. Even if this season doesn’t end in a playoff berth, there’s no reason the Kings shouldn’t win these types of games.