Last year the Pelicans lost three of their four matchups against the Kings. The worst of the three being a 114-97 loss in January. The good news is that New Orleans appears to be a better team than last season. The bad news is so does Sacramento.
Return of the Sac?
The Kings are 6-4 and if the playoffs started today they’d be the 8-seed in the West. After dropping their season opener to Golden State, the Kings won five in a row highlighted by wins over Portland, Phoenix and, most impressively, on the road against the Clippers. Since then the Kings have come crashing back down to Earth, losing three straight games before beating San Antonio last week. Right now Old School best describes the Kings' season right now.
DeMarcus Cousins is making a case to appear in his first All-Star Game. Through 10 games, Boogie’s averaging 22.4 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks all on an even 50 percent shooting from the floor and a shade under 80 percent from the free throw line. Fun fact - Cousins has been a consistently improving free throw shooter in his professional career. His rookie season he hit 68.7 from the line, now look at him! Maybe he’s finally starting to put it together…hold on he’s also leading the league in personal fouls with 49. Welp. Good ole Boogie.
Cousins has definitely been getting by with a little help from his friends. Rudy Gay has the slightest advantage in scoring over him, averaging 22.5 points a night and Darren Collison has been a nice third option, chipping in nearly 16 points a game. Hell even Ben McLemore and Carl Landry are each averaging nearly 10 points apiece. Of Gay, Collison, McLemore and Landry, the worst shooting percentage from that bunch is Collison’s 43.5.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Force Three Point Shots. Sacramento is atrocious when it comes to the three ball. Atrocious meaning they’re 28th in the league in makes, 26th in attempts and 29th in percentage. As a team, only Ben McLemore can be considered an outside threat shooting 40.5 percent from three. No other King is shooting above 40 percent. No wonder why they’re collectively shooting 29.8 percent. Davis, Asik, Evans and Anderson are going to have to keep Cousins, Gay and Landry away from working down low beneath the basket and try and force longer shots.
2. Limit Sacramento Free Throw Attempts. As bad as Sacramento is at three point shooting, they’re excellent from the free throw line. The Kings are first in both makes (28.5) and attempts (35.1) and third in percentage (81.2). Cousins and Gay are each averaging eight trips to the line themselves and are both 80 percent shooters. The odd part about this is that the Kings aren’t driving to basket as much as one would expect from a team that shoots that many free throws. They’re tied for 16th with Oklahoma City in drives per game with 23.
3. Create Opposing Ball Movement. This may be hard to believe but a team with Rudy Gay doesn’t really move the ball all that well. The Kings are 18th in total passes a game (then again the Pelicans are 28th. WELP) and are 25th in total assists. New Orleans is going to have to try and play terrific one-on-one defense and make the Kings move the ball around. Also, Sacramento’s starters, like New Orleans, are one of the best scoring groups in the league; the Kings are seventh in points from starters. They’re going to get their points. What this game will come down to are those second and third units the Kings will throw at the Pelicans. Sacramento’s 20th in bench scoring per game so hopefully New Orleans can put a little distance between them and the Kings while the starters are catching their breath.
The most compelling reason to watch Tuesday night is to see Davis and Cousins battle it out. That matchup is the biggest reason this game won NBA Fan Night this week. It’s also going to be interesting to see if this game is the start of a season-long battle between the two teams trying to snag a playoff spot.