The Kings have won two nail-biters to start the season.
Sacramento currently sits in a tie with San Antonio and Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, an entirely reasonable preseason projection. What few people could have predicted was that the three teams, along with the Clippers, would all be undefeated at this early juncture of the season, forming a quartet atop the West leaderboard.
But the Kings aren’t here by fluke. They have hit the fewest 3-pointers (15) in the league over the first two games and have instead scored by crashing the offensive glass — a specialty of Marvin Bagley III, Hassan Whiteside, and Richaun Holmes. The Kings have also spread the wealth: six players scored in double figures in the win last night against Phoenix after seven hit that mark in the season opener.
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
When: Sunday, December 27 at 6 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Projected Starting Lineups:
Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Kings: DaQuan Jeffries (back) — DAY-TO-DAY
Suns: Dario Saric (right quad), Abdel Nader (concussion) — OUT
Their third win a row might be the toughest one yet for Sacramento. Phoenix will be out for blood after losing a winnable game against this same team Saturday, and it seemed like the Suns figured out some tricks to attack the Kings as the contest wore on. Devin Booker started to use his off-ball movement, specifically setting back screens, to exploit Sacramento’s switching. Overall, the switching — a Rex Kalamian specialty — has been a boon for the Kings defense, adding an extra level of activity on that end of the floor, but the Kings have to be aware of the counters the Suns will inevitably bring in this second matchup.
The Kings also have to be careful about the volume of 3-pointers they are conceding. Generally, when a team takes 44 threes, that will lead to a win, but Phoenix only made 11 of their looks Saturday night. Sacramento can’t expect the opposition to shoot so poorly from distance for a second night.
On offense, the Kings have to continue to attack the basket. Their scoring in the paint, combined with relentless foul drawing, was the key to their victory. The Suns will play smaller power forwards, so Bagley and Nemanja Bjelica have an opportunity to bully their matchups; Bjelica understood that mismatch last night when he took six shots, all right next to the basket.
These back-to-back series are a unique wrinkle of the pandemic-shortened season and will be an immediate test for both teams to adjust. The Kings have risen to the occasion so far this season; let’s see how they respond to this latest challenge.