It looked like the Kings were finally back contention earlier this season, as the team soared to a 9-5 start. But injury to DeMarcus Cousins, some injury to Rudy Gay, poor transition defense, and a heap of turnovers have conspired to send the Kings back to their losing ways.
Tonight, the drama continues. The Kings will be coached by former Utah Jazz head man Tyrone Corbin. He was named to the interim position upon Michael Malone's firing on Monday. Still, Corbin will likely be given a run with this team.
Why the firing? According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Malone wasn't hired by current ownership and was on shaky ground over the off-season. Malone was still given a shot to run the team, but the 2-8 December slide was enough to get him sacked. Two long-term candidates appear to be the ridiculously popular George Karl and the ridiculously unpopular Vinny Del Negro.
But we're not here to discuss the Kings' future. We're here to discuss tonight's game. What kind of impact is Tyrone Corbin going to have?
What we will likely see is a coach who isn't afraid to make unpopular calls. There's an excellent Yucca Man post over at SLC Dunk chronicling some of the decisions Corbin made during his tenure there. The Jazz roster was consistently stuck in the flux between good and bad, so Corbin had to constantly cover for flaws while trying to simultaneously develop players. This post by My_Lo of SLC Dunk does a great job of describing how Corbin had to put the pieces back together in the wake of Jerry Sloan's firing.
On the Kings, Corbin will be in a bit of a similar situation. Sacramento is temporarily without their star and loaded with highly paid players that expect to win in a impossible conference. These next few games are highly crucial if the Kings want to stay alive, so you can bet that Corbin will reach deep into his bag of tricks. For example, Malone ran the Kings 10-12 deep and would often use platoon substitutions. (Basically, Malone would sub in his entire bench at once. Lineup mixing was rare.) Corbin, on the other hand, isn't afraid to pull his dudes early. If someone was having a bad game, they'd be yanked immediately. This will often lead to some unconventional lineups that the Thunder will have to adjust for.
It's also likely that Corbin will be using less of the bench. This post over at Sactown Royalty by Aykis16 pretty much lays you how ineffective the reserves have been for Sacramento, particularly on the offensive end. Lastly, as the aforementioned article also points out, turnovers are a huge problem for Sacramento. They're the league's worst at forcing them, and the league's sixth worst at committing them. Unfortunately, Corbin isn't a sight for sore eyes here. In his tenure with the Jazz, Corbin saw Utah fall from a middle of the pack turnover-forcing team in 2011 to the league's worst turnover-forcing team in 2014. Corbin's team always manged to stay in the middle of the pack when it came to avoiding TOs, though.
But the coaching carousel is not the only dose of drama that we'll get this evening. Kendrick Perkins got into a verbal spat with Rudy Gay, inspired by some silly reporter. You see, there's video of Perk saying "These motherf*****s are still the Sacramento Kings" before OKC's upset win over them on November 9th. It's a pretty par-for-the-course statement as far as pre-game huddles go. Nevertheless, someone in the Sacramento media huddle decided to ask what he thought of Perk's gesture. He responded in kind, saying:
"He might as well play with his face painted, he's a clown to me. Quote that, you can quote that, he's a clown to me, he might as well play with his face painted."
Word got out, and of course someone in the Oklahoma City media huddle had to ask Perk for a response. What we got was gold:
"I'd rather be a clown than a virus.... At least if I paint my face I can wash the paint off. A virus gets in your bloodstream. You can't get rid of that."
Presumably, Perk is referring to Gay's disastrous tenure with the Toronto Raptors last season. Adding more to the picture is the fact that Perk had a positive contribution to the Thunder's win earlier this season, playing key defense on Boogie and adding 9 points. Meanwhile, Rudy Gay had an above-average performance, turning in 23 points on 9-19 shooting with 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
Tonight, both of those players will continue to have key impacts on the game. Rudy Gay is obviously the more important of the two, as he becomes the Kings' primary source of baskets in the absence of Cousins. Gay filled the role well initially, but has seen his shooting percentage dive below 30% over the past two games. The reason is as obvious as it might seem: teams are doubling Gay, and the Kings don't have the shooting to stop them. Furthermore, according to a well-written comment by pookeyguru over at SR, Darren Collison is taking too many of the shots that should go to McLemore.
On Perk's end, his role off the bench could be absolutely critical. He's managed to have much more of an offensive impact this season, and even managed to hold his own on Sunday night against the fast-paced Suns. Perk's stats are almost never without error, but he is averaging 7.7 rebounds, an assist, and a block over the past 8 games. That's nothing to sneeze at. But even better: Perk will likely get some minutes against Hollins, who is a whopping 50 pounds lighter than him. I can't wait!
Looking at the Thunder generally, there are definitely some other things to watch tonight. Jeremy Lamb didn't play at all on Sunday night against the Suns, due to a sore foot. Perry Jones and Nick Collison both saw time in his place, but only one of them will play if Lamb isn't ready to go. Meanwhile, KD remains on his 30 minute a game restriction, and will likely yield a majority of shots to Westbrook. Considering how terrible Darren Collison's defense is, I'm licking my chops. Lastly, Mitch McGary currently sits on the active roster, ahead of Lance Thomas and Grant Jarrett. He only had garbage time minutes against Phoenix, but who knows what the future may hold.
In any case, I see the Thunder winning this one easily. Just too many things are going wrong for Sacramento right now. I could see their starters making a run under the right situation, but they just hired a new coach and have one of the weakest benches in the league. When you also consider that the Kings don't push the ball and that the Thunder are third best in the league at defending the three, the result seems obvious.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Sacramento Kings 92.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 25|
|December 16th, 2014|
|Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, California|
|9:30 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network California|
|Injury Report: Omri Cassipi (Questionable), DeMarcus Cousins (Out)|
|This Year's Matchups: Nov 9 (W 101-93)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Darren Collison|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Ben McLemore|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Rudy Gay|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Jason Thompson|
|Steven Adams||C||Ryan Hollins|