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2013-2014 Game 72 Preview: Thunder see the Three Basketeers of Sacramento

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DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Isaiah Thomas. For the rest of this season, those players are the driving force behind the Sacramento Kings.

This almost feels like a promotional shot for a sitcom.
This almost feels like a promotional shot for a sitcom.
Ezra Shaw
2013-2014 NBA Season
Lost 1

Lost 1
March 28th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KHTK Sports 1140
Injury Report: Kendrick Perkins (Out), Thabo Sefolosha (Out), Isaiah Thomas (Questionable), Carl Landry (Out), Jason Terry (Not With Team)
Previous Matchups: Jan 19 (W, 108-93)
Probable Starters
Isaiah Thomas or Ray McCallum PG Russell Westbrook
Ben McLemore SG Andre Roberson
Rudy Gay SF Kevin Durant
Reggie Evans PF Serge Ibaka
DeMarcus Cousins C Steven Adams
2013/14 Advanced Stats
96.9 (14th) Pace 98.2 (T-8th)
103.5 (15th) ORtg 107.6 (7th)
106.2 (24th) DRtg 100.5 (5th)

Over the last few years, the Sacramento Kings haven't been hard to define. They were a team defined by their arena struggle, with a passionate fanbase that would do anything to keep their squad from moving a few hours south. But the team itself has always been mediocre. The Kings have never been able to land a franchise-level player through the lottery, and the closest thing they had was a wild big man with behavioral problems.

The Kings of today still aren't the greatest team, but they finally have a a nice trio of players to hang their hat on. Demarcus Cousins, the first of the three, is quietly having the best season of his career. He's scoring 22.5 PPG, grabbing 11.8 RPG, and shooting darn near 50%. His numbers have never been that consistently high before, and his effort on the defensive end has improved recently as well. The only real knock on him is his low assist-to-turnover ratio, but with how well he scores, it's not much of a knock.

The second player, Isaiah Thomas, has been one of the hugest surprises for the Kings this season. He's a former second round pick who's seen his game evolve significantly over the last couple of years. Thunder fans will remember him for his monster fourth quarter performance last year, where he used his high-level speed to tear through the Thunder's slow, lanky defense. He's definitely a lot less consistent than Cousins is, because his short stature forces him to rely on great expendictures of energy to score. He also turns the ball over a bit too much for his position. But when it's all said and done, the Nate Robinson-like "spark" that he can provide really trumps all else.

The third and final piece of the Kings' new triumvirate is Rudy Gay, a mid-season acquisition from the Toronto Raptors. Gay has always been a very talented scorer, but his injury history and hefty price tag has seen him kicked around between a couple of different teams. Most recently, the Raptors didn't like how Gay worked with Demar Derozan in the context of their offense. Furthermore, Gay was seen intercepting the post-game stat sheets in Toronto, speaking of how the team didn't play for stats.

It's surprising, then, to see how well Gay has developed in Sacramento. For all intents and purposes, he's playing the best ball he's played in two or three years. His shooting percentages are up (to 45%), he's getting to the line more, and his PPG is the highest it's ever been (20.3). You can attribute his renaissance to a more post-oriented game, as well as the gift of playing alongside more talented scoring threats.

So what's the problem, then? As has been the case for years, the Kings are a terrible defensive team. They had brought in Mike Malone, the guru credited with resurrecting the Warriors from an assistant's chair, to remedy that situation. But the results have been mixed. He's obviously working with a roster that wasn't tailor-made for defensive effectiveness, and, to his credit, the defense has improved in recent months. But really, the Kings are only going to beat you by outscoring you or out-rebounding you. Unless you're headed for the lottery, the defense has no bite.

Furthermore, outside of the starting lineup, this team doesn't have any consistently effective players. Rookie Ben McLemore has found a bit of a groove recently, and Reggie Evans does his regular rebounding thing. But the rest of the team reads like a list of guys full of failed potential. Ray McCallum. Derrick Williams. Travis Outlaw. Jason Thompson. Royce White, for Pete's sake. Things might be better if Carl Landry had been able to go this season, but still, even Caron Butler and Derek Fisher should be able to do work against these greenhorns.

So really, for me, I can only see the Kings winning this game in three ways:

  1. They dominate the offensive glass. Hopefully Brooks doesn't elect to go small for too long.
  2. A random bench player decides to stave the Kings through hard times. Royce White's coming out party?
  3. The Thunder fail to hold their lead and have a catastrophic failure at the hands of Isaiah Thomas.

Also, Isaiah Thomas must play. At the time of writing, he's traveling with the team but didn't practice yesterday due to a bruised quad. It's anyone's guess as to whether he'll see court time tonight.

I should also mention that this should be an easy win because DeMarcus Cousins has always struggled against OKC. He's only shot over 41% against the Thunder once in the past three seasons, and hasn't shot over 40% against the Thunder in the past two. He's simply not very good at pushing Perk out of the way, nor is he good at dealing with OKC's excellent help D at the rim.

Anyway, on our end, we've got the usual ongoing storylines. KD is four 25 point performances away from tying Jordan's record. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones are in the doghouse. Caron Butler is mediocre. Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are still injured. And Russell Westbrook is still on a minutes restriction. Same 'ol, same 'ol.

Let's take care of business tonight, so we don't have to watch the entire friggin' playoffs on the road!

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Sacramento Kings 99.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!