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KD out as Fuming Kings meet cruising Thunder

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Rondo and Westbrook square off as two of the NBA's top three assisters.

Our tribute to the YELLING STANFORD FAN
Our tribute to the YELLING STANFORD FAN
W. Bennett Berry

UPDATE: Durant is out tonight with a sprained toe. Durant sustained the injury during the second quarter of the Hornets game. KD went the distance of that game, so this is hopefully precautionary.

It's been another long season for the Sacramento Kings, and the past week has been even worse. Sure, the Kings just came off of a blowout win of the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. But Tyson Chandler, arguably the glue of what's left of the Suns, was ejected in the third quarter. This allowed the Kings to run over a Sun team with no roster. But before that Suns win? A loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, as well as a loss to the Lillard-less Blazers. Add a thorough pounding from the reigning champion Warriors, and you've got a pretty terrible week.

Here's what section214 over at Sactown Royalty had to say about the Kings loss to the Sixers:

The Kings yielded twenty more shots than they took, turned it over nine more times than the Sixers, and missed sixteen free throws. Those were numbers. What the numbers alluded to without being specific was a team that seemingly did not care about the outcome from the moment the game began. And by the time they began to care, it was too late, and in the end they crapped all over them and the fans that apparently care more about this team than the team cares about itself.

Congratulations, 2015-16 Sacramento Kings. You managed to suck so hard that you got me to leave a four point game with twelve minutes to go. I have stuck around for blowouts over the years (both wins and losses), maybe to see young rookies get some burn (Simmons-Mays-Causwell-Bonner!) or vets get some well-deserved floor time (Funderburke!) or a young raw high flyer that can't crack the rotation (Gerald Wallace!). But there was nothing left to see last night, no one worth sticking around for, and no reason to believe that you had any intention of giving a flying fig about beating a 2-31 team in front of what was (at the beginning of the evening, at least), an eager crowd.

Even worse is the fact that the Kings aren't dealing with any major injuries. DeMarcus Cousins had missed 8 of the Kings first 18 games, and Darren Collison missed 5 games during that stretch as well. The early injury issues were thought to have contributed to Sacramento's struggles. But as they're constructed, the Kings aren't performing at a very high level.

The craziest part about it all is that the Kings are only two games back of a playoff spot. The collapse of the Rockets, Trailblazers, and Pelicans has left a hole at the bottom of the Western Conference Standings, so the Kings are still very much invested in winning right now. If the Kings were to make the playoffs this season, it would be their first appearance since 2006. Since then, the Kings have not finished higher than 11th in the West.

Why do the Kings struggle?

Offensively, Sacramento runs the NBA's fastest pace, yet are 19th in the league when it comes to threes taken per game. All three of Sacramento's most frequent ball handlers (Rondo, Gay, and Cousins) don't have a very reliable three point shot. They can all create twos for themselves at a very efficient rate, but it can lead to bad spacing when they're all on the floor. Also, the ball doesn't move that well. Rondo is an assist machine, but as a team the Kings have the league's fourth lowest turnover percentage.

Defensively, the Kings aren't very good. They force turnovers relatively well, which helps them keep a fast pace. But when it comes to rebounding and shot defense, the Kings are below standard. Darren Collison and Marco Bellinelli appear to be the chief culprits, with a defensive box plus/minus rating of over -2. (That's about where Kanter, Morrow, and Augustin are at, for reference.)

OKC's improving bench

Over here in OKC, things are great. 4-0 since Christmas, all over opponents with losing records. There have been recent rumblings about the excess of minutes given to KD and Westbrook as of late. But on Saturday's comfortable win over the Hornets, Billy Donovan managed to shut down his stars early. It's certainly encouraging, and this is one of those games where you'd hope Durant and Westbrook can keep their total minute count under 35.

Another positive takeaway from the Hornets game, and the past week, is the increased role of OKC's bench. Back in late December we were really worried about how the bench would produce offensively or defensively. But the injection of Cameron Payne into the lineup seems to have solved a lot of problems. In four games of regular action, Payne is averaging 9 points in 15 minutes. That's with 59% shooting, 3 assists, and half a turnover. Obviously this efficiency won't keep up, but Payne appears to understand his role extremely well.

Payne's presence has definitely had a ripple effect on the rest of the bench. Kanter appears to be a more frequent weapon, as the Thunder can get him the ball in the post more often. Even Kyle Singler appears to have found a role, providing a more stable defensive presence behind KD. Singler has played serious minutes in the past two games. The Suns game saw Singler burst onto the scene with a strong defensive hold against T.J. Warren. The Hornets game saw Singler play a game where he didn't do much, but came out with a +10 +/- ratio.

Also, Dion Waiters is still there. He doesn't suck up as many possessions as he used to, and takes a good number of his shots off of assists now. The offensive efficiency still isn't where you'd like it to be ideally, but the defense is there. In other words, my list of complaints on him is way, way shorter than it was a month or two ago.

Who's gonna win?

The Thunder. The Kings don't have anyone that can guard Durant, and the Thunder can shut down Boogie with Adams, Ibaka, and Collison. If the Kings were to win, it would either be because they got ridiculously hot from three or because the Thunder big men ran into serious foul trouble. But I don't see either of those things happening.

UPDATE: Guess KD is out. Still, the Thunder have the defensive advantage down low and the offensive leadership of Westbrook.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 131, Sacramento Kings 98.

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

2015-16 NBA Season Game 35
(Won 1)

(Won 4)
January 4th, 2016
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comast Sports Network California
Injury Report: Eric Moreland (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Dec 6 (W 98-95)
Probable Starters
Rajon Rondo PG Russell Westbrook
Ben McLemore SG Andre Roberson
Omri Cassipi SF Kevin Durant
Rudy Gay PF Serge Ibaka
DeMarcus Cousins C Steven Adams