James Ham

Gameday: Do the Kings have any chance of slowing down Harden?

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Gameday: Do the Kings have any chance of slowing down Harden?

The Sacramento Kings travel to Houston as heavy underdogs Wednesday evening, trying to sweep a Texas two-step. They’ll face a red hot Rockets team that’s won nine straight and sits just a half game out of first place in the Western Conference.

After a 114-109 win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Kings finish their pre All-Star break schedule against Houston. Zach Randolph posted 22 points and seven rebounds against Dallas and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 19 points as the Kings picked up their 18th win of the season.

The Rockets played on Tuesday evening as well. They ran over the Timberwolves for a 126-108 road win, behind a 34-point, 13-assists night from MVP candidate, James Harden.  

BETTING LINE

Rockets by 14

MATCHUP TO WATCH

De’Aaron Fox vs. Chris Paul -- Known as one of the best leaders in the NBA, there is plenty Fox can learn from Paul. The nine-time NBA All-Star has fit seamlessly into the Rockets high octane offense. Fox is getting on-the-job training each and every night as he wades his way through his rookie NBA season.

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 18-38, fourth in the Pacific

Rockets: 43-13 first in the Southwest

INJURY REPORT

Kings: SG/SF Iman Shumpert (plantar fasciitis) out, SF Bruno Caboclo (personal) status unknown at this time, PF Skal Labissiere (shoulder strain) out, PG Frank Mason (plantar fascia tear right heel) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out for the season.

Rockets: SF Trevor Ariza (hamstring) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Who Guards Harden? - The Rockets are an offensive juggernaut and Harden is the ring leader. He’ll hit you with a 3-ball, take you off the dribble and he lives at the free throw line. Bogdanovic will like get the early call, but expect to see plenty of Garrett Temple as the Kings try to stay in the game early.

Score the Rock - Houston is a tough matchup for every team in the league, but they become even more difficult when you don’t make them take the ball out of the basket. They’ll kill you in transition, especially from the 3-point line. Score and get back is the name of the game.

Take a Break Tomorrow -- All-Star week starts on Thursday. Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox will all play in the Rising Stars game, but the rest of the team will have a week away from the action to decompress and prepare for the final two months of the season. The team needs to stay focused for another 48 minutes of hoops.

SERIES HISTORY

The Rockets hold a 1-0 advantage in the season series and have won six straight over the Kings. Houston hold a 124-88 advantage over the Kings all-time, and a 83-42 lead during the Sacramento-era.

Gameday: Kings can cash in or go for broke in last game before All-Star break

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Gameday: Kings can cash in or go for broke in last game before All-Star break

Cash it in or go for broke. With two games remaining before the All-Star break, the Sacramento Kings travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks at AmericanAirlines Arena. Will they come out swinging or look like a team already one foot out the door on vacation?

The Kings have lost two straight and four of their last five, but they’re beat up and fresh off a roster shakeup. De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento last time out, scoring 23 points against the T-Wolves. He was one of six Kings to score in double-figures, but the Kings couldn’t close out Minny late.

Dallas is 3-11 over their last 14 games, but one of those wins came over the Kings at Golden 1 Center. They are an interesting mix of young and old. Dirk Nowitzki is still roaming the perimeter and Harrison Barnes has developed into a quality scoring option in his second season in Dallas.

BETTING LINE

Mavs by 6.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Justin Jackson vs. Doug McDermott -- Jackson has posted double-digit scoring in four of his last seven games and shot 50 percent from the field or better in all but one of those opportunities.  He’s quietly improved his per game numbers across the board, including rebounding, assists and points. Dougie McBuckets is getting another new lease on life after joining the Mavs at the deadline. He can shoot the rock, but so far in his career, that’s about it.

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 17-38

Mavs: 18-39

INJURY REPORT

Kings: SG/SF Iman Shumpert (plantar fasciitis) out, SF Bruno Caboclo (personal) status unknown at this time, PF Skal Labissiere (shoulder strain) out, PG Frank Mason (plantar fascia tear right heel) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out for the season.

Mavs: G Seth Curry (leg) out for the season, C Nerlens Noel (thumb) out, PF Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Rookie Point Guard Battle - De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith are going to battle for the next decade in the Western Conference. Fox won the last matchup between these two, but Smith’s team came away with the win. Fox is the faster of the two, but Smith touts a 48-inch vertical.  

Stay Focused - The Kings are 9-21 away from Golden 1 Center this season, compared to 8-17 at home. They’ve had shocking wins over the Warriors, Pelicans and Heat on the road this season, showing that they can rise to the occasion. With the All-Star break just two days away, Sacramento needs to remain focused on task at hand.

Get to the Line -- Sacramento continues to rank last in the league in free throw attempts at 17.5 freebies per game. Willie Cauley-Stein ranks first on the team with 3.3 attempts and Fox is second at 2.9, but the team needs more out of players like Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Zach Randolph.

SERIES HISTORY

The Kings and Mavs are all tied up at 1-1 this season, with each team winning on the road. Dallas hold a 93-68 advantage over the Kings all-time, and a 76-55 lead during the Sacramento-era.

Kings in good position heading into the next two summers

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Kings in good position heading into the next two summers

The NBA landscape is changing. After a few years of madness, salary cap space is once again becoming a valued commodity. With a tempered approach and a big move at the trade deadline, the Sacramento Kings have set themselves up as a player moving forward.

Sacramento’s plan is centered around the summer of 2019, when they are completely free of all veteran entanglements. 2018 is now back on the table after George Hill’s relocation to Cleveland, but the team might not have as much room as you think.

The evolving market could have an immediate effect on the Kings this summer, where the franchise will have anywhere from $25-53 million in salary cap space.

Last summer, the Kings entered the offseason with the assumption that veteran guard, Langston Galloway would opt in to his $5.4 million player option. He instead chose to become an unrestricted free agent, signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the Detroit Pistons.

It’s unlikely that the Galloway situation will repeat itself this summer. The NBA salary cap is projected to climb to $101 million, but much of that cap space is already spoken for.

Early projections around the league have the NBA’s middle class taking a major hit this summer with a lack of available money. If the players needed a reminder of the current state of the league, look no further than Lou Williams’ three-year, $24 million extension with the Clippers.

The 31-year-old guard is having his best season as a pro, posting 23.3 points per game for Los Angeles. In any other year, his market value would have been considerably higher.

Sacramento has three veterans with player options for next season and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see all of them stick around instead of risking their salaries on a tightening market.

Newly acquired Iman Shumpert has a player option for next season at $11 million. At 27-years-old, Shumpert could gamble that a team would offer him a long-term deal, but a series of injuries have damaged his value on the open market.

Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos are durable, team-first veterans known for their locker room presence. Temple is owed $8 million next season. He’s said he wants to win, but at 31, the safe bet is that he remains in Sacramento for one more season before testing the ever changing waters.

Every team has a need for a big man like Koufos, but like Temple, he might be better served waiting to see if the landscape improves in 2019. The soon-to-be 29-year-old has another long term contract in him as a reliable big that brings his lunch pail to work everyday.

If all three stay for the 2018-19 season, the Kings will have $25 million to spend this summer. They will have to pay another high draft selection, which will eat between $3.5 and $6.7 million of cap space, that still leaves plenty of room to add talent.

They can comb the free agent market for players that fit their current youth arc. Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine and Rodney Hood are all young and could fill a need. They are also restricted free agents and their respective teams are more than likely going to match offers for their services.

The Kings can also use their cap space to free up other teams, taking back bloated short-term contracts attached to assets like young players or draft picks. They would love to get back into the 2019 NBA Draft after losing their pick in a salary dump in the summer of 2015.

Sacramento’s plan will still likely center around the summer of 2019 when they have a better idea of what they have in their young core. At that point, Shumpert, Temple, Koufos and veteran Zach Randolph will all be off the books.

With the cap expected to hit $108 million in 2019, the Kings will have upwards of $70 million in cap space to spend, if they haven’t tied up large chunks beforehand.

There are plenty of variables that still need to prove out, but the Sacramento Kings’ path is clear. They are set up to be players in the next two summers as they continue their rebuild.

The team has a lot of work in front of them as they search for the right players to complete their roster. They need to make quality decisions, both through the draft and with their cap space. They also need to prove up their talent while creating an environment that can entice the right free agent.