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

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usati

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.

Blach, Suarez get off to quick start in race for rotation spots

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USATSI

Blach, Suarez get off to quick start in race for rotation spots

SCOTTSDALE — If Ty Blach is feeling any pressure to win a job this spring, it hasn’t shown. Blach has had a smile on his face throughout camp, and some in the clubhouse have noted he is showing more of his personality than in the past. When reporters approached his locker during Friday’s game, Blach reached up and pulled his cap into place. 

“Howdy,” he said. 

Blach has good reason to be relaxed. He’ll be on this staff in some role, whether it’s in the rotation or the bullpen. The Giants had considered Blach as a potential solution to their lefty reliever woes, but team officials have backed off that plan a bit since the Tony Watson addition. Blach will focus on starting for now, and his debut was promising. 

Blach threw the first Giants pitch of 2018, a strike to Jonathan Villar of the Brewers. In two innings, he allowed one hit and struck out two. 

“It feels like I definitely belong here,” Blach said. “I know my routine and the guys. I feel comfortable.”

Because they have two off days before their seventh game of the season, it’s likely that the Giants will skip their fifth starter at least once. It remains to be seen if that’ll be Blach’s role, but he’s flexible enough to move to the bullpen for a week if the need is there. For now, he’s ready to hold off the competition for his rotation spot. 

Lefty Andrew Suarez was also impressive, striking out three in his two innings. Right-hander Tyler Beede and lefty Derek Holland are also vying for the job. The competition should be one of the better ones in camp, but Blach said he’s not thinking about it much. Instead, he’s focused on cleaning up minor issues that led to a dip in his numbers late last season. 

Blach was sharp in his first eight starts last year after replacing Madison Bumgarner, posting a 3.08 ERA. He had a 5.64 ERA the rest of the way and was moved to the bullpen in September. Blach said he redistributed some weight in the offseason, building up his legs in a bid to stay strong throughout a long season. He’s also tinkering with his slider in hopes of getting more swinging strikes. Blach admitted that bouncing back and forth was difficult at times last season, but he’s ready for any role this year. 

“I feel like mentally and physically I’ve put myself in a really good position to be able to have success no matter what role they put me in,” he said. 

--- The Giants wore Stoneman Douglas caps during today’s game. Blach, who grew up near Columbine, and Suarez, who is from Florida, explained why it was such a special tribute. 

--- The Giants lost to the Brewers 6-5. They committed six errors. Nick Hundley and Pablo Sandoval went deep, and Steven Duggar had a two-run double. 

--- Suarez and Tyler Cyr were the guests on today’s episode of the Giants Insider Podcast. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

--- Jonah Arenado, Nolan’s brother, played third base for the second half of the game. He had a single in his second at-bat. 

--- On my Instagram page (pavlovicnbcs) there’s a story with behind-the-scenes footage and photos from today’s Cactus League opener. 

Giants pay tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Cactus League opener

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ALEX PAVLOVIC

Giants pay tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Cactus League opener

SCOTTSDALE — As Ty Blach prepared to kick off the Cactus League season on Friday morning, some fans asked him about the hat the Giants were wearing. Blach was happy to spread the word.

The Giants joined the rest of Major League Baseball in wearing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High caps on the first day of the exhibition season. Teams were given the option of wearing the caps -- which were black and had a red “SD” logo -- during the game, and the Giants unanimously took part. For Blach, who grew up about 20 miles from Columbine High, the tribute was a special one. 

“It’s such a tragedy what happened down there,” Blach said of the campus shooting in South Florida that left 17 dead earlier this month. “It’s hard on a lot of people. We’re not geographically in Florida but it hits home for everybody.”

Blach was eight years old at the time of the Columbine shooting and said his school went into lockdown. 

“It was horrible,” he said. “It’s something that stayed close to home for me. I see all these shootings and it’s tough.”

The pitcher who followed Blach on the mound Friday also appreciated MLB’s decision and the moment of silence before the first pitch. Andrew Suarez, a lefty from the Miami area, said he played summer ball a few years ago with a kid who went to Stoneman Douglas. 

“Everyone was happy about it,” he said of the caps. “I was pretty happy about it. I’m from South Florida and I know a kid from there. I was glad to wear it and represent them.”

New Era produced more than 2,500 caps so that players, coaches, umpires and team employees could represent Stoneman Douglas on Friday. Clubs were encouraged to have the caps signed and auctioned off to raise funds to assist the victims and families of the February 14 shooting. An authenticator was in the clubhouse during Friday's game to help with the process. 

“Major League Baseball is proud to see our Clubs supporting the Parkland community and the students of Stoneman Douglas in a way that is both meaningful and natural to our sport,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “The idea began with several of our Grapefruit League Clubs and quickly turned into a league-wide effort. We hope this demonstration by our teams, players, coaches and umpires helps contribute to the healing process of everyone affected by this horrible tragedy.”