Kings

Gameday: Kings will be without two starters as they play north of the border

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AP

Gameday: Kings will be without two starters as they play north of the border

For the second time in seven days, the Sacramento Kings face the Toronto Raptors for an early Sunday matinee. This time around, they’ll have to go to battle without their leading scorer and their starting point guard.

Zach Randolph has carried a tremendous load for the Kings over the last few weeks. The 36-year-old big has logged 30 or more minutes for the Kings seven times over the past 11 games. He’s posted huge numbers over that stretch, including a 35-point, 13-rebound performance in a win over the Pelicans.

In his 17th NBA season, Randolph is leading the Kings in scoring at 15.2 points and rebounding with 7.0. With a short break in the schedule, the team is giving Z-Bo an opportunity to catch his breath with a day off to rest. He’ll return to action when Sacramento travels to Philly and Brooklyn for back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In addition to Z-Bo sitting, rookie De’Aaron Fox will sit on Sunday with a quad contusion. He is listed as day-to-day moving forward and the injury is not considered serious.

BETTING LINE:
Raptors by 12.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
George Hill vs. Kyle Lowry -- With De’Aaron Fox out, the Kings need Hill to continue his recent surge. He’ll draw a three-time All-Star in Lowry that has the Raptors machine running smoothly. If Sacramento has any chance of upsetting Toronto, they’ll need their veteran point guard to come up big.

WHERE THEY STAND:
Kings: 9-19, fourth place in Pacific

Raptors: 19-8, second place in Atlantic

INJURY REPORT:
Kings: C/PF Zach Randolph (rest) out, PG De’Aaron Fox (right quad contusion) out, SG/SF Malachi Richardson (sprained ankle) probable, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January at the earliest.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira (calf) out.

SERIES HISTORY:
After four straight losses to the Kings, the Raptors picked up a win at Golden 1 Center last Sunday, giving them a 1-0 advantage in the season series. Sacramento holds a 26-16 lead in the all-time series between these two clubs.  

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Replacing Z-Bo -- Randolph has been spectacular for Sacramento in the early season, but he’s played more minutes than expected. The team last played Thursday in Minnesota. By giving Randolph Sunday off, the Kings are effectively giving the veteran a four day break from basketball activities.  Someone has to step up and fill the void or it’s going to be a long day for the Kings.  

Second Team Magic -- With the team shorthanded, Dave Joerger is going to need the second unit to continue their strong play. Two reserves will slide into the starting lineup, opening up an opportunity for the end of the bench to get some run.

Air Canada -- After 20 seasons of NBA action, this might be Vince Carter’s last trip to the city where it all began. The 40-year-old wing has played sparingly this season for Sacramento, but with the roster depleted, he’ll likely see action. Carter helped put Toronto on the map as an NBA city. It’s hard to imagine the fans not reacting to him in a positive way.

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

The Texas two-step is turning into a nightmare for NBA opponents. Twenty-year-old phenom Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm, and he has transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

James Harden is averaging 38 points per game for the Houston Rockets and he has Russell Westbrook riding shotgun in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.

For the beat-up Kings, Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back against the Mavs and Rockets looked like a pair losses before they even hopped on the team bus. But that’s not the way it worked out.

Cory Joseph got away with a touch foul on Doncic in the final seconds and the Kings escaped Dallas with a 110-106 win. There was no time to celebrate. Sacramento boarded a flight for Houston to face Harden fewer than 24 hours later without even a shootaround to prepare for the league’s leading scorer.

In a stroke of genius, coach Luke Walton and his staff created a game plan and then used a roll of tape and the team’s hotel ballroom in Houston to walk through an idea.

“When you can’t get to a gym because you’re trying to get the guys more rest, we grabbed some tape, put a little key down on the floor and walked through sets that we need,” Walton told media following the 119-118 win over the Rockets.

Like the previous game against Doncic, Walton used Joseph, his best perimeter defender, on Harden and ran a box-and-one defense for much of the game. The plan worked to perfection.

Not only did Joseph help limit Harden to 8-of-19 shooting from the field and eight turnovers, but he also played defense without fouling.

Harden came into the night averaging 12.8 free throw makes on 14.8 attempts per game. If he continued at that pace, he would finish second all-time in free throw attempts per game.

Joseph didn’t bite on the up fakes or let Harden tangle him up when he sprawled out for 3-point attempts Monday. He didn’t reach and get his hand caught in the cookie jar and when he did make a play at the ball, he came away with two steals and just one personal foul in 38 minutes of action.

“It was a good win for us, back-to-back," Joseph said Monday. "It’s never easy, but we kept the mentality and we were strong. We turned it up mentality wise from the start to the finish of the game. We felt like these last two games, we competed at a high level and that’s what we’re going to need to do night in and night out to give ourselves a good chance.”

Sacramento paid Joseph handsomely in the offseason to back up De’Aaron Fox. An unlucky accident in practice has cost Fox major time, but Joseph has stepped in and kept the Kings afloat over the last 14 games as a starter.

Joseph isn’t the dynamic scorer that Fox is, but Walton has played to the strengths of his team without his starting point guard. He has taken the ball out of Joseph’s hands on most offensive possessions to save him for the defensive end and improve the flow.

Things will change when Fox returns, but like Nemanja Bjelica, Joseph has proven his worth to the team.

It should be noted that Joseph tweaked his lower back against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and was questionable against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday.

“You go into what Cory did, we had him on Luka last night, we had him on Harden tonight,” Walton said. “Three days ago he couldn’t even walk, we didn’t even think he was going to play. As we talk about culture and what we’re trying to build, the example that he sets with that type of effort every single night is pretty good for our group.”

Over the last three games, he has fought through the injury and averaged nearly 35 minutes per game against some of the best scorers the league has to offer.

At 10-13, the Kings continue to stick around the .500 mark in the standings despite their slow start to the season. Joseph is a big reason why.

[RELATED: Watch Westbrook say game over, then Kings hit game-winner]

The Kings flew home after the win, and they’ll face another tough guard in Chris Paul on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

There is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the last 22 games with a broken thumb. Fox stayed behind on the four-game road trip to rehab his ankle, and he is getting closer to a return as well.

Watch Russell Westbrook say 'game over' just before Kings' game-winner

Watch Russell Westbrook say 'game over' just before Kings' game-winner

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

That message might need to be relayed to Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, as he assumed he had just won his team the game after driving and finishing over Kings center Richaun Holmes with only one second remaining Monday night in Houston.

Buddy Hield had just hit a miraculous 3-pointer on the previous possession to tie the score, and Westbrook assumed there was nothing the Kings could do to win the game in one second after his layup.

Suffice it to say, the former NBA MVP was incorrect.

Nemanja Bjelica sent the Kings home with another road win, and stunned the Rockets with this DEEP buzzer-beater.

[RELATED: What we learned as Bjelica, Kings stun Westbrook, Rockets]

So much for Clutch City.