Kings

Kings vs. Cavs watch guide: Lineups, injury report, player usage

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Kings vs. Cavs watch guide: Lineups, injury report, player usage

SACRAMENTO -- The final four games are here and the Sacramento Kings need to finish strong if they hope to finish at or above the .500 mark on the season. They'll face a struggling Cleveland Cavaliers team Thursday evening at Golden 1 Center with a chance for their 39th win of the season.

The Kings are coming off a completely forgettable blow out loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday evening. They'll need a better effort if they hope to avoid a second straight embarrassing loss and get back in the win column.

[RELATED: How to watch Kings-Cavs online and on MyTeams app]

Cleveland has dropped six straight games and they sit at 19-59 on the season. The post-LeBron James era hasn't been kind for the team that has represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals the last four seasons. Rookie Collin Sexton has been a bright spot for the Cavs. The 20-year-old is posting 20.9 points per game since the All-Star break.

Kings Pregame Live on NBC Sports California begins at 6:30 p.m., with tipoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m. All coverage can be seen on the MyTeams by NBC Sports app.

The Kings hit the road following the game where they'll play the Utah Jazz Friday evening on the second night of a back-to-back. They'll finish the season with the Pelicans on Sunday at home, followed by one last road trip to Portland to face the Trail Blazers.

Line

Kings by 9.5

Projected Lineups

Kings
PG De’Aaron Fox
SG Buddy Hield
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Nemanja Bjelica
C Willie Cauley-Stein

Cavs
PG Brandon Knight
SG Collin Sexton
SF Cedi Osman
PF Larry Nance
C Tristan Thompson

Injury Report

Kings 
C Harry Giles (thigh bruise) out for the season.

Cavs
PF Kevin Love (shoulder) out, PF John Henson (wrist) out, PG Matthew Dellavedova (concussion) out, J.R. Smith (not with team) out.

Rotation Outlook

Kings

With the season winding down, Dave Joerger continues to run the same starting lineup out on the court, although he's increased the load for rookie Marvin Bagley III. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft is averaging 19 points and 8.8 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game since the All-Star break.

Buddy Hield continues to launch and hit 3-pointers at will. With his 265 3-point makes on the season, Hield is just 10 triples from matching Damian Lillard's NBA record of 599 3-point makes through the first three years of his career.

Rookie Harry Giles' season is over. The team officially shut down the 20-year-old with a thigh bruise.

Cavs

Seven games into the season, Larry Drew took over the tall task of handling a total rebuild in Cleveland. The veteran coach has dealt with injuries and the growing pains of a young roster in flux.

Cleveland struggles to score, averaging just 104.6 points per game. They also rank 23rd in points allowed, giving up 113.9 per game.

[RELATED: Kings set new goal of finishing season over .500, with playoff hopes over]

The Cavs struggle in almost every facet of the game. They rank 30th in blocks, 29th in steals and assists and 27th in rebounding.

What Kings have to do to erase early struggles, make NBA playoffs push

What Kings have to do to erase early struggles, make NBA playoffs push

The post mortem on the 2019-20 Kings season isn’t ready to be written just yet, but it's getting late for Luke Walton's team. After a promising season last year, the Kings come out of the All-Star break at 21-33, seven games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Injuries, bad beats, two-minute report failings and playing down to competition have turned the first two-thirds of the season into a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of year. With 28 games remaining, do the Kings still have a chance to turn the season around?

The short answer is yes, the Kings still have an opportunity to end their 13-season postseason drought. The long answer is more complex.

The Kings open their post-All-Star break schedule at home with a matchup against the Grizzlies. If they can find a way to beat an up-and-coming Memphis team, they would give themselves a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the season.

A loss would put them eight games off the pace, with a 1-2 record against Memphis. Game over.

If the Kings can get past the Grizz, they have a small window to make up ground. They travel to Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers on Friday. The last time the Kings were in Staples Center, they lit the Clippers up for a franchise-record 21 3-pointers in a 124-103 win.

After the trip to LA, the Kings continue their four-game road trip with stops in San Francisco to play the Warriors, Oklahoma City and Memphis. Sacramento is 2-0 against the Warriors and 1-1 versus both the Thunder and Grizzlies on the season.

Following the four-game road trip, the Kings return home to host the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. At the end of this eight-game stretch, the Kings either will still be breathing or their season will be over.

A 5-3 record over this grouping of games really is the worst the Kings can afford. A 4-4 stint or even a 3-5 record would be a huge blow in one of the last remaining soft spots in the schedule.

Even if the Kings make it through this stretch with a 5-3 record or better, they have a long road in front of them. They play 11 of their final 20 games at home, with eight of those games coming against clubs with a .500 or better record. Ten of those remaining games are against teams currently in the postseason picture.

The schedule is one issue, but in order for Sacramento to make up ground, they also have to pass over additional teams in the standings. The Kings trail the Phoenix Suns by a half-game, the New Orleans Pelicans by a game-and-a-half, the San Antonio Spurs by two games and the Portland Trail Blazers by three games.

In short, the Kings would need to jump over five teams in the standings over the final 28 games to make the playoffs.

The remaining strength of schedule, according to Tankathon.com, favors both the Blazers and the Pelicans in this situation.
Remaining strength of schedule (win percentage of remaining opponents):

Grizzlies            .554
Suns                  .522
Spurs                .488
Kings                 .487
Trail Blazers     .467
Pelicans            .449

Strength of schedule only is one of the issues facing the up and coming Grizzlies. Having one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, Memphis has very few players who have been in this situation before. Jonas Valanciunas has 43 career playoff games under his belt. Kyle Anderson played in 30 postseason games with the Spurs and newly acquired Gorgui Dieng has played in five. Tyus Jones (4) and Grayson Allen (2) round out the team’s total playoff experience.

If the Grizzlies fall, which is entirely possible, that still leaves a bevy of teams standing between the Kings and an elusive postseason berth.

The Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals last season, but they’ve struggled to stay healthy and build momentum all season after a series of roster moves. The Spurs are riding a 22-year postseason streak and they always seem to flourish in the window directly following the All-Star break.

The Pelicans just started integrating top pick Zion Williamson into their rotation and they are 5-5 since his arrival. Phoenix is just 3-7 over its last 10 games and their strength of schedule is difficult.

[RELATED: Buddy's Friday night out didn't slow him in 3-point contest]

Despite losing their final two games heading into the All-Star break, the Kings are 6-4 over their previous 10 games. They’re playing better basketball, keyed by the insertion of Bogdan Bogdanovic in the starting lineup, Buddy Hield finding a rhythm off the bench and the arrival of veteran Kent Bazemore.

The odds are not on the Kings' side, but if they can get healthy, integrate Jabari Parker into the rotation and get on a roll, there still is time to at least make this race interesting. It starts Thursday against the Grizzlies. If they can’t get that one, then none of this matters.

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

Ever since the Kings signed forward Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year, $20.5 million contract in the 2018 offseason, it quietly has been a great deal for Sacramento. 

Bjelica averaged career highs in points (9.6) and rebounds (5.8) for the Kings last season, and he has been ever better in Year 2 with the Kings. 

The 31-year-old is averaging 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over 54 games this season. He also is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from 3-point range, both career-bests. 

For his ability to give the Kings quality minutes at center, Bjelica landed on Zach Lowe of ESPN's latest "Ten things I like and don't like." 

"The Kings needed something to fill the void after injuries to Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes -- who had been killing it as their starter -- and whatever the hell happened with Dewayne Dedmon," Lowe wrote. "Credit Bjelica for stepping up.

Lowe notes that per Cleaning The Glass, the Kings have outscored opponents by almost 10 points per 100 possessions with Bjelica as a small-ball center. 

Holmes has missed 17 straight contests with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He attempted to return to the court last week but had a setback after one practice. Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has only played 13 games this season and isn't sure if he will suit up again this year after aggravating his sprained left foot

[RELATED: Kings' Holmes 'definitely ready to get back' after setback]

The Kings traded Dedmon back to the Atlanta Hawks months after signing him to a three-year, $40 million contract this past offseason. 

In what feels like yet another lost season in Sacramento, Bjelica has been a bright spot the Kings can count on.