SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings begin the post All-Star break trailing the Denver Nuggets by just a game and a half for the eight seed in the Western Conference playoff race. But the game almost seems secondary to the drama surrounding the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans over the weekend.
With 25 games remaining, Dave Joerger has to figure out a way to balance his rotation, which now includes three new faces in Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans. In addition to Cousins, Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi are also gone as the Kings hit the reboot button on a once promising season.
Sacramento shopped other veteran players up until the end of Thursday's NBA trade deadline, but they chose to stand pat for the remainder of the season with their current group of 15.
Denver is clinging to a lead in the race for eight, but Sacramento, Portland, New Orleans, Dallas and Minnesota are all within four and a half games. Nikola Jokic has played extremely well in his second NBA season, giving Michael Malone a centerpiece to build around in the Nuggets high-powered offense.
Nuggets by 7
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Kings vs. The Unknown -- Cousins manned the post for the last seven years in Sacramento and now he plays for a new team. Coach Dave Joerger has to adapt on the fly if without his leading scorer, rebounder and assist man. Sacramento plays a gritty style and they have won without Cousins in limited opportunities, but this is different. They must reinvent themselves on the fly if they have any hope of finishing the final 25 games strong.
WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 24-33, third place in Pacific
Nuggets: 25-31, third place in Northwest
Kings: SG Malachi Richardson (right hamstring partial tear) and G/F Garrett Temple (left hamstring partial tear) are out.
Nuggets: No injuries to report. All players participated in shootaround.
After sweeping the season series 3-0 last year, Sacramento holds a 1-0 advantage over the Nuggets this year. The all-time series between these two teams is close, but the Kings hold an 87-86 lead after winning four straight and they are up on the Nuggets 64-61 lead during the Sacramento-era.
“They have a chip on their shoulder. You make a big trade like that and I’m sure the players in that locker room are going to say, ‘everybody’s writing us off because we don’t have DeMarcus.’ They’re going to come out and try and prove everybody wrong. They beat Boston, a very good team, without DeMarcus, and I’m sure that’s the model they’re going to try to use moving forward.” -Michael Malone