Nuggets at Kings preview: Quit 'Rekin' out

Ezra Shaw

After a very brief stop at home to take out a skidding Memphis Grizzlies team, the Nuggets are back on the road against a perpetually struggling Sacramento Kings squad with DeMarcus Cousins.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 25
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vs
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12-12 (6-11 on road)

7-15 (6-6 at home)
December 16, 2012, 4:00 PM (MT)
Sleep Train Arena - Sacramento, CA
TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
Ty Lawson PG Aaron Brooks
Andre Iguodala SG Tyreke Evans
Danilo Gallinari SF John Salmons
Kenneth Faried PF Jason Thompson
Kosta Koufos C DeMarcus Cousins
Notes
Denver Stiffs Blogs Sactown Royalty
Chandler, Stone are out Injuries Marcus Thornton (day-to-day)
Nuggets have played fewer home games and more road games than any team in the league Stat The Maloofs continue to drive this once-proud franchise into the ground

So how about that Grizzlies win? I was in attendance at that game, and it was great to see the Nuggets finally play to their potential. The Grizzlies are one of the best squads in the Western Conference right now, and the Nuggets once again showed they can hang with any team to the very end.

It was great to see JaVale McGee have one of his best nights of the year against the frontcourt combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Danilo Gallinari's off-the-backboard self alley-oop was just sublime to witness in person. Now, the Nuggets embark on a series of road-home splits, with dates at the Rose Garden in Portland, "Flop City" (Clippers), the Mavericks, and at Memphis to close out the year (for a third match-up).

That said, the Nuggets need to focus on the task at hand. They'll be heading into "Sleep Train Arena" - perhaps the worst arena name I've ever heard - to battle it out with a Sacramento Kings team that hasn't had a winning record since 2005-06. Their fan-base is rightfully upset at what they see as continual mismanagement by the Maloof family, with the team always overshadowed by their other Californian counterparts in the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.

Despite accruing some decent young talent in DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, the organization has been simply unable to assemble the right pieces to remain competitive; largely seen as due to the cheapness of the Maloofs to spend significant money improving the team. Rumors continue to swirl as to whether or not the Sacramento Kings will remain in Sacramento much longer, with talk abounding of the franchise moving to Seattle, Virginia Beach, or even Las Vegas. The Kings' salary is fourth-lowest in the NBA at just $58 million of committed salary.

No matter what happens, Kings fans deserve better. When your highest paid player is 33 year old has-been John Salmons, there's something clearly amiss in either the coffers, the front office, or both (I'm going with both). After a series of tumultuous run-ins with the mercurial Cousins, former head coach Paul Westphal was replaced by Keith Smart - known best for his game-winning shot of the 1987 NCAA championship game. However, he hasn't done much better in Paul Westphal's place, guiding the team to a sad 27-54 record since taking over.

The Nuggets will need to be on the lookout against Cousins and Evans. I like to think of DeMarcus as though J.R. Smith grew another six-inches taller, added 50 pounds, and lost a few more IQ points. I say this fully aware of the irony implicit in being a fan of a team that prominently features JaVale McGee ...but still.

Despite being one of the best post presence centers in the NBA, Cousins' poor court awareness and inability to shoot efficiently - he's a career sub-45% shooter from the floor, as a center - continue to make people wonder why Cousins is unable to play to his strengths. Like our old pal Earl Smith III, when Cousins finally "figures it out" he'll be a scary force, but it's still far too easy to take him out of his game.

Once one of the most promising players in the NBA, Evans has largely been lost in the dustbin of obscurity that is the Kings. He's still one of the fastest players in the NBA, capable of scoring purely through raw speed and on a variety of Jamal Crawford-like ankle-breakers, but his jump shot is not to be trusted. He shoots only 26% from three-point range for his career, and he's far more effective driving to the bucket than he is taking a long jumper. Ty Lawson will have his work cut out for him staying with 'Reke all night, and I would not be surprised to see Karl put the rangy Corey Brewer on him when Ty's subbed out.

Chuck Hayes has hurt the Nuggets in the past as one of the NBA's best low post bangers and defenders. Despite being just 6'6", Hayes just has a certain... je nais sais quoi about him. There's just something about his scrappy style of play that allows him to be a nuisance on the glass and continually disrupt a team's carefully planned half court offense.

Fortunately, the Nuggets don't have one of those, so advantage Nuggets, I suppose. Altitude's Scott Hastings would probably say that Hayes is one of his favorite players (alongside Jon Brockman). Still, Kenneth Faried will need to work as hard as ever against Hayes and Jason Thompson in the low post.

This is a game that the Nuggets absolutely should win. The dearth of talent - relatively - on the Kings is simply not enough to compete with the Nuggets, and the Nuggets should be able to wear the Kings down by the 3rd quarter.

What to Watch For

- Andre Iguodala posted 20 points, 7 assists, 5 steals, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks against the Grizzlies. Finally, filling up that stat sheet as promised! However, he and Lawson once again combined for 8 turnovers (4 each). Can Andre put together another night like that one against the Kings while doing a better job of protecting the ball?

- Faried, after a hot start, has cooled off a bit. Bounce looks to be feeling the effects of a long, tough road schedule, and hasn't looked like the same double double machine he did in the first 10-15 games of the season. I'd like to see him bounce back tonight with a strong effort against an exploitable frontcourt.

- McGee is becoming one of my favorite players in the NBA. For all his silly antics, he's truly putting in the effort night in and night out and improving right before our eyes:

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(click for big)

He's getting better, people. While he might always make people crack up with some fumbled camel-gallop-like trip down the court with the ball, he's improved every year and looks only to be getting better. I am looking forward to seeing how the Kings choose to guard him when Cousins sits.

- As evidenced by a strong win over the Grizzlies, I think we as fans need to take a step back and realize that the Nuggets are not as bad as their 12-12 record would suggest. Even a cursory analysis reveals that they've been pitted against some of the toughest scheduling ever, while adjusting to integrating a dynamic wing player and dealing with the departure of two old standbys in Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington.

I have a strong feeling that the Nuggets are going to close the end of the year at or a few games above .500, then will go on a run in January to bring them to a 4 or 5 seed in the West. From there, they'll be in a good spot to challenge for a higher seed with a very favorable home schedule, giving them much needed gel-time.

***

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