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Preview: Nuggets return from the break to battle the Kings in Sacramento

24 games left. All gas no brakes from this point forward

Sacramento Kings v Denver Nuggets Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets will look to introduce their post-All-Star break form tonight as they face the Sacramento Kings. The Nuggets won four of their last five before the break, but this appears to be a classic trap game. In their first matchup, the Nuggets put on an offensive clinic defeating the Kings 121-111, but the notion of an All-Star hangover could rear its ugly head tonight if the Nuggets do not maintain focus and intensity. The Kings are 2-3 in their last five games, but they are averaging 114 PPG on 36.5% from three during that span. Denver’s offense has been hot of late, but if their defense disappears, the Kings have the ability to put up 120+ points.

This Kings team has also given Denver trouble in the past. They are 4-2 against the Nuggets in their last six and have put up 115+ points in four of those six games. They have also beaten the Nuggets three straight times at home, so although some fans might relax a bit when they see the Kings on the schedule, this has proven to be far from an expected win.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (33-25, 17-15 away) @ Sacramento Kings (22-38, 15-17 home)

When: 8:00 PM MT

Where: Golden 1 Center

How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Sactown Royalty

Expected Starting Lineups:

SAC: PG De’Aaron Fox, SG Justin Holiday, SF Maurice Harkless, PF Harrison Barnes, C Domantas Sabonis

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Zeke Nnaji (day to day), Vlatko Cancar (out), Davion Mitchell (day to day), Jeremy Lamb (out), Terence Davis (out)

Three Keys

Defense, defense, defense

This is a critical part of Denver’s lack of success against the Kings lately. The Nuggets have only held them under 110 points once in their last six matchups, and that is never a recipe for success. Although this is a different Kings group since those contests, they added a great player in Sabonis and a sharpshooter in Holiday to their starting lineup. Denver is 4-1 in their last five games, but they have given up an average of 111.8 PPG in that span, and the Kings are averaging 114 PPG in their last five. The Nuggets face a King's group that has given up 119.4 PPG during that same stretch, so if Denver’s defense can bring the intensity, their offense should get open looks.

Attack the basket

Every team has not played in a week, and although the rest is welcomed, it can place players out of their shooting groove. It’s challenging to replicate game action and be in game shape, so I would expect both teams to be a bit rusty, at least to begin the ball game. If that rust presents itself, the Nuggets need to ensure they attack the rim and obtain easier looks. The Kings love scoring in the paint, so it is usually not a problem for them. They score 49 points in the paint per contest which ranks 7th, so if the Nuggets stay stagnant on the perimeter, the Kings most likely will counter it by getting to the paint and journeying to the free-throw line.

Obstruct Fox and Sabonis

These are the two Kings the Nuggets need to worry about the most. They both do most of their damage in the paint, and as we know, the Nugget's interior defense has not been stellar. Sabonis is also a monster on the glass, so he needs to be boxed out every single time a shot goes up, and he has the passing ability to find open shooters. The main thing when defending Fox is hindering the straight-line drive. He is swift, but he does have aspects to his game the Nuggets can prepare for. Most left-handers like to drive left and shoot jumpers on the right side, so Denver defenders must work on staying in front of him and exploiting his tendencies.