Here Come The ... Sacramento Kings?
The Sacramento Kings have won six of their last eight games, including four straight. Could this chaotic franchise finally be turning a corner?
The Sacramento Kings are hot right now.
The Kings are winners of six of their last eight games, including four consecutive. The recent period of winning started with the 116-92 win on Dec. 12 over the Los Angeles Lakers that featured Laker coach Luke Walton’s ejection.
This four-game streak matches the Kings’ longest string of wins since they pulled off five straight in late January of last season. The team is now 14-17 on the year and currently eighth in the Western Conference.
While the team is still below .500, there is now a little more optimism when discussing the Kings’ chances at making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
DeMarcus Cousins has been the biggest key to the team’s success. The many issues both on and off the court related to his temperament have not stopped him from being the most dominant center in the NBA.
Cousins currently averages 29.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. His scoring average is third in the NBA and he’s 10th in total rebounds (747).
On the advanced stat side, Cousins is fifth in the league and first among centers in player efficiency rating (27.7). His 4.0 win shares so far this year indicate he’s essentially the reason the Kings can even reach 90 points on most nights.
His best game of this recent stretch, and the season, was his 55-point, 13-rebound tear against the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 20. That game also had it’s own bit of controversy, but it still solidified DeMarcus Cousins’ stature as a superstar in the league.
But DeMarcus Cousins’s incredible output isn’t the sole reason for this winning streak. He plays like this, win or lose. He hasn’t scored single-digit points since he had only seven points before being ejected from a 122-103 loss on Dec. 28, 2015, to the Golden State Warriors.
That has been the only time within the past three seasons.
This streak can also be credited to the emergence of another key contributor for the Kings.
Ty Lawson has been an important spark within the last five games. Lawson had been mostly inconsistent for the opening 26 games of the season. He averaged 6.8 points (on 38.4 percent shooting from the field), 4.5 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game over that stretch.
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He had 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 18 and a string of three games in late November where he notched double-digit points. Otherwise, that span was nothing to write home about.
Things started to get into gear during the Dec. 18 loss at the Dallas Mavericks. Lawson only scored 10 points off of the bench. However, he was also the only other player besides DeMarcus Cousins to score double-figures in that game.
Since then he has continued to score double-digits while also racking up the assists. Ty Lawson is averaging 14.4 points (on 55.3 percent field goal shooting), 4.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the last five games.
Lawson had 16 points and eight assists in the Portland win. He followed that up with a 19-point, five-rebound game on Dec. 21 at the Utah Jazz.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger has used Lawson as a floor general and distributor all season. But recently Joerger has put Lawson in more positions to also attack the basket and create his own shot.
This spark helps to maintain some scoring production at the point guard position. This is particular important now due to starting point guard Darren Collison‘s recent struggles (averaging 7.1 points on 30.6 percent field goal shooting over the last seven games).
Fourth quarter scoring has also been key to the Kings’ recent improvement. The Kings were outscored by an average margin of 6.0 points over the first 23 games of the season. They’ve handled teams by 5.3 points per fourth quarter in the eight games since.
Five of Sacramento’s six wins over the last eight games have been decided by five points or less. Learning how to win the battles in the final quarter are important for teams looking to make the playoffs.
While it is great that the Sacramento Kings of won six of their last eight, the question is will it last?
Precedent indicates that the chances aren’t looking great. After last season’s five-game winning streak, the Kings fell apart, going 13-26 down the stretch to finish the year 33-49.
The Kings also still have a badly-constructed roster. Despite having DeMarcus Cousins as a centerpiece, the team is still lacking at the power forward and shooting guard positions.
They will probably need to make some moves before the trade deadline if they want to compete in the playoffs.
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Their collective struggles on the boards could also be a stumbling block. Sacramento is 29th in the NBA in total rebounds per game (41.5).
Any team will struggle to get very far if they’re conceding second chance opportunities while also having their possessions quickly ended on the offensive end. DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay cannot be the only Kings consistently pulling down boards every game moving forward.
Also, between the gutsy wins they’ve been pulling off and the blowouts they took in Houston and Dallas, the Kings’ point differential over the past two weeks is minus-1.8. Over the last eight games, they have been outscored by an average margin of 104.3-102.5.
The upcoming schedule will surely be a test. Their last eight opponents currently have a combined winning percentage of .440. Their next eight carry a .559 winning percentage.
Those next eight include Portland, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Denver Nuggets, the Miami Heat, the Clippers, the Golden State Warriors, the Detroit Pistons, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Oklahoma City Thunder also follow after that stretch of games.
The Sacramento Kings have shown a lot of heart on the floor, and it has helped them garner the wins they have over the last eight games. But it will be the games on the horizon that will test their mettle and determine if they are actually a potential playoff team.