Wizards (35-31) at Kings (22-44)
March 17, 2014 at 100:00 PM
Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA
TV: CSN Washington
Radio: 106.7FM The Fan
Projected starting lineups:
C- Marcin Gortat
PF- Trevor Booker
SF- Trevor Ariza
SG- Bradley Beal
PG- John Wall
C- Aaron Gray
PF- Reggie Evans
SF- Rudy Gay
SG- Ben McLemore
PG- Isaiah Thomas
First meeting since..
February 9, 2014 @ Verizon Center
Despite allowing Demarcus Cousins to his 19th double-double in 20 games that night, the Wizards suppressed him well enough to deem him a non-factor. Cousins missed 13 of his 16 shot attempts and turned the ball over four times thanks to the staunch presence of Marcin Gortat and Nene down low. The Wizards accumulated 26 points off 18 SacTown turnovers which propelled them to a decisive 94-83 win in DC.
John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas
If there is any defensive phobia that exists within John Wall it’s the task of guarding smaller point guards. It’s not entirely customary for him to struggle against them but we’ve seen guys like Kyle Lowry and Wall’s matchup tonight, Isaiah Thomas succeed enough offensively against Wall to accent SOME concern. Thomas is good. He’s actually pretty great. This has been a career season for him as he’s emphatically improved his season totals in points and assists.
Thomas’ primary forte: slinking in between defenders and scoring at the rim. Thomas has mastered the art of diverging defenses off screens and his stealthy-mannered movement on the floor often leaves defenders helpless and hapless. Or haplessly helpless. This is something John has struggled with in facing Thomas so it’ll be key for the defense to up their awareness when Thomas is handling the ball through and around defenders.
Focal Point: The passing game, or lack thereof
The Kings hold one of the league’s worst records but despite their season long struggles, they can still manage to score the ball. In fact, they’ve been manufacturing 101.1 points per game, good enough to be among the league’s average. The problem is, they are dead last in assists and this is primarily a problem for the Kings’ front office as they determine what they want to do with Isaiah Thomas come summertime. While Thomas can certainly put the ball in the hoop, the Kings want him to play more of a facilitating role for the offense, especially while employing guys who like Rudy Gay and Cousins – guys who like to shoot. Thomas, Gay, and Cousins all average more than 15 shot attempts a game. Thomas only averages six assists a game. This kind of on-court presence can stagnate an offense greatly.
Contrarily, the Wizards love sharing the ball. Night in and night out they maintain a high percentage of assisted baskets and are in the league’s top 10 in both assists per game and assist to turnover ratio. These facts can be manifested by none other than John Wall, the governor. Because he governs the state of the Wizards offense and the team reflects on his leadership. You credit Trevor Ariza’s monster season to the fact that it’s a contract year for him? I say you’re wrong. While that may be a fraction of the reason, it really goes without saying that John Wall and the structure of the Wizards offense he runs has facilitated Ariza to becoming the long-range marksman he’s been this season. Same goes with the other wing shooters Bradley Beal and Martell Webster. And same goes for screen and rolling big men like Marcin Gortat and Nene.
For tonight to end in a season sweep of the Kings, it should be nothing more than business as usual for the Wiz Kids. Guard Rudy Gay on the perimeter; stave off Isaiah Thomas from trickling into the lane, and get Demarcus Cousins so uncomfortable he won’t even want to shake hands with his BFF Wall after the game.
Behind Enemy Lines
We caught up with Blake Ellington (@BlakeEllington), an SBNation writer for SacTown Royalty and the founder editor of BleedBlackandPurple.com, to talk about the state of tonight’s opposition.
[ed Jacobsohn/Getty Images]
1) Let’s get this started with a little Nor-Cal nostalgia. One of the lasting memories for me as a die-hard NBA fan is the ‘cowbell’ saga in Sacramento during the playoff years of the early 2000s, specifically against the Utah Jazz. The image of former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan being tormented by relentless fans banging their cowbells in his ear will simply never get old. For many fans of my generation (the 30+ group) that sort of environment served as the blueprint for NBA fanhood. How much of that energy and intensity has really dropped off in Sactown given the losing nature of the team in recent years combined with the whole fiasco of nearly losing the team as a whole?
Blake: The cowbells are still alive and well! The intensity has never really dropped in terms of the passion of the fan base. In fact, what you saw on TV during all of the Kings playoff years actually came through during the effort to keep the team in Sacramento in recent seasons. The fans here did some amazing things to help keep the team out of Anaheim, Seattle and all of the other cities rumored to be interested in stealing the Kings. Mayor Kevin Johnson is the main reason the team is still here, but the fans played an integral part. In terms of the games throughout the season, sure there has been a drop off in the number of sellouts and crowd energy on a consistent basis, but I contend that it is still the loudest arena in the NBA when it gets rocking in the fourth quarter of a close game. Attendance also has seen a big increase since Vivek Ranadive and company took over as owners. The NBA obviously recognized how strong the market is here in terms of fan support, and I think once the Kings get back to the playoffs, the rest of the country will again see what they saw in the early 2000s. Eight seasons without a playoff appearance and a rocky relationship with the previous owners did take its toll on the fans, but they are still here and are still passionate as ever.
[Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports]
2) Demarcus Cousins. We here in DC love him as the former Kentucky sidekick to John Wall and as fans have often lobbied for his acquisition. Like Wall, Cousins’ performance on the floor and his sky-high potential also earned him a max contract but with the baggage he carries (his hardheadedness and at times questionable behavior), how do you predict his ultimate glorification in Sactown? How would it measure against Divac and Webber’s royalty?
Blake: DeMarcus is having his best season as a pro statistically and, for the most part, his best season in terms of keeping his emotions in check. But even with that, he has had his issues with technical fouls and his demeanor on the floor. I think that makes it difficult for the fans to connect with him the way they did with Vlade and Chris. Those guys just had personalities that meshed so well with the fans in Sacramento. That isn’t to say DeMarcus doesn’t have a likable personality off the court, he just has a unique personality. Many are still behind him and want him to succeed here, but as of right now, he isn’t anywhere near the stature of the two guys who were mainly responsible for the on-court success of those teams in the early 2000s. It isn’t just about personalities. Winning can do a lot to help a players’ reputation after they are done playing. Kings fans simply cherish the days of “The Greatest Show on Court.” I mean, they were one Robert Horry shot and a few foul calls away from bringing a title to Sac. That being said, if DeMarcus continues on the path of improvement that he is on and can put the team on his back and lead the franchise to some playoff success, then he may be looked at in a similar fashion in the long run, but as of right now, that is a very tall hill to climb.
3) Moving forward, the Kings plan to continue rejuvenating the love for basketball in the area with the proposal of a new ambient downtown arena, as told by BBP’s Greg Hyatt. Roster-wise, however, the front office’s work seems to be cut out this summer. Rudy Gay’s contract will seemingly still be in effect next season if/when he picks up his player option, but what’s the foresight on free agency and, specifically, Isaiah Thomas after a great season for him?
Blake: To your first point, yes the new arena in downtown Sacramento is all systems go. Construction is set to begin in September, and the city is buzzing with excitement about it. To your main question, Rudy Gay has been tremendous in Sacramento. The Kings have needed big-name talent and a legitimate small forward for a long time, and he has filled that void and then some. There are a few outcomes with him at the end of the season: the Kings pay him his player option of $19.3 he is owed next season; he opts out and the Kings offer him a long-term deal (and security); or he walks. Of course what they do with him impacts how much money they can spend on Isaiah Thomas, who also is having a career year. The team likes him a lot, but it is still clear they feel they need a point guard who is more of a facilitator. To his credit, Isaiah is averaging 6.3 assists per game but it seems the Kings’ front office still would like more of a facilitator than a scorer. I don’t think that means they want to get rid of him or anything, just that they think they need a second option that is starter-worthy and that they might still think he is better served as a sixth man. So that will be a factor as this thing plays out. Many fans argue he is a starter. Many fans argue he is better as the spark off the bench. It’s been going on all season. The owners will have to decide if he is worth starting point guard money or sixth man money. He will be a restricted free agent so the Kings could match any offer. He is going to draw a lot of attention in free agency I would imagine though, so how much of a bidding war they would be willing to get into over him is anyone’s guess, especially considering Rudy’s situation. So yeah, big decisions ahead for Vivek Ranadive and Pete D’Alessandro.