Tonight’s game against the visiting Indiana Pacers is significant for the Kings.
Not only is it necessary to get back on a winning track after losing three straight, but this is one of the more highly anticipated games of this season so far.
The return of Tyrese Haliburton and—to a slightly lesser extent—Buddy Hield has been a circled date on the calendar for some time.
These teams played last season in Indiana in the time following the deal (remember Buddy’s blunder?), but Domantas Sabonis had just suffered a bone bruise to his knee against Phoenix and did not travel with the team. So this will be the first real return of any of those three headlining players in making a homecoming.
As much as it feels obvious that the February trade was mutually beneficial for each team, the storyline is being pushed that a winner must be declared. If that’s indeed the case and one concedes to the bogus idea, then it’s unlikely this game would in any way decipher that.
Still, tonight will carry some added emotion. Expect fans to cheer for Haliburton when his name is announced, and it’ll probably be more or less the same for Hield. Also, even if some players suggest otherwise, expect the Kings to bring an added intensity even if it’s merely the home crowd’s energy pulling it out of them.
On Tuesday, Harrison Barnes had an honest impression, saying this one is not just “another game” and citing the previous game in Indiana back in March—when Sabonis was out—as being filled with emotion.
At the end of the day, it will have an undeniable added factor. But regardless of the situation, a win is the desired outcome.
Here’s how they can help themselves out against the Pacers.
As fans of Sacramento basketball know very well, Tyrese Haliburton is a special facilitator and player. He is the best player on the Pacers, having just recently won conference player of the week honors at the same time as De’Aaron Fox.
Haliburton is averaging 19.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and a league-high 11.3 assists per game.
Because of him, the Pacers have a top-ten offense in both rating and points. Indiana is in the top-three in assists per contest and assist 68.6% of their made field goals, which is the second best assist-percentage in the league.
Nearly everything their offense does comes as a result of Haliburton, so it will be important to up the pressure on the point guard.
It’s easier said than done to try and muffle Haliburton’s knack for spreading the ball around, but Mike Brown’s defense should throw different looks and coverages at him throughout the night.
Overall, pressuring Haliburton will likely be a point of emphasis.
Get to the free throw line
When the Kings win, they average about 27 free throw attempts per game. When they lose, they average about 22 attempts.
Getting to the line is always vital for winning the possession game and thus the whole game.
To Sacramento’s advantage, Indiana is among the five teams that allow the most free throw attempts to their opponent at 25.7 per game. They are also in the bottom third when it comes to personal fouls committed per contest.
The Kings can win if they make getting to the line a priority. And it could help guys like Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox, and Harrison Barnes—all four of whom average four or more free throw attempts per game—have some big games. In terms of Fox, getting to the line could help him have a much needed bounce back game.
Defend the perimeter
Kings fans remember Buddy Hield. Since the 2018-19 season, nobody has hit more three-pointers than the Bahamian. That has a lot to do with the fact he never played less than 71 games in any of those seasons, excluding of course this one that’s in progress.
They are also aware that Haliburton and his unique release are no joke from beyond the arc. He’s a career 40.6% three-point shooter and is hitting them at 38.0% clip on a career-high 7.1 attempts.
The Pacers also have Myles Turner, who is shooting 39.7% from deep on 3.9 attempts. Plus they have a couple of rookies who are hitting from that range. Sixth overall selection Bennedict Mathurin is nailing them at 41.7% and Andrew Nembhard is converting 42.9% of his 3.3 attempts.
As a team, they are among the very top in three-point makes and attempts. They only successfully hit 35.9% of those looks, which is average, but 38% of their points come from three’s, which is one of the highest proportions in the NBA.
The Kings can’t let the Pacers beat them from three land.
Defend in transition
The Pacers score the second most fast break points at 17.9 per game, but over their last five games they’re putting up 20.0 a contest.
On the other side of things, the Kings are among the top teams at limiting opponent fast break points, allowing an average of 10.9 per game, and it’s about the same over the last several games.
However, last week in Memphis, Sacramento allowed 17 fast break points. The Grizzlies currently rank among the top teams in fast break scores, so clearly an adept team can beat the Kings’ transition defense, which, while pretty solid overall, has had some moments that drive Mike Brown crazy.
Indiana also notably has one of the top pace factors in the league, just ahead of Sacramento in the rankings, so how they can contain their ability to push it will be a factor in deciding this one.
Win the turnover battle
Whenever this is on the list of keys for a game, the reader is probably thinking, “yeah, no crap.” Turnovers always inhibit a team’s ability to win, but this is still worth highlighting.
For one, on the season, the Kings are in the top ten in points off turnovers. And the Pacers are in the bottom third of the league in turnovers per game while Sacramento is nestled near the middle of the pack. The opportunity to come out with the edge in that regard exists.
However, looking at each team’s last four games, the importance of this increases. That’s because in this stretch of games, Sacramento is averaging 18.3 turnovers while the Pacers are averaging just 11.5 per contest. Moreover, in that time, the Kings have allowed a whopping 24.8 points off of those turnovers and Indiana is only allowing 10.8 in the last four.
On the year, it looks as if the Kings have the edge regarding turnovers, but in the last four, these teams are displaying a night and day difference. It’s on Mike Brown’s group to take care of the ball and bring the intensity on the other end of the floor.