The Kings begin a rigorous six-game road trip tonight in Milwaukee.
It’s fitting that the most challenging stretch thus far is kicked off by playing the Bucks, one of the top defensively ranked teams with one of the highest net ratings. Plus, as everyone is well aware, they have one of the toughest players to guard in the NBA named Giannis Antetokounmpo.
As the discourse surrounding Sacramento’s travel schedule tries to decipher whether the team finishes 2-4 or 3-3 on this trip, a good portion of that will be decided in this contest. After all, following this one, the Kings head to Cleveland Friday night against a Cavs team that lost at The Golden 1 Center four weeks ago and who will thus be sure to bring it on their home floor.
The Bucks are one of the best teams in the league, and everyone knows what happened when the Kings played another premier squad when they visited Boston near the end of November. They have one of the very best players in the league, Khris Middleton is back, and they sit near the top with a 106.7 defensive rating. It’ll be undeniably difficult as well as a good test to see exactly where this team stands.
Though to be fair, the loss to the Celtics was the last of a tough three-games-in-four-nights trip, and this one is the first of a roadie. Plus, Milwaukee is not nearly as good as Boston’s number-one ranked offense, and Sacramento’s defense has only gotten better with each passing game, sending it straight up the ranks.
As hard as it will be to pull it off, Sacramento can win this game, but they’ll need to put an emphasis on three areas.
The Bucks allow some of the fewest paint points at 46.3 per game and they are near the top in blocked shots at 6.3, most of which come from Brook Lopez (3.0 BPG) and Giannis (1.1). They defend the inside very well.
Nevertheless, getting into the paint to collapse the defense and get to the line would be extremely helpful in Sacramento’s efforts.
With guys like De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Davion Mitchell able to penetrate, score, and facilitate in the lane, plus the added element of Domantas Sabonis’ screens, the Kings have the ability to stay aggressive and execute in there.
Doing so, as is apparent, unlocks so many things; it can generate high-percentage looks at the rim and it’s noteworthy that the best three-point looks usually come after paint touches, going inside-out.
For instance, after the win over the Bulls this weekend, Malik Monk described how his tendency and ability to pass when in the lane has defenders so fixated on that aspect that he’s getting some really easy looks at the bucket.
Getting points in the paint is important because in the Bucks’ 6 losses, they’ve allowed nearly 50 paint points (in fact, in their loss to the visiting Lakers this past Friday, they allowed 70 in the paint).
Additionally, when the Kings get to the free throw line, they have a tendency to come away with the win. In their victories, they average 26.7 attempts from the line, and in losses, it’s only 22.2 per game.
Move that ball around
Milwaukee’s defense holds their opponents to the fewest assists per game (21.3). When they win, the opposition averages under 20 assists, and when the Bucks lose, it’s over 26 per contest.
Their defense can really do a lot in terms of stifling opposing offenses and their ability to get in any kind of flow ball movement wise. In their win over the Hornets—which was the second of a back-to-back where many of Milwaukee’s stars rested—the Bucks defense held the Hornets, who typically average 25.0 assists per game, to just 15.
Conversely, bad things happen when the opponent moves the ball around successfully against the Bucks. In that previously mentioned loss to Darvin Ham’s Lakers, LA was able to score 70 points inside with the help of 32 assists. Both LeBron James and Russell Westbrook posted 11-assist performances, and for Anthony Davis, who scored 44 points, 72.2% of his made field goals were assisted.
Being near the top in both assists and assist-percentage, Sacramento is one of the better teams in the league regarding ball movement, so this shouldn’t be too much of an ask.
Keep up the pace
Without a doubt, the Bucks defense is one of the best, but effectively speeding them up and not allowing them much time to set up on as many possessions as possible can aid in beating them.
Sacramento’s pace factor of 102.67 is near the top of the NBA while Milwaukee’s 100.20 is right in the middle.
In their 17 wins, Mike Budenholzer’s team has a pace factor under 100.00 (99.89), and it exceeds that threshold in their losses (101.8). It’s not a drastic margin, but in a similar light, it’s the converse for the Kings where they win with a higher pace factor.
Also, it’s hard to ignore that the Kings are among the top in fast break points this season, but more specifically, over their three-game winning streak, they are scoring 23.3 points in fast break opportunities, and much of that was created by the defense. Obviously, turning defense into offense really helps this cause.
In all, the more points scored collectively—the more possessions and opportunities to score—the more likely the Bucks are to lose and the Kings to win. Vice versa, the less the amount of total points, Milwaukee generally sees good results while the Kings don’t.
It goes right in hand with the first two points of being aggressive and utilizing ball movement, and who dictates the pace could prove pivotal in deciding the victor.
Can’t seem to come out on top with this team. I don’t know why, they are one of the best teams and all but you’d think the Kings could get one win in the past 13 or so. Here’s to hoping!