The Kings are 1-2 through the first half of their difficult six-game road trip and now head to Philadelphia for the first of a back-to-back that will have them in Toronto the following night.
For Sacramento, the prospect of getting De’Aaron Fox back for this one is possible. Having missed the previous two games resting the bruised foot that’s bothered him for over a monthas well as a thumb injury, the point guard was reportedly a full participant in Monday’s practice.
Speaking of availability, because Alex Len missed practice due to illness, the Kings are utilizing the two-way player system to activate Neemias Queta for tonight’s game against Joel Embiid and the 76ers.
Embiid and James Harden will be trying to make it three consecutive wins for Philadelphia.
The elite big man is coming off of a massive 53-point, 12-rebound performance against the Hornets on Sunday. Over his last four games, Embiid is averaging 41.3 points, 10.5 boards, 4.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, and has hit 7 of 14 attempts from beyond the arc as he continues his quest for MVP honors.
Harden is averaging 22.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists this season. He’ll play his fourth game since returning from some foot trouble that sidelined him for about a month.
Philadelphia’s three best players have all in fact missed chunks of time. Embiid had a pair of short inactive periods dealing with a foot issue, Harden missed his fourteen games, and Tyrese Maxey is currently out with a foot injury.
Despite such injuries at various points, they’ve held their own. They went 5-3 without the MVP candidate, 8-6 lacking the bearded one, and are currently 6-5 without Maxey.
In all, they hold the eighth best net rating, largely carried by their 109.5 defensive rating, which is fourth best in the NBA.
However, in their last four games, while the net rating has remained constant, their strengths have shone through on opposite ends of the floor. In the previous four, the Sixers have a 116.4 offensive rating (ranked eighth in that stretch) and a 113.6 rating on the other end.
Either way one chooses to look at it, Sacramento will be trying hard to pull out a victory before heading north of the border for a game against the Raptors the following night.
Here are some keys to doing that.
Pick up the pace
The Kings have had trouble controlling the tempo and flow of the game so far on this road trip. Through the first three games, Sacramento’s pace factor has been 98.50, which is lower than their 102.17 value on the season.
The Bucks (99.83 pace factor), the Cavaliers (96.46), and the Knicks (100.28) thrived with a slower pace against the Kings because their defense is the strength of the team. Just like the first three, it will be more of the same against the 76ers, who have fifth slowest pace factor in the league of 97.65 and use it to their advantage defensively.
Sacramento has got to find a way to sustain a pace and rhythm that works for them and which allows them to maximize the effect of their offense.
In the last three, the Kings–a team that was averaging over 28 assists a game before the trip–are averaging just 20 assists per contest thus far through three games on this trip. A better handle on the pace can help open things up and get that number higher tonight.
If Fox is back, this should be a huge help in this department. Of course, it depends on how healthy he really is.
Don’t settle for shots, attack
In a similar vein, the Kings have to avoid settling for jump shots. This is especially true against Philadelphia, who hold their opponent to the lowest three-point percentage in the NBA.
Just the other night against the Knicks, the Kings were throwing up a lot of three’s that were not falling, many of them not being the best possible look.
New York, as well as the other two opponents so far on this road trip, all did a nice job of preventing Sacramento from getting into the paint, which both took away high-percentage looks at the rim, but also blocked out the ability to dish the ball back out for a similarly high-probability shot.
Take Malik Monk for instance, who has been held to 2 assists over the last three games, which has stunted the ability of the bench to provide the lift on this road trip that fans have grown accustomed to seeing. The Bucks and Knicks in particular did an excellent job of keeping his hand out of his bag of tricks by preventing him much room inside.
The 76ers aren’t exactly locking down the paint. Milwaukee, Cleveland, and New York are all in the top-five in fewest opponent paint points per game, but Philadelphia is further towards the middle, allowing 48.8 per game.
With Fox back and with his presence on the floor, the Kings would have a better hope of getting this facet back on track.
Defend the perimeter
Despite not being in the top half of the league in attempts, the Sixers get about a third of their 110.7 points per game from beyond the three-point line, hitting over 38% of those looks.
Including the injured Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia currently has four guys shooting above 39% on five or more attempts per game. Georges Niang is shooting 43.2% on 5.2 attempts, Tobias Harris is converting 42.2% of his 6.8 tries, and De’Anthony Melton makes 39.4% of his attempts from deep.
Additionally, P.J. Tucker is shooting 38.1% and Shake Milton 38.0% on a few attempts per game.
And even their stars have looked better from that range lately. As noted, Embiid has hit 50% of his previous 14 from three, and Harden is shooting 37.0% in the three games since his return.
Sacramento can’t let them go off from there.
Get back to securing defensive rebounds
For most of this season, the Kings have been one of the better teams at preventing offensive rebounds and second chance points. In their first 15 games, Sac held opponents to a league-best 8.4 offensive boards and 11.5 second points.
However, over their last 10, Sacramento has been allowing a surplus in both categories with opponents grabbing 11.4 offensive boards for 12.8 second chance points. Moreover, on this road trip so far, the opposition is averaging 13.3 offensive rebounds and 17.7 points on second opportunities.
The Kings have suffered from both a few poor showings regarding boxing out as well as a tendency to lose out on long rebounds and 50-50 balls.
Perhaps Fox’s presence can help since he rebounds well and can get to the other end before the opposition’s back line can.
Regardless of the opponent, teams can’t hand out freebies.
Philadelphia doesn’t grab a ton of offensive rebounds (8.3 per contest), but they convert on second chance opportunities well to be in the top ten in second points with 12.5 a game.
Sacramento has got to tighten this up against the Sixers and start securing stops.