Dec 18, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Sacramento Kings small forward Rudy Gay (8) attempts a shot over Atlanta Hawks power forward Paul Millsap (4) in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Sacramento Kings (7-17) at Miami Heat (19-6) Preview


Feb 26, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives to the basket as Sacramento Kings point guard Tyreke Evans (13) and small forward John Salmons (5) defend during the second half at the American Airlines Arena. The Heat won in a double overtime 141-129. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Start playing the Darth Vader music—this one isn’t likely to be pretty.

There’s always wiggle room for a tiny bit of optimism—after all, in February the Kings miraculously forced overtime against the Heat, and multiple Kings have a history of playing well against the Heat: Isaiah Thomas in particular, averaging 24.3 points and 6.3 assists per game against the Miami Heat.

Yet the Kings haven’t won a contest against the Heat since 2009, when someone named Ron Artest scored 33 points. In the LeBron James era, the closest margin in a Kings/Heat game was the 12 point loss in overtime last year (141-129 in Miami). The Kings couldn’t find offense in Charlotte and couldn’t find defense in Atlanta—and now they’ll be playing the best player in the world.

Still, if Mike Malone can’t get his guys pumped with a team like Miami coming up, they’re pretty much a lost cause.

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Sacramento Kings:

Miami Heat:

C: DeMarcus Cousins, 6’11, Kentucky
22.7 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 49.2% FG
C: Chris Bosh, 6’11, Georgia Tech
14.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 51.8% FG
PF:  Jason Thompson, 6’11, Rider
7.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 47.4% FG
PF: LeBron James, 6’9, Akron, Ohio
25.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 6.5 APG, 59.7% FG
SF: Rudy Gay, 6’8, UConn
19.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 40.7% FG
SF: Shane Battier, 6’8, Duke
4.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 38% FG
SG: Ben McLemore, 6’5, Kansas
8.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 35.5% FG
SG: Dwyane Wade, 6’4, Marquette
19.9 PPG, 4.8 APG, 4.7 RPG, 54% FG
PG: Isaiah Thomas, 5’11, Washington
18.9 PPG, 5.5 APG, 46.3% FG
PG: Mario Chalmers, 6’2, Kansas
8.7 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 42.9% FG

Key Bench Players:

G: Marcus Thornton, 6’4, LSU
8.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 35.3% FG
G: Norris Cole, 6’2, Cleveland St.
7.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 46.3% FG
F: Travis Outlaw, 6’8, Starkville HS
5.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 39.2% FG
G: Ray Allen, 6’5, Connecticut
9.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 45.5% FG, 38% 3P
F: Derrick Williams, 6’8, Arizona
8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 43.3% FG
F: Michael Beasley, 6’9, Kansas State
11.4 PPG, 4 RPG, 54.6% FG

 

Last Three Contests:

February 26, 2013: Kings @ Heat – Heat 141 Kings 129 OT
January 12, 2013: Heat @ Kings – Heat 128, Kings 99
February 21, 2012: Kings @ Heat – Heat 120, Kings 108

Key Matchup: Rudy Gay vs. LeBron James

There are a dozen key matchups here. Ben McLemore (struggling mightly on the defensive end as of late) against Dwyane Wade… DeMarcus Cousins against Chris Bosh… Isaiah Thomas against Mario Chalmers

Mike Malone might stick Rudy Gay on LeBron, or he might stick Jason Thompson on LeBron. He might stick both on LeBron, or have Quincy Acy (proving to be the Kings best defender by FAR) on LeBron. He might just have the whole team dogpile King James every time he gets past the half-court line.

But the LeBron/Gay matchup makes the most sense. LeBron is likely to guard Gay, who is far more a threat to score than Jason Thompson.

Gay has been exceptionally effective so far in his Sacramento career – he’s 27-51 from the field (52.9%) as a King. A major area of concern is his rebounding – he was averaging 7.4 a game in Toronto, but has snagged just 2.5 a contest here.

Whoever guards LeBron will need help from the basketball gods, but a solid night scoring wise by Gay is absolutely necessary. Thomas and Cousins have easier matchups, but Gay was brought in for a reason—he is a total offensive threat. This isn’t a night for him to be a letdown.

Three Things to Watch:

1. Three Point Defense: The Kings gave up 15 threes to the Hawks, and their inability to stick with the long ball on defense is a major concern considering Miami is 7th in the league on long ball percentage at 38% a contest (Atlanta is tied for 10th, shooting 37.8% on 8.7 makes a contest).

Ben McLemore has been struggling defensively, and now he’ll likely face we rotating between guarding Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Shane Battier.

There were multiple times in Wednesday’s contest when the whole Kings defense (McLemore chief among them) collapsed into the paint to stop the penetration, leaving targets open on the wings. 12 of the 14 Miami players are average to above-average to God level midrange shooters (sorry, Chris Anderson/Joel Anthony). The Kings cannot afford to continually collapse on the ball when there are so many capable shooters waiting for a bit of space.

2. Battle Down Low: Chris Bosh isn’t a bad defender, but he isn’t great at guarding bigs as strong as DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins averaged 17.5 points and 11 rebounds on 50% from the field last season, and will likely draw a lot of attention from Chris Anderson (a much better post defender).

If Anderson/Bosh are guarding Cousins and LeBron is guarding Rudy Gay, this will leave either Jason Thompson or Derrick Williams being guarded by Shane Battier. The Heat could always shift Battier (not quite the defender he used to be—Syngery caps him at .86 points per defensive possession, 172nd in the league) onto Gay, but Gay/Thompson/Williams all can easily post Battier up.

The power forward spot will, when not guarded by James, be a key spot to look out for. The higher profile Kings will garner much more attention, which could lead to some good looks by whoever plays next to Cousins/Gay.

3. No Early Holes: The Kings continually get down early and manage somehow to claw back—there isn’t worse team to do that against than Miami. The Heat reveal in demoralizing their opponents, and with such talent at both ends their unlikely to faulter enough to let the Kings battle back. A perfect game from minute 1 to minute 48 will be needed.

Prediction: As much as a victory in Miami would be welcome, I just can’t see it. The Kings seem to step up against tough opponents, so I don’t predict a complete blowout – Heat 109, Kings 96

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