There are a cluster of teams fighting it out for lottery picks at the bottom of the standings, and two of them will face off in Sacramento on Thursday night. The Kings have actually been okay of late, having won four of their past nine to move to a 23-49 record.
The same can’t be said for Atlanta, although they did have an impressive win against Utah on Tuesday. Dennis Schröder had one of the best games of his career, going 16-for-28 on the way to 41 points and seven assists. Despite the win, the Hawks sit in bottom place in the east, thanks to a six-game losing streak prior to the Utah matchup. Their record is 21-50, which is the third worst in the league.
Three keys to the game
How long is the Kings’ memory? - Atlanta haven’t had a lot of highlights this season, but one of them came in their only prior matchup with the Kings. The Hawks routed Sacramento in that game, winning every quarter on the way to an extraordinary 126-80 victory. Not a great memory for the Kings.
Who can score? - Both of these teams have woeful offenses, in particular the Kings. Sacramento score just 101.5 points per 100 possessions, better than only Phoenix. The Hawks aren’t much better, with their 103.2 points per 100 possession the fifth least in the league. Fortunately, both sides are also bottom ten in defense, meaning scoring shouldn’t be too difficult, but don’t expect this to be an offensive showcase.
Stopping Schröder - Schröder isn’t ordinarily a huge cause for concern for opponents, but after his last outing, the Kings will need to pay attention to him. The German was unstoppable against the league’s best defense, scoring in a variety of ways on the way to 41 points and seven assists. Against a significantly inferior defense, he will be confident of continuing his good form.
Matchup to watch
De’Aaron Fox vs Dennis Schröder - Fox has been solid in his first year in the NBA, and has been gradually growing into his role as a starting point guard for Sacramento. He averages 11.6 points and 4.3 assists per game, and has had a couple of good ones of late. He shot 8-for-11 and dished out four assists in his last game, while the match before he grabbed 11 steals.
Schröder has been around for a little longer, but is still just 24 years of age, and is averaging a career high in points this season. In 2017/18 he is putting up 19.5 points and 6.2 assists per game, but his 29.5% from beyond the arc is a problem. He shot 3-for-7 from long range against Utah, and will be hoping to capitalize on the inexperience of his opponent in this matchup.
Sacramento Kings predicted starting lineup
PG - De’Aaron Fox | SG - Buddy Hield | SF - Justin Jackson | PF - Zach Randolph | C - Willie Cauley-Stein
Atlanta Hawks predicted starting lineup
PG - Dennis Schröder | SG - Damion Lee | SF - Taurean Prince | PF - Mike Muscala | C - Dewayne Dedmon
Surprisingly, Dedmon might be the one to watch in this game. He was the most dangerous player on the floor in the Hawks' early season rout of the Kings. In that matchup, he shot 9-for-10 from the field on the way to 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out five assists, and also contributed two steals and two blocks each. He played well in the Hawks’ last game too, putting up 15 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block.
This game is a flip of the coin as to who will win, so stay away from the line. Instead, take the under 212.5 total game points. Though each team is poor on defense, they are even worse on offense, and games between two bad teams often result in low scoring affairs.
This one is hard to pick. Neither team theoretically has any reason to win other than pride, given their positions in the rankings. The Hawks seem to be doing a better job of tanking at the moment though, with the Kings having actually performed reasonably well in recent weeks, and they’ll get over the line in this game too.
On the back of their exciting and youthful backcourt of Fox and Hield, the Kings will triumph in a low-scoring game. It will be tight throughout, but they’ll run out 99-95 victors.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBCSA and Fox Sports Southeast. Tip-off is at 10pm ET.