The Warriors appear poised to miss out on the top seed in the west for the first time since 2014, but that won’t bother them. With a 52-16 record, they are a couple of games shy of the Rockets in first, and if Houston continue to win at the rate they currently are it will be tough to catch them.
After losing a couple of games in a row, Golden State bounced back to beat the Lakers 117-106 on Wednesday. Both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry missed with injury, leaving Kevin Durant to do much of the heavy lifting, which he did with 26 points and six assists.
The Kings are in a vastly different position, sitting in 13th place in the west with a 22-47 record. While the teams around them fight for lottery position, the Kings have actually shown some promise, winning three of their past six games. The most impressive of these was a 123-119 overtime win against the Heat. De’Aaron Fox hit a game-tying buzzer beater in regular time, and ended the game with 20 points.
Three keys to the game
Golden State’s injury woes - The Warriors have four of the best 15 players in the league, so can generally deal with an injury or two, but things are getting a little out of hand at the moment. Curry is out for a few more days with an ankle sprain, while Thompson has fractured his thumb. Now, Durant is seemingly likely to miss this game as well, while Draymond Green will probably return. They are a great side, but come right back to the pack with an injury list like they currently have.
Clutch Fox? - So far in his short career, Fox doesn’t appear to be bothered by big situations. His game-tying shot against Miami made it 3-for-3 for the rookie on shots to either tie or take the lead in the final five seconds this season. The rest of the rookie brigade are 2-for-20. If this one is close late, look for Sacramento to try to get Fox involved.
Thieving Kings - One area in which the Kings have actually been good this season is in creating turnovers. They grab 8.1 steals per game, seventh best in the league, and could use this to their advantage against the Warriors. Golden State move the ball a lot, meaning turnovers are inevitable, but they would still be displeased to see themselves third in the league for turnover percentage. If the Kings can turn these turnovers into points, they will give themselves a chance against an injured Warriors side.
Matchup to watch
Draymond Green vs Zach Randolph - With much of the Warriors' star lineup likely to sit this game, it will be left to Green and Randolph to play out what will probably be the most important matchup.
Randolph is 36, but has still been getting it done for the Kings this season. He is averaging 14.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his 18th NBA season, and against the Heat scored 22 points and grabbed nine boards.
Green, however, is one of the best defenders in the NBA, and will make life extremely difficult for the wily veteran. He will also be given greater responsibility on the offensive end in the absence of his more offensively gifted teammates, but this won’t trouble him. Green averages 7.4 assists for the season to go with 11.2 points, and against an older player who is not accustomed to guarding ball-handlers, he could be dangerous.
Golden State Warriors predicted starting lineup
PG - Quinn Cook | SG - Nick Young | SF - Kevon Looney | PF - Draymond Green | C - Zaza Pachulia
Sacramento Kings predicted starting lineup
PG - De’Aaron Fox | SG - Bogdan Bogdanovic | SF - Justin Jackson | PF - Zach Randolph | C - Willie Cauley-Stein
Incredibly, the Kings snared themselves a victory against the Warriors earlier in the season, and Cauley-Stein was a major reason for it. In that game, he came off the bench to play 29 minutes, scored 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting, grabbed eight boards, dished out six assists, and also chimed in with a steal and two blocks.
The Kings have been given a 10.5-point head start, and they are a great bet to cover this. Golden State are a fantastic side and could beat Sacramento by as much as they wanted if they were healthy, but they aren’t. With their best three players likely to be sidelined, they are simply an average team with a whole lot of confidence. The Kings should be able to keep this one to single figures, so back them to cover the line.
This could be a whole lot closer than many people expect. The Warriors backcourt now consists of a very inexperienced point guard and a very erratic shooter, their center is an average NBA player at best, and they will miss Durant hugely on both ends of the floor.
They still have some talent and a lot of experience coming off the bench, but the young Kings will give themselves a chance in this game, and will come out hard. Expect this to be a hard-fought contest for much of the game, but despite their injuries, the Warriors will be able to sneak over the line at home to win 111-104.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBC Sports Bay Area NBCSCA. Tip-off is at 10:30pm ET.