Sacramento Kings [10-16] at Raptors [17-11] – Preview & 3 keys to victory


The Raptors face a below-.500 team for the first time in four games. Can they defeat a star-heavy but struggling Kings squad?

The Sacramento Kings visit the Air Canada Centre for their second meeting with the Toronto Raptors. The Kings won in November to start Toronto’s west coast swing on a sour note. Will the Kings prove to be this season’s Charlotte Hornets, a bad team our guys can’t beat?

Since Masai Ujiri (re)arrived in Toronto as GM, the Raptors have avoided controversy. Contrast that with Sacramento, which has been threatened with relocation, then sold to a successful businessman who thinks he can run anything, including an NBA team. They fired a quality coach, and their GM tossed in his hand and left the table.

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The Kings’ difficulties extend to the floor. I can’t imagine trying to coach two prima donnas like Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, but such is the fate of bench veteran George Karl. While both are gifted players, as is former Raptor Rudy Gay, Sac-to can’t gain traction. Their tenth(!) year without playoffs looms.

Nov 15, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) moves in against Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Toronto Raptors 107-101. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

To my eyes, the drop-off in talent from their sort-of Big Three is precipitous. Omri Casspi has been tried as a stretch-4 by several teams, and is only now, in his seventh season, reaching respectability. Ben McLemore at shooting guard is still young enough to become a force, but hasn’t yet.

The Sacramento bench underwhelms. When I get old and wise, I’ll understand why Marco Bellinelli left San Antonio for this team, where he’s wasted. Quincy Acy hasn’t found a role. Seth Curry’s is somebody’s brother. Caron Butler should have started his coaching career three years ago. Willy Cauley-Stein, their prized rookie, is out with a broken finger.

The Raptors enjoyed a highly successful second half in Miami, and should be able to grab another victory if they…:

  1. …don’t allow Cousins to go off. The guy averages 25.2. points and 10.7 rebounds Per Game [PG], and should be an easy All-Star choice. He’s a load, and will demand the utmost from Bismack Biyombo. While I could be glib and suggest ball denial, it’s Rondo who handles the rock, and he’s got the skills to work it inside. Best to force Cousins to defend intensely, and get him in foul trouble. A corollary: when Cousins sits, so should Biz. Give Bebe the minutes while our primary defender gets the rest he needs.
  2. …force Rudy into taking tough shots. We know better than most fans how sticky the ball can get in Gay’s hands. If our defense can get in his grill without fouling (I’m looking at you, James Johnson), we can suffocate their offense.
  3. …pound their rotation players into submission. Terrence Ross is coming off the bench again – can he continue his fine shotmaking, while mixing in a few drive and dish -es? If so, and if Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson rediscover their strokes, our second unit can make the difference.

Next: Bruno Caboclo improves in D-League

The Raptors should have vengeance on their minds tonight. They are well-rested and at home. We’re well past time for an easy one. Raptors 110 – Kings 94.