Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings: Game Day Preview

Dec 14, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) attempts to drive the ball past Sacramento Kings guard Garrett Temple (17) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) attempts to drive the ball past Sacramento Kings guard Garrett Temple (17) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Rockets will return to the Toyota Center on Wednesday after a tough, five-game road trip.

The Houston Rockets will host the Sacramento Kings at home on Wednesday, hoping to steady the ship after going 3-5 in their last eight games.  According to Team Rankings, the Rockets have played the league’s toughest schedule so far, and the fatigue (read: lack of intensity) has grown increasingly noticeable of late – particularly on defense.

With this game against the Kings signalling the start of a four-game home-stand, the Rockets will be hoping to reclaim their energy and find the form that made them one of the league’s top teams in the month of December.

The Kings will be heading to Houston on the second night of a back-to-back after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers by 3 points without their super-star rookie, Joel Embiid.

Boogie’s Big Night

DeMarcus Cousins fouled out in the dying minutes of the Kings’ loss, but not before showing why he’s one of the league’s best players. He put up 46 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists on 11/16 shooting, 4/6 from three and 20/22 from the stripe. There were some questionable calls against Boogie and the Kings, who were definitely unlucky, but ultimately fell to 19-28 with the loss.

Cousins made his presence felt on the glass and proved practically unstoppable from every area of the floor. He kept the defense honest with his three-point shot and punished his opponents on the drive and in the post. The Kings received contributions from Matt Barnes (16 points) and Willie Cauley-Stein (17 points), but the headline story was DeMarcus Cousins.

However, the Kings’ defense struggled to contain the Sixers’ small-ball forwards, with Robert Covington scoring 23 and Dario Saric causing a multitude of problems against the Kings’ dual-big lineups. Saric took both Cousins and Anthony Tolliver off the dribble with ease all night and his dribble penetration created a lot of good looks for the Sixers.

Saric finished the night with 17 points on an efficient 7/8 from two-point range and dropped handful of nice dimes (6).

Rockets vs. Kings

Based on the Kings’ defense in their previous game, the likelihood of Ryan Anderson or Sam Dekker proving to be the X-factor against the Kings is high. Sacramento struggled against the small-ball style, and none of their power forward options had any success on the defensive end.

Sam Dekker  in particular, has a similar skill set to Saric and would seem capable of taking advantage of the Kings defensive weaknesses if given the opportunity. Of course, James Harden is another who will benefit from the Kings’ struggles in shutting down dribble-penetration, but that’s the case in most match-ups.

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For the Rockets, the biggest concern is Cousins. Their interior defense has been weak of late, but at least dribble penetration shouldn’t be a concern.

None of the Kings’ guards or wings caused any problems for the Sixers on the drive, with Ty Lawson, Darren Collison and Garrett Temple only combining for five made two-point field goals between them. So at least the Rockets’ (recently) shaky perimeter defense shouldn’t be tested too much.

However, Houston’s help defense and rotations will be important in handling Boogie and stopping shooters, with the Kings making 13/29 threes (45%) against the Sixers. However, the three-pointer may be a shot you can live with against a middle of the pack three-point shooting team like the Kings. It certainly seems like a better option than playing Boogie in single coverage and letting him go for 50.

Ultimately, the Rockets should have no trouble outscoring the Kings, who struggle to guard both the perimeter and the paint. Like most teams do, the Kings will struggle to contain Harden, who is averaging 19/10/12 against the Kings this season and averaged 36/6/8 in four games against them last season.

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Looking at the big picture, this should be a comfortable win for the Rockets against a struggling Sacramento team. The Rockets have beaten the Kings by 13 and 34 points in their two match-ups this season, with the second coming without DeMarcus Cousins (who rested). Regardless of DeMarcus’ status in this one, the Rockets will be hoping for another comfortable victory.