The Sacramento Kings go into their last regular-season meeting with the Toronto Raptors in the first of two early NBA Sundays matchups, wishing they had the firepower they possessed the past two seasons.
The Kings reigned over the Raptors for two years in a row, sweeping the regular-season meetings. The four-in-a-row run was snapped when the Raptors routed the Kings 102-87 in the first meeting at the Golden 1 Center six days ago.
The Kings have not had a winning season since 2005/06, when they posted a 44-38 record and qualified for the playoffs. That was the last time they won 40 games or more, and also the last time they participated in the postseason.
Despite their struggles the Kings have created matchup problems for the Raptors, traded wins with the team from the North, and had established their superiority over the past two seasons. Then several things changed: the Kings fired head coach George Karl, replacing him with Dave Joerger. Then, the franchise went on a spree of player-personnel changes which lasted from the summer to the All-Star Weekend in February.
The Raptors loss was the 18th for the Kings this season, they are now 9-19, and heading for another year minus postseason action. The Kings are bottom five in points per game, assists and rebounds, and in the bottom half of the league for points allowed. That pretty much shows why Sacramento are where they are.
As poor as last season was, the Kings had five players averaging double figures in scoring by the time the season ended; of the five, only Buddy Hield is still at the team with the others having been either traded or simply left as free agents.
To be fair, the franchise tried to staunch the flow by bringing in veterans – Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill, who were all enlisted to ostensibly help the slew of youngsters at the franchise develop. This hasn’t borne fruit yet. And it hadn’t helped that the veterans who have now hit a downward spiral, are disillusioned with the way things turned out: the franchise that hired experience to enable wins now has decided that the continued development for the future is paramount again. Only three players are scoring in double figures for Sacramento, and none of them is averaging 16.0 points per game.
Toronto have had issues of their own, but so far managed to keep up with last season’s output. The Raptors are at the exact place (16-8) they were roughly a year ago. Kyle Lowry, the point guard, struggled with his offensive game earlier in the season, but has now stabilized. His scoring average of 16.0 points per game, however, is his lowest since averaging 11.6 points per game in his first season with the Raptors in 2012/13.
The same story of declining offensive production is repeated with DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas; all are averaging less than their scoring numbers last season. Still, the Raptors are ranked fourth in the league in scoring with an average of 111.0 points per game, and are ninth in points allowed with 102.8 points per game.
They also have almost four percent more in shooting accuracy, and hold the advantage in rebounds with 1.8 boards more than Sacramento. The Kings have knocked off the New Orleans Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder, but their biggest scalp this season was taken at Oracle Arena in Oakland, when they defeated the Golden State Warriors 110-106, late in November. The Kings required a bit of a miracle to pull that win off; they will need another healthy dose of the same to get a win against the Raptors.
The game will be live on Kwesé Free Sports and Kwesé Sports 1 from 22:00 CAT (21:00 WAT) on Sunday.