Opponent: Sacramento Kings
Starting Lineup: Cory Joseph – Buddy Hield – Harrison Barnes – Nemanja Bjelica – Richaun Holmes
Second Unit: De’Aaron Fox – Bogdan Bogdanovic (Questionable) – Trevor Ariza – Marvin Bagley III
Leading Scorer: Hield (21.6 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Holmes (8.1 RPG)
Leading Assists: Fox (7.1 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Fox/Bagley with the second unit
In due time, Fox and Bagley will return to the starting lineup, but at least for the time being, they are playing the young duo with the bench to ease them back from injury. That’s a pretty lethal bench combo. Fox, although rusty right now, will be a challenge for T.J. McConnell and Aaron Holiday to guard. Bagley is a challenge in the frontcourt because he has a quickness advantage over Domantas Sabonis if he’s at center and a size advantage over Doug McDermott/Justin Holiday if he’s at power forward. Also, Bogdanovic is as good of a sixth man as they come. The bench unit + Sabonis has been playing well lately, but they will be facing their biggest challenge yet if they keep Fox and Bagley on their bench.
Biggest Advantage: Playmaking
With Fox and Bagley easing back into their normal selves, the Kings have a large gap to fill in playmaking with their staring lineup. As we saw when he was on the Indiana Pacers, Joseph is not a huge creator on offense. Hield, Barnes, Bjelica and Holmes are all solid finishers, but they require someone else to get the offense rolling. Malcolm Brogdon should match up really well with Joseph, who isn’t one of the quickest guards around, and can make it difficult for him to start the offense. This will require some other Kings to initiate offense themselves, which isn’t their specialty.
The X-Factor: Fox
A large part of this game will be decided by how much and how effective Fox can be. The Kings really lack playmaking without him, so it will be essential that he can play a decent number of minutes and provide a spark while doing so. If he shows he’s rusty and plays inefficient, then the Kings could have a tough time getting offense going.
The Kings entered the season as a young squad a lot of people saw as a potential playoff team. After starting 0-5 with injuries to Bagley and Fox, even more people wrote them off. Since then, veterans like Joseph, Bjelica and Holmes have stepped into bigger roles and kept them afloat. They find themselves in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, despite a below-.500 record. They’ve gotten what they’ve expected out of most of their key players, such as Hield, Bogdanovic and Barnes. Their veterans have been hit-or-miss. Holmes and Joseph have been great, while Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon look washed. The Kings’ success tonight, as well as moving forward, hinges on the recovery and forward progress of Fox and Bagley. This is an important game for the Pacers, as they hit a stretch after this game where their next six opponents include five teams with above-.500 records.