Mel Brooks said it was good to be the king. But in today’s NBA, it’s even better to be playing the Kings. The Sactowners (10-37) have the worst record in the Western Conference. Yes, worse than the Timberwolves, Thunder and even the Clippers. In fact, they’re a scant 0.013 percentage points better than the Washington Wizards Generals who, at 9-36, are the cream of the league’s crap.
But wait. There’s more. The Kings are in the midst of a seven-game spiral of doom…and that’s not even their worst slump of the season: They also lost eight straight from November 21st to December 6th. They’ve dropped 19 of their last 22 overall, including 11 consecutive failures on the road. And the Kings — once nigh unstoppable at home (241-87 from 2000-01 through 2007-08) — are only 7-15 at Arco Arena in 2008-09.
You could say defense — or the complete and utter lack thereof — has been an issue. Kind of like having both legs chewed off by a mutant shark would be a problem for a long-distance runner. Sacramento gives up 108.2 PPG. Only the Golden State Warriors (111.8 PPG) put up less point resistance. Furthermore, the Kings are currently tied with the Grizzlies for the most pitiful field goal defense in the league: Their foes are hitting 48.0 percent of their shots. And this is a worsening trend, considering that Sacramento’s opponents have averaged 120.4 points on 51.1 percent shooting over the last nine games. Finally, according to John Hollinger’s team stats, the Kings are at the bottom of the NBA barrel in terms of defensive efficiency, meekly surrendering 111.6 points per 100 possessions. That must explain why they have the league’s worst point differential (-9.1).
See where I’m going with all this? Playing against the Kings appears to put opposing teams into God mode, in terms of scoring, anyway. Sacramento’s Brad Miller said: “Bad teams tend not to be defensive. It takes a lot of energy to play defense and you know, we score but, you know, we can’t, we’re not outscoring anybody.” Kings’ interim coach Kenny Natt added: “We’re our own worst enemy.” Neither man is wrong.
So where does that put our Bullies (19-27)? It’s not like they’ve been striking fear — or even a slightly nervous twitch — into any hearts lately. It took a game against the Clippers to break their season-high five-game losing streak and they’ve won only six of their last 19 games. Of course, as bad as all that sounds, the Kings would probably take on their woes in a Planck unit. (Smallest unit of time. Anyone? Bueller?)
Of course, the Bulls have the weight of history against them: They haven’t won a game in Sacramento in 11 long years. Their last win in Sactown was on November 23, 1997. In that game, Michael Jordan scored 33 points (on 11-for-19 shooting), Dennis Rodman snared 14 rebounds (including 5 on the offensive end) and Joe Kleine put in his obligatory two minutes of playing time. But last I checked, none of those guys are walking through that door. Although I bet Kleine would. He could probably use the money. (And, really, would he be any worse than Aaron Gray, even at 47?)
The most important things is for the Bulls to NOT be lulled into a false sense of security. Kevin Martin is the kind of explosive scorer who probably looks at a team like Chicago and thinks: “Yeah, I could probably score a season high on these guys at home.” I’m betting Al Jefferson was thinking the exact same thing before he dropped 39 on us a couple games ago. And for the record, Martin put up 29 points in Chicago earlier this month, and he’s averaging 28.5 points in his last four games versus the Bulls. So Vinny: Double him early and often if necessary. And DO NOT get into a shootout with them: The Sactowners are averaging 106.1 PPG in January and have had games of 135, 122, 117, 115 and 110 points. The Cavs and Celtics might be able to get away with not playing any D against the Kings, but the Bulls (probably) cannot.
The bottom line: Chicago needs to play defense like there’s no tomorrow, because the offense will take care of itself. Get off to a strong start and try to crush the Kings early. But don’t let up. The Kings are at home and desperate for a win. That can be a dangerous combination for unwary teams.