NBA Game of the Week: In-form upstarts Kings and Knicks do battle with points set to rain
Two of the NBA's biggest upstart and in-form teams do battle on Thursday when the Sacramento Kings host the New York Knicks with both pursuing high seedings in their respective conferences.
Both sides actually dropped their most recent games, but Mike Brown's Kings have won six of their past seven and nine of their past 12, with Memphis' recent wobbles – in the absence of Ja Morant after his highly publicised nightclub incident – seeing them move up to second seed in the Western Conference with a 38-26 record.
It's been a similar story with Tom Thibodeau's Knicks, who had won nine straight games until falling to a shock 112-105 loss to the 21-46 Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Before that defeat, the Knicks had the NBA's longest active winning streak.
Arguably, the Knicks felt the absence of Jalen Brunson, who missed his second straight game due to foot soreness against the Hornets.
Brunson had won February's Eastern Conference Player of the Month, helping ignite a winning run that has seen the Knicks surge up to fifth in the east with a 39-28 record, breathing down the necks of the fourth-placed Cleveland Cavaliers (42-26).
The Knicks guard averaged 27.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists during the eight games he played in his side's hot streak.
But Thibodeau downplayed the seriousness of Brunson's issue, suggesting he will likely be available to take on the Kings as both teams look to bank wins down the final stretch of the regular season ahead of the playoffs, with seedings up for grabs.
And the Knicks will not be fazed by taking on a high-ranked team from the West, having toppled the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets – both sitting inside the east's top five – twice each during their recent run of victories.
The Kings' threat is their offense, leading the NBA in points per game (121.1), including a league-high home return (124.3), led by Domantas Sabonis, Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerter and De'Aaron Fox. Sacramento (50.0) are behind only the Denver Nuggets (50.9) – currently atop the West – for field-goal percentage.
Sacramento Kings - De'Aaron Fox
Across the past 10 games, Kings point guard Fox is second only to Portland Trail Blazers veteran Damian Lillard (39.9) in the NBA for points per game, averaging a staggering 33.5 on 57.2 per cent field-goal shooting.
Fox scored a season-high 42 points in last month's wild 176-175 double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers, which was the second-highest scoring game in NBA history.
New York Knicks - Julius Randle
Brunson's recent impact has grabbed the headlines, but Julius Randle's output should not be lost in that, averaging 28.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in their past 10 games, including a clutch game-winning three-pointer against the Miami Heat.
Randle has exceeded the form that saw him win the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2021 after dipping in offensive output in 2021-22.
KEY BATTLE - Can the Knicks control the key?
The Knicks will need to find a way to shut down the Kings' prolific offense, at least to some extent, but they will be buoyed by having the NBA's best record for fewest opposition points in the paint this season (45.3).
The paint is Kings power forward Sabonis' domain, sitting seventh in the league for points in the foul lane (8.5 per game), so his battle with Knicks center Mitchell Robinson will be important. On the flip side, the Kings are 28th for opposition points in the paint (54.6).
These two sides have only met once this season, with the Knicks winning 112-99 in December with Randle and R.J. Barrett top scoring with 27 points each.
Sacramento's offense was kept below 100 points for the first time this season in that contest, which has only occurred twice in 2022-23. The Knicks have won three of their past four meetings.