One day after the Sacramento Kings won the second-highest scoring game in NBA history — a 176-175 double-overtime win against the LA Clippers — the NBA announced that the Kings vs. Knicks game on March 9 (10:30 ET) would be flexed to a national audience on TNT.
That announcement came on the same day that the Knicks won their fifth straight game — a win streak that would reach nine games before it was snapped on Tuesday night against Charlotte.
Thursday’s matchup not only features two of the hottest teams in the league, it is also a matchup of two of the NBA’s most potent offensive teams. The Kings own the NBA’s top-ranked offense (118.6 points per 100 possessions), with the Knicks rank fifth (116.3).
But when we zoom in on the past 10 games, we see Sacramento still on top, but scoring at a more ridiculous pace (125.6 offensive rating) and the Knicks right behind them (123.5, No. 2 in offensive rating) in that span. While we know both teams can light up the scoreboard, we’ll have to see if the Kings can “light the beam” or if the Knicks can extend their win streak against the Kings to five.
Here are five things to know leading into the Thursday’s matchup.
(Note: all stats and rankings through games played on March 7)
1. National spotlight for the Kings
The Kings are in a strong position to snap the NBA’s longest playoff drought of 16 years as they hold the No. 2 seed in the West with one month remaining in the regular season. The Kings playoff drought began in 2006-07 and has coincided with another drought — a lack of nationally-televised games.
The game vs. New York will mark the 36th Kings game broadcast on TNT, ESPN or ABC since 2006-07 — the second-fewest in the NBA (above only the Charlotte Hornets) in that span.
By comparison, fellow California teams the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers have 30 and 29 games, respectively, on those three networks this season alone. As for the numbers since 2006-07: the Lakers lead the NBA with 421 games played on TNT, ESPN or ABC, while the Warriors rank third at 312.
2. Status of the clutch point guards
We’ll have to keep an eye on the injury report to see if we get to witness a matchup of the two most clutch point guards in the league: Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox and New York’s Jalen Brunson.
When it comes to scoring in clutch situations — score within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime — no player has been better than Fox, who leads the league with 165 clutch points on 55.3% shooting with the game on the line. There’s a 30-plus point gap between Fox and the rest of the league, but leading that second wave is Brunson, who ranks second to Fox with 131 clutch points on 50.6% shooting.
Fox and Brunson not only rank 1-2 in clutch scoring, they hold the same positions in the latest Clutch Player Ladder, which tracks the top contenders for the first-ever Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year Award.
Fox was held out of Sacramento’s win over New Orleans on Monday due to hamstring soreness. While Fox wanted to play, head coach Mike Brown decided to be cautious and give Fox the night off and by doing so give Fox four full days of rest since his last game on Saturday and Thursday’s game against New York.
The additional rest could be beneficial as the Kings are tied with Memphis for the most remaining games (18) over the final month of the season. Following Thursday’s game, the Kings have two days off between games only one more time this season and four back-to-backs remaining on their schedule.
Brunson has missed the past two games for New York due to a sore left foot. The Knicks are 3-3 in the six games that Brunson has missed in his first season in New York.
No free agent signing from the past offseason has made the impact that Brunson has made with the Knicks. In addition to his 23.9 points, 6.2 assists and 41% 3-point shooting, Brunson has been a leader and an orchestrator while running the point for the Knicks. After being a supporting player to Luka Doncic in Dallas for the first four years of his career, Brunson has emerged as a star in his own right and is doing so in a hoops-crazed city like New York.
3. Knicks win streak snapped ahead of Thursday’s game
The Knicks and Kings are both 6-1 since the All-Star break — tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best record in the league since then. New York’s first loss since All-Star came on Tuesday night against Charlotte as the Hornets snapped the Knicks’ nine-game win streak, which dated back to Feb. 11.
Overall, the Knicks have won 11 of their past 13 games to rise to fifth place in the Eastern Conference, just two games back of Cleveland for the No. 4 spot, which would lock up home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. A Knicks-Cavaliers first round matchup with be very intriguing considering that the Knicks were long thought to be the front-runners to land Donovan Mitchell this past offseason before Cleveland swooped in with an offer Utah could not refuse.
The Kings had a five-game win streak snapped on Saturday against Minnesota. Overall, the Kings have won nine of their past 12 games to climb to the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. That is a huge leap from Sacramento’s 12th place finish (30-52) last season, earning first-year head coach Mike Brown some Coach of the Year buzz.
At 39-28, the Knicks have also already surpassed last season’s 37 wins, when they finished 10th in the East as they were unable to build on the previous season’s 41-31 run and first playoff berth in seven seasons.
4. Star duos leading the way for both teams
The Kings and Knicks are two of six teams this season that feature teammates that have won Player of the Week honors, with Randle earning the nod for his play over the past week.
- De’Aaron Fox: Week 5 (Nov. 14-20)
- Domantas Sabonis: Week 13 (Jan. 9-15)
- Jalen Brunson: Week 13 (Jan. 9-15)
- Julius Randle: Week 20 (Feb. 27-Mar. 5)
The other four teams to have multiple Player of the Week honors:
- Celtics: Jayson Tatum (1) and Derrick White (17)
- Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo (2, 6, 15, 16) and Jrue Holiday (14)
- Suns*: Deandre Ayton (6), Devin Booker (20)
- Lakers: Anthony Davis (7) and LeBron James (12, 14)
Note: Current Suns forward Kevin Durant earned two Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with the Brooklyn Nets.
Fox and Sabonis were both named All-Stars this season, with Sabonis voted a reserve by the coaches, while Fox was selected by Commissioner Adam Silver as an injury replacement. Randle was also an All-Star, while many considered Brunson among the top players snubbed for the honor.
Randle and Sabonis are both versatile bigs that can play in the paint and on the perimeter. They are two of five players — along with Kia MVP candidates Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Antetokounmpo — to average at least 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per game.
Sabonis is the league leader in both rebounds (12.4 per game) and double-doubles (career-high 52) and his 7.0 apg is 12th in the league and the second-highest average among centers behind Jokic. Randle ranks 15th in scoring (25.3), seventh in rebounding (10.4) and ninth in 3-pointers made (195). No other player ranks in the top 15 in all three categories and Tatum is the only other player to rank top 20 in all three categories.
5. Players to watch off the bench
The Knicks (85.5) and Kings (83.8) enter Thursday’s game ranked second and eighth, respectively, in points per game scored by its starters. The Kings’ usual starting five of Fox, Sabonis, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray has logged more than 100 more minutes than any other five-man lineup in the NBA. Meanwhile, New York’s five-man lineup of Brunson, Randle, RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes and Mitchell Robinson is tied for the fourth-best plus/minus of any five-man group in the league (plus-80 in 468 minutes together).
When it’s time to go to the bench, the Kings do not see as significant of a drop-off in scoring as the Knicks. Sacramento not only ranks eighth in starters points per game, they also rank eighth in bench points per game (37.3) as over 30% of the Kings offense comes from its reserves. Meanwhile, New York ranks 25th in bench scoring (29.8 ppg).
Both teams have a key player to watch off the bench as the two are considered among the top five favorites for Kia Sixth Man of the Year: New York’s Immanuel Quickley and Sacramento’s Malik Monk. The former Kentucky Wildcats have put up a monster performances in recent weeks.
First, it was Monk with a career-best 45 points off the bench in the Sacramento’s instant classic double-overtime shootout against the Clippers on Feb. 24. Just over a week later, it was Quickley who posted a career-best scoring performance in a double-overtime win as he torched the Celtics for 38 points while starting for the injured Brunson.