All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Tom Ziller runs one of my daily NBA reads, SactownRoyalty.com, and is the premier expert on the Kings. Don't forget to check out Kings.com and the blog kept by Sam Amick, the outstanding beat writer for the Sacramento Bee. To Tom's answers.
Given the team's injuries, how impressive is it that the Kings are still around .500?
The Kings' relative success has been great and unexpected. Particularly, when both Kevin Martin and Ron Artest were sidelined, no one expected the Kings to stay afloat... but they did. The injuries, if there's a silver lining, have gotten Beno Udrih to Sacramento and shown us how good John Salmons and Francisco Garcia can be, and have also allowed a showcase for Brad Miller's revived skill set.
How much of a revelation has John Salmons been this season?
Salmons went from 'mistake' to 'vital' real fast. His shooting has been the biggest shock, I'd say. He's also shown an ability to get to the rim regularly and finish well, but this is the first time in his career he's consistently knocked down a stepback mid-range shot or a catch-and-shoot three. If you told me three Kings would shoot 40% from three by midseason, I'd understand Martin and Garcia. I'd call you a liar if you mentioned Salmons.
How about Beno Udrih?
I'm still torn on Beno. He's been phenomenal (especially when you consider the woeful play before he came to town). But is he an above-average starting point guard in this league? If not, I wonder if his success might otherwise prevent the team from going out and getting a top-flight PG in the draft or free agency. But still, he's been great and has handled Mike Bibby's return well. He could use some more minutes, though.
Can the Kings be stout enough defensively to contend with this group of post players?
Inside defense has been the Kings overwhelming problem all season, and Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox and Kurt Thomas should have plenty of success. The flip, of course, comes with Sacramento's perimeter advantage. I'd predict Reggie Theus will go to his zone early and often, and dare the Sonics bigs to step out or the guards to shoot away (which Kevin Durant shouldn't have a problem doing).
What don't we know but should about the Kings?
Sonics fan know the game well, so they might know this, but: Brad Miller has had a sensational season. If you're expecting the slow, inactive, timid Miller of last season, think again. He still has defensive problems and he's not going to post anyone up frequently. But his shot has been smooth, his passing is coming back, he's rebounding as well as he has in four years, and he's rotating well enough on the pick-and-roll. You can't focus on the wings and ignore Miller, or he'll beat you.