The Sacramento Kings might as well call themselves Knicks West.
Their organization has been a mess for a long time now, and it doesn't look like this is the year they finally sway assumptions about their general competence. They're just...well...they're a super mediocre team. They're bad on defense (24th in defensive rating, which makes them only marginally better than the Knicks, which...yeah), and they have a mediocre offense despite some decent pieces. Bad management, bad coaching — you name it, Sacramento has screwed it up.
One of the few things the Kings nailed in the recent past -- DeMarcus Cousins. The guy is an animal. I can't name ten players in the league who are more impactful offensive players so far this year. Despite using a career high 37% of his teams possessions, he has a career LOW in turnover percentage, he's increased his assisting, and he's ALSO increased his shooting efficiency. He's taking nearly SEVEN treys a game, and he's hitting 38% of them. For reference, Porzingis takes a little less than six per game. Cousins, despite looking like a well-done Photoshop of Shaq’s body combined with the face of an actual infant, is ironically an absolutely dominant physical bully on offense. He's unstoppable attacking the rim, he's got range to stretch you out, and he'll demolish anyone on the low block to boot. If you're lucky, he'll only drop 24/11/3. In the past, turnovers were his biggest weakness; so far this year, that has no longer been the case.
Luckily, Cousins is basically surrounded by a bunch of role players, which is just a classic sign of bad management (Knicks before KP, Pelicans right now). For some reason, new hire Dave Joeger insists on starting Kosta Koufos, who is also a center, with DeMarcus. I want to say they'll start someone else instead, because asking either true center to chase Porzingis around is approaching Kurt Rambis territory, but who knows with this team. Rudy Gay is having a pretty good season, and he can fill it up really quickly on offense, but he's not the kind of game-changing player who destroys defenses and dictates a change in coverages on a nightly basis. Also, Darren Collison (who isn't really a starting caliber point guard) will be starting at point guard. I guess he's still better than current Rajon Rondo, who was Sacramento's starting 1 last season, so that's good.
Of course, no heart-wrenchingly bad franchise maintains it's status in the doldrums of hopeless mediocrity without a host of M. Night Shymalan-style twists. In one of many ultimately terrible decisions by the Kings' front office over the past few years, Sacramento initially made a very good decision (letting the aforementioned Rondo walk to Chicago as a free agent), but followed it up with a very bad decision. Instead of learning their lesson, they doubled down on ANOTHER box-score All-Star that we are all, unfortunately, quite familiar with. Yes, it's Arron Afflalo, who somehow maintains the label of a 3-and-D player despite blatantly ignoring defensive responsibilities while constantly clogging space in the paint for his post ups regardless of how much time is left on the shot clock. Since he seems to hate the Knicks after his sole season here (and I'm pretty sure we hate him too), he'll probably drop 35. With the mutual vitriol involved, you might even witness Afflalo put in some actual effort to get around a screen! (Conversely, if any Knicks defender — Justin Holiday, Courtney Lee, whoever — ere to shut Afflalo down, he’d earn immediate P&T Favorite status. That’s how much we dislike Afflalo. — Ed.)
Off the bench, the guy to watch out for is Omri Casspi. This guy is a lights-out shooter from beyond the arc; this usually spells serious trouble for the Knicks. In the Knicks-Kings showdowns last season, Casspi spent a lot of time at the 4 spot matched up with Porzingis; as a larger wing, the Kings attempted to negate KP's offensive advantages while simultaneously attacking Porzingis' Achilles (defending on the perimeter). And it worked pretty well; that was the beginning of the "throw a big wing on Kristaps" league-wide movement that contributed to KP's late-season statistical falloff. I can almost guarantee they'll try this again, as Casspi has made his way back into the rotation in the past week or so. Beyond that...we're probably safe from a Matt Barnes 30 burger because Derek Fisher isn't here anymore, Ty Lawson is washed, Garrett Temple is a backup PG who can't play PG, and Willie Cauley-Stein continues to show absolutely nothing of note on either end. Ben McLemore is the other "important" bench piece, and he's totally forgettable at the moment, but I suspect he'll become a good player once he gets the hell out of Sacramento.
The Kings are shallow, they lack versatility, and they are unpredictable. They might come in, fired up and willing to commit on the defensive end; they also might come in and give up 40 points in the first quarter. It's impossible to predict.
If the ratio of bad Kings to good Kings is close to even, the Knicks should win this game — assuming, of course, that the dense singularity of suck generated by these two incompetent organizations being in the same building doesn't cause everyone to play like the Washington Generals. If the ratio of bad Kings to good Kings favors the good, this could be a tough game; much like our Knicks, the Kings can win games against anyone when they actually put in defensive effort in a productive manner. They CAN do it, but will they bother?
This matchup comes down to defense, and Dave Joeger's decision with his starting lineup. Starting Koufos at the 4 puts him at a massive disadvantage on defense; Koufos can exact SOME revenge on the glass, but I find it hard to believe that it'll be enough to counteract KP running wild. I expect Joeger to either start Casspi at the 3/4 with Gay, or slide Gay to the 4 and insert Ben McLemore into the starting lineup. I hope he doesn't -- let's see if Porzingis can be physical enough to defend Koufos while clowning him on the other end of the floor. That's a good challenge for him.
As for the defense, that's pretty obvious for both teams. The Knicks have been a better defensive team when they play at home, but they're still 27th in defensive rating, and we just don't know what we'll get on a night-to-night basis. Will Courtney Lee play? They'll need him. Will Joakim Noah play? If there's ever a night to show off his value on defense, this is it. Can Lance play more minutes and bolster the defense even further? Casspi can get it going quickly off the bench. There's a lot of questions, and that's a problem, but Sacramento's disastrous start on defense means the Knicks don't need to be good to secure the win. They just need to be passable.
Prediction - Knicks win, 114-107.