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2023-24 Western Conference Play-In Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings

Kings Warriors NBA
The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings will square off in the Western Conference’s first play-in game. (Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 Western Conference Play-In Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings

We have our first “do or die” game of the 2023-24 NBA postseason. No, it’s not a Game 7, but a play-in game in a rematch of last year’s first-round series between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings! The game will take place inside Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif., at 10:00 p.m. EST!

The winner of this 9-10 play-in game will take on the loser from Lakers-Pelicans on Friday! Well, what are we waiting for?!? Let’s jump into it!

What to know about the Golden State Warriors:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

The Warriors enter as one of the NBA’s hottest teams, having won 10 of their last 12 games after the Houston Rockets threatened their play-in position.

All of their previous games against Sacramento were within its first 42 games of the season, including three in their first 18. So it’s difficult to take away a lot from those games. But what we do know about Golden State is they shifted their center rotation late in the season. Over the team’s final 11 games, Kerr started rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis instead of Kevon Looney, who hasn’t been as impactful this season as he has in past years.

Jackson-Davis is averaging 10.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 66.2 percent shooting since he’s entered the starting lineup. He gives Golden State more vertical spacing with added switchability without compensating rim protection. I expect Looney to get decent minutes to muck things up for Sabonis and Sacramento’s offense–similar to last year’s first-round series–but I don’t expect the leash to be as long.

The Warriors got encouraging ends the regular season from Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins. Thompson averaged 21.1 points on 47.9/39.8/100 shooting over his final 13 games while Wiggins posted 16.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 block on 45.7/38.1/82.2 shooting splits over his final 13. Golden State finished with the league’s ninth-best offense with the 15th-best defense.

What to know about the Sacramento Kings:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

Last year, Sacramento lit the NBA world on fire, making the postseason for the first time in nearly two decades. It ultimately resulted in a seven-game exit to Golden State, but it was a remarkably successful season that injected life into a hungry, passionate fanbase.

The results haven’t been as fruitful this season for Sacramento. Its offense dropped from atop the leaderboard to No. 13 and its NET Rating from No. 8 to 16, but it only finished two games worse record-wise!

Though where the bug really bit was injuries; the Kings lost Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk–two very key rotation pieces–to injury. Huerter underwent season-ending left shoulder surgery while Munk suffered a right MCL sprain, which is likely going to keep him out until late May or June–if they miraculously advance that far.

The Kings also closed the regular season losing five of their final six games outside of its regular season finale against Portland. This has been a group that can get hot and “light the beam,” if you will, in their own building. But can they avoid losing to Golden State in an elimination once again? Time will tell…

Questions?

Can Golden State slow Sacramento’s two-man horse?

I understand that a lot of what I mentioned above for the Kings was fairly negative, so let’s focus on the positive: Domantas Sabonis was awesome this season.

Sabonis tied Moses Malone for the most double-doubles since 1978-79 with 77 and led the NBA in triple-doubles with 26 (plus eight games with nine assists). He averaged 19.4 points, an NBA-most 13.7 rebounds and 8.2 assists on 59.4 percent shooting with a 63.7 true-shooting percentage. He also played in 82 games for the first time in his career, operating as the primary hub within Sacramento’s offense.

Though he also spearheads one of the best two-man games in the league alongside Fox, who averaged 26.6 points and 5.6 assists on 46.5/36.9/73.8 shooting splits. Without Monk or Huerter, a bigger burden falls on them. They will feature plenty of dribble hand-offs plus empty corner/ATB pick-and-rolls in an attempt to get downhill, where they’re most dangerous. Golden State is the best team in the NBA at limiting attempts at the rim, but screen navigation from Golden State’s point-of-attack defenders (which it lacks) will be crucial.

Keeping Fox, who can dart from end-to-end in the blink of an eye, out of transition will also be very important. Their two-man game and involvement in the offense will pop off the screen, and if Golden State can’t slow it down, it could be a long night for the Dubs.

Conversely, how will Golden State’s offense fare?

We talked about Sacramento’s offense against the Warriors’ defense, but let’s flip sides.

The Kings’ defense improved from No. 24 to 14 this year, also jumping from No. 27 to 21 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage and No. 6 to atop the league in defensive rebounding percentage. A lot of their improvement has been buoyed by the insertion of Keon Ellis and Davion Mitchell into the rotation after the injuries to Huerter and Monk. Even though it’s an eight-game sample, since the start of April, the Kings’ defense is the second-best in the NBA with the eight-lowest opponents’ effective field goal percentage allowed.

Golden State’s offense, meanwhile, is the 6th-best over this recent 12-game stretch and the 10th-best since the All-Star break. You can expect a healthy amount of Ellis and Mitchell on one of Curry and Thompson, even though the latter isn’t as effective as he once was flying around myriad screens. He’s still a threat, nonetheless, as is Curry, who’s averaging 31.6 points against Sacramento since the start of 2021-22 (18 games).

It should be an interesting chess match to see how Mike Brown and Steve Kerr counter each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but the Kings’ defense could be the biggest swing factor into whether its season ends Tuesday night or not.

Prediction: Warriors win 112-109

How do you think this 9-10 play-in game shapes up? Let us know in the comments!

***

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