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Sixers-Kings preview: Sacramento, Cousins a surprising challenge for Philadelphia

The Philadelphia 76ers take on a hot, inspired Sacramento team looking to avoid the upset.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers (7-22) had a full weekend to access what fueled a second-half meltdown to the Phoenix Suns in Friday’s 123-116 loss. Outscored 70-50 in the third and fourth quarters, it was an assortment of issues that plagued Philadelphia. Turnovers, allowing uncontested looks and Phoenix utilizing dribble penetration inevitably led to a Sixers collapse on the road.

Against an inspired Sacramento Kings (13-17) team, winners of three straight and currently the No. 8 seed in the West, repeating the problems will assuredly be costly. Dave Joerger hasn’t done anything revolutionary leading the Kings; Sacramento is still statistically below average on both sides of the ball. However, these Kings more potent than in previous seasons and have pulled off multiple impressive victories.

DeMarcus Cousins, for all the substantial off-court baggage he carries, has career-highs in a bevy of meaningful offensive categories. His points (29.1 PPG), true shooting percentage (55.9 percent) and offensive rating (109.0) all have illustrated Boogie’s spike in production and efficiency at 26 years old.

Additionally, Joerger has asked Cousins to stretch the floor in the 2016-17 season and Boogie’s obliged. Firing a team-high 4.7 threes per game, Cousins has added another wrinkle in his already dynamic offensive approach. The ability to bring a big to the perimeter and away from the rim is paramount in the modern NBA.

That’s what might transpire tonight with the Sixers’ frontcourt defenders. Blessed with a center who can contain around the perimeter, head coach Brett Brown could assign Joel Embiid (18.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 46.8 FG%) to handle Cousins when Jahlil Okafor (11.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 52.0 FG%) also is sharing the floor. Embiid enters the contest with a 102.0 DRtg, leading the team among players who have played five or more games.

If we were counting a small sample, Noel would have the highest mark (97.0 DRtg). He’s been a revelation off the bench, not having the awkward rotational flux impact his production. Playing just 8.8 MPG in four games since his return, Noel has looked spry, focused and willing to exert effort on both ends of the floor. His 27.4 PER is indicative of that sentiment, contributing in many categories offensive and defensively.

Sharing the lead frontcourt role next to Cousins, Kosta Koufos (5.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 57.0 FG%) isn’t a diverse offensive weapon. You can get away, hopefully, having Okafor handle Koufos on the block and letting the Embiid-Noel tandem shadow Cousins throughout the game.

The Kings employ a more traditional rotation than Phoenix, with Rudy Gay (18.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 45.5 FG%) steadying their small forward spot. However, Gay was absent from the Kings’ matchup with Minnesota Friday with a hip injury. Matt Barnes (7.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 36.6 FG%) took his place. The substantial drop-off in production is something to monitor, as Gay’s injury has a direct, obvious impact on tonight’s game.

Philadelphia’s guards get a break from having to contain the deep Suns backcourt and will deal with a less prolific Kings guard rotation. Starting point guard Darren Collison looked to be a long-term remedy for Sacramento’s revolving door at point guard but he’s regressed. Shooting just 31.0 percent over his last five games, the veteran journeyman doesn’t presumably present Sergio Rodriguez with a massive challenge.

“El Chacho” has evidently had difficulty containing athletic lead guards, who use dribble penetration and pick-and-rolls to leave him in the dust. Collison isn’t quite in that mold, utilizing a balanced scoring approach. Rodriguez can sometimes get handsy, a cringe-inducing display, instead of relying on lateral movement. Luckily, his flaws might not be as illuminated as they have been over previous weeks.

Rodriguez was struggling offensively heading into the Phoenix game, but contributed a season-high 21 points and looked to reclaim his touch (8-of-12 shooting, 4-of-8 from three). He can get his way against a non-threat defensively in Collison (113 DRtg). The Kings don’t possess a stout backcourt defender. Philadelphia should be able to exploit Sacramento’s deficiencies.

Shooters like Hollis Thompson (5.7 PPG, 41.8 FG%, 36.4 3PFG%) and pick-and-pop regular Ersan Ilyasova (14.3 PPG, 46.1 FG%, 38.0 3PFG%) could be X-Factors in this regard. Factor in the Kings’ frontcourt’s struggles with mobile, floor spacing bigs and the Sixers could be hoisting an abundance of triples tonight. Who doesn’t enjoy the aesthetically pleasing Joel Embiid triple anyway?

The Sixers will have Nik Stauskas in the fold tonight, who adds an appealing wrinkle as a former King who has developed with Philadelphia. An Embiid-Cousins potential battle still is an enticing theme for tonight’s game, as Philadelphia looks to topple the Kings (13-17) on the road. The game starts at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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