Wednesday’s Essentials

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Game of the Night - Houston (-2.5, 232.5) at Sacramento , 10:05 ET

The Clippers unloaded All-Star Tobias Harris overnight, essentially punting on their realistic playoff aspirations. Considering they enter Wednesday as the No.8 seed in the Western Conference if the regular season ended today, that’s kind of a big deal. For the Kings, it's huge since they're just a half-game behind the Clips.

We’re closing in on the 2018-19 trade deadline. It promises to be a juicy one. L.A. unloaded Harris to set itself up for the courtship of Kawhi Leonard and another max player while stockpiling draft picks and improving its chances at building a future super team to rival the Lakers and Warriors.

There’s a good chance that all three will be loaded and considered among the league’s top eight teams as early as next season, which puts pressure on Sacramento speed up its progression if it is going to keep up and finally emerge from being an afterthought in the Golden State.

If the Kings are going to compete in the Pacific Division, they’ll need the talent they’ve already put in place to continue to flourish, and it wouldn’t hurt for them to mix in a little playoff experience. Currently up two games on the Lakers for the No. 9 spot, Sacramento has set itself up nicely to compete for what would be its first postseason appearance since 2006. That’s the last time it finished over .500.

Sacramento has lost 49 or more games in nine of the last 10 years, but has won three straight to own what is currently the longest winning streak in the Western Conference. All the victories have come at home as it works its way through a six-game homestand where it has taken down the Hawks, 76ers and Spurs.

The Kings remain a 500-to-1 shot to win the Western Conference according to the latest Westgate Superbook odds, ahead of only the Suns and Grizzlies and on par with the Mavs, so they’re still a decided underdog. Despite victories in seven consecutive games at the Golden 1 Center, Sacramento is getting points for the third straight time with Houston in town.

The Rockets arrive tied with San Antonio atop the Northwest Division but are only up three games on the Kings. Houston is on the final leg of a four-game road trip that opened with a 136-122 loss in Denver but continued with comfortable wins in Utah and Phoenix.

James Harden has topped the 40-point mark in each of those games and put together a scoring average (36.5) over the first 50 games that hasn’t been seen in the NBA since Michael Jordan in ’86-’87. Harden has scored at least 30 points in 27 straight games and finished with 34 on Nov. 17 in the only meeting with Sacramento this season, a 132-112 rout at the Toyota Center.

Shooting guard Buddy Hield scored a team-high 23 points in the loss but ended up a team-worst minus-23, unable to get anything done on the defensive end. Center Willie Cauley-Stein is enjoying his best campaign in a contract year but shot just 1-for-9 in that game. 19-year-old power forward Marvin Bagley III, the 2018 Draft’s No. 2 pick, made seven of his 10 shots in the loss and is the top reason why the Kings can be optimistic things can turn around in this rematch.

Bagley has really picked up steam over the past few weeks and comes off a career-high 24 points and 12 rebounds against the Spurs, putting together his third straight double-double. Together with second-year forward Harry Giles, who sat out most of last season, the Kings have put together an effective second unit that head coach Dave Joerger can count on to change the momentum of games. Sacramento’s edge in depth is one reason it has to be considered a live ‘dog against the Rockets, who had won three straight in California’s capital city before being turned away on their most recent trip last April in a 96-83 loss in which Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and Eric Gordon all sat to rest up for last season’s playoffs.

Capela (thumb) remains out, but Gordon (knee) may return from a bout with knee soreness that sidelined him on Monday night against the Suns. Chris Paul returned from a lengthy absence last week and played 33 minutes in Phoenix, so he’s looking more comfortable. Kenneth Faried has averaged 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds since signing to help replace Capela and is shooting 70 percent from the field this month, building chemistry with Harden and Paul on lobs around the basket. Houston is 5-3 since Faried joined the lineup.

The Kings are currently third in the NBA in pace (105.7), trailing only the Hawks and Thunder. While Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni likely envies Sacramento getting up and down the floor, the presence of Harden and Paul force his hand in relying on two of the top isolation guys in the league, so Houston ranks 27th, utilizing 100.2 possessions per game. Expect this contest to be a contrast in styles as a result, making it key that the Kings avoid being slowed down by fouling Harden, who won’t make it easy since he is tops in the league in drawing contact and getting toe the free-throw stripe by a wide margin.

Despite the slower tempo, Houston has seen the ‘over’ prevail in four straight games, averaging 120.3 points. It’s 2-1 when the total closes over 230 in Rockets’ games, as this game should. The ‘under’ cashed 10 consecutive times in Kings’ contests from Jan. 7-25 but is just 1-2-1 over their last four.

Best of the Rest

Denver at Brooklyn, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Nets surprised the Nuggets in Denver 112-110 on Nov. 8, so they’ll have a revenge factor to deal with as they look to snap their first three-game losing streak in months. Brooklyn has been the Eastern Conference’s biggest surprise over the last few weeks but could slip back to .500 if they don’t solve a mini-funk offensively that’s seen them score fewer than 95 points in back-to-back games for the first time since Kenny Atkinson took over in ’16. The Nets shot a season-low 32 percent against the Bucks, finishing 5-for-42 from 3-point range. Denver comes off a blowout loss in Detroit, falling 129-103 without key contributors Jamal Murray (ankle), Paul Millsap (ankle) and Gary Harris (groin). Monitor their availability before pulling the trigger here. Brooklyn will get back shooters Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe to try and improve on its brutal showing from beyond the arc on Monday night.

Charlotte at Dallas, 8:35 p.m. ET: The Hornets were rumored to be in discussions with Memphis to bring Marc Gasol on board, so keep an eye out to see if there’s a deal made since any transaction would leave Charlotte short-handed for this road game. The Hornets are already likely going to be without backup point guard Tony Parker and will be playing the second of a back-to-back after fading down the stretch in a home loss to the Clippers on Tuesday. The Mavs won in Charlotte 122-84 on Jan. 2, holding the Bees to 35.6 percent shooting. DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith, Jr. and Wes Matthews all played key roles in that rout but now find themselves with the Knicks, while Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke will make their debuts with Dallas tonight. Rick Carlisle is expected to tinker with rotations against a Hornets squad that blew a 20-point lead against L.A., falling below .500. Charlotte leads the Southeast Division by a half-game over Miami.

San Antonio at Golden State, 10:35 p.m. ET: The Spurs enter the day tied with the Rockets atop the Southwest but forfeited “Game of the Day” status by declaring this a “rest night” for DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio will look to beat the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday and remains without point guard Derrick White (heel), their top defender. Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans are likely to start alongside Rudy Gay, center Jakob Poeltl and either Marco Belinelli or rookie Lonnie Walker IV, who has called up from the G-League earlier this week. The Warriors will play again in Phoenix on Friday and should be formidable as they look to put this game out of reach inside three quarters.

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