There will be plenty of things to watch tonight when the Kings play the Milwaukee Bucks at Power Balance Pavilion, and one notable absence.
The Kings announced earlier today the team had fired head coach Paul Westphal, and that assistant coach Keith Smart will coach the team tonight. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on:
How will the players respond to Keith Smart? A new voice, a new presence. The Kings need something to snap them out of a serious early funk that has them 2-5. Effort and energy have been challenged, and apparent communication breakdowns over the offensive system were a point of tension and frustration through the first seven games. Smart takes the helm tonight - the Kings have not officially announced for how long - and will be tasked with kick-starting an idling team. Which brings us to ...
Will the Kings show any energy tonight? This has been a recurring theme for the Kings since the second game of the season, but it is thrown into sharper relief tonight at the end of a five-games-in-six-days stretch. The Kings were in Memphis 48 hours ago and Denver 24 hours ago, and it will be interesting to see how much is left in their legs against the Bucks. Bench production may be key, particularly if Tyreke Evans has not fully recovered from whatever was ailing him last night when he reportedly vomited at halftime.
Will DeMarcus Cousins continue to come off the bench?Cousins was the Kings' best offensive player against the Nuggets, scoring 26 points and solving some of his shooting woes under the basket. He has come off the bench the past two games after he was sent home by Westphal on Sunday. With his production yesterday, though, and Westphal no longer at the helm, it seems unlikely that Cousins will be a reserve much longer. The Kings need his presence in the paint -- particularly on the defensive end, where they have been dominated in recent games.
The Kings need to tighten up early in games. As was the case against the Nuggets, the Kings have made a habit of shooting poorly in the first 15 minutes of games while their opponents seem to run out to torrid offensive starts. Because of their struggles on transition defense, the Kings' missed shots are turning into easy looks going the other way. They cannot afford to keep falling behind so early in games.
The Bucks are shorthanded. Milwaukee's 7-foot-center Andrew Bogut is still away from the team for personal reasons, meaning the frontcourt needs to have a stronger presence the middle tonight -- regardless of whether Cousins is on the floor for the opening tip -- after the Kings gave up 68 points in the paint to Denver.
-- Matt Kawahara