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February 28, 2012
Kings vs. Jazz: Five things to watch

The Kings (11-22) play at home tonight for the first time in nearly three weeks, hosting the Utah Jazz (15-17) to begin the second half of the season. Here are a few things to keep an eye on during the game:

1. Is home where the defense is? The Kings scored 100 or more points four times on their six-game road trip before the break, but gave up 100 or more points five times and went 1-5. Coach Keith Smart wants to see players do a better job of staying in front of their man on defense, since the Kings have been susceptible to teams that penetrate to get shots or draw help.

Smart still wants the Kings to focus on defending the paint first and make teams beat them with long-range shooting -- a strategy that would seem designed with an opponent like the Jazz in mind. The Jazz don't take a lot of three-pointers (12.53 a game, third-lowest in the NBA) and when they do, they don't make many (29.7 percent, worst in the league). Instead, they are the only team in the NBA scoring more than 50 percent of their points in the paint.

2. Will Isaiah Thomas continue his hot starting streak? Thomas tied Otis Birdsong's franchise record for the most points scored by a rookie in his first four starts, while the Kings' assist and scoring numbers improved in those games. Starting Thomas with Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans is meant to allow the Kings get the ball up the floor and attack the defense faster with both Thornton and Evans on the wing. Meanwhile, Thomas can keep pace with Birdsong by scoring 18 points tonight, or set a new mark for most points by a Kings rookie in his first five starts by scoring 19.

3. The Jazz will likely be without Raja Bell. Bell, the Jazz's shooting guard and most dangerous three-point shooter, was sidelined by a strained adductor muscle right before the All Star break. Josh Howard is expected to start at small forward, sliding the 6-foot-8 Gordon Hayward to shooting guard.

4. Overall, the Kings have played better at home. They are 7-5 at Power Balance Pavilion and after a three-game swing through Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver starting Friday, will play 19 of their remaining 28 games at home. The atmosphere at Power Balance Pavilion tonight promises to be energetic after yesterday's news of a tentative deal to build a new arena and keep the Kings in Sacramento. If the Kings (11-22) want to set any kind of positive tone for the second half of this season, tonight will be a good opportunity.

5. The slam-dunk champion will be in the building. The question is whether he'll see the court. Jazz reserve forward Jeremy Evans won the NBA's slam-dunk contest during All Star weekend. The second-year player out of Western Kentucky has played in 16 games for the Jazz, averaging 5.6 minutes, 1.7 points and 0.9 rebounds.



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