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February 9, 2012
Kings vs. Thunder: Five things to watch

The Kings have the opportunity to make an impression on a national audience tonight when they play the Oklahoma City Thunder at Power Balance Pavilion. The game will be shown nationally on TNT, and the Thunder has the best record in the Western Conference.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on during the game:

1. The Kings' defense, playing better, will have its hands full. The Kings have been markedly improved on defense in their last six games, allowing an opponent to score 100 or more points just once, and that in an overtime win over the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder, one of the NBA's highest-scoring teams, will test them. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook make up one of the league's most formidable scoring duos, with sixth man James Harden averaging 16.8 points off the bench.

2. Durant likes playing in Sacramento. In five games played at Power Balance Pavilion (or then-Arco Arena) in the past three seasons, Durant has averaged 32.8 points per game. The NBA's leading scorer the past two seasons is coming off of back-to-back 33-point games, including the Thunder's shootout win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night. Durant hit the eventual game-winning jumper in that game with about 15 seconds left and then blocked a potential tying shot as time expired.

3. Battle in the middle. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, dominant inside in two of the Kings' last three games, faces a tough task tonight in Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who was brought in last season to bolster the Thunder's interior defense. One strength that Cousins has shown this season has been offensive rebounding, and Oklahoma City allows more than 12 offensive boards a game.

4. The Kings may need to keep their energy in check. There's a lot of hoopla surrounding this game, with the "Black Thursday" theme the Kings have been promoting for weeks, the national TV broadcast and the best-in-the-West Thunder in town. The Kings should be excited for this game. But they may need to rein their emotions in a bit to make sure they're playing under control and executing. The Thunder is a fairly young team, too, but with experience under bright lights.

5. A stronger start would help. The Kings have mounted some inspired second-half comebacks lately. There would be no need, though, if they weren't letting opponents run out to early leads. This has been less of a problem at home, but it certainly won't help them to fall behind early tonight.

-- Matt Kawahara



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