Two teams remain alive at the Las Vegas Summer League.
After a week and change of action and more than 60 games, a March Madness-esque bracket saw two Western Conference teams (surprise) through to the final.
The Sacramento Kings will meet the Houston Rockets Monday in a fateful matchup that features the league's own version of the Big Three, a bevy of intriguing rookies and plenty of storylines to whet an NBA fan's palate during a rather dull stretch of the offseason.
Here's the scoop on the contest.
When: Monday, July 21 at 9 p.m. ET
TV: NBA TV
Live Stream: NBA.com (subscription required)
For Sacramento, the journey has been rather straightforward—ride rookie Nik Stauskas all the way through the bracket.
The Michigan product has been superb in all but one contest to date and has posted averages of 9.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. In his most recent outing, a 74-62 triumph over the Charlotte Hornets in the semifinals, Stauskas scored seven and provided highlights to boot:
That is not to suggest the rookie has done it on his own, though, as Ben McLemore and MarShon Brooks have also been critical to the team's success. Both are developing at a fever pitch a mere few seasons into their careers, and they have combined to make some pretty highlights as well:
For McLemore, it has been a critical point in his career already after a downright disastrous rookie season. Through it all, coach Michael Malone has provided nothing but support, as captured by NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper:
I told him, ‘Listen, we drafted Nik Stauskas. That’s not any slight on you. We still believe in you. You’re still our guy and we still expect great things from you from Year 1 to Year 2.’ I think he came out to Summer League after one year in the NBA thinking he had to score 20 points a game. It’s not about that. It’s playing the right way as we try to instill more ball movement.
While the Kings have focused on development of young talent during a rebuild this summer, the Rockets have found some potential—and yes, cliche—diamonds in the rough.
The trio of guards Isaiah Canaan and Nick Johnson, along with forward Donatas Motiejunas, have run absolutely roughshod on the league to this point, with the Lithuanian big man even reeling in awards in the process, as noted by NBA.com's Twitter account:
Motiejunas has scored a minimum of 13 points in all eight contests to this point, and he has also shown that he can turn some heads:
That was Canaan on the assist, by the way, and the second-year pro has shown a marked improvement this offseason and has scored in double figures in seven of the nine contests.
Meanwhile, rookie Nick Johnson out of Arizona has scored in double digits in all but one of the 14 contests and has consistently dished assists and grabbed boards—highlighted by seven points to go with 10 dimes and rebounds on July 11 against Brooklyn.
Johnson has grabbed the eyes of the globe after a freefall on draft day, with his stellar play this summer being one of the lone positives for the organization, as illustrated by Bleacher Report's Andrew Bailey and AZCentral's Doug Haller:
Houston's had a terrible offseason, but another possible second-round gem in Nick Johnson could be a silver lining.— Andrew Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) July 11, 2014
Yes, it's just the Summer League, but the more I watch Nick Johnson, the more I think he's going to do just fine in the NBA.— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) July 11, 2014
As for the final, Houston seems to have an advantage overall.
Both teams are accustomed to simply bullying the opposition on the boards this summer, but Derrick Williams and the Kings simply do not have the size or athleticism to properly match Motiejunas and Co. down low.
Which team wins?
Motiejunas is a threat in the aforementioned areas, but he can also stretch the floor and knock down shots from range, which in large part has been why the guard duo of Johnson and Canaan has been so effective to this point.
Those two can seemingly score at will, and unless Stauskas can get red hot from behind the arc and shoot his side into a victory, it is hard to see the Kings coming out on top.
Regardless of the outcome, though, both franchises have seen tangible progress on the court. Above all else, that is what matters at this stage. Going home with a title isn't a bad cherry on top, though.
Prediction: Houston 85, Sacramento 76