March 16, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Marcus Thornton (23) goes up for the basket against Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) during the third quarter at Power Balance Pavilion. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Boston Celtics 120-95. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Quick take: Spurs (4-1) vs. Kings (2-3)


The Spurs will win if: The defense can return to their efficiency prior to Wednesday’s tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers. They were preventing points at a top five rate then. Following the 18-point loss, they are 12th in defensive rating.

The defense doesn’t have to be perfect — just better — to impede the Kings, who finished in the bottom third in effective field goal percentage and offensive rating last season.

The Spurs won’t win if: The Spurs offense replicates their performance at Staples and the Kings starting lineup, plus sixth man Marcus Thornton, can make shots higher than their current rate of 41.4 percent.

X-Factor: Sacramento doesn’t rely heavily on their bench — with the except of shooting guard Marcus Thornton, whose averaging 31.8 minutes per game.

Thornton isn’t scoring at his usual clip thus far (.505 true shooting percentage) but he remains the Kings’ third best scorer per 36 minutes behind guard Jimmer Fredette and center DeMarcus Cousins.

The four-year guard receives a lot of leeway from coach Keith Smart to man the second unit and essentially create everything.

Evidence: Sacramento has been outscored by 4.6 points per 100 possessions this season. A not so good margin. With Thornton on the floor, meanwhile, the Kings outscore the opposition by 1.3 points per 100 possessions.

If the Spurs can cover him with either Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard while baiting him into mid-range jumpers, Sacramento’s second unit could be deprived of their top scoring weapon.

Tags: Marcus Thornton Sacramento Kings San Antonio Spurs