Gameday: Battle Down Low Is the Matchup to Watch as Kings Host Hornets

SACRAMENTO -- Fresh off a tough loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday evening, the Sacramento Kings return to their home court to start the new year Tuesday. They'll face an underachieving Charlotte Hornets team that's still struggling to find their way.

The Kings put up one of their worst performances of the season against Memphis, falling behind by as many as 33 on their home floor. Willie Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds, but he was one of just three Sacramento players to score in double-figures in the 114-96 loss.

Charlotte is a veteran team that's fallen on hard times. Coach Steve Clifford's team shoots the lowest field goal percentage in the league at 43.5 percent, but they get to the free throw line an NBA best 27.8 times per game.

Hornets by 3.5

Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Dwight Howard -- There was a time when Howard was the most feared big man in the game. He isn't the player he once was, but he still manages to average 15.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in his 14th season in the NBA. Cauley-Stein is improving with each month, posting 13.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in December. The 24-year-old big man is heading in the right direction, but he'll need to work overtime to keep Howard off the glass.

Kings: 12-24, fourth place in Pacific

Hornets: 13-23, third place in Southeast

Kings: PG De'Aaron Fox (thigh tear) is available to play, PG Frank Mason III (right heel contusion) will miss at least one week of action, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) is out and the team has yet to give a timetable for his return.

Hornets: C Cody Zeller (knee) out.

Battle on the Boards -- Charlotte is one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, coming in at No. 4 with 46.7 boards per game. Sacramento has struggled on the glass, grabbing just 39.9 rebounds a night, which ranks 29th in the league. They'll need to keep a body on Howard and rebound as a team or the Hornets could have a field day.

Home Court Advantage -- The Kings are in the middle of a six-game homestand and so far, it's been a little rocky. After beating the Cavs, Sacramento has dropped two winnable games to the Suns and Grizzlies. They sit at 6-10 at Golden 1 Center this season, despite sellout crowds every night.

Mason out, Fox in -- Frank Mason injured his heel in the Kings loss to Memphis on Sunday and left on crutches. He''ll miss at least one week. De'Aaron Fox has practiced, and was cleared to play by the Kings.

This is the first of two matchups between these two teams this season after a 1-1 split of the series last year. The Hornets hold a 28-26 advantage over the Kings all-time.  

"We got our butt kicked. It's not fun losing. We've got to figure it out." -George Hill after the Kings' loss to the Grizzlies

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