Game Time: 7:00 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast
The 21-42 Kings light up the Rose Garden marquee tonight. Their show stars rookie sensation Tyreke Evans, co-stars former Rocket Carl Landry, and features an internationally famous cast of supporting characters. As a special bonus tonight's feature will be presented in 3-D!
Wait, who are we kidding? It's the Kings. There will be zero D.
Then again, on any given night Portland's offense is capable of making almost any team look like defensive giants. If the Blazers don't pay attention the Kings do have enough (potential) firepower to outscore them.
Much of that firepower comes from Evans and Landry. The rookie is averaging over 20 points on 46% shooting, fantastic numbers for a guard. He also draws 6.6 foul shots per game so you know he's not taking the easy way out, hanging on the perimeter. In fact distance shooting is the only thing missing from his repertoire, as he connects on a paltry 26% of his threes. Oh, and he's averaging almost 5 rebounds and over 5 assists...Brandon Roy-type numbers for those keeping track. Once mismatched with former Sacramento darling Kevin Martin, Evans now has the pleasure of watching power forward Carl Landry work in the lane. Landry has scored 17+ in 7 of his 9 games for the Kings and is averaging 20 over his last four. The Kings ended up trading away a 20-point-scoring guard shooting under 40% for a 20-ish-point-scoring forward shooting almost 53%. That was a good move. Landry also rebounds and he's a good defender. He brings Sacramento closer to being a real team again instead of a flashy road-show.
Then there's that internationally-famous cast we mentioned. That's not an exaggeration, as the Kings play Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi, Andres Nocioni, Francisco Garcia, and Ime Udoka in the rotation. (They traded Sergio Rodriguez, unfortunately.) Udrih and Casspi are getting good minutes. Udrih is having an efficient offensive season and is capable of connecting from anywhere. Casspi is a nice energy/utility guy with a serviceable offensive game as well. They're nice pieces. The rest of the guys on the list contribute in smaller ways. Garcia is probably the best of them all-around though injuries have cut deep into his season.
The Kings also feature a couple of situationally-scary big men in Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson. Thompson started the year all ablaze but has since come back to earth. His rebounding is solid but his offense is spotty. He also fouls like he's the love child of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. Hawes remains a good perimeter center but he struggles defensively. While either can do damage more reliability is needed from both. Perhaps more toughness as well.
Toughness and reliability are huge issues for the Kings on the defensive end. It's pretty hard to throw Sacramento any kind of bone here. They allow fast break points. They allow points in the paint. They're in the lower third of the league in defensive efficiency, field goal percentage allowed, effective field goal percentage allowed, and opponent free throw rate. About the only thing they do well is defend against the three. If you're relying on the three-pointer to beat this team, though, you deserve what you get. They don't force turnovers. They're poor defensive rebounders.
In bygone years Sacramento's offensive prowess made up for a host of defensive shortcomings but right now they're a few players away from mustering an effective offense. They rank 21st in offensive efficiency despite being one of the better-scoring teams in the paint. They're excellent offensive rebounders. They can run if you let them. But they don't have the coordination nor the consistent shooting excellence needed to fuel the offense on a nightly basis. They can score 110 but they're also capable of 90.
The recipe for Portland success tonight is pretty clear. First, make the game hard for them on offense. Pack the lane and keep them on the perimeter, even if that means you have to live with a few made Hawes jumpers. Don't let them get offensive rebounds. If the points don't come easy for the Kings they don't come. Second, run hard at them at every opportunity (after securing the rebound, of course). Yes, you want to take advantage of isolation advantages but first you want to test their willingness to get back and/or move their feet once they are back. This could easily be a double-digit assist night for guys like Brandon Roy and Andre Miller...even Jerryd Bayless. Even a little quick-footed penetration is going to open up the whole offensive repertoire for you. Don't make the game harder than it is. Don't give them confidence, even in a loss. You have to play them at their place in a couple games. Send the message now that both results will be the same.
As we've said a couple times now, these are the kinds of game Portland will need to take incessant advantage of to protect and promote their playoff position. That's not a knock on the Kings. To the contrary, that's a reminder not to take them, or the game, for granted.
Check out Kings things at SactownRoyalty.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.