Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
The Sacramento Kings ride into town fresh off of a season-opening win against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Blazers also notched a victory in their opener against the Philadelphia 76ers. The young Kings must play on the road in this contest while the veteran Blazers remain with the home emotion in their favor. That could be one of the determining factors in this game.
The Kings present an interesting, perhaps even scary, challenge this year. Their main weapon is a double-barreled shotgun backcourt consisting of Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton. Evans is a multi-tool point-cum-scoring guard whose superstardom has been derailed, though not completely, by injuries. He's big, he's talented, and he's not shy about putting up the ball. Thornton is more of a shooter and less of a physical specimen. His scoring prowess got buried between Chris Paul and David West in New Orleans. In his third season, Sacramento is his new lease on life. He's starting and looking to make an impact...which he most certainly did against the Lakers, scoring 27, backing up his 21 ppg average of 2010-11. These two guards are going to come at you until you cry uncle.
The most reliable member of Sacramento's starting frontcourt is veteran rebounder-defender Chuck Hayes at power forward. He's undersized but tough, looking to re-establish himself after a shaky final season with the Houston Rockets during which his offense expanded but his defense slipped. He's the only sure anchor in the lineup. The Kings start mercurial star-in-waiting DeMarcus Cousins at center. He can score you into a win or pout you out of one. He alternates between brilliant and surrender. He is an incredibly tough cover at center and if he continues to provide double-digit rebounds as he did last night the Kings will benefit no matter which end of the spectrum his offensive game trends towards. Veteran little-bit-of-everything small forward John Salmons rounds out the starting five. He's not the scorer he was in his prime but he's a far better defender and still a good distance shooter. This isn't a starting lineup you'd marry yourself to but you wouldn't be ashamed taking it out on the town to show the guys, nor even bringing it home to mom on less-critical occasions. These Kings are going to be more exciting than predictable but that's a great step up from recent seasons when they were not exciting, just predictably bad. Once upon a time the only definitive compliment you could give this team was that they were young and potentially talented. They'll be more than that this year.
Sacramento's bench is still a little shy. Cleveland refugee J.J. Hickson may be the best of the bunch. He can score and rebound, though his entire game--particularly offense--fell off a cliff last year. Travis Outlaw will provide a face familiar to Blazer fans, albeit this time as an amnesty clause victim looking to redeem himself. Rookie Jimmer Fredette will look to be the NBA version of Tim Tebow, overcoming physical limitations and a compact suite of skills with enthusiasm, attitude, and being darn good at the 2.5 things he can do. Fellow rookie Isaiah Thomas and hanging-on veteran Francisco Garcia round out the guards. Forward Donte Green and once-promising F/C Jason Thompson also populate the bench. As a group they fall into the "could contribute some nights, but probably won't make a difference" category. They'll certainly do nothing to make you forget those starting guards.
If Portland can take out and/or match at least one of the two backcourt stars for Sacramento tonight while keeping Cousins from going ultra-crazy they should take this game. Sacramento has more raw scoring power in the backcourt but the Blazers have experience and enough talent and defense not to embarrass themselves. LaMarcus Aldridge can't let himself get bullied by Hayes. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum should look to move around Salmons. It'll be up to Camby, Aldridge, and whatever other mobile bigs the Blazers can dig up to keep Cousins from streaking. Though Portland wants to run they have to do so in controlled fashion. The Kings would love to get out on the break. They'll have as much trouble as the Blazers do scoring inside in the halfcourt game. Portland has to exploit that, running on offense when possible but keeping Sacramento from doing the same. Hitting shots is the obvious tonic. Offensive rebounds may be hard to come by as both Cousins and Hayes hit the glass, but those would help too. Portland's energy was great against the Sixers. If they keep it up versus the Kings all should be well.
One trap the Blazers must avoid is getting into a deep shooting contest. Sacramento will almost certainly win that battle.
It goes without saying that turning over the ball is not the way to keep the opponent's tempo in check. That's another place where this game could fall apart for Portland.
If they avoid those egregious errors, however, the Blazers should be able to ride the wave of emotion to a nifty 2-0 start and exit the building to sunny skies and the hope of a pleasant tomorrow. It won't be easy but it's certainly doable. Once again Portland's questions revolve less around talent than consistency and being able to replicate their good performances. This would be the opportunity to show that the Blazers can play to their strengths against beatable teams without falling prey to their weaknesses.
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