Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Blazers play a third straight flawed game, this one far more sloppy and far less energetic than the other two, and finally get their comeuppance from the short-handed--but motivated--Kings.
This is life. You win some, you lose some. Sometimes you lose some you should have won. Unfortunately for the Blazers that was the story tonight. For the instant recap with highlights, check out Timmay's work here. For our purposes, let's just say that there's only so many turnovers and transition points you can allow before they come back and bite you in the butt. The Sacramento Kings had an extra-big pair of dentures on tonight and the Blazers will sit gingerly on the plane ride home.
Committing 17 turnovers and allowing 19 fast break points, the Blazers were going to need something extra to win this contest. Three-point shooting is the usual candidate but Portland shot only 7-24 from the arc, 29%. The Kings, meanwhile, fired at a 9-19, 47% clip from distance. With DeMarcus Cousins on an enforced Christmas vacation contemplating the error of his ways the Blazers could have dominated inside. They did, as far as it went. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 22 and J.J. Hickson 14. Both shot reasonably well and each had 11 rebounds. The Blazers netted 15 offensive rebounds total. But all of that combined effort totaled only 36 points in the paint. The Kings scored 46. Granted many of those points came in transition, but still...advantage nullified.
A couple of familiar bugaboos plagued the Blazers tonight. They allowed Sacramento to shoot nearly 56% from the field. Portland's bench got outscored 26-43, not exactly the nuclear-level destruction of earlier in the season but bad enough on a night when the starters needed rest. Nowhere was the combination more evident than in the play of Travis Outlaw who shot 6-7 from the field and scored 15 in 16 minutes. When you let THAT happen, well, all we can do is shake our heads.
On a night when Portland's old shortcomings hung around for Christmas while their new energy, grit, and inspiration went on vacation early, a loss was all but a foregone conclusion. And that's all there is to that. The Blazers will have a chance to take their revenge in three days. No doubt they've kept the receipts on this loss and will return it with interest then. Until then both we and they will have to find a way to have a happy holiday anyway.
LaMarcus Aldridge looked more spry tonight than he did last night, as 22 and 11 might indicate. If anything the Blazers should have gotten him the ball more. Hopefully the ankle thing will be a non-issue after this.
Ditto for J.J. Hickson with his 14 and 11 on 5-8 shooting.
You know, I'm not sure what to say about Nicolas Batum here. He had a great run in the second half. He shot 7 free throws and hit all of them. He had 8 assists. He had the usual quota of nice defensive stands. These are all good things. But it just makes me itch that he's so...imprecise. For all of the great plays he makes he also blows what should be relatively simple technical stuff...blown layup, making the wrong passes along with the right ones, passed-up shots. It seems like a focus issue. Actually it seems like part of the game is just a Sunday lark-about. I understand that every player makes mistakes. This is not what I'm talking about. I find myself wishing his game were more professional and not just awesomely talented. The playoffs, when they come, will not be as forgiving of these things. Every point counts. Every play matters. You can execute with consistency and still find yourself locked in deadly battle because the other team does that too. If you can't execute consistently you never have a chance. Mistakes will come, but you don't want any that you had a choice over.
Contrast Batum with Victor Claver, who also makes his share of mistakes. But the dude is into each moment of the game. He's nowhere near Batum's level of talent or accomplishment but he's making more of what he has. To me, that makes his errors easier to forgive, as you're pretty sure he'll grow out of most of them. Somehow Claver's 1-5, 2 point, 5 rebound, 3 steal performance in 21 minutes is easier to swallow than Batum's 4-12, 17 point, 8 assist night in 38 minutes. The expectations are different, but I'm not sure if Batum gets that. Even those assists...some were brilliant but at certain points it looked like he was making a game of "How many assists can it get?" It's like he made up his mind that this was his stat of the night and passed when he should have thought or shot first.
I don't know...people are going to gripe about me saying this, but it's there.
Damian Lillard had a great night from the three-point line, going 3-6, completed a couple drives, and dished 7 assists. His floor game was still off, as was his shot in general (6-14 for 15 points). The big question for him is how much forcing shots is a young point guard going astray and how much of it is a young star in the making learning how to establish himself. Open question...jury will be out for a couple years.
Meyers Leonard probably had the best night off the bench...certainly offensively. He attacked the rim, hit a foul-line jumper, shot 3-4 for 8 points in 14 minutes. He only had 2 rebounds and the defense was so-so.
Will Barton also earns high praise, first for 3 assists that looked better than almost anything he's dished this season and then for 3-6 shooting for 7 points in 21 minutes. The 5 rebounds were a nice bonus.
On the other end of the spectrum was Ronnie Price who went 0-5 and balanced his 3 assists with 3 turnovers and 3 personal fouls in 17 minutes. Last night was one of his better games of the season and this was one of his worst.
Luke Babbitt was OK, hit a couple nice shots. His confidence is high enough that you enjoy watching the ball leave his hands now. I don't know what Sasha Pavlovic was doing out there but it wasn't pretty, even for 6 minutes. Joel Freeland got 3 minutes of garbage time and scored 6 points.
I suppose one could say that the Blazers dodged bullets versus Denver and Phoenix, but couldn't get away with it a third time. Either way, it's Christmas time for the team! They need the break, obviously. They better come out ready to take it to the Kings on the 26th, though. Two bad losses to them is more than plenty.
Sactown Royalty will wrap up the Kings' victory.
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