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TZ Comes Through

Here's the Game Preview from the Sacramento point of view.  This is from TZ at our sister site,

The Kings You Know
Most Blazers fans will be familiar with Mike Bibby, Kenny Thomas, and certainly Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Reef is thinner and a touch less athletic than he was in his Portland days, thanks to a 2006 elbow from one Zach Randolph. Eric Musselman has shifted Abdur-Rahim over to center in the wake of Brad Miller's fairly serious foot injury, which has meant more playing time, more fouls, and less offense than usual. Actually, with the tandem of Thomas and Abdur-Rahim both starting, Reef has actually been relegated to garbage man as Musselman runs more plays for the somewhat underrated Thomas, who always invariably has the opponents' worst defender on him.

Thomas can score inside, though he's been terrible from the line this season. The key to stopping Thomas is to keep a body on him away from the ball - that's when Thomas can get free inside. Force him away from the basket, and your defensive rebounding will be better, too.

Bibby hasn't hit his stride this season. He was fantastic in preseason after losing 20 pounds in the summer, but an October injury against Denver really set him back. He's not even close to his usual self around the basket, and he's not hitting jumpers off the dribble all that well. He's turned into a sort-of minor playmaker/spot shooter as he remains gimpy, and he refuses to take a few days off to get well.

A familiar face you probably won't see tonight is Ron Artest. He's resting up a back he injured driving his wife's small Mercedes to work. You laugh, but hey: We'll take it. Missing games due to back spasms is far more preferable to missing games thanks to the Golden Hammer of Stern. If he does play, expect a ton of field goal attempts, about 18 points, three or four steals, a couple blocks, eight rebounds, general mayhem, a lot of fist pumps, and general joy in Sactown.

The King You'll Know After Tonight
Readers of Blazers Edge no doubt know that Kevin Martin has been lighting the NBA on fire this season, averaging nearly 25 points on 54 percent shooting this season. But those numbers don't tell you how good this kid has been this year. He's 23, and he made Ray Allen look like a lost puppy Friday night, hanging 35 up on him while forcing Shuttlesworth into a 6 for 22 night. From long range, on the fast break, from the charity stripe, in the midrange, off alley-oops - this guy will hit anything and everything. The best defense against Martin is to hope the Kings don't pass it to him. Otherwise, expect 20+ without question.

The Supporting Cast
If Artest sits again, John Salmons will be Sacramento's starting small forward. He's almost strictly a one-on-one playmaker on offense, and a capable though not spectacular defender. Salmons gets people involved on offense, but it's nearly always off penetration. He's not a scary jumpshooter, though he is crafty within 15 feet and finishes well. He and Shareef actually seem to have some good chemistry, and Abdur-Rahim gets a good portion of his points off Salmons' dishes inside.

Ronnie Price is Mike Bibby's backup, and he could play a big role at home in the second game of a back-to-back. Price had his coming out party Wednesday against Utah, with an absolutely incredible posterization of Carlos Boozer and a very solid night on both sides of the ball. Price is still really inconsistent in his second year, but fears no player and will attack, attack, attack.

Corliss Williamson is still nasty. He'll turn it over, but he scores inside well and can still rebound a bit.

Francisco Garcia is the final sub of note for Sacramento. He hasn't played much under Musselman, but has earned some extended looks lately. He's an incredibly gifted defender and can shoot from long-range. His great collegiate ball-handling and playmaking hasn't translated to the NBA yet - if it does, the Kings might have someone special, a Tayshaun Prince with an offense.

The Outlook
So far, the Kings almost seem destined to by a low playoff picture team - hovering around 8th place in the conference all year. But remember: This team has played a grand total of 11 regular season games under Eric Musselman, who has a notoriously hard offense to learn. The team's two leaders - Bibby and Artest - have been gimpy since Game 1. Roles are being defined, and the team has had two of its best halves of the season in the past two games. Sacramento is a bit better than its record, and should definitely be able to defend the home court against a non-playoff team like Portland. If not, there's trouble in ARCO.

Note that the gameday open thread is right below this post.  Feel free to post your own predictions and in-game comments there.

--Dave (