There are two pieces of decent news for this game if you're a Blazers fan. First, center Brad Miller is out. He hasn't exactly lit us up this year but with our center corps completely depleted and his ability to pass and shoot historically a problem for us, we'll take it. Second, though pesky point guard Beno Udrih is back after a couple-week layoff with back problems he has only barely returned and is still a little sketchy. That kid can score and we have problems with opposing point guards, so this is also to the good.
The bad news? It's not guaranteed that Ron Artest will be out. Granted he is having thumb problems and has missed two out of the last three days. His participation is not guaranteed. But after what he's done to us this year a game against the Blazers must look like eating his favorite dessert by now.
"No more guys, I'm stuffed!"
"Come on Ron, it's Blazer fudge pie..."
"Ohhhh, alright. Maybe just one piece!"
To say we've had no answer for Artest is like saying the Titanic had no answer for the iceberg. Let's put it this way...Sacramento fans have been keen on dumping Crazy Ron all year. Blazer games are pretty much the only thing that have been keeping them in love with him. Pro-Artest comments go up about 6000% after he's played us. His splits versus Portland this year are 54.5% field goal shooting, 50% three point shooting, 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists. He just bullies the heck out of us on both ends. It's been like Jaws versus that fat kid from Superbad in a lifeboat.
You can't sleep on the Kings' Kevin Martin either. Unlike Artest he hasn't had dominating performances against us, averaging 16 points on 38% shooting. But his last five games have been 27, 26, 36, 22, and 29. Any guard who can score is a potential landmine for us. Containing him would be a fantastic first step to winning the game.
The Kings are an excellent free throw shooting team with some very good marksmen. They're no longer the veteran-laden offensive-juggernaut of the early decade but they are still plenty dangerous when they get smart shots or can outrun you. Artest can be an excellent defender but none of the rest of them really inspire fear and we should be able to get shots against them as well. They don't rebound quite enough, they turn over the ball a little too much, and their bench is fairly weak. This is one of those games that could go either way. It all depends on how energetic the Blazers are. If they let the Kings walk away with it then they surely will. But the Kings' individual talents don't always translate into a cohesive team game, especially on defense. They are exploitable. If we put some energy into it, this game should be winnable.
What I'd Like To See
- With the injuries there's no reason for the Kings' stars to get good looks. We can spare the men to pressure or double them and take our chances with some of their weaker offensive players. Frustrate one of their big two and you have a chance.
- If Artest gets in the post, either use a bigger man to guard him or double him immediately.
- You must, must, MUST close out on Sacramento shooters. That's one thing they do very well, especially the starters.
- Don't give up fast break points. Hustling back is a key. (If it seems like I'm mentioning only defensive keys so far, it's true. Holding them below 100 is a fantastic way to up the chances of a win.)
- I don't see any reason to get fancy on offense tonight. If Kevin Martin guards Brandon Roy then Roy should exploit him every chance he gets. Lamarcus' defender will be interesting. If they send Artest in to bully him then maybe shooting over him would be in order (since I doubt LMA can hold position against him). Anyone else Lamarcus needs to go around. Either way, those two should be taking the bulk of the shots against this team. Sacramento fields a lot of blue-collar journeymen at the other positions, but that's probably not more than a draw for us on most nights. Lamarcus and Brandon are offense-starters for us.
- If we can't get a shot with our big two it's a sure bet that's because they're helping. This is where two steps and a pass can come in handy. Sacramento will let you hit open men. Do so, and pray they're on. Guys like James Jones and Steve Blake could potentially score twice their average on a night like this. If they do, the game's in the bag.
- Just want it more. Nobody's playing for the post-season, but that .500 record is still in reach.