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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Sacramento Kings Preview

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Though it's still only January, for the first time in a long time, the Portland Trail Blazers are hosting the Sacramento Kings in a matchup that may have playoff implications.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (20-26) vs Sacramento Kings (20-24)
Tuesday, January 26
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: None | Sacramento injury reportRudy Gay (Out - Eye)
SBN Affiliate: Sactown Royalty | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

Though it's still only January, for the first time in a long time, the Portland Trail Blazers are hosting the Sacramento Kings in a matchup that may have playoff implications. Though both teams sit below .500, that may be enough to sneak in the back door in the new look Western Conference

Since their last meeting in Sacramento on Dec. 27, both teams have gone 8-6 and are playing surprisingly decent basketball.

Sacramento is led by a resurgent Rajon Rondo and a (for now) focused DeMarcus Cousins. Rondo, averaging 11.7 points and 11.6 assists, is helping the Kings play at the fastest pace in the league, which is unsurprising for a George Karl-led group. Rondo still doesn't have any kind of jump shot to speak of but is one of the best in the league at running an offense.

Cousins, one of the league's best young big men, has been playing out of his mind over the Kings' last ten games, averaging 32.5 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per night. Cousins has expanded his game out to the 3-point line and can beat you in a myriad of ways, as long as he has his head on straight.

After missing the first matchup with Portland due to a hand injury, Kings power forward Willie Cauley-Stein will be in action tonight. A solid, versatile defender, Cauley-Stein has a limited offensive game and has very limited impact aside from putbacks on the offensive glass.

Speaking of high draft picks with limited offensive impact, Ben McLemore is still starting at shooting guard for the Kings. Billed as a light's out shooter coming out of college, McLemore has reached double figures in scoring only three times in his last 20 games.  Much of his problem seems to be confidence, and McLemore often defers to his teammates and passes up open shots.

This Kings team has a solid bench unit led by the emergent Omri Casspi, Darren Collison, and combo guard Marco Belinelli. Casspi is a prototypical utility forward, able to make an impact whether or not he is getting shots. He averages 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest on 51 percent shooting, including 45 percent from the 3-point line.

Belinelli and Collison are both combo guards, with Belinelli a little more shooting guard and Collison a little more point guard. Both players see significant minutes in the rotation, whether giving Rondo a rest or playing alongside him.

The Blazers will be looking for their second win in as many games after thoroughly dominating the Los Angeles Lakers 121-103 on "Kobe Bryant Appreciation Night" at the Moda Center. Portland's starting backcourt appreciated the Laker defense, or lack thereof, while putting together hugely efficient games.

Damian Lillard put up 36 points on 14-19 shooting and had five assists without a turnover, while CJ McCollum had 28 points on 12-21 shooting from the floor. Portland's backcourt may have a more difficult time against Sacramento's guards tonight, but only because the Lakers are on a whole new level in terms of porous defense. Rondo is engaged defensively for the first time in several years, but a look at his advanced stats show that, despite the eye test, he has shown some slippage on the defensive end.

Matchups

Cousins/Plumlee: DeMarcus Cousins is in one of those zones that elite players get into sometimes where they're basically going to get theirs regardless. So why is this a key matchup? Because Plumlee has got to do everything he can to make Boogie work for his points. It's a classic example of "You can't stop him, you can only contain him", "If he's going to get 30 regardless, you might as well make him sweat", or any other cliché you want to put here. Plumlee needs to do his best to take Cousins out of his rhythm; If he puts up 25 points on 10-22 shooting, you'd have to say that Mase held his own.

Aminu vs. Gay: As the Blazers' most versatile defender, look for Al-Farouq Aminu to play heavy man to man defense on Gay most of the night. A big key to stopping Rudy Gay is to get physical with him and force him to take mid-range jumpers. Don't get me wrong, he has a nice mid-range game, but if Gay is allowed to get to the rim, Portland is in trouble (Note: After press time, Gay suffered a gruesome eye injury and will miss tonight's contest).

Crabbe vs. Everybody: No matter who he's matched up with, this is the kind of game that Allen Crabbe was built for. Sacramento doesn't play much defense, and what defense they do play is only at the point guard and in the paint. Crabbe should be able to get in to the seams and do damage with his 15-18 foot jumper all night.

Keys to the game

Rebounding: Boogie has been a beast on the boards lately, and having Cauley-Stein back only bolsters Sacramento's rebounding attack. Portland is going to need to get guard help on the glass as well as the usual lunch pail performance from Ed Davis tonight. The Kings already put up a crazy amount of shots; Portland needs to limit their second chance points.

Force turnovers: This is likely going to be an up and down game. Even though Portland is a middle of the road team, pace-wise, as a young group it's easy for them to get caught up in the up and down running game that Sacramento plays. As long as they take care of the ball, they'll be in good shape. The first team to 15 turnovers loses this game.

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