In 1982 The Dukes of Hazzard was a phenomenal ratings hit for the CBS network. Amid concerns over merchandising payoffs, stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider--eponymous Bo and Luke Duke--walked off the set, leaving the show without its main characters. Desperately in the lurch, production company Warner Brothers hired Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer to play heretofore-unknown Coy and Vance Duke, long-lost nephews of family patriarch Uncle Jesse. Though Coy and Vance read the same lines and drove the same cool car, viewers thoroughly rejected the soulless replicas of their beloved Duke Boys and ratings fell into the cellar.
Until tonight this reigned as the most disappointing cousins appearance in history. Then DeMarcus Cousins--an All-Star center who has carried the Sacramento Kings all month long--ripped away the title with a 4-21, 5 rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. While the rest of his team was beating up on Portland's soggy-corn-flake defense, Cousins spent the evening killing momentum, flailing and failing his way through 32 minutes of misery and dooming his team to a 112-97 loss.
Cousins picked a bad night to take a mental vacation, as Rajon Rondo spent the first 8 minutes of this game tattooing his name across the Trail Blazers' defense, their entire coaching staff, and half the observers in the Moda Center. He blasted past Damian Lillard repeatedly, scoring or finding easy dishes to Willy Cauley-Stein. Under Rondo's ministrations, Sacramento's normally-quiet power forward looked so brilliant he could have added "Ein" after the hyphen. Halfway through the quarter, though, the Kings realized they hadn't been feeding their Main Man enough. They were playing well, staying even with (or slightly ahead of) the Blazers, but priorities are priorities. Instead of hashing up Portland's backcourt, they fed Cousins for jumpers and isolation posts. This was like dumping half a box of corn starch into the soup. Sacramento's offense slowed. Easy makes turned into miscues and misses. The Kings would get their groove back at various points during the evening, but their slick scoring never outlasted Cousins' perfidy.
For all their inconsistency on the offensive end, the Kings remained on a single track defensively. As you might expect of the team that gives up the most points per game in the NBA, that track led straight to oblivion. Portland started the game running like gangbusters. They peeled off rebounds, forced turnovers, and converted layups either way. When CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Meyers Leonard kicked the halfcourt game into gear during the second unit shift, the Kings heard the impending march of doom. Rondo remained strong throughout the game while Marco Belinelli and Omri Caspi stroked threes, but with Leonard, Mason Plumlee, and Ed Davis handily outplaying Cousins, Sacto's firepower wasn't near enough. Portland's 6-point halftime lead rose to double digits in the third, then to 20+ points in the fourth. Once the lights started dimming the Kings bowed out without a whimper. The Blazers earned their second win in a row and their 6th in the last 8 games.
Portland's defense had something to do with Cousins' poor performance. He doesn't like being guarded by quick centers who force him to shoot or post instead of comfort dribble. Plumlee did a credible job on him and Leonard seemed to get under his skin big time. The latter is becoming a habit when these two teams play. I believe we've finally discovered Meyers Leonard's superpower.
As mentioned, Sacramento's defense was particularly bad. Portland didn't play all that well but the Kings allowed them 49% shooting and 50 points in the paint anyway.
Sacramento also missed 14 free throws, squandering a 32-19 free throw attempt advantage. Shooting their season average from the foul line would have only added 5 points to Sacramento's total, though.
In the end, this game came down to defense and Evil Cousins. That's just Sacramento being Sacramento. It's got to be tough for their fans to watch, but it's sure great to see them on the schedule.
CJ McCollum was sauce tonight off the dribble, and everybody knows that sauce is the best part of the dish. He shot 7-16 to lead his team with 18 points. Damian Lillard could have scored 25 but he spent the night dishing the ball instead. He racked up 13 assists, scoring 15 besides.
Rajon Rondo seems to have a thing about playing against Lillard the same way Chris Paul did last year. Rondo sure looked like he intended to wipe the scoreboard with the remains of Lillard's defense. That's a matchup to keep an eye on.
Every power forward and center played excellently for the Blazers tonight. Noah Vonleh hit 5 of 7 well-timed shots and blocked a couple besides. Mason Plumlee went 5-5 from the field, pulled down 8 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots as well. Both Vonleh and Plumlee accomplished this in just 23 minutes of floor time. Ed Davis scored 11 on 4-5 shooting, Meyers Leonard hit 3-5 three-pointers...it was a long, lanky parade of goodness out there.
Gerald Henderson scoring 15 points in 21 minutes on 7-12 shooting and Allen Crabbe churning out 13 on 5-8 shooting was the icing on the camel's back.
In short, almost everybody who bothered to take shots for Portland tonight got rewarded for it. Thanks, Kings!
Links and Such
Sactown Royalty won't be feeling that noble tonight.
The Blazers face the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. Pacific. It's Nicolas Batum's homecoming but he injured a toe and might not play in Charlotte's intervening game in Utah Wednesday night. Let's hope he's better.
SO NOW, listen... I'm going to call Portland Trail Blazers ticket representative Lisa Swan this morning and ask her for the latest update on Blazer's Edge Night. That's the March 28th even where we send 2000 underprivileged kids from around the Portland area to see the Blazers play these exact same Sacramento Kings. That's right...DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, and crew all over again. Tonight was an offensive tour de force and that March game will probably be even better.
I'm hoping that Lisa gives us a number that's as close to 2000 as possible. Time is running short. We have only a couple weeks left to reach that number. PLEASE celebrate tonight's win by providing tickets to those kids so they can get the same great experience we do. It's easy! Just donate tickets to the cause through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.
We're counting on you, Blazers fans! Don't DeMarcus Cousins us, eh?