Sacramento Kings (14-17) at Portland Trail Blazers (13-20)
Dec. 28, 2016, 7:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Kings injuries: Arron Afflalo (DTD)
SBN Affiliate: Sactown Royalty
The losses continue to pile up for the Trail Blazers, and it won’t be getting any easier when they face the Kings for the second time in nine days. Sacramento has reeled off four straight victories since they defeated Portland on Dec. 20. Now without Damian Lillard, coach Terry Stotts and the remainder of the squad are continuing their trend in the wrong direction.
DeMarcus Cousins has the Kings in position to claim the final playoff spot in the Western Conference if the regular season ended today. Despite his shenanigans on the court in the last meeting, the talented big man throttled the Blazers to the tune of 55 points. After the game, he continued inflicting damage on Portland’s frontcourt by letting everyone know just what he thought about Meyers Leonard.
The Cousins-Leonard beef is a compelling subplot in a contest that features two teams desperately fighting for legitimacy. Boogie is currently averaging 29.7 points per game in the month of December, so this isn’t exactly a fight between equal competitors. Leonard has a chance to reduce the threat posed by Cousins if he can use his immaturity against him, but it could also serve as the catalyst for another 50-point performance.
The Kings have found production in unlikely places in the last week of play. Ty Lawson has put together a string of solid games, while Garrett Temple continues to be a steadying force in coach Dave Joerger’s rotation.
Rudy Gay returned to action on Monday in a victory against Philadelphia, which is bad news for Portland’s defense. The athletic forward missed the last matchup against the Blazers, but he managed to put 29 points on the board in the first meeting between the teams this season.
It’s no secret that things haven’t gone well for the Blazers, but they have a realistic chance at ending their six-game slide at home tonight. With a little help from Toronto’s poor shooting, Portland was able to hold its opponent under 100 points on Monday. Even without Lillard, a defensive effort like the one on Monday could tip the scales in the Blazers’ favor.
The Dec. 20 contest was odd for more reasons than just Cousins’ un-ejection late in the game. The Blazers had more rebounds, more assists, more points in the paint, and fewer turnovers in that game. Allowing the Kings to shoot slightly above 55 percent from the field outweighed all those other positives, though. Tightening the space around shooters and forcing turnovers should reduce that percentage to a more manageable figure tonight.
Ultimately, this game will come down to how well CJ McCollum can handle the spotlight on a struggling team. The former Lehigh standout appears to primed for a solid performance against the Kings. Our own David McKay pointed out the successes that McCollum has had against Sacramento in his career:
On offense, McCollum could light some fires; especially if Lillard continues to sit as expected. In his NBA career, McCollum has scored 30+ points each time he has played 30+ minutes against the Kings.
Frustrating Cousins, consecutive performances with defensive improvement, and a strong showing from McCollum should be enough for the Blazers to make this one interesting. A victory at home will help soothe some of the pain from Portland’s nightmarish December.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
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