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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Sacramento Kings Preview

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The Portland Trail Blazers welcome a struggling Sacramento Kings team to the Moda Center.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (38-36) vs. Sacramento Kings (29-44)
Monday, March 28
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: CSN NW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
:  Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | Sacramento injury report: DeMarcus Cousins (Doubtful - Knee), Marco Belinelli (Doubtful - Foot
SBN Affiliate: SacTown Royalty

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Afternoon Update: The Kings have announced that four players will not suit up tonight:

For the Blazers, Chris Kaman is under the weather, and will miss tonight's game.

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The Sacramento Kings did the Portland Trail Blazers a favor last night by upsetting the Dallas Mavericks 133-111. Sacramento was led by DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 21 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

The King's victory gave the Blazers a 2.5 game lead over the Mavs in the loss column as the two teams battle for one of the final Western Conference playoff spots. The Kings now face off against the Blazers tonight in the Moda Center at 7:00.

Despite the victory over the Mavericks, the Kings have endured more than their share of turmoil this season. Most recently, word leaked that the team's management has tried to coerce coach George Karl into resigning and forfeiting the remaining 10 million dollars on his contract. Thus far, Karl has refused.

The attempts to oust Karl have been spurred on by the coach's repeated run-ins with several players, most notably Rajon Rondo and Cousins. Before the season began Karl reportedly attempted to have Cousins traded, but was rebuked by management. Shockingly, the player/coach relationship has not gone well this season. More recently, Karl has run afoul of Seth Curry after some undiplomatic post-game comments. Curry joined a long list of players who have "covertly" called Karl out on social media.

It's worth noting that Kings' Owner Vivek Ranadive brought this coaching controversy on himself after firing Mike Malone partway through last season. Malone has proven himself to be a decent coach in Denver, but faced unrealistic expectations in Sacramento and was let go.

The on-court result has not been pretty for the Kings: With a record of 29-44 they will finish well outside of the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season. Sacramento briefly flirted with playoff contention, holding a 20-23 record through late January, but the wheels have since fallen off under the strain of the aforementioned player/coach/management tension.

The King's on-court struggles have centered on their defense. They are currently in the bottom third of the league for defensive rating, opponent field goal percentage, opponent 3-pointers, rebound percentage, and opponent field goal percentage around the rim. In short, it's really easy to score against them.

Their defensive problems are grounded in an antiquated system that has failed to adjust to the modern NBA. Their base defense is a disguised 3-2 zone that fails to take the center of the court away from opposing point guards, and fails to challenge jumpshooters. In a league filled with scoring combo guards and outside shooters, that philosophy has been disastrous. For full details check out this excellent breakdown from SacTown Royalty.

Offensively the Kings are in the middle of the pack with an ORTG of 104.3. They play fast, leading the league with a pace of 102.71 and are sixth in the league with 16.5 fast break points per game. Consequently they lead the league in points in the paint.

In the halfcourt, Sacramento's offense centers on Cousins. He is an athletic big man who can score around the basket, handle the ball, and shoot the 3-pointer decently. At times, Cousins seems to be single-handedly keeping the center position alive in the NBA.

The Kings also rely on Rondo to run their offense. As always, the flashy passer gets a lot of assists (11.7 per game), but has also become a semi-reliable 3-pointer shooter (35.4 percent on 2.3 attempts per game) after years of playing without an outside shot. Rondo, however, still struggles from the free throw line.

For a rebuilding team, the Kings are short on young white-collar prospects, outside of Cousins. Willy Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore are the only players under 25 on the roster. Cauley-Stein has been slowed by multiple finger injuries, but has begun to show promise as a defender around the rim and has the athleticism to run the break.

Keys to the game

Show up: On Saturday night the Blazers struggled to soundly beat the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, needing a clutch bucket from C.J. McCollum to eke out the win. They get a do-over of sorts tonight as they match up with another inept opponent. Portland players need to bring more focus and intensity than they did against the Sixers and avoid turning what should be an easy win into a nail-biter.

Who's going to guard DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins has torched the Blazers in recent games, regularly scoring 30 or more against Portland's centers. Last time these teams met, Portland coach Terry Stotts had some success with assigning Meyers Leonard to guard Cousins. Unfortunately, Leonard is out, leaving the Blazers with few big-bodied players to matchup with Cousins. Most of the rest of the roster is either too small to guard Cousins (e.g. Ed Davis), or has serious trouble defending post-ups (e.g. Mason Plumlee).

Hit at least 10 3-pointers: As mentioned above, the Kings have a terrible defense that allows open jumpshots and penetration. If the Blazers run their base offense well they should be able to get a fair share of open looks. Hitting 10 or more 3-pointers will indicate that Portland is clicking on offense and likely to win this game.

Notes:

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