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Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings Preview

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The Trail Blazers hope to start 2019 on the right foot as they visit the surprising Kings.

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (21-16) at Sacramento Kings (19-17)

Tuesday, January 1 - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Maurice Harkless (probable)
Kings injuries: Marvin Bagley (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Sactown Royalty

Happy New Year, Blazer’s Edge readers! The Trail Blazers ended 2018 on a high note with a dominating 129-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday night. They will look to start 2019 on a similar note in Sacramento against the Kings.

The Kings have been a surprise success so far this season. At 19-17, they are already well on their way to surpassing last season’s 27 wins. They currently sit just outside the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference. The Kings are coming off a tough road loss to the LeBron-less Lakers and will be hoping to get back on track at the Golden 1 Center where they hold a 10-7 record this season. Sacramento has played without Marvin Bagley—the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 draft—since mid-December.

What to watch for

  • Backcourt scoring. Both Sacramento and Portland are led by their backcourts. Portland’s more veteran duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum score nearly half the Blazers’ points (26.8 and 21.2 ppg, respectively). The Kings are more balanced, but are led by 3rd-year shooting guard Buddy Hield (19.7 ppg) and 2nd-year point guard De’Aaron Fox (18.3 ppg). The significant increase in production for both young players (up from 13.5 and 11.6 ppg, respectively) this season has been the main factor for the team’s early season success. The Kings’ young backcourt will likely be looking to prove themselves against one of the NBA’s more successful backcourt duos.
  • Three-point scoring. Another factor in the Kings’ improvement has been their 3-point shooting. Sacramento is shooting a similar percentage as they did last season (38.4 vs. 37.5), but they are putting up shots from deep more frequently. Last season they only attempted 24 threes per game. This season they are putting up 30.1. The increase in attempts combined with slightly more efficient shooting means the Kings are making 2.6 more shots behind the arc. The Blazers have not done a good job defending the 3-point line so far this season as opponents are shooting 37.1 percent from deep against them (the third-worst defensive mark in the league).
  • Pace of play. Another big change for Sacramento this season has been their pace of play. They were the slowest team in the NBA in the 2017-18 season. This season they are the second fastest. The increase in pace has resulted in more scoring for the Kings, who have bumped up from an NBA-worst 98.8 points per game last season to a top-5 mark of 115.2. It has also resulted in more scoring for Kings’ opponents as Sacramento is giving up 116.8 points per game (third most in the NBA).

What they’re saying

Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee wrote that the Kings’ late-game scoring is one of the factors that has contributed to their successful start to the season:

The Kings, who lead the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, stormed back from 19-point deficits to post back-to-back home wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans on December 21 and 23. They became the first team since the Indiana Pacers in 2010 to win consecutive games after trailing by 19.

Hield scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback against the Grizzlies. He had 19 of his 28 in the second half against the Pelicans. Three nights later in Los Angeles, the Kings cut a 27-point deficit to three before falling to the Clippers.

Jonathan Roberts of A Royal Pain broke down the Kings’ Sunday collapse against the Lakers:

The fourth also started well for the Kings, as they led by two possessions for much of first six minutes, then everything fell apart. Shot after shot clanged off the rim, the Kings couldn’t grab rebounds or stop the Lakers and ended shooting 0-3 when the game was within two points and just 1-5 when it was within two possessions, leading to a Lakers win, 121-114.

Buddy Hield just hasn’t had it lately. After trending towards stardom after a blistering stretch of great games, Hield has just disappeared entirely. In his last three games, Hield is shooting just 30.2 percent (13-43) from the field and is averaging just 12.6 points per game. Coincidentally, the Sacramento Kings are 1-2 in those games and will likely continue to drop contests as long as Buddy’s slunp continues.

Sactown Royalty’s Greg reflected optimistically on the Kings for New Year’s Eve:

As we prepare to flip the calendars and begin a new year, it’s worth reflecting on how far the Sacramento Kings have come. A year ago today the Kings had a record of 12-24 and played at the league’s slowest pace. The team was led by Zach Randolph and George Hill. The Kings were bad. Today the Kings are at 19-17 (above .500!) and are led by a core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Marvin Bagley III will return from injury sooner rather than later, and the team plays at one of the fastest paces in the league.

It’s a great time to be a Kings fan, and we haven’t been able to say that in many years. Who knows what 2019 will bring, but the new year is about optimism and hope that things can be better than they were before.