After a disappointing loss versus the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, the Portland Trail Blazers returned home Saturday and promptly got housed by the Sacramento Kings. The visitors torched the nets from distance, putting up 77 points in the first half alone, on their way to a 123-111 victory. The final score was way more respectable than the actual game.
The Kings evidently had not read the scouting report on the Blazers prior to tip-off, as they began the evening trying to push the ball inside against Hassan Whiteside. Every shot came at the rim, with middling success. The Blazers evidently had not read the scouting report on themselves either, as Whiteside also took Portland’s first four shots, with the same middling success. Both teams seemed content to shoot without much passing beyond an initial entry (if that). Sacramento ran out on fast breaks which Portland didn’t cover. That provided the visitors an early edge. Portland couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their souls, which didn’t help. Sacramento jumped out to an 18-8 lead. And all that was BEFORE the Blazers started turning over the ball every other possession. The quarter ended with the Blazers making a small run that they needed just to pull the score to 40-24, Sacramento. Oy.
The teams opened up the second quarter shooting threes. The Kings did better at that too. Their lead ballooned to 20. It drifted between 16-22 for most of the period, with wide-open triples for Sacramento becoming the norm. They continued to treat the three-point arc like pop-a-shot for the entire period. The Kings scored 77 in the first half against 54 for Portland.
Yes, this was every bit as bad as it sounds.
CJ McCollum and Alex Len earned double technicals for an intense shoving match midway through the third. It was a provocative move by McCollum, who definitely got the best shoves in. If it was meant to fire up his team, it didn’t work. The Blazers still couldn’t defend the arc and Sacramento pushed the lead to 25 by the 6:00 mark. Portland picked up the pace after that, finally forcing Sacramento into mid-range shots while generating looks with drives and passes on their own end. They cut the lead to 14 briefly, but Sacramento pulled away again, hitting the dreaded century mark in the third, leading 100-80 at the buzzer.
Nope. No comeback.
Tiebreakers and Playoffs
With the victory tonight, the 28-35 Kings now own the tiebreaker over the 28-37 Trail Blazers, should it come into play for the final playoffs spot in the West.
Five teams are competing for the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. The Blazers now have more losses (37) than the Pelicans (36), the Spurs and Kings (35), and the Grizzlies (32). They’re far closer to the 13th-place Suns (38 losses) than the playoffs bracket.
Talent and hot shooting be damned, this game was decided by a disparity in hustle. The Kings were quicker to everything in the first half, and that was before the second night of a back-to-back blues set in for Portland. If the Blazers were motivated to win this game, they sure didn’t show it. Ever. I guess that puts the “we want to make a drive for the playoffs” talk in perspective.
This is the most frustrated I've seen the Blazers this season. It honestly looks like they really, really want to try, but they feel like they're moving in slow motion next to the Kings.— Timmay (@pdxTimmay) March 8, 2020
Battle at the Arc
The Blazers allowed Sacramento to shoot 54% from the three-point arc, 21-39 total. Short of Damian Lillard scoring 60, there’s no way they’re coming back from that. Lillard had 12, shooting 2-10 from the arc himself. McCollum went 1-7. That means Portland’s starting backcourt missed only four fewer threes than the Kings did as a team.
Bogdan Bogdanovic pulled an Aron Baynes, hitting 7 of 11 three-point shots. Harrison Barnes hit 5 of 7.
This isn’t the first time we’ve written about Portland’s struggles defending the arc. It won’t be the last. For those wanting a shorthand explanation, their perimeter defense looks like this:
Slow rotation out to shooters.
Hands down, not extended, as they’re closing
Intermittent commitment to covering those shots at all
The Blazers had a big lead in free throws before garbage time arrived. The referees were letting them get away with plenty of physicality down low, which benefited Whiteside. They squandered it a bit by hitting only 17 of their 26 attempts, 65.4%.
Kent Bazemore appeared to take particular delight in hammering the team that traded him mid-season. He shot 3-6 from the field, scoring 8 with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 25 efficient minutes. The guy they traded him for did not.
The Blazers welcome the Suns for a revenge game on Tuesday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.