Flexing a better record and a nearly identical point differential, the Portland Trail Blazers face a Sacramento Kings team that is much less okay than Portland with being below .500 this early in the season.
For the Blazers, their three most recent losses ascended in impact: first losing a 12-point fourth quarter lead against the Memphis Grizzlies, then the aforementioned game, and finally Robert Williams III to a season-ending knee injury. Without Williams, Portland will have to cobble together lineups leaning more heavily on Toumani Camara, Jabari Walker, and maybe even Kris Murray, and while starting center Deandre Ayton is playing 30 minutes a game - right at his career average - you can’t help but wonder whether Head Coach Chauncey Billups will need to put a bit of water in that ranch bottle to make it last just a bit longer.
Their opponent has their own injury concerns: De’Aaron Fox’s ankle still isn’t good enough to play on, and without him Sacramento has looked more Kangz than Kings. It’s never easy to lose your leading scorer - just ask Portland - but it’s striking just how much they’ve struggled. Their league leading offensive rating of 120.7 points per game has deflated to just 101 in Fox’s absence, and Domantas Sabonis scored but 8 points in their 122-97 blowout loss to the Houston Rockets, his lowest point total as a King.
As 7.5-point underdogs, Blazers fans can at least take solace that a win tonight means yet another expectation exceeded. And with two injured teams with very different expectations trying to make the most of the hand they’re dealt, the unpredictability might make for some interesting moments and contributions from players we didn’t see coming.
Sacramento Kings vs. Portland Trail Blazers - Wed. Nov. 8 - 7:00 p.m. PST
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson, Robert Williams III, Ish Wainright (out)
Kings injuries: De’Aaron Fox, Trey Lyles (out)
What to Watch For
- Blazers bigs. Whoever they be, someone sort of tall and kind of big will need to defend Sabonis. As Toumani Camaramania continues washing over Portland, he - along with whoever else Billups can cobble together - will get their first shot at cohering a frontline that makes sense in Williams’ absence. While winning isn’t necessarily the goal this season, player development certainly is, and it’s not helpful to Shaedon Sharpe, Scoot Henderson (when he returns), or anyone else to play without a paint presence. Will it look pretty? Nope. But it will be interesting, and barring a trade or a Biyombo-like signing, it will be the start of what Portland will have to deal with the rest of the season.
- Shaedon Sharpe. Always Sheadon. Maybe we can just add his name as part of the template for these previews, because what he continues to do this year has been special. Has he made “the leap”? I’d argue yes; some say no. Should he get even MORE opportunity than he’s gotten, even if he struggles with it? I’d argue yes; some, including people much smarter than me... cough Danny Marang cough... say no. Regardless, he will get minutes and he will get opportunities. Look not so much for the things we know he can do (shoot, jump really high) and more the stuff he needs to continue developing to become great (his playmaking, vision, and decision-making under pressure). With the Blazers so short-staffed, he will be the focus of the Kings’ defense nearly every time he touches the ball whether he likes it or not.
- Pace. The Kings like to play fast, the Blazers don’t. While De’Aaron Fox isn’t available, the Kings’ identity revolves around a much zippier offense (104.1 with Fox) than the Blazers’ (97.8, 28th in the NBA). On the plus side, the Blazers have plenty of players in their rotation on the younger side of 30. On the minus side, the Blazers are 26th in opponent fast break points allowed. To be fair, transition defense lays bare any miscommunication or lack of coordination, so this isn’t a shock for a younger, newly constructed team dealing with injuries. But if the Blazers don’t make this a focus, the Kings may see an opportunity for tonight's contest to be a back-to-basics game and push the pace even without their best player.
About the Opponent
Logan Struck of Inside the Kings had a brief piece that included displeasure from Kings Head Coach Mike Brown with their most recent blowout loss:
“Give Houston credit. They kicked our behind, starting with me. They kicked my behind and on down the line. They came ready to play tonight and punched us in the mouth, and we didn’t respond... The tough part about it is our spirit got deflated, and we didn’t have anybody out on the floor that could bring it back up.”
Zach Venero of The Kings Herald made a Power Ranking of the Sacramento Kings’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week:
Well, Week 2 sucked… The vibes are in the toilet right now, just like the back-to-back performances against the Rockets. Without De’Aaron Fox, this team has lost its spark and is moving at a snail’s pace, averaging a measly 92.5 pace in their last three games. That’s good for dead last in the league, folks.
Brenden Nunes of Sactown Sports took a crack at outlining what the Kings need to do to right the ship without De’Aaron Fox at the helm (spoiler: it includes going fast):
All the talk leading into these games, which Fox was deemed as likely to miss, was that no one player could replace his production. Instead, they’d been calling for a collective effort. Well, they seemed to have collectively gotten worse after two consecutive, brutal games against the Rockets’ team (who might be better than many anticipated) when they were expected to have a notable advantage. They have to get back to playing Kings basketball. Run with pace in the open and half court, space the floor effectively, and maintain consistent and effective ball and player movement.