The Portland Trail Blazers will play the Sacramento Kings at the Moda Center tonight. Portland has thrown in the towel, shutting down Damian Lillard for the remainder of the regular season, but they look to further develop their young talent and assess the roster moving forward.
The Kings have been the surprise team of the year. At 45-30, Sacramento is the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Their All-Star duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis have them on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2006.
Sacramento is 22-14 away from the Golden 1 Center and have the fewest road losses in the NBA. Meanwhile, Portland is 1-9 in their last 10 games and sport a 17-21 record at home.
All signs point to the Kings securing a win that will essentially solidify their home court advantage in the first round of the 2023 playoffs. Reason being? Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic will join Lillard on the sidelines. Should the Blazers supporting cast give Sacramento a run for their money, here’s what to watch for:
Blazers vs. Kings — Wednesday, March 29, 2023 — 7 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, NBCSCA
Blazers Injuries: Jerami Grant (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badju (out), Cam Reddish (game-time decision), Trendon Watford (game-time decision)
Kings Injuries: No injuries.
SBN Affiliate: Sactown Royalty
What to Watch For:
- The gas, the Break and the Clutch: De’Aaron Fox is like a luxury car. He can go from zero to 120 in the blink of an eye. He gives a different definition to hitting the break. And in the clutch, no one’s been better than him this season. The Blazers will have to watch for his sly play. Fox likes to trot up the court and take his time in the pick-and-roll. Like Jalen Brunson (New York Knicks), he burns opposing defenses from 15 feet when he gets the step and curls off the screener. He has a deadly floater that is up there with the best in the game. The help man will have to drop back and entice Fox — a 33.5 percent three-point shooter — to make his living from the outside. Otherwise, he will make his living in every other way.
- Hooks: Stopping Fox is one thing. Domantas Sabonis is another nightmare in and of himself. Drew Eubanks will have his hands full on defense. Sabonis is an all-in bet to consistently drive to the basket, drop his shoulder and look for a hook shot, whether over his dominant or back shoulder. He is adroit at using his footwork and muscle to wait for the perfect time to release his shot. Eubanks possesses great shot-blocking abilities. Therefore he must be as timely in contesting Sabonis’ hooks as he is in protecting the rim from the weak side.
- Bench Warmers?: The Sacramento second unit are bench warmers indeed. They stay ready and are warm once they enter the game. They are one of nine reserve units averaging 37 or more points per game. Leading the way are Terence Davis and Trey Lyles. Do not for one second be fooled by their modest stats. When they enter the game, they are instant spark plugs, especially in the case of Davis. Both have range and a dog-like mentality to attack the rim. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups should consider picking up Davis early in the half-court set and playing up on Lyles anywhere from inside 27 feet. Think that’s exaggeration?
- More Structure to the Offense: Portland showed some positive signs in their loss over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Nassir Little and Shaedon Sharpe are comfortable creating their own offense. Keon Johnson can push the pace and Cam Reddish stays ready. What was alarming was their execution of sets. Far too often, players set lackluster screens. Most of the time, small forwards such as Kevin Knox and Little were the screeners and just showed up next to the ball handler’s defender without the intent to impede his movement. That must change if they want to make the Sacramento defense scramble. Also, Ryan Arcidiacono racks up assists and controls the pace, but not when the jets need to be turned on. Sacramento are the seventh-best fast break offense in the league, averaging 14.9 points per game in that department. If Portland doesn’t get out and run with the abundance of fresh legs that they have, the Kings will run them right out of the gym.
What Others Are Saying
- Kurt Helin of Yahoo Sports reported on Dame’s shutdown and potential trade rumors that soon followed, saying:
“Lillard will not get traded unless he asks to be moved. He has never done so, in fact saying just weeks ago about playing the rest of his career in Portland, “To that point, I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Portland has been loyal to him and Lillard signed a massive contract extension last offseason and has four years, $216.2 million left on that deal, including about $63.2 million in the contract’s final season when he is 36. He’s happy where he is and has deep roots in the community,” Helin said.
“The odds are better than not that Lillard will retire a Trail Blazer, even if that’s not the path other stars would walk. Lillard is wired differently.”
- Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian contextualized the Lillard shutdown and how Portland’s losing ways have them comfortably situated for the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery, saying:
“The projected No. 1 pick is 7-foot-4 center/forward Victor Wembanyama, 19, out of France,” Fentress noted.
“However, the Blazers might never use their lottery pick. This offseason, the Blazers plan to aggressively enter the trade market in an attempt to land a big-ticket star to pair with Lillard. Having a lottery pick, plus the New York Knicks’ first-round pick should they reach the playoffs, will give the Blazers two key pieces to dangle as trade bait.”