The Sacramento Kings entered Wednesday night with an opportunity to both punch their postseason ticket for the first time since 2006 and eliminate the Portland Trail Blazers from contention in the process. Portland didn’t make it easy initially, but with time, they ultimately bowed out in a 120-80 loss.
With the loss, the Blazers embark upon their second consecutive season without a postseason appearance. The loss keeps Portland in a tie for the fifth-worst record in the NBA with the Orlando Magic — also 32-44 — with their next opportunity to play coming on Friday night, once more against Sacramento.
As one would expect in an 80-point scoring output in 2023, bright spots weren’t plentiful in tonight’s loss. (Sincere apologies to the chicken nugget lovers; the 100-point barrier isn’t a surefire crack anymore). Shaedon Sharpe’s 30-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist will stand out amongst the box score, as will Kevin Knox’s 12-point, 12-rebound performance. If you haven’t already, take a glance at an instant recap from Timmay!
Below are a few other observations:
A Glimpse into the Future:
For those of the belief that the 2022 NBA Draft class is going to be one for the ages, ammunition was aplenty tonight. Helping anchor their respective teams, No. 4 and No. 7 selections Keegan Murray and Shaedon Sharpe had a considerable hand in a matchup that proved pleasantly-competitive over the first half and some change.
There wasn’t a player in Moda Center tonight with a greener light than Sharpe had. With the ultimate freedom to make plays — and a few mistakes if they came about — the Blazers’ budding rookie offered highlights in abundance. Among the favorites:
Sharpe’s motor ran hot, allowing him to fill up every portion of the box score. (At one point, he did his best Carmelo Anthony impression, stealing Drew Eubanks’ rebound, earning some light-hearted scolding in the process). He hit pull-ups, made defenders look silly with combination dribbles and offered the best of his traits on display on Wednesday night. The shot selection was sometimes shaky, but this might be a nitpick for a young prospect learning the breadth of his offensive repertoire. It’s to a point that — so long as you can stomach the end result of these Blazers blowout losses — you don’t want to miss it when No. 17 is on the floor.
One other aspect worth noting: there were some glimpses of his much-improved defensive recognition, particularly on the weak side. It wasn’t always perfect, but Sharpe rotated well. Watching him fly across the weak side for shot contests is like watching one of those bootleg movies. You just never know when someone is going to walk right in front of the camera, mid-movie, on the way to their seats. Similarly, with that 49-inch vertical, Sharpe has the wherewithal to see potential shots, get right in the way, and just swallow them up with one of those, “You thought that would work?” rejections.
On the Kings’ side, Murray broke the record for the most 3-pointers in NBA history for a player in his rookie season, surpassing 2017-18 Donovan Mitchell (187) and 2012-13 Damian Lillard (185). As Lillard’s Twitter bio reads: “Everybody grab your shades, (because) your boy (is) that bright.” That sentiment reflects the future of the 2022 NBA Draft class well.
The 12-Minute Blazers:
The list of teams to hold the Sacramento Kings’ offense — owners of the highest offensive rating in NBA history — to under 20 points in the first quarter this season? Only two: the Utah Jazz last week and tonight against the tank-in-progress Blazers.
The Kings, following the trend from previous meetings this season, struggled initially to find their way against the Blazers’ zone defense. Thybulle, in particular, seemed to get a hand on just about everything. With sound defense and length (remember, Portland started a Sharpe-Thybulle-Knox-Little-Eubanks unit) across the rotation, the Blazers were competitive, and even ahead for portions of this game. The Kings, at one point, were putting on their best Stone Cold Steve Austin impression, shooting 3-of-16 from 3-point range and just 29.2 percent over the first quarter.
It was a stunning development for a while, though it wasn’t long before the floodgates opened. With a healthy dose of backdoor cuts, a rediscovery of their 3-point stroke, the Blazers’ own offense failing, and those Domantas Sabonis-led DHO sets, the Kings’ four-point halftime lead ballooned to 19, and by the end of the game, 40.
It hasn’t been an unusual sight seeing Blazers starters logging 40-plus minutes throughout the 2022-23 season. Given the circumstances tonight, head coach Chauncey Billups wasn’t left with much of a choice.
With the Lillard-Simons-Grant-Nurkic quartet unavailable, Cam Reddish (back), and Trendon Watford (ankle), among many others, nursing injuries, the Blazers were forced to go with a seven-man rotation against the fast-paced Sacramento attack. To further exacerbate matters, Keon Johnson ended up breaking his finger during shootaround.
The Kings’ commentators noted that there wasn’t a ton of energy in the crowd to start — that might’ve been because fans in Row B weren’t sure if they’d be next to check in and run DHOs for Coach Billups at the next timeout. You’ve got to stay ready.
Sharpe ended up playing 45 minutes with Little, Knox and Thybulle logging 40, 39 and 37 respectively. Among the second unit, all that was there was Jabari Walker (27 minutes) and John Butler (26 minutes). Before the game, Reddish was upgraded from “doubtful” to “available to play,” though one could hypothesize that this was perhaps to fulfill that “minimum players required” rule. Ryan Arcidiacono, interestingly, was moved to the bench and earned a “DNP — Coach’s Decision.” Because the two teams play again on Friday, one has to wonder how the rotation will look ahead of that game.
Friday night offers some déjà vu, as the Blazers prepare to face the Kings once more at 7:00 pm PT.