Portland Trail Blazers (32-44) vs. Sacramento Kings (46-30)
The Portland Trail Blazers will be dramatically shorthanded when they face the Sacramento Kings at home tonight, the second matchup between the teams in three days. 10 Blazers are listed on the injury report as either “out,” “doubtful” or “questionable.” Add that injury situation to the reality Portland has lost its last two games by a combined 74 points, and another loss is all but inevitable.
But that’s the idea, isn’t it? The Blazers — tied with the Orlando Magic for the fifth-worst record in the NBA — are close to heading into the off-season with the fifth-best Draft Lottery odds. Hooray!
Meanwhile, the Kings are enjoying the dream season Blazers fans were hoping for in Rip City this year. Entering the season as a dark horse on the fringe of the playoff race, Sacramento has surged ahead of the crowded Western Conference middle all the way to the No. 3 seed. The Kings’ 120-80 beatdown of Portland on Wednesday night clinched a postseason berth, ending the longest playoff drought in U.S. major sports after 16 consecutive losing seasons. Light the beam!
Blazers vs. Kings — Friday, March 31, 2023 — 7 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, NBCSCA, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Jerami Grant (out), Damian Lillard (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Justise Winslow (out), Keon Johnson (out), Ibou Badju (out), Cam Reddish (doubtful), Ryan Arcidiacano (doubtful), Trendon Watford (questionable)
Kings Injuries: Matthew Dellavedova (out)
SBN Affiliate: Sactown Royalty
What to Watch For
New faces. With all the injuries, Portland has turned to NBA hardship rules to field a couple of players on 10-day contracts: Shaq Harrison and Skylar Mays. As many Blazers fans have pointed out, it’s only natural the duo is a pair of 6’4 guards. Before they become answers to questions on Rip City Trivia Night years down the road, Harrison and Mays are ready to take the court in the present. What kind of firepower can they bring to a Blazers team that scored just 80 points last time out? Mays has multiple double-digit scoring performances to his name with the Atlanta Hawks, including a 20-point showing in Feb. 2021. Harrison, a six-year pro with multiple 20-point games in his career, broke out for a career-high of 25 points with the Chicago Bulls in March 2020. Let’s see what the new guys do in their Blazers debut.
Sharpe! The best reason to watch Portland’s stretch run this season is the development of 19-year-old rookie Shaedon Sharpe. The 2022 lottery pick is getting a taste of life in the NBA as a number one option — playing extended minutes, taking the lion’s share of shots and even facing late-game traps to get the ball out of his hands. It’s all been a great test for the young rookie, one he’s responded to well. In the last five games, Sharpe has set a new career high in points three different times (24, 29 and then 30). He’s also averaged a whopping 45% shooting from long-distance on 40 attempts and a less-pristine 45.6% shooting from the field (though, that number is largely squandered by a 10-27 shooting night on Wednesday). Can Sharpe achieve another career high against Sacramento tonight? Every good play the rookie makes is a sign of hope for a future rid of tanking where the Blazers are playing meaningful games in March and April once again. Like the taste of strawberries in the Shire, oh, it’s a comforting thought.
CHA-LU-PAS! I mean McMuffins. No, wait I mean, McNuggets! (The deal is still for McNuggets, right?). If the Moda Center crowd must sit through another double-digit dismantling tonight, at least send fans home with the silver lining of a sweet, sweet fast food coupon. If the Blazers score 100 points, that means every fan in attendance gets an in-app coupon for a free six-piece of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. Offense has been hard to come by for this most recent iteration of the Blazers. The team followed up a 90-point showing against the Pelicans on Monday with that 80-point clunker against the Kings on Wednesday. No McNuggets within a shouting distance. Can the offense muster up enough production for a promotional giveaway tonight? If the Blazers do break 100, it almost definitely means Sharpe broke out for big numbers and it possibly means the game is closer than expected. Though, the fast-paced Kings are capable of hanging 150 on almost any opponent.
What Others Are Saying
The Kings are the talk of the town after their playoff-clinching win against the Blazers on Wednesday. In a recent piece, Yahoo Sports’ Dan Devine writes about how the team defied expectations and over a decade of disappointment.
It took a few extra days, but the Kings got an emphatic win over the depleted Portland Trail Blazers to control their own postseason destiny. “Light the beam” chants broke out at the end of the game ... in Portland.
The Kings become just the third team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth, joining the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies. This, to put it mildly, is not what the sharp community expected prior to the season; heading into training camp, BetMGM set the over/under mark for Sacramento’s 2022-23 win total at 34.5 games. Those soft expectations came in the context of a decade and a half of calamity: The Kings hadn’t topped that number in three seasons and had beaten it just twice since 2005-06.
In a recent piece for Sactown Royalty, Jordan White discusses how the Kings can keep this success story chugging through playoffs. One key: leaning into that otherworldly offense.
This team is historically good on offense with the best offensive rating of all time (currently at 119.6). The defense, however, is bad, and I don’t see them magically turning it around come the middle of April.
Now, I’m not saying they should stop trying to play well on defense, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea for the Kings to summon their inner Rockets James Harden and just be so good on offense that the opposition simply can’t keep up.