The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Sacramento Kings on Friday night with ten (10) players on the injury list. And they lost an eleventh at halftime. Shaedon Sharpe led his team with 27 points on 10-20 shooting, but that was a drop in the ocean compared to what was needed against the playoffs-bound Kings. Sacramento pounded Portland’s starting lineup of Sharpe, Drew Eubanks, Trendon Watford, Matisse Thybulle, and Skylar Mays. We can’t even mention what they did to the bench on their way to a 138-114 victory.
The Blazers earned their 45th loss tonight. The Orlando Magic beat the Washington Wizards with a fourth-quarter rally and have now won four of their last five games. The Indiana Pacers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. As a result, both the Pacers and Magic are stuck at 44 losses, leaving the Blazers in sole possession of the 5th-worst record in the league with five games remaining. If the Blazers lose out, they will retain that position and a 10.5% chance at the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Now that you’ve digested that, here’s how the action went.
The Blazers started out trying to take advantage of the characteristic that brought them to the dance all year long: distance shooting. Matisse Thybulle and newcomer Skylar Mays each hit a triple while Shaedon Sharpe hit a long two. The Kings were more that satisfied to let Portland bomb away, likely guessing that low-percentage shots would catch up to them.
Meanwhile Sacramento took 8 of their first 12 shots in the heart of the lane, hitting roughly half of them. That wouldn’t hurt Portland too much, seeing as their own shots were falling. But the Kings also hit a couple threes of their own, meaning they equaled Portland’s strong suit, then added more on top. At the first timeout, with 6:30 remaining in the first, Sacramento led 18-14. The Blazers had attempted 8 shots in that span, 6 of them beyond the top of the key.
Portland’s offense didn’t necessarily improve after the brief respite, but they made up for it with offensive rebounds, settling for extra attempts instead of extra accuracy. That kept them afloat, barely, as Sacramento continued to score inside, with a Keegan Murray three salted in besides. The Kings encouraged Portland to stay outside by blocking shots or drawing charges on interior attempts. Jump shots were the easiest way to avoid frustration.
Sharpe hit a three in the closing minutes of the period, as did the other newcomer, Shaquille Harrison. That was good. The Blazers missed their other open looks from distance, which was bad. Fortunately the Kings also missed plenty of open shots, keeping the margin relatively safe compared to the disaster it could have been. Sacramento led 36-27 after one.
To nobody’s surprise, Portland’s three-point onslaught continued at the start of the second. Within three minutes, the Blazers had hoisted five triples. Jabari Walker, Nassir Little, and Mays connected, making the percentages look good and closing the scoreboard gap. It was hard to avoid the obvious conclusion, though. Unless something changed, once those shots stopped falling the Blazers would start.
But never fear, Tankoholics. Portland proved utterly incapable of stopping the Kings in the lane. On the run, off the dribble, with the pass...we could have penned a Dr. Seuss book about all the ways Sacramento scored at the cup.
In the mid-period, The Blazers finally started attacking the lane successfully. They drew fouls accompanying those shots too. That gave them enough of a foundation to match the Kings’ scoring even though the defense remained suspect. In a bit of an inversion, Sacramento started shooting outside as the Blazers went in. Bonus points, as Portland’s defensive woes were slightly less exposed that way.
Portland continued to feast on free throws as the minutes wound down in the half. This was a really big deal, just about the only truly unguarded shots they got. Those shots, plus a few more offensive rebounds, continued the life support the home team so desperately needed. The Kings didn’t falter, but they couldn’t run away either.
The Blazers kept the lead between 6 and 9 points for most of the period. A brief flurry in the final two minutes made the Kings look better than they actually played. Portland finally settled for a 71-59 Sacramento lead at intermission.
Strains of Gordon Lightfoot started echoing across the Moda Center at the start of the third, as De’Aaron Fox came out of a game-long slumber, hitting a three-pointer and a long two alongside triples from Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray (yet again). Head Coach Chauncey Billups radioed in the emergency message that the ship was taking on water, calling a timeout barely three minutes into the period with his team down 18.
Portland’s cause was not helped by Nassir Little exiting the game with an left ankle issue. Little wasn’t burning up the court, but the roster was short anyway. Portland couldn’t afford to lose a court attendant, let alone a player.
Shaedon Sharpe did what he could, hitting a couple threes. Kevin Knox II hit one too. But that wasn’t going to pick up the defense. Sacramento had the bit in their teeth, passing and running with abandon. Portland’s buckets had all the effect of a boxer trapped in the corner, putting up the guard to survive one more round.
The Kings hit 9 of their first 14 shots in the third. Had the Blazers hit all 14 of theirs, and had all the extra makes been three-pointers, Portland still wouldn’t have made up the difference. Spoiler Alert: the Blazers did not go 14 of 14. Nor did they make up the gap.
Portland did manage to score enough to keep the lead relatively even at 18 after that first flurry, mostly by hitting the occasional stray triple. They went 6-10 beyond the arc in the period. That was an accomplishment of sorts. The Kings led 104-89 after three.
Shaedon Sharpe turned it on at the start of the fourth, hitting a corner three off of a Kevin Knox assist, then scoring twice at the cup. That brought the lead down to just 7 with 7:41 remaining. It also brought the only verve the Moda Center crowd would experience all evening.
A pair of threes from Malik Monk and (who else?) Keegan Murray, followed by a Domantas Sabonis and-one layup off of a Monk assist put an end to that. Sacramento went on a 12-3 run, then pushed the lead over 20 without a second thought. That was all she wrote, and all we will too.
Stay tuned for more analysis, coming soon!
The Blazers continue the march through their last games of the season, exiting the Moda Center to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday with an early, 12:30 PM, Pacific start.