The Portland Trail Blazers weren’t expecting a win when they faced the Sacramento Kings on Friday night with ten players missing due to injuries. Portland’s starting lineup required a deep foray into Basketball-Reference, with footnotes. When you’re pining for Ryan Arcidiacano. lamenting the lack of Cam Reddish, and playing the other Shaq—who just joined your roster and has no earthly idea what the plays are—your lot is not favorable.
The game went about as expected. Sacramento pried open a modest early lead, then spent the rest of the game steaming the Blazers until the shell split and the pearly win inside was free for the taking. The final result was a 138-114 Kings victory.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve digested that, here are other observations from the evening.
For much of the evening, the Blazers tried to avoid Sacramento’s defense by stretching it thin, then shooting over it. Lacking one-on-one creators—bereft of NBA-level offensive talent at all—Portland relied on a skill (shooting) rather than general scoring. They did generate plenty of open shots. That was the good news. They had trouble hitting them until the game was out of reach, which was the corresponding shadow side. But a really nice second half allowed the Blazers to finish the game 19-38, 50% from distance. That’s a gaudy stat, but not near enough to keep them even on the scoreboard.
Sacramento encouraged the Blazers to stay outside by honing in on dribblers as soon as they took half a step towards the lane. Portland lacked passing ability. If a player put the ball on the floor, it was going up. With the Kings primed, they were able to stuff the Blazers like a Thanksgiving turkey. Sacramento earned 7 blocks on the night, but seriously, every time Portland went inside it felt like the Kings were literary agents and the Blazers a flock of neophyte Young Adult authors. Welcome to your rejection slips.
When they weren’t swatting back shot attempts, the Kings stood in and drew charges. Between those two factors, interior offense became a nightmare grind for the Blazers, who managed only 36 total points in the paint.
Unfortunately, the Blazers couldn’t even begin to return the favor. With bigger bodies, more talent, more experience, more coordination, and just more EVERYTHING, the Kings found easy shots open all night long. The Blazers didn’t foul them overly much. That was about the only bright spot. Sacramento scored 64 in the lane, which helped them shoot a season-high 61.4% from the field overall.
Normally, single-covering (or not covering) in the paint means the Blazers were watching the three-point arc assiduously. No such luck here. Instead, it meant they were sending two or three men to lunge at the ball in the paint, then another to rebound, leaving only a man or two outside. The young, fairly quick Portland players usually got to the first threat, but two passes around the horn yielded wide open looks for the Kings. Unless the Sacramento shooter stood in the corner, in which case one pass from the interior was enough.
It almost became a rhythm. Portland would cut into the lead with hard-fought possessions, only to watch the Kings throw a straight-line pass to a corner shooter for a three which would restore the margin right where it had been.
The Kings finished the game shooting 19-39 from distance, 48.7%. In case you’re counting, that’s the same number of makes the hot-shooting Blazers had, with only one extra miss.
Fast and Loose
As you might expect with a team of young athletes, the running game was kind to Portland tonight, at least offensively. They ran quickly and in numbers off of rebounds. They weren’t bad at finishing either, proving crafty when they couldn’t be powerful. The Blazers scored 17 on the break, a nice enough number. They also gave back 26, but hey.
Though Portland’s team defense was shoddy, they did produce 6 blocked shots on a variety of individual and/or help plays. These Blazers can close space better than their veteran teammates and they’re pretty springy. Matisse Thybulle and Shaedon Sharpe each had a pair of blocks.
Oddly enough, the Blazers managed to outpace the Kings in foul shot attempts 23-15, despite getting seriously outclassed inside and on the run. Unfortunately, Portland only hit 15 of the free throws, a 65.2% success rate.
Of course, all anybody wants to know during these late-season, starter-free games is how Shaedon Sharpe did. He wasn’t as splashy and flashy tonight, partly because the Kings were ready for him. But I’d say he also did a good job playing within the team offense and settling up teammates, if not directly, at least by not soloing possessions willy-nilly.
Portland actually got a fair number of open looks with Sharpe on the floor. He took only 7 attempts in the first two quarters. He finished with 20 against 85 for his team, but that was because it was him or nothing in the final two quarters. He hit 10 of those, also shooting 4-10 from the arc and dishing 5 assists.
It wasn’t Shaedon’s fault that his comrades couldn’t sink their attempts or distract the defense the same way he could. This might not have been his absolute best individual or statistical performance, but it was a pretty good team-oriented outing for the rookie.
He’ll get dinged for 7 turnovers, but that was at least half a product of being the only defense-worthy player on Portland’s side of the ledger.
From our quarter-by-quarter recap:
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.
As a footnote, this loss officially eliminates Portland from the playoffs.
The Blazers continue the march through their last half-dozen games of the year. They leave the Moda Center for the last time, heading out to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday with a 12:30 PM, Pacific start.