Oct 20, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas (22) drives the lane against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Sacramento Kings (1-3) at Portland Trail Blazers (2-2) Preview

The Kings have lost three straight, likely still hungover from the season opening bananza. More concerning than the losses, though, is the lack of effort the Kings lineups have displayed in most of the past two games (losses to the Warriors and Hawks). While the Kings almost managed a late comeback against Atlanta, the body language and consistent mistakes cannot be to Coach Malone’s liking. Now they head up to Portland, where a road win against a potential Playoff team would be a huge lift.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Sacramento Kings:

Portland Trail Blazers

C: DeMarcus Cousins, 6’11, Kentucky
18.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 46.2% FG
C: Robin Lopez, 7’0, Stanford
4.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.25 BPG, 36.4% FG
PF: Patrick Patterson, 6’9, Kentucky
4.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 30.8% FG
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, 6’11, Texas
24.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 52.4% FG
SF: John Salmons, 6’6, Miami (FL)
6.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3 APG, 30.3% FG
SF: Nicolas Batum, 6’8, France
13 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 43.2% FG
SG: Marcus Thornton, 6’4, LSU
10.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 40.5% FG, 35% 3P
SG: Wesley Matthews, 6’5, Marquette
17.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 51.1% FG
PG: Greivis Vasquez, 6’6, Maryland
9 PPG, 3.8 APG, 42.3% FG
PG: Damian Lillard, 6’3, Weber State
24.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.8 RPG, 45.5% FG

Key Bench Players:

G: Isaiah Thomas, 5’11, Washington
29.8 MPG, 20.8 PPG, 4.8 APG, 49% FG
G: Mo Williams, 6’1, Alabama
23.5 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 37.2% FG
G: Ben McLemore, 6’5, Kansas
20.8 MPG, 10 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 42.1% FG
F: Dorrell Wright,  6’9, South Kent HS
14.8 MPG, 5.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 44.4% 3P
C: Jason Thompson, 6’11, Rider
22.8 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 44% FG
F: Thomas Robinson, 6’9, Kansas
9.5 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 42.9% FG

 

Last Three Contests:

December 26, 2012: Kings @ Trail Blazers – Trail Blazers 109, Kings 91
December 23, 2012: Trail Blazers @ Kings – Kings 108, Trail Blazers 96
December 8, 2012: Kings @ Trail Blazers – Kings 99, Trail Blazers 80

Key Matchup: Greivis Vasquez (and Isaiah Thomas) vs. Damain Lillard

Lillard, last year’s Rookie of the Year, has been excellent this season offensively. He’s not the Floor General of some of the league’s top points, but he doesn’t need to be (Portland is tied for 8th in the league in team assists with 23.8 – the Kings are 23rd with 18). With four starters averaging more than 2.3 APG, and two starters (Lillard and Nicolas Batum) averaging more than 5 a game, Portland can afford to let Lillard lose as a scorer.

Lillard is happiest attacking the basket (22 of his 66 shots have been within 3 feet of the rim) or at the three point line (exactly half of his shots are 3s and he’s making 48.5% of them). It’ll be interesting to see how Malone uses the taller Greivis Vasquez, who has five inches on Lillard. That could negate Lillard’s range a bit, if Vasquez stays right on him… but if he drives, his speed will leave Vasquez in the dust (a continuous problem over the past four games).

Isaiah Thomas hasn’t started any game this season, but he’s playing more than Vasquez, and he could stick to Lillard easier should Lillard continually try to attack the basket.

Jan. 23, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Sacramento Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) drives to the basket on Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and center Kurt Thomas (40) during the third quarter of the game at the Rose Garden. The Blazers won the game 101-89. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Three Things to Watch

1. DeMarcus Watch: Overreaction theatre followed the Kings loss to Atlanta, and we aren’t talking about the team’s lack of effort. Specifically, the overreactions sprang up around DeMarcus, who got edgy with the Hawks’ psychical approach to playing him. Give Cousins a break on this one – he didn’t play a sharp game, but he kept himself remarkably in check, considering a certain low-blow he took.

DeMarcus has obviously been working very hard on both controlling his emotions and his shot selection, but they won’t be 100% overnight. The narrative that Cousins can’t be a leader needs to be stored away, at least until Coach Malone has a few months to work with this team.

Cousins used to play against LaMarcus Aldridge when the Kings played Portland, but now that Robin Lopez is starting at Center, he’ll face a less-skilled yet taller defender. Aldridge is an exceptional scorer, one that likely neither Cousins nor Patrick Patterson can contain on their own. The biggest question-mark entering this game is how Coach Malone will have his players set up defensively against Aldridge.

2. Contain Batum: While Nicolas Batum isn’t the scorer that Aldridge or Lillard are, he’s one of the most complete small forwards in the game. Defensively he’s fantastic, and he’s also averaging 8.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists, both team highs. He won’t dominate the scoring, but the Kings small forwards will need to stick to him and try and take him out of as many plays as possible. Can it be Luc Mbah a Moute time yet?

3. Battle of the Benches: Portland has an exceptionally deep bench, with Mo Williams, Dorrell Wright, Joel Freeland and former King Thomas Robinson all capable of 20+ minutes. The Kings might have an acceptable bench, if Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore and Jason Thompson weren’t having to play starter minutes for struggling starters.

Thomas will likely see major minutes against Lillard, and McLemore has been better on both ends of the floor then starter Marcus Thornton. Thompson has filled in for the massively struggling Patrick Patterson.

Big time credit goes to Coach Malone, who promised to (and delivered) consistent rotations. This was something Coach Smart failed to ever provide, and in the long run it should pay off. Still, with the starters struggling, many are quick to criticize the depth chart. Give Malone the benefit of the doubt on this one—he’s doing what he promised to do.

Still, the Kings bench would be a lot more formidable if the starters started playing to the level of their backups.

Prediction: Trail Blazers 103, Kings 95

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Tags: Portland Trail Blazers Sacramento Kings

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