Blazers deliver late stomach-punch to ruin Kings effort


Apr 9, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) passes the ball as Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) defends late in the fourth quarter of the game at Moda Center. The Blazers won 100- 99. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Is it possible for a team with a 27-51 record to suffer a heartbreaking loss? If so, the Sacramento Kings definitely did Wednesday in Portland. Playing without Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay, the Kings played one of their most inspired games of the year against the Blazers. Everyone laid it all on the line. The players wanted it, the bench was amped, the Portland crowd was nervous…and then a corner dagger ruined everything. Dorell Wright’s three-pointer with seven seconds left put Portland up by one. Ray McCallum put up a quality, final attempt, one that looked good from every angle. But it fell two inches short, and the Blazers escaped with a 100-99 victory.

APPLAUDING THE KINGS EFFORT — Without question, everyone involved with the Kings is sick of losing, and at the end of the day, this was just another mark in the loss column. But you have to take a step back and really appreciate the effort Sacramento took to Portland. The second night of a back-to-back, the end of a brutal season, two playmakers missing, a strong opponent — all the reasons were there for the Kings to get blown out of the gym. Sacramento didn’t see it that way. The Kings pushed the Blazers throughout. Every time they closed, Portland upped the lead again, but Sacramento wouldn’t die. It was a terrific performance from a young team and really enjoyable to watch aside from the negative result.

Apr 9, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez (42) during the first quarter of the game at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

NEXT LEVEL DEMARCUS COUSINS — We know DeMarcus Cousins is a big-time talent, but Wednesday in Portland the Kings big man showed his superstar potential. Cousins (37 MIN, 30 PTS, 14-29 FG, 12 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 3 TO) was the lead dog in Sacramento’s spirited upset bid, exhibiting his complete skill set. It was a dominating performance, as Cousins scored at will against Robin Lopez. When Lopez slacked off, Cousins buried the jumper (something he’s been doing efficiently for weeks). When Lopez pressured, Cousins took it down low and refused to be denied. It’s obvious Cousins is determined to win, even at this juncture of the season, and his dejected face after the loss said it all. Looking past the loss, the maturation of Cousins’ game and mentality is something to be excited about. His ability to destroy defenses was on display in Portland, and that should only become more prominent next year.

RAY MAC’S LATE SURGE — Fatigue looked like it would again render Ray McCallum ineffective. He struggled to find his own shot in the first half, and the Kings offense couldn’t operate at its peak as a result. Then the game hit crunch time, and McCallum (43 MIN, 23 PTS, 7-15 FG, 4-4 3FG, 5-5 FT, 4 REB, 8 AST, 3 STL, 0 TO) decided to play the part of legitimate NBA point guard. McCallum was amazing down the stretch, suddenly finding the stroke that had eluded him early on. He aggressively attacked the basket and showed a newfound confidence that had the Kings thinking victory. The fact that McCallum would even take the final shot, as opposed to forcing a pass to Cousins, shows just how much he’s growing. It’s a shame the shot didn’t fall, but the takeaway is that McCallum has earned a legitimate role next season for the Kings.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS — Reggie Evans (23 MIN, 4 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 4 TO) was his typical hard-nosed self, and his late defense on LaMarcus Aldridge was nearly enough for victory. Unfortunately, Dorell Wright was his cover on the final play and sinking into the paint wasn’t the right strategy … Ben McLemore (32 MIN, 16 PTS, 6-13 FG, 1-3 3FG, 1 REB) played a solid first half, getting his feet set on some jumpers and taking the ball to the basket when given daylight. Down the stretch, the Kings slid Travis Outlaw to shooting guard with Derrick Williams at small forward, which put McLemore on the bench … D-Will (29 MIN, 7 PTS, 2-9 FG, 8 REB, 2 AST, 1 TO) could not finish around the basket, and it was surprising Coach Michael Malone stuck with him in the fourth quarter … Sacramento’s defense forced 18 turnovers but allowed the Blazers to shoot 50.7 percent from the field.