Blazers: 9-7 (4th Northwest Division)
Kings: 6-11 (4th Pacific Division)
Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN Radio: KXTG (750AM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected Sacramento Starting Lineup: PG Tyreke Evans (#13, 6’6”, Memphis), SG Marcus Thornton (#23, 6’4”, LSU), SF Francisco Garcia (#32, 6’7”, Louisville), PF Jason Thompson (#34, 6’11”, Rider), C DeMarcus Cousins (#15, 6’11”, Kentucky)
I hesitate to call any single game a “must win,” mostly because that implies that that one game is more important than any other game. I’ve said it before, but it can be said again, every game of the season matters. Every game is a “must win.” That being said, there are certainly some games that are much more important to win than others.
We hope that you get a late January game against the Sacramento Kings, and it’s not that big of a deal. That maybe even the playing of the game is mostly a formality. In my opinion, that’s not the case at this present moment. The Blazers return to the Rose Garden for the first time in over a week having completed a less than outstanding road trip. Portland finished 2-4, as you well know, very easily should have finished 3-3, and if they could have held a fourth quarter lead they would be coming home 5-1 (Detroit was the only game the Blazers didn’t lead in the final 12 minutes).
Losing four on the road doesn’t make Portland a bad team. But, here’s the thing, if the Playoffs started today, the Blazers would be on the outside looking in. Portland will make the Playoffs, but falling from first in the West a little less than a month ago to ninth as of today is a long way. The Blazers need to get on the right track. Winning is the way to do that. And more than that, losing to one of the worst teams in the league–for the second time in two games moreover–is not the way a good team does business.
This is Sacramento’s second trip to the Rose Garden, and this time around they look a bit different. Head coach Paul Westphal is out, Keith Smart is in. That’s a major change. Chuck Hayes is inactive with a dislocated shoulder, Marcus Thornton and John Salmons are sick and listed as questionable for tonight’s game. Those are smaller differences, but will have a bigger impact on this game.
The Kings are coming off an embarrassing loss to the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies, a team that has now won six straight and vaulted into the fourth spot in the Western Conference, a game in which they surrendered 34 points in each of the game’s first three quarters. Portland is going to be able to score on this team, there’s no doubt about that. But this group of Kings is going to looking to save a little face, so don’t expect them to just let the Blazers have easy looks at the basket. Hopefully Portland’s free throw shooters will show up, because I predict their going to be spending a lot of time on the line.
The Blazers will have to look out for the same thing they had to look out for Saturday in Detroit. This is a bad team that’s used to getting overlooked. Teams like that have an innate ability to see and then take advantage of their limited opportunities. If Portland gives the Kings an opportunity, they will take it. The Blazers are not a bad team. In fact I expect at some point in the next month they’ll go on a run of wins, but if they manage to shoot themselves in the foot once again, and drop another game to a team at the bottom of the table, it might be time to rethink some things. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
Couple of things I’m going to be watching for:
- As always, Gerald Wallace: Now’s the real test for Crash, can he continue to play well at home after having struggled so much on the road? Gerald is going to start tonight, even with his sprained finger, and hopefully he comes out playing like he has something to prove. Wallace started the season in All-Star form; his inability to carry that form over to away games will probably keep him from getting selected. Regardless of All-Star nods, Gerald needs to find some semblance of consistency. Also, it’s a pretty safe bet that if Crash had played Saturday Portland would have won, he’s that important.
- Can the Blazers get a big lead/avoid a big deficit: NBA announcers always say that playing close games against bad teams in inadvisable. Said bad team begins to believe that they have a shot at winning, thus they try extra hard instead of giving up. Here’s another thing to avoid when trying to win against an inferior opponent: don’t get down by double digits. If the Blazers can get ahead by a lot the Kings probably won’t work too hard to get back in the game, but if they get down by a lot, it could be another long night. I know Sacramento’s main scorer probably won’t be playing, neither will one of their primary secondary scorers, but any team can get hot any night of the week.
- How will the home fans respond: The Blazers need to take care of home court, especially if they are going to lose two away games for every one they win. Hopefully the Rose Garden will be hyped, but there’s a possibility that since it’s the Kings it will be a smaller, possibly less enthused crowd. Regardless, Portland has to figure out a way to find some energy.
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