The Portland Trail Blazers will enter their third pre-season game tonight, attempting to record their second victory this season on the road against the Sacramento Kings.
Kings’ Starting 5: PG Isaiah Thomas, SG Marcus Thornton, SF Tyreke Evans, PF Jason Thompson or Thomas Robinson, C DeMarcus Cousins
Blazers’ Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Meyers Leonard or J.J. Hickson
What U Need 2 Know
- J.J. Hickson suffered a bruised rib in Wednesday’s pre-season game against the L.A. Lakers. He sat out on Friday, but will return tonight for the game against the Kings. Whether he will start or not is questionable.
- David Aldridge has reported that the Kings will “probably not” be offering Tyreke Evans a contract extension through this season. How will the young guard play knowing that his situation in SacTown is only temporary?
- Thomas Robinson is giving Jason Thompson a run for his money. Who will win the battle for the starting spot?
Tonight’s game is big for Portland for a lot of reasons. It’s a true reigning-in day for the rookies, and it gives LaMarcus Aldridge a chance to score on some younger, probably hungrier forwards.
Lillard vs. Thomas
Up until now, Damian Lillard has been playing against slower, more reserved guards. He was able to take advantage of his speed against both Steve Nash and Goran Dragic to score at will.
This time, it’s going to be different.
Isaiah Thomas is one of the scrappier point guards in the league. At only 5’9″ 185 pounds, Thomas has something to prove, and he plays like it. This is the perfect time for Lillard to use his size to score over the smaller guard.
Even though he only outweighs him by about ten pounds, Lillard, at 6’3,” towers over the much smaller Isaiah Thomas, and could easily shoot over, post up, or use his wider frame to bully him to the basket. It’ll take a few crafty moves to get by him, but a well put-together set of crossovers could create enough space for Portland’s rookie guard to get a look at the bucket.
Leonard vs. Cousins
Meyers Leonard is going to have a rough go at it tonight.
Guarding DeMarcus Cousins is a tough task for any NBA center, let alone a featherweight rookie who hasn’t played much post defense against a dominant inside scorer. Tonight will be the night that Leonard gets officially welcomed to the NBA.
Cousins will use his heavy-set body to bully the Blazers’ center all the way under the basket for an easy two. He’ll probably fake Leonard out with a few shimmy hook shots, and he’ll likely take advantage of the pump fake to get the rook to leave his feet for an easy foul.
But Leonard will learn.
Cousins is far from athletic and has never been adept at guarding the roll man after a screen. Lillard will connect with Leonard for at least two pick-and-roll scores, one of which (hopefully) will be a high-flying alley-oop to get the bench off its seats.
Aldridge vs. Robinson
I want to see LaMarcus Aldridge completely dominate both Jason Thompson and Thomas Robinson tonight.
No ifs, ands, or buts.
As the undoubted leader of the Portland Trail Blazers, its L.A.’s job to eat when there’s food in front of him. And with Robinson — still wet behind the ears — guarding him, it should be Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for the Blazers’ centerpiece.
Tonight is also a great night to see exactly how much work Coach Stotts will have to do with his “don’t get beat” man defense.
Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans are all capable of breaking a defender down and getting to the rack or pulling up for an easy score. DeMarcus Cousins is a dominant back-to-the-basket player, and Thomas Robinson is adept at crashing the boards and getting garbage buckets.
Lillard, Matthews and Batum will all have to be on their A-game defensively tonight if Portland’s defense is going to remain in tact.
If the Blazers remain defensively sound, knock down their open jumpers, and run the offense through L.A., there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t get a win in Sacramento.
Let’s see if our Blazers can pull out their second victory of the pre-season tonight.