It’s only the second full week in November and only the third full week of the NBA regular season so it’s probably a little too early to panic in a meaningful way. But even if panic isn’t what is called for at this moment, the Portland Trail Blazers are in dire need of a win.
I predicted the Blazers would get a statement win against either the Clippers or the Spurs, then I thought they’d get a feel-good or feel-better win against the Hawks. I was wrong three times (actually two times since I did say that Portland would lose to either the Spurs or the Clips). I’m not sure what you would call the type of win the Blazers need right now, except to say this team needs a win mostly to prove to themselves that they can win.
Optimistic Blazer fans will say that Tuesday night’s game in Sacramento is the perfect time for Portland to get that prove-it-to-yourself-that-you-can win since the Kings are only the second team on the Blazers’ schedule that didn’t make the Playoffs last season and are also the only team in the Western Conference with a record as bad as Portland’s.
Pessimistic fans will say that Tuesday is a classic trap game in that when a team expects to get a break against a bad team they tend to lose.
Take you pick, both attitudes are equally valid.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Kings Starting 5: PG Isiah Thomas, SG Tyreke Evans, SF James Johnson, PF Jason Thompson, C Chuck Hayes
Tuesday night’s game looks a lot like Monday’s. Portland has an advantage at basically every position on the floor when it comes to the starting five. An advantage made greater by the absence in the Kings lineup of third-year big man DeMarcus Cousins. Say what you will about DMC (the consensus as gleaned from briefly glancing at Twitter and skimming a few of the better read blogs is that he is either a full-on raving lunatic or the unfortunate target or a collusive smear campaign designed to drain him of his personality and his iconoclastic tendencies so he’ll start toeing the company line and showing some god damn respect to his elders) the kid can play. Not having him in the lineup hurts his team.
That being said, there’s at least one Sacramento King who may have seen Portland play so far this season and is salivating at his chance to take on the Blazers’ so called “bench.” That man would be none other than Marcus Thornton. A bonafide sixth man with this Kings squad, Thornton’s scoring numbers are a little off the pace from last season but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be trying to fill it up. Thornton’s putting up an average of 15 shot attempts a game in just more than 30 minutes of play. Per 36 minutes, Thornton is averaging 17.7 field goal attempts and 17.6 points. If Portland doesn’t figure out how to keep Thornton from going off, they will not win Tuesday night.
What to Watch For
- Can Portland’s starters build a big enough lead so that the bench doesn’t blow it? The biggest advantage the Blazers have over the Kings is in their starting unit. Things get super dicey when it gets to the benches. Sac doesn’t have a great bench, but as I said, Thornton can score, Aaron Brooks used to be very good, and Jimmer Fredette (if he plays and is left open) can knock down shots from basically anywhere. I’d be willing to bet that Portland’s starters will have a serious scoring advantage over their Sacramento counterparts, but I have no idea if it will be enough to actually get a win.
- Meyers Leonard. I’m going to say this every night until he has a breakout game. I’ll probably keep saying it even after that too. Tuesday is another opportunity to play against a team without a real center. Let’s see if Stotts saying he wants Meyers to shoot more has any impact.
- Will the Blazers’ core see the writing on the wall? Sacramento is the example franchise Portland should be looking at as what they don’t want to turn into. Remember 10 years ago when the Kings were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, when their Playoff match-ups with the Los Angeles Lakers were so great that the NBA stepped in and made sure Kobe and Shaq didn’t lose? (Just kidding) Look at this team now. They’ve languished in the bottom of the Western Conference for years. They’ve punted on a ton of draft picks and failed to really develop the ones they made correctly. They signed Travis Outlaw but waived J.J. Hickson. Beyond basketball, the Kings are in a shambles from a business stand-point. They’re owners are vilified around the league, and if they didn’t have one of the most dedicated fan bases in all of professional sports, they would already be gone from the capital city of the most populous state in the country (a small market in part of a huge market). The long-term margin for error in Portland is pretty wide, but a few major missteps and the Blazers could very easily be the Kings. Winning on Tuesday won’t keep that from happening, but if the Blazers want to establish that their rebuilding effort is short-term, and not one that spans two decades, beating the Kings is something they must do every time they play.