They say that the most difficult game in a long road trip is the first one played back at home. I can’t tell you who “they” are, but let’s just say that “they” are probably right. Luckily for the Blazers, Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings at the Rose Garden comes after a two-day lay-off.
Sure Portland will have to adjust to playing in front of their home crowd for the first time since the day after Thanksgiving, which to be fair shouldn’t be that hard, but at least they’ll have had the last 48 hours to adjust to being back on West Coast time.
Friday’s game will be the first of three between the Blazers and the Kings. Portland took the first match-up in Sacramento 103-86.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Kings Starting 5: PG Aaron Brooks, SG Francisco Garcia, SF John Salmons, PF Jason Thompson, C DeMarcus Cousins
There will be a few noticeable personnel changes between Friday’s game and the last game between the Blazers and the Kings. The home team is likely to be without Nicolas Batum who suffered a back injury in Indiana. At the time of this writing he hasn’t been officially scratched, but there is a good chance Batum will sit this one out.
On the other bench, the Kings will be featuring their potential superstar DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was out of the lineup the first time these two teams met serving a two-game suspension. DMC is a tough cover. Fortunately for the Blazers, and unfortunately for the Kings, Cousins is about the best example of a head case the NBA has to offer. The best way to beat DeMarcus Cousins is to let him beat himself. And he doesn’t make it that hard. LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson will be banging with Cousins in the paint, and if they do their jobs correctly they should be able to push him off his game. Once that happens, there’s no telling what kind of damage DMC can do to his own team.
One thing Portland needs to try to avoid Friday is getting in a shoot-out. The Blazers are better than the Kings at every position on the floor, but that doesn’t mean Sacramento won’t be able to compete. The Kings roster has shooters from top to bottom. Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, and John Salmons can get hot. If Portland tries to out-shoot Sacramento, instead of trying to keep the Kings from scoring, the home team could be in for a long night.
What to Watch For
- Will Portland be sharp. The Kings played last night, beating the Orlando Magic 91-82. The Blazers have been off since losing to the Pacers on Wednesday. Some lay-offs are good. A road weary team like the Blazers needed the rest. Hopefully, though, Portland won’t have to take too long to get back up to game speed. If the Blazers come out sharp and focused, they should be able to put this Kings team on the ropes early. If it takes 12 minutes or more for Portland to engage, the advantage switches.
- LaMarcus Aldridge versus DeMarcus Cousins. DMC is a big body. He is going to create problems on the defensive end, especially when it comes to offensive rebounds. Portland’s game plan should be to limit DMC’s second chance points and easy scores by trying to move him out to around 15 or 20 feet. That’s not Cousins’s best look, but he’ll try to take it all night. On the offensive end, LA needs to establish himself inside early. An strong inside game from LaMarcus is good for two reasons, he’s at his most efficient close to the rim, and he should be able to get an impatient defender like Cousins in early foul trouble.
- Portland’s bench. The Blazers will be without Will Barton (doing D-League time) but other than that all of Portland’s second unit is available. They had some moments on the road. They’ve shown improvement. Now they need to show the home fans they can help this team win games.