The Sacramento Kings have given the Blazers a nice early Christmas present. Saturday afternoon they suspended DeMarcus Cousins for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Now in his third NBA season, Cousins’ obvious skill has only been outpaced by his total inability to function as a professional basketball player. Without Cousins, the Kings are mess. Cousins is a mess. The situation is not good.
Sunday evening Portland faces the Kings for now the third time this season and the second time in three weeks. The first time these two teams faced off, DMC was serving a two-game suspension for a hostile confrontation with Spurs announcer and consummate professional emeritus Sean Elliot, his first suspension of the season (he also sat one game earlier in December for striking O.J. Mayo in the groin). On that night, the Blazers were victorious 103-86, their first real blowout of the season.
The second time Portland and Sacramento squared off, DMC was back in the Kings’ lineup. That night, Sacramento tuned up the Blazers 99-80. Cousins contributed 19 points. He may not be the difference, that night Portland was way out of sync and played about as badly as they have all season, but he might just be the best player on his team. When your best player is also the one who is the hardest to control, you’re team is in trouble. Like I said, all is not well for the future Virginia Beach Kings.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Sasha Pavlovic, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Kings Starting 5:PG Aaron Brooks, SG Marcus Thornton, SF John Salmons, PF Jason Thomspon, C Chuck Hayes
Yet another favorable match-up situation for the Blazers. Instead of getting into for the third time, here‘s my preview from earlier this month, and here‘s my preview from last month. The idea for Portland should be simple, play a little defense, take care of the ball, and get good high percentage looks. I said basically the same thing about Saturday’s game, and I know it sounds simplistic, but for the Blazers the formula is becoming pretty simple.
Portland is superior to Sacramento at most positions, but not one Blazer is going to beat the Kings by himself. A team effort from all of Portland’s roster should be enough to extend the Blazers’ winning streak to six.
What to Watch For
- Portland’s bench. I’ve got Sasha Pavlovic starting at shooting guard with Wesley Matthews not making the trip. Pav isn’t the Blazers’ most potent scorer off the bench, but he’s one fewer reserve meaning somebody else is going to have to step in a make up for him being inserted into the starting five. Will Barton hasn’t had a big night in awhile, neither has Joel Freeland. Sunday’s game should be pretty open and loose. Barton might be able to thrive in that environment. Freeland, on the other hand, will probably struggle against Sac’s formidable front line. That being said, banging with Chuck Hayes et. al. might be a good way for Joel to shake out the cobwebs a little bit.
- Damian Lillard versus Aaron Brooks. Lillard is on a tear this month, just as he was last month. Aaron Brooks is the kind of guy who has given Damian nightmares. Brooks got the better of Dame in Portland. Damian blew up in Sacramento with Brooks spending much of the night not playing. I expect big things from Damian on Sunday, but I expect big things from him every night.
- Dictate and dominate. I’ve said it a couple of times already, but it’s the thing to look for with these Blazers. Saturday they once again found a way to win. Sunday, it would be nice if Portland could set the tone early, and carry it through for a full 48 minutes.