The Portland Trail Blazers will take on DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings in the Moda Center tonight. Don’t let Sacramento’s 1-3 record fool you; their rough start can be partially attributed to a brutal schedule. The Clippers, Warriors, and Hawks made quick work of the Kings, whose only victory came over the Denver Nuggets (also 1-3) in their season opener. Now they look to end their skid in the Moda Center, before hosting the Blazers at the Sleep Train Arena in a back-to-back.
Keys to the game:
#1: Get DeMarcus Cousins in foul trouble
This is absolutely imperative to the Trail Blazers’ success. Robin Lopez has done an admirable job defending the rim, but he has yet to match up with a truly elite offensive center. Make no mistake, despite his reputation for immaturity, DeMarcus Cousins is an elite offensive center. In fact, it is that reputation that the Trail Blazers must exploit if they hope to contain him. Drive at him hard, tack on some personals early, and frustrate him to the bench before he has a chance to abuse them in the paint.
Cousins has averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds this season and, although it has only been 4 games, these figures are by no means anomalous. Neither are the usual 4.3 personal fouls he picks up along the way. It’s on Portland to be aggressive in the paint early and often. If they can eliminate DeMarcus Cousins, the game is theirs. By this token, the Blazers’ primary game plan cannot revolve around the arc. In this rare circumstance, the best defense is actually a good offense.
#2: Lock down the three point line
With DeMarcus Cousins playing limited minutes (foul trouble pending) the Trail Blazers must turn their attention the 3-point line. Point guard Isaiah Thomas has taken on a heavy workload as Greivis Vasquez adjusts to his new team, and if there is one thing Thomas can do, it’s shoot the three. His 7-15 from the arc thus far is almost as efficient as Damian Lillard’s 16-33, albeit in a much smaller sample. When he gets hot, he can be a game changer.
Thomas is not their only ranged weapon. They’ve got equally streaky shooters in Ben McLemore and Marcus Thornton, but my biggest concern comes from power forward Patrick Patterson. He rarely shoots from the arc, true, but his ability to do so may be enough to draw LaMarcus Aldridge too far out on defense. Patterson loves the corners, and the Blazers need to be able to cover them without opening up the lane for Cousins.
#3: Ball movement
The Kings aren’t exactly a defensive stalwart. Then again, neither are the Trail Blazers. Sacramento has allowed a 48% opponent field goal percentage so far, and Portland has allowed 47.6% (3rd and 4th highest in the NBA. I’d like to see the Trail Blazers finding the open man, instead of letting players like Mo Williams squander possessions with selfish play. Run the pick and roll, run the pick and pop, run Horns for all I care—just don’t make the Kings look better than they are with self-defeating heroics.
This is where I want to see Nicolas Batum come up big. He has thrived as a point forward and, although I have my gripes with his contract, he is rapidly becoming one of the better glue guys in the NBA. Look for Batum to make the extra pass and catch the Kings sleeping. Forwards that facilitate can make weak opposing defenses appear absolutely laughable. Who’s going to stop him? John Salmons? The Blazers have four players with the potential to score 20+ on any given night, and each must get touches to keep Sacramento on their toes.