The Portland Trail Blazers (50-28) host the Sacramento Kings (27-51) for the fourth and final season meeting. After clinching a playoff berth (the teams’ first since 2011), the Trail Blazers have an opportunity to add to their win total and prepare for their first round opponent. The Kings have lost three consecutive games but have a chance of splitting the season series with the Trail Blazers with a win.
Sunday was a great day to be a Blazer, insert Brian Wheeler reference. With a 100-94 win over the New Orleans, Portland clinched a spot in the playoffs and gained their 50th win of the season. The last time the Trail Blazers won 50 games was the 2009-2010 season in which they went 50-32. Last month’s terrible skid seems to be a distant memory and at the perfect time. Since All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the line-up, the Trail Blazers have won five of six. The team seems to follow his lead and have fought for the opportunity to be in the postseason. Tonight, the Trail Blazers will attempt to take the season series against the Kings at home.
The Kings have struggled all year on the road and have lost eight of their last 10 away from home. DeMarcus Cousins recorded his 50th double-double of the season in a loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. That double-double placed “Boogie” in some elite company as it tied Chris Webber‘s single-season record for the franchise. The roster looks a little banged up for the Kings as Rudy Gay, Reggie Evans, and Isaiah Thomas all missed Tuesday’s game. The Trail Blazers will need to take advantage if one or all of those players miss the game tonight.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Joel Freeland will be out with an MCL sprain. As Joe Freeman reported, Freeland went through contact work at practice on Tuesday. He is targeting a return for Sunday against the Warriors or next Wednesday against the Clippers.
- Rudy Gay is listed as questionable. He sat out Tuesday’s game in Oklahoma City with a sore back.
- Isaiah Thomas will probably sit tonight out. He has missed the last eight games with a bruised right quad.
- Carl Landry is out after having surgery last month to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
- Jason Terry is out. He was traded to the Kings in February but has not made an appearance due to a knee injury.
Keys To The Game
Robin Lopez vs. DeMarcus Cousins. Robin Lopez has been consistent all season. He did have a low impact on Sunday’s game against New Orleans (four points and two rebounds) but he was up against Anthony Davis. Plus, when Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews all score 20-plus, there’s not much left to go around. Lopez has played well against the Kings, averaging 13.7 points in three games. DeMarcus Cousins will be a another tough match-up for Lopez. Cousins has destroyed the Trail Blazers this season by averaging 34.3 points. The Oregonian’s Mike Tokito broke down the many reasons Cousins has been such a match-up nightmare for the Trail Blazers. It will probably be a match-up that coach Terry Stotts will look closely at to prepare for a possible first round meeting with Dwight Howard.
Wesley Matthews. I haven’t mentioned Matthews in quite some time. He has quietly been productive all season and it’s time his performance gets some praise. Matthews is averaging 16.3 points per game this season and continues to be effective on both ends of the court. He is also averaging a career high in minutes played and will be important during the postseason. Matthews has an uncanny ability to provide a spark at the moment his team needs it most. His three-point threat stretches the opposing defense to allow others to work. Watch for Matthews to start the game with a three or help create the opening points tonight. It happens a lot.
Looking Ahead While Looking Back. There is still an outside chance the Trail Blazers could take the four-seed from the Rockets. The situation is highly unlikely, given the Rockets have three fewer losses and own the tiebreaker, but mathematically, it’s still possible. While they can continue to strive for that rare opportunity, they must not forget to check behind them. The Golden State Warriors are only 1 1/2 games behind the Trail Blazers for the five-seed. One game behind the Warriors sit the Dallas Mavericks. The race is tight and very exciting. Let’s hope the Trail Blazers can get the job done tonight and continue to keep their distance from the others.