Game 43 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings (plus Camby reaction)


Blazers: 22-20

Kings: 9-30

Game Details: PowerBalance Pavilion, Sacramento, CA. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Dante Cunningham (#33, 6′9″, Villanova)

Projected Sacramento Starting Lineup: PG Beno Udrih (#19, 6’3″, Slovenia), SG Tyreke Evans (#13, 6’6″, Memphis), SF Francisco Garcia (#32, 6’7″, Louisville), PF Jason Thompson (#34, 6’11”, Rider), C DeMarcus Cousins (#15, 6’11”, Kentucky)

Before we get to tonight’s matchup against the lowly Sacramento Kings, let’s talk about Marcus Camby. Last night, it was announced that the Blazers’ starting center and one of the most dependably productive players on their roster had a slight tear in the meniscus on his left knee and will have surgery this week. This makes him the fifth Blazers player since the start of the preseason to miss games for knee surgery (the others being, of course, Jeff Pendergraph, Elliot Williams, Greg Oden, and Brandon Roy). But outside of Roy and possibly Oden, the injury to Camby is far and away the most devastating to the team’s outlook for the rest of the 2010-11 season. In fact, with the exception of LaMarcus Aldridge, Camby is arguably the player the Blazers can least afford to have miss serious time.

The timetable for Camby’s return is unknown, but all reasonable estimates would have it at at least a month, and that’s being optimistic. This is the same injury Brandon Roy had last April, and the team (rather foolishly, in my opinion) rushed him back on the court less than two weeks after surgery to play in the playoffs. After the way that turned out (the team getting bounced in the first round and Roy either severely limited or out entirely this season with recurring pain in the same knee), it’s likely that Nate McMillan and the Blazers’ medical staff will take the opposite approach with Camby. The stakes with his injury are lower in the long term than Roy’s (Camby is 36 and only has one year left on his deal after this one, while Roy is in the first year of a five-year max deal signed with the assumption that he would be Portland’s franchise player for years to come), but given the uncertainty surrounding Greg Oden’s future, it is in Portland’s best interests to be extra cautious bringing Camby back.

So where does that leave us now? It doesn’t look good, but I don’t necessarily think the Blazers’ playoff hopes are dashed entirely. This team has been here before. Remember, the two months last season between Joel Przybilla’s ruptured patellar tendon and the trade for Camby at the deadline saw the Blazers running out a lineup that featured Juwan Howard starting at center. They’ll find a fix for the center minutes, likely involving some combination of Dante Cunningham, Przybilla, and Sean Marks. Which, granted, won’t come close to matching Camby’s production, but these are guys who know the system and should be able to at least plug the gap competently without completely embarrassing themselves. The Blazers’ main point of concern right now is their bench. Already pretty thin before the Camby injury happened, the team now loses one second-unit option–likely Cunningham–to a less-productive-than-normal starting lineup. Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills are literally their only semi-reasonable scoring options off the bench. What will either have to happen is those two will have to play out of their minds to compensate for the depleted bench, or the starting unit will have to play even more minutes than normal, which obviously isn’t ideal given the risk of injury or, at the very least, fatigue that could cost the team a few wins.

In the short term, the Blazers’ playoff chances don’t look too great. But they’ll find a way to get through it, like they always do. One thing this team never does is sit around feeling sorry for itself.

By the way, that Anthony Randolph-for-a-first-round-pick rumor that was going around earlier this week? It grows more worth-it by the day. Randolph is obviously a project, but given their lack of big men or bench depth of any kind right now, it seems pretty low-risk/high-reward.

On that note, our first chance to see what this scotch-taped Blazers team can do will come tonight in Sacramento. As these things go, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a team you’d rather play (besides the Cleveland Cavaliers, of course) when trying to figure out what a shorthanded roster can do. The Kings are bad. Really, really bad. They have the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record in the entire NBA. But they’re the kind of bad team that can beat you if the wrong guys don’t show up. Tyreke Evans is having a markedly worse season than his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009-10, but he can still be an explosive scorer when he gets the right kind of help from his teammates.

The one thing the Kings have that the Blazers lack right now is big men. Not great big men by any stretch of the imagination, but they have them. DeMarcus Cousins displays occasional brilliance, but take him out of the game with foul trouble (quite easy to do) and you can limit his effectiveness. Samuel Dalembert and Jason Thompson are palatable, but not much more than that. Beno Udrih is the team’s best shooter, and Carl Landry their best player off the bench. Other than that, they don’t really have all that much to hang their hats on.

With Camby out, LaMarcus Aldridge is now Portland’s best rebounder, and while he’s been much better in that department in recent weeks than he was before, now is the time for him to step that part of his game up yet another level. One of the more notable and less-talked-about developments from Monday’s game against the Timberwolves was a more active Joel Przybilla than we’ve seen all season. Now would be kind of a good time to prove that wasn’t a fluke.

Only time will tell how the Blazers will weather this latest round of injuries. For tonight, at least, this is a game they should be able to win.