The Trail Blazers (13-16) head to the Golden 1 Center and the Sacramento Kings (10-17) in desperate need of a win. Having lost six of the last seven games, Portland are fighting to avoid an implosion of monumental proportions.
There is something poetic that the Trail Blazers, hoping for a Christmas miracle, will face Kings led by a mercurial star. Portland and Sacramento will face off twice in eight days and, had the season so far gone to plan, there would be nothing significant about this. However, with the Trail Blazers scrapping away in the eighth seed, the games take on much more meaning.
Three months ago, if you had predicted that only three games would separate the two franchises after 29 games, you’d have been laughed at. Despite not being able to string together a winning streak of more than two games, the Kings are still within touching distance of a Playoff spot. Well, at least for now.
What’s particularly scary is how close the Kings, behind by DeMarcus Cousins – a fantastic player, but in the press more often for his off-court antics than on-court in recent weeks – are to the Blazers. Oh, how misplaced were the preseason expectations for Rip City.
This is a must win game on a number of levels:
• Psychologically, the Trail Blazers need a pick-me-up – a loss here could be devastating.
• Standings-wise, with Denver snapping at their heels and Sacramento lurking, the Trail Blazers need to claw back some of the gap between themselves and seventh-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
The good news: this is a winnable game even without Al-Farouq Aminu. The Kings are already expected to be without Omri Casspi (illness) and Rudy Gay (hip) tonight. There is also some possibility that Cousins could be suspended (Although now it seems the Kings will just fine Cousins). As much of a bonus as that would be, pinning the Trail Blazers hopes on injuries and suspensions reeks of desperation.
In their last game against the lowly Mavericks (owners of the worst record in the league), the Kings failed to break the 80 point mark and all 11 players who took to the floor recorded a negative rating in the plus/minus column. This is clearly a team with it’s own issues and a situation which Portland should capitalize upon.
If Cousins and Gay sit, this should be a blow out – that’s 46.9 of the Kings’ 101.5 points per game that needs to be covered by somebody else. With neither team being great defensively, the Trail Blazers could run up a big score. That said, if Cousins does suit up, he’s a game-changer.
In the first meeting of the two sides, on November 11, the Trail Blazers squeaked by in a 122-120 Overtime win. It was a time when expectations of the Portland roster were much higher and a combined 67 points from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum was a cause for early season excitement rather than concern. If the dynamic back-court need to pull a similar performance out of the bag to beat the Kings, that should have the Rip City faithful more worried than they already are. This is the kind of game were a balanced and decent contribution from all Trail Blazers should be expected.