So, the Kings again, huh? After playing in Portland on Friday, the Trail Blazers and Kings travel due south for a second leg at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday night. It’s extremely rare for two teams to play a home and home set on back-to-back nights, even in a playoff series – a more tenacious blogger might even tell you the last time it happened but let’s just say it’s rare – so it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the game.
Any adjustments from Portland likely will focus on better defending Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who only threw up 35 points on Friday. Robin Lopez and his backup Joel Freeland both had solid games on both ends of the floor, but simply were not equipped to handle the pure natural scoring ability of Cousins. Truthfully, few are when Cousins has it going. Coach Terry Stotts may try LaMarcus Aldridge on Cousins, as Aldridge is Portland’s best post defender. Aldridge gives up around 25-30 pounds to the 270-pound Cousins, but Lopez and Freeland are not remarkably bigger at only 255 and 245, respectively. Aldridge is also the best athlete of the three and with Cousins hitting his jumper as he was on Friday; Aldridge is slightly more comfortable defending away from the basket than the other two Blazer big men.
If Aldridge does in fact match up against Boogie for any stretch, that might also mean that Aldridge would be at center – shh, don’t say it too loudly – and Dorrell Wright would be at the 4 (!!!). Sacramento doesn’t have a second real big man, generally tending to play Patrick Patterson alongside Cousins up front. But since Patterson lacks back to the basket offensive game and generally prefers to shoot jumpers, he doesn’t present a difficult mark for a “stretch 4” like Wright. Now that Stotts has given us a small amuse-bouche of this Aldridge-Wright lineup, I will continue to campaign for it here until we get a full helping because obviously Stotts reads this site and has an immense level of respect for my opinion.
During a playoff series, what often swings the outcome from game to game is how well the auxiliary players, in particular the shooters, can pack their games on the road. In the comfort of the home routine, in a familiar gym, and riding the energy of the home crowd, a shooter can find the rhythm that may avoid them on a strange court in a hostile arena. The two most likely candidates to experience such a swing are Portland’s Wes Matthews and Sacramento’s Marcus Thornton. Matthews filled his role to near perfection on Friday, while Thornton couldn’t have hit the galaxy if he fell out of space. Back home now though on the fertile banks of the Sacramento River, Thornton will have ample opportunity to re-discover his shooting stroke, especially if Portland sends a lot of double teams at Cousins and concedes open looks to Thornton and the other Kings shooters.
Of course, none of this will probably matter that much (sorry you had to read through to the last paragraph to get that concession). The Kings played sloppy offense and defense on Friday, and it’s unlikely that they will improve from that sloppiness – or get new players – on the second night of a back-to-back. For Portland, the automatic production of Aldridge and Damian Lillard has yet to wane so far this season and this doesn’t seem like a matchup that will trouble them. And even though Boogie did hang 35 in the Moda Center on Friday, the Blazers still won by 13 points going away.