Blazers Mount Comeback, Edge Kings 95-88

As Paul Westphal told the media and the cameras, the Kings did not play smart basketball in the fourth quarter, particularly on offense. But there's an asterisk: the Blazers threw something at the Kings that the players on the floor were unable to adjust to. Portland so wanted to stop Tyreke Evans (who was murder in sneakers all night) they pulled Joel Przybilla all the way across the lane to provide help on just about every Evans touch. The Kings tried to clear a side to allow Evans to go one-on-one against Brandon Roy or Andre Miller, but the help came anyways. Evans was unable to get the ball efficiently to the other side of the floor, and the Kings offense went blank.

The Kings ran a couple picks-and-rolls to create space, and it worked a bit. But not enough. It wasn't the only problem for the Kings, that fourth quarter offense, but it was the one most directly tied to Sacramento's defeat. Defensive rebounding was (surprise!) the problem. Portland had 12 offensive rebounds in 37 opportunities, and every last one came from a Blazer starter. You can't blame Jason Thompson (eight defensive rebounds in 40 minutes) or Evans (seven in 33 minutes). You can, however, blame Spencer Hawes (one defensive rebound in 28 minutes), who had perhaps his worst performance of the season on both ends. I don't remember one good possession on either end for Hawes. He couldn't keep LaMarcus Aldridge from his favored spots. He couldn't keep Aldridge or Joel Przybilla off the glass. He couldn't help facilitate the offense. He couldn't score. If not for Kenny Thomas's inability to make even the most clear lay-ups and Jon Brockman's shoddy free throw stroke, Hawes would have had no reason to be on the floor. Just a massive drain. I'm sorry to rip the kid, he's one of my favorites to watch when he's on. But he was off, way off, and it needs to be written.

The problem is that when players like Thompson or even Brockman are off, they still matter. On the defensive boards. On loose balls. On defense. On the offensive glass. It's just not the case right now with Hawes, and that's both a huge personal/personnel disappointment and also a gaping hole on the court. Przybilla is mostly an offensive zero (except on the glass). But he plays great defense, and boards like a beast. When Hawes is an offensive zero, he needs to be a wall to justify playing time.

Beyond that, the Kings can find more silver lining in the 10th road loss of the year. Sacramento owned most of the game. Before Evans drew the instant doubles, he did whatever he wanted. Nate McMillan told the media he thought Evans "has a little Magic in him." The Kings competed on the road against a good team without Sergio Rodriguez adding anything, with Donte Greene and Andres Nocioni playing iffy on offense, and with Hawes a disaster. It's still progress. It's not progress we long for -- a road win, .500 again -- but it's the progress we've got. It's hard to complain too much at this juncture.

Notes:

  • Greene's bucket with a minute left ... wow. When you see such smooth, confident moves from The Show, you can forget a lot of turnovers or quizzical drives.
  • The next possession, the Kings down three: Greene plays basically perfect defense on Roy, forcing him into a leaning jumper from 15 feet, in which Roy attempts to draw the foul after failing to get a step, but Greene essentially pulls the carpet out. Blazers get an offensive rebound which essentially seals the game (or at least leads to the Jerryd Bayless baseline drive which seals the game). How did Portland get that offensive rebound? Like they get most other offensive rebounds, of course! Evans, who was guarding Aldridge on the possession (seriously), got possession for the board, but didn't turn around to box out. When the shot bounced off the rim, Aldridge grabbed Evans's left arm, holding 'Reke to the ground, effectively. Aldridge released in time to grab the board himself. Mario Elie and Bryan Gates EXPLODE on the Kings bench at the no-call. I would call it a travesty of justice if a) Portland didn't do something similar on basically every missed attempt (which means the Kings need to sell it or strike pre-emptively) and b) Thompson does the same thing. You get offensive rebounds in this league by being aggressive and a bit dirty. Portland is a lot dirty. It's why they win.
  • On to actual travesties of justice: those two Przybilla charges drawn? PFFFFTTTT. We have this thing in the NBA called a restricted area. Dick Bavetta should look it up on Wikipedia.
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