SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 26: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings celebrates after making a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers at Power Balance Pavilion on December 26, 2011 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Then: to Portland, and maybe
The Kings were full of themselves on Monday night, menacing the L.A. Lakers and world with an aggressive attack and newfound defensive identity. But the NBA schedule lets no man revel in minute glories; just 24 hours later, the Kings find themselves facing the first road test of the young season, against a good team to boot.
Portland is also 1-0, having beaten the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 25 points, but needed 25 FGAs to get those. You'll remember that LMA was one of the upper-tier opponents that Sam Dalembert did a good job on last season. That task will fall to Chuck Hayes, DeMarcus Cousins and J.J. Hickson, in all likelihood. Aldridge is long and operates facing the basket, so this should be an interesting match-up for Hayes, who faced a not dissimilar Pau Gasol on Monday.
Where the defense matters most, though, is on the wings, where Sacramento has to keep a littany of weapons at bay. In the starting five, Portland as Gerald Wallace and Wes Matthews, a bully and shooter. Off the bench the Blazers have Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum, two gunners with playmaking skills and length. It's that length that could really weigh on the Kings' smaller lineups, especially those featuring both Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette. Crawford played a good deal of point guard on Monday as Ray Felton's replacement, while Marcus Camby takes the pressure off out of the high post.
Portland should be a solid defensive team; the Kings' best bet is to attack Camby (who is losing agility fast) and Felton. If the Kings get into a good flow as they did for long spells against the Lakers, they can keep Felton moving around and off-balance. Attacking Crawford with quickness when the vet's in the game should be helpful, too. Kurt Thomas is a strong defender up front off the bench, but the Kings have springy legs in the frontcourt reserve unit, and should look to exploit the contrast when possible.
The game could very well come down to three-point shooting. The Blazers hit a very good 9-19 on Monday, while the Kings went over their heads at 9-18. If one team can sustain it while the other reverts to normalcy, that could be the difference. Or it could be one of a million other things, like second-chance opportunities, turnovers or a bead of sweat trickling down John Salmons' cheek that distracts Gerald Wallace for just a second, allowing Salmons to blow by for a game-winning lay-up. (And the TV-viewing audience goes anti-wild!).
Game threads at 7 and 8:30. Let's go Kings!