And so we meet again.
The Trail Blazers came into Sacramento Saturday and absolutely had their way with the Kings. They put up 38 points in the first quarter and led by double digits most of the rest of the way; their lead didn’t fall below 15 points at any point in the second half, and Damian Lillard didn’t even suit up in the fourth quarter. CJ McCollum led all scorers with 37 points while no King topped 15.
It was a bad loss for Sacramento, but one that shouldn’t be representative of the Kings going forward. For one, the team was without Richaun Holmes due to an ankle injury. And when Holmes came back, the Kings regained some of their verve and held off the Indiana Pacers for an exciting win Monday.
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
When: Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Projected Starting Lineups:
Kings (5-6): De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Blazers (6-4): Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Derrick Jones Jr., Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic
Kings: Buddy Hield (right ankle), Richaun Holmes (left ankle) — PROBABLE; DaQuan Jeffries (left ankle), Jabari Parker (health and safety) — OUT
Blazers: Damian Lillard (right ankle) — PROBABLE, Jusuf Nurkic (left quad) — QUESTIONABLE, Keljin Blevins (personal), Zach Collins (left ankle) — OUT
The Blazers are not an opponent to be taken lightly. They’ve won their last three games, two in blowout fashion and one on a McCollum game-winner with 9.6 seconds left. This is a veteran team that is comfortable in any situation, including against a Sacramento squad chomping at the bit for revenge.
The first thing that will have to improve for the Kings Wednesday is the possession battle. Sacramento took 19 fewer shots than Portland in the first meeting due to a high volume of turnovers. While the Kings coughed the ball up repeatedly, the Blazers were careful with their possessions, and it resulted in a sterling offensive outing despite shooting 44 percent from the field.
The next point of emphasis for Sacramento has to be the 3-point line. It’s unreasonable to the expect the Kings to shoot as well as the Blazers, who have a few of the premier snipers in the league. However, the Kings can at least run their opponents off the line and limit the volume of threes they concede. If the Blazers take more than 40 3-pointers, as they did Saturday, they will probably make enough to outscore the Kings in the aggregate.
One other note to keep an eye on for the Kings is their lineup. Head coach Luke Walton has typically been going with a nine-man rotation, and Nemanja Bjelica was on the outside looking in for the first time against Indiana. Hassan Whiteside is a good matchup for Enes Kanter in the second unit, as a strong interior presence who can prevent Kanter from gaining an advantage on the glass. It probably makes sense to play him next to a surfeit of wings who can fly around the perimeter and allow Kanter to stay in the lane; Bjelica doesn’t fit that description, but Glenn Robinson III does.
If the Kings come out with the same effort level they had for the final 46 or so minutes against Indiana, this should be a fun game. But if they lack discipline on the defensive end, Portland will make them pay. Here’s hoping for the former outcome.