After getting destroyed by Denver, Portland (46-30) looks to rebound against a Sacramento (24-52) team who has lost six straight. The Trail Blazers have taken the first three games this year against the Kings, including a 110-94 thrashing back on March 12th. With Portland getting no help from opposing teams playing the Spurs or Thunder lately, there is no time for letdowns and bad losses. Sacramento would much rather be planning their summer vacation than taking the court tonight, so if Portland comes out and shuts down any notion about the Kings playing spoiler tonight, they will fold mid-way through the 2nd period. It was apparent on Thursday night there was a lack of focus and sense of urgency. If the Trail Blazers come out in the same manner an end up dropping this game, they should prepare to get their ticket punched to Los Angeles, because a first round date with the Lakers would be imminent.
Since the All-Star Break, Portland is a formidable 8-4 away from the friendly confines of the Rose Garden. In the eight wins, only once did Portland score 100 points and come away unscathed, March 28th in OKC. On the other hand, during the Trail Blazers four road losses, the last two have seen Portland fail to rev up their offensive engines all the way up to 100 points. Portland is a staggering 27-8, a .771 winning percentage, when they reach the century mark, while Sacramento is 10-40 when allowing the opposition to reach the 100 point barrier. Can Portland win a ugly, grin-it-out game? Of course, but when I see the Blazers playing their best ball, they are pushing tempo, getting easy buckets on the break, attacking the basket, and seeing the entire team get involved on the offensive end. A win is a win, but I would be a little worried if we can't score 100 with ease against a bottom feeding Kings team. Bottom line, score 100 tonight and all will be well in the Rose city.
As the leader, it is time for Brandon Roy to simply take over the rest of the regular season, and it starts tonight! To hear him say there was no urgency last Thursday when it was not only a rivalry game but with playoff implications on the line, really is a red flag in my mind. I realize the season is an 82 game grind, but games like tonight or Wednesday against the Clippers are the ones to be sluggish in, not against an inner divisional foe. By taking over, it doesn't mean 30, 7, and 7 each night, rather shown in his body language. It seems like when teams throw different defenses strictly designed to stop him, he gets passive and it plays right into the defense's hands. Roy needs to take an aggressive approach and force the issue a little bit, even if it means a turnover here or there. Getting into the teeth of the defense and doing what he does best, make plays should be his M.O. tonight. Roy's biggest asset is his play-making ability and when he gets relegated to standing around, it thwarts our offensive flow and at times, the team will follow suit. As much as I am a Dre Miller fan, he shouldn't be the one leading the charge over the past month; it must be Roy if this team wants to have any aspirations of getting out of the first round.
Tonight, the Trail Blazers start a new winning streak. Maybe last year fans could worry a bit after a tough, devastating loss followed up by a lottery-bound team, but since Andre has became the full-time starter and the acquisition of Camby, the guys haven't dropped a game they shouldn't have. The feeling of falling back into 8th will refocus the troops and it will be a cohesive team effort in Sac-Town this evening. Batum will bounce back after a sub-par performance and hit those jump shots and finish at the rim, Camby and LA will do yeoman's work on the Kings bigs, and the backcourt of Dre and Brandon will lead the way and show the young Evans a thing or two. One player Portland does need to watch out for is Beno Udrih, who put up season-high numbers of 14.9 points, 7.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds in 17 games during March. In the end, the Trail Blazers will use an early 2nd quarter run to put away the Kings for good.
Game 77 Prediction: Trail Blazers 107 Kings 94Post-Game Thoughts
It wasn't pretty, but all that matters is the end result, a win. After jumping out of the gate, 32-25, it looked like only a matter of time before Portland would unleash the flood gates and trounce Sacramento and it would be all over before the halftime buzzer. One problem, someone forgot to tell the bench. In less than three minutes, the entire landscape of the game was changed as the 2nd unit came in and immediately gave up a 9-0 run. Like always, the starters were able to save the sinking ship, 98-87. Do not let the 11 point victory fool you, the score wasn't indicative of how close the game actually was, even seeing the Kings taking a small lead mid-way through the 4th quarter before back to back threes from Batum and Brandon gave the Trail Blazers just enough cushion to escape Arco Arena with a W.
"We are still going need our bench to get going if we're going to make a run in the playoffs," Roy said.
I know I can't be the only person alarmed at the bench's recent play of late. Saturday night against the Kings was no different with four players seeing action (Dante,Rudy,Jerryd,Martell) and receiving only seven points of production from that group on 3-14 shooting. And its not like a lack of scoring is the only thing the 2nd unit isn't providing as they committed more turnovers, six, than created assists, three, and not one player was able to get to the foul line, which to me, means a lot of standing around the perimeter, waiting for someone else to make it happen. While the Blazer bench nearly blew a huge game, Sacramento's almost shocked the NBA as Omri Casspi out-scored our 2nd unit single handily, 15-7, and along with Ime Udoka grabbed more boards (9) than the entire Blazers second string (6). Somehow we got away with sloppy, downright terrible, bench play again, but it is not a sustainable way to win games in the NBA and could bite us in the butt down the stretch or even in the playoffs.
When four players each score 21 or more points, it's tough to single someone out, but once again, Nico Batum's star shone brightest of all last night. He did it all. When we needed a clutch three, he netted it, going 5-8 from downtown, including two in a span of a couple of minutes to regain and extend the Trail Blazers lead halfway through the 4th. All in all, it was another great shooting performance, as Nico shot 6-11 from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe, resulting in 21 points. As good as his offensive performance was, his defense was just as impressive. Whether it was saving his teammates to the tune of three blocks or absolutely shutting down ROY favorite Tyreke Evans, Batum was everywhere. In Evans' 34 minutes of action, Nico held him to 6 points on 2-12 shooting and helped force him into turning the ball over 6 times. Its too bad we couldn't clone Batum, sure could have used him on Beno as well.
"We wanted to get length on him," McMillan said. "That matchup was good for us last time we played them, keeping him in front of us and making him shoot over the top. Normally they try and go into the post with him. In our last two games with [Batum] being on him they haven't got a lot of post-ups."
Portland is a sizzling 15-4 since the Utah debacle, yet still finds themselves sitting in the woeful 8th spot in the Western Conference, a guaranteed lock to play the defending champion Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs. There's no doubt Portland has made up ground, only one back in the loss column to the Spurs and two behind the Thunder, but it can still be frustrating, even agitating, at times for the players who have seen their play improve drastically but not see the results on the standings board. It'll be key for the Trail Blazers to simply block out what OKC and San Antonio do and just focus on playing their best basketball possible heading into the post-season. Outside of their five remaining games, one including the Thunder at the Rose Garden next week, Portland has absolutely no control over the teams in front of them, so it would be best to not even waste any time and energy scoreboard watching. The West is about as even as it has ever been. We are looking at possibly the best 8th seed in history, winning over 50 games and the Lakeshow certainly aren't the once intimidating bullies on the block anymore, showing their vulnerable side lately. Leave the scoreboard watching up to the fans and concentrate on playing up to their peak, because a Trail Blazers team clicking on all cylinders is a dangerous beast no opposition wants to tangle with.
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