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Trail Blazers Face Kings For Final Time

12/26/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers (13-13) face the Sacramento Kings (9-18) for the second time in four days and the final time this season. Wesley Matthews' status for the game is still uncertain. The game will tip off at 7PM at the Rose Garden and will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

        •    The last three games of this series have all been ridiculous. The previous three match-ups between these two teams have all been blow outs, even if you include their preseason contest.  It seems that every game has been different but that all of them have gotten out of hand in one way or another. In the previous match-up, the Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans and it forced the Kings other players to step-up. Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Travis Outlaw all stepped up to hit big shots to help blow out the Trail Blazers in the previous meeting. Stotts thought the team had a good rhythm in the early going of that one but that they lost their groove as the game progressed while the Kings got hot and never stopped being hot. Towards the end of the game, even when the Trail Blazers defended well, the Kings players were making extremely tough shots as they could do no wrong. The indefinite suspension on Cousins has been lifted but according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, he will not play in tonight's match-up but Evans has been ruled out. but Evans has been ruled out. With all three games previously ending in blowouts, perhaps the final one will finally amount to a close game.
        
    •    This game is the beginning of a grueling stretch for the Trail Blazers. Portland has three games in four nights beginning with tonight's game, a day off on Thursday, followed by a back-to-back. The Trail Blazers have had a pretty relaxed December compared to their crazy November but will finish the month with a tough stretch before they go on another road trip in the first week of January. After being in the friendly confines of the Rose Garden for most of the month, the Trail Blazers have to take their show on the road.
        
    •    Frankly, the Trail Blazers must improve in many ways from their previous two performances against the Kings. For whatever reason, the Kings somehow turn the Trail Blazers into a clunky, sluggish basketball team. The game's haven't been pretty. Defensively, the Trail Blazers didn't fight the action after the first quarter in the previous match-up and the offense wasn't playing "in flow," as Stotts likes to say. The offense in the last match-up and the one before that in the Rose Garden looked stagnant and slow. The movement wasn't there and the Trail Blazers couldn't get any quality looks at the basket. The Trail Blazers must be on the attack from the opening tip if they are to win. In their only win against the Kings this year, Lillard had a big game of 22 points and nine assists and after he got going, the rest of the team was in a better flow. With Cousins back, the interior will be more of a concern than the last match-up.
        
    •    Nicolas Batum has continued to step-up for the Trail Blazers as a facilitator. With Wesley Matthews out and more and more attention being paid to rookie Damian Lillard, Batum has had to become more of a facilitator for the Trail Blazers. He has been running more pick and rolls than ever in his career and he has been setting guys up for buckets. Batum has averaged 7.4 assists per game over the last five games and only had one high turnover game, against the Nuggets last Thursday. Stotts has said from the beginning of the season that he wants Batum to expand his game in more ways and the way he has been passing the ball, it's evident that at least this part of his game is starting to improve. Batum, along with Matthews and of course Lillard, has helped the Trail Blazers rank fifth in the NBA in pick and roll plays finished by the ball handler in points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology. All three players rank in the 86th percentile or higher on points per possession in pick and rolls.

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