The Portland Trail Blazers opened the game against Sacramento Kings on fire from the field, utilizing the pick-and-roll and extra passes to get open looks that they knocked down. Once Sacramento’s rotations tightened up, Portland picked up the pace, turning rebounds and turnovers into fast break points. The Kings adjusted and started to get back on defense more quickly, but then the Trail Blazers dumped the ball into LaMarcus Aldridge, who gave Sacramento a three-possession lesson on the turnaround jumper.
All Friday night, the Kings were a step or two behind the Trail Blazers, who kept finding new ways to win en route to a 104-90 victory.
After allowing more than 94 points just twice in the preseason, Sacramento’s defense struggled again Friday, giving up at least 98 points to an opponent for the fourth consecutive game in (not coincidentally) its fourth straight loss.
Poor defense has been taking the Kings out of games for much of the young season. Friday night, they looked slow and even lazy at times. Sacramento defenders got turned around by Damian Lillard and company on pick-and-roll plays, often looking lost as they attempted to regroup from hedging the screen.
“We didn’t defend anybody,” Michael Malone said. “It’s a broken record. Until we buy in and try to defend for 48 minutes, DeMarcus (Cousins) could score 50 points and we’ll still lose.”
The Kings have made a dangerous habit of having the wheels come off in the third quarter. They’ve built insurmountable deficits and Friday was no different. Portland exploited Sacramento’s deficiencies to amass a sizable lead that gave them enough cushion to survive a late Kings rally before ultimately running away with the game.
Compounding defensive issues was the team’s collective inability to capitalize on offense. Throughout the night, the Kings had a number of open shots—corner threes and foul-line jumpers that they just didn’t sink. By the end of the third quarter, the team was shooting 38.2 percent from the field, a number they were only able to improve to 41.9 percent with the limited late-game surge. Until the 41st minute of the game, when Isaiah Thomas drove to the basket and got fouled, no Sacramento player aside from Cousins shot a single free throw. The Kings couldn’t hit their jump shots and weren’t attacking the paint, which made matters even worse.
The lone bright spot on the offensive end of the floor for the Kings was Cousins, who finished with 35 points. His mid-range shot was falling early and, even though he wasn’t very effective posting up, the Kings smartly got Cousins the ball in the paint by using Vasquez and the pick-and-roll.
Ultimately, though, his was a moot effort, and the lack of contributions from his team on both ends outweighed Cousins’ offensive accomplishments.
Sacramento needs to find its footing fast or the season will slip away sooner than most expected. Fortunately for the Kings, they’ll have an immediate shot at redemption Saturday when they take on the Trail Blazers again, but at home.