The pick: Blazers 104-95
The Kings aren’t a great basketball team, and if DeMarcus Cousins isn’t playing at an absolute elite level they aren’t going to win many road games against strong offensive teams. The Kings’ big man has recorded just 19 points and 13 rebounds, not to mention more turnovers than assists and eight personal fouls, over the last two games, numbers that won’t cut it for an otherwise limited team. In fact, Sacramento has played opponents even when DCuz is on the bench this month but have been outscored by 25 points when he is in the game. That doesn’t sound like a player that is approaching super-stardom. While he is capable of the explosive performance we haven’t seen it often enough to count on it.
The Kings added Greivis Vasquez this offseason in an effort to provide a steadying player to their backcourt, but he appears to be a shell of himself as he recovers from ankle surgery. Isaiah Thomas is a nice point guard, but he isn’t yet capable of guiding an offense and the Kings have struggled to put points on the board as a result (23rd in the league in points per game).
What do the Kings do well? What can they hang their hat on? The Trail Blazers can play offense (105 points per game and 24 assists per night), and while that’s only half the game it is 50 percent more of the game than the Kings are efficient at. I love the versatility of Portland (all five starters average at least 4.8 rebounds, four players have PER of at least 19.7, and three are making at least two triples per night) and truly believe in their extremely talented duo of Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum. Those two get much of the attention, but the reason why I think the Blazers have a shot at a playoff berth this season is the consistency of LaMarcus Aldridge. The talent on the perimeter has freed up Aldridge a bit on the interior, and he has responded with increased aggression (last season he averaged a career high 17.8 FGA, a number that stands at 21.0 early this season) while maintaining, and actually improving, his efficiency from the field (52.4 percent shooting from the field thus far).
Interesting statistical tidbit: There is no doubt that Cousins is the Kings’ best player. The Blazers have scored 216 points in their two home games played against top notch big men (Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard). The rested Blazers (haven’t played a road in one week) will runaway and hide from the Kings (have alternated home and road games for the past week) if they can neutralize Cousins.