Blazers Avoid Season Sweep With A Comfortable, Shorthanded Win Versus Kings

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Trail Blazers might have been without all three of their Opening Night starting guards Sunday night, but they made more than enough threes to make up for their absences.

Portland outscored Sacramento 51-21 from behind the arc on the way to coming away with a 103-88 wire-to-wire victory in front of a crowd of 16,408 Sunday night at Moda Center.

“I just thought we played the right way the whole time,” said head coach Chauncey Billups. “We pushed the ball, we made an emphasis that our pace was going to be really important, obviously we know that their pace is important, too. But we pushed the ball every time, felt like we created good shots for each other, getting the ball to the paint, kickouts. We shot 40 three-point shots tonight, most of them were really, really clean looks.”

The Trail Blazers are now 15-24 overall and 13-11 at home this season. The win is their second of 2022 and their first versus the Kings this season. Even with the loss, Sacramento has won the 2021-22 season series 2-1.

While Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy) and CJ McCollum (right lung pneumothorax) were already expected to miss Sunday’s game, the Trail Blazers got even more shorthanded when it was announced a few hours prior to tipoff that Norman Powell had entered health and safety protocols.

And with Larry Nance Jr. missing his second-straight game with right knee inflammation, the Blazers entered Sunday’s game down four starters versus a Kings team with most of the regular rotation available.

So the Portland players in uniform would need to play nearly their best on both sides of the ball in order to give themselves a chance against a Kings team that had already won the first two meetings this season.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Three of Portland’s first four makes would come from behind the three-point line, a harbinger of good things to come. Portland would go on to shoot 17-of-40 from three compared to 7-of-31 shooting from the Kings, which qualifies as the main reason they were able to not only win, but to do some comfortably, a rarity for the Trail Blazers this season.

“I just want to generate good shots,” said Billuips. “I don’t care if we shoot 55, 60 (threes). As long as they’re generated the right way, I’m fine with that. It’s all about how we get them and not just coming down and throwing up any kind of three-point shot. That’s what I don’t like. I love the three-ball, but it has to be generated the right way.”

And on the other end, Portland managed to hold Sacramento to just 36 percent shooting from the field and 16 percent shooting from three in the first half.

The combination resulted in the Blazers taking a 13-point advantage into the intermission. And while Sacramento shot better than 40 percent from the field in the third and fourth quarters -- though just barely -- Portland would still outscore the visitors by two in the second half to come away with the 15-point victory.

“We’ve been playing so hard and playing pretty good and just losing close games to some pretty decent teams,” said Billups. “To win is always good. It just makes you feel different, so I’m happy that we were able to kind of wire-to-wire, take care of business tonight. Our guys, I was happy for so many of the younger dudes that don’t really play that much, they played so hard and played so well, and they have such a great impact on the team. As a coach, you feel proud about that.”

Anfernee Simons led the attack on offense, going 10-of-17 from the field, 7-of-11 from three and 4-of-4 from the free throw line for 31 points to go with six assists and three rebounds in 34 minutes. He has now scored at least 20 points 11 times in his career, with five of those performances coming in his last 12 appearances.

Jusuf Nurkic came one assist shy of a triple-double with 14 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists while also logging two steals and a block in 38 minutes.

“I'm not really chasing the stats and stuff so if it happens, great,” said Nurkic, who was left in late in the fourth quarter in an attempt to get one more assist. “If not, I’ll take that win.”

Ben McLemore, who started in place of Powell, finished with 13 points, two rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes. Nassir Little also posted 13 points while Robert Covington finished with eight points, six rebounds, three steals, three blocks and an assist in 34 minutes.

Tyrese Halliburton led the Kings with 17 points and Alex Len posted a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers finish off a five-game homestand by hosting the Nets in a game that was originally supposed to be played on December 22 but was postponed due to Brooklyn not having the required number of players. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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