Blazers Forward Corps steal crown from Fox, Kings

Blazers Forward Corps steal crown from Fox, Kings

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 115-108 on opening night of the 2022-23 NBA season. The fight was neck and neck throughout, the virtual tie broken by play from Portland forwards against a crushing score from Kings guard De’Aaron Fox.

If you want to see a description of the action quarter by quarter, you can find it in our instant recap. After reading this, here are a dozen factors that influenced the game.

Domestic offense

The Blazers showed a clear and persistent commitment to getting the ball in the lane in this game. They attempted 28 three-point shots, but scored 56 in the paint. It is an inversion of their customary norm. They didn’t shy away from the long ball, but it wasn’t their first option. Instead, they pushed for layups or deep inside jumpers. The sustained lane attack had the secondary advantage of drawing fouls. Portland attempted 33 free throws tonight, frustrating the Sacramento crowd’s HECK.

Run hard

Pushing the pace of rebounds and turnovers was a big part of Portland’s offense. They played opportunistically every time the ball changed sides. It was as fast and tough as we’ve seen a Blazers team run forever. Fast breaks have long been a dead zone for Portland. Tonight they scored 20 on the run. Not bad.

16 forced turnovers didn’t hurt things. To say Portland played good defense would be an overstatement, but they kept their hands busy and tried to force interceptions. When they got one, they left for the races.

Central screens

When they got stuck in the half court, the Blazers ran into a bit of a problem. None of their running backs were able to get past Sacramento’s active young defensemen individually. When it comes to one-on-one play, the Blazers have failed, whistle free throws offering the only real relief.

They solved this problem somewhat with central screens. The Blazers aren’t deep or overly talented down the middle, but their big guys can stand up straight and absorb a hit. With centers placing picks in multiple spots on the floor, Portland guards found seams they couldn’t have created on their own. For Anfernee Simons, that was enough. It was sometimes also for Lillard. Alternatively, the guards made passes against a crumbling Sacramento defense, finding forwards arcing or edging.

Screen setting has been one of the most consistent aspects of Portland’s half-court offense tonight. They deserve a lot of credit for sticking to the program and making it work.

Lillard up and down

Damian Lillard certainly looked confident as he spoke for the first time in ten months. His shot did not follow him down the field. His rare three-point attempts looked decent leaving his hands, but roll a dice to see where they hit the rim. His drives were hampered by a lack of speed relative to his defenders. When he was able to get inside, he ended up forcing the shots over the outstretched hands.

To be fair, Sacramento insisted on Dame persistently. He made them pay with the passing game. He seems determined to set up teammates and count their scores as his own.

Lillard shot 5-18 from the field, just 1-8 from the arc, totaling 20 points and 8 assists on his season debut.

Simons inside and out

Anfernee Simons helped lead the charge on the inside attack. He didn’t take many threes at first, instead focusing on finding the rim. He shot confidently when he got an open eye on the bow. It just didn’t happen as much as in previous years.

However, looking comfortable on the floor is testimony enough. Simons didn’t make it in preseason. It’s a good sign for the Blazers that he seems confident in his role.

Simons scored 22 on a 9-22 shot, 3-10 from range.

sharp play

Shaedon Sharpe got a split on almost every drive attempt but struggled to finish. His first two steps seemed effortless, but as the players got closer he seemed to be looking sideways.

However, he didn’t have that problem on all three catch-and-shoots. These looked crisp and instant. The rookie scored 12, hitting 3-3 from the arc on his NBA debut.

The jury is at the corner

Jusuf Nurkic was part of the impressive projection mentioned above. Full notes for this. He also did well on the boards, with 7 in 25 minutes.

The rest of the evening was mixed. Nurk looked slow. Both defense and offense seemed to slow when he entered the field, not to mention when the Blazers tried to work through him. Nurkic had 4 turnovers and shot 3-9 from the field.

The experiment needs more time, but it’s something to watch out for. There is no option to sit Nurk. It’s just difficult when the less talented centers behind him seem to be playing much faster, and at least tonight, better.


If rebounding is going to be a problem for this team struggling with size and mass challenges, it didn’t show up tonight. The Blazers had 11 offensive rebounds, the Kings just 4. Granted, Sacramento isn’t a giant team either, but it’s still hopeful.

Deficit of three

If you’re hoping for a return to the Terry Stotts three-point offense of the past, you’re going to be waiting a while. Portland shot 11-28 from range, a respectable 39.3%. They simply did not generate the attempts, preferring to enter.

The Kings didn’t have that problem. Portland did a believable job against one-on-one shooters. They have not been able to close any action. Sacramento shot 17-44 from the arc.

If you’re counting, that’s an 18-point deficit from the arc. This will be a stat to watch this season.

Grant Writing

Jerami Grant made a fine debut for Portland. He was as active in defense as advertised. The Kings scored, but not that much in his section. Additionally, Grant made the most of the opportunity buckets. He stayed on the sidelines for all three catch-and-shoots, becoming one of the few Blazers to hit from range. When he got the ball back, he drove quickly, either converting lay-ups or making direction-change fouls. He even grabbed a few boards, including an impressive offensive rebound dunk in the third.

Grant’s stat line showed 23 points on 5-11 shooting, 3-3 from the arc, 8 rebounds and 2 steals in 35 minutes. If the Blazers get that from him every night, they’ll be thrilled.

You must have Hart

Josh Hart was all over the floor tonight, in his usual style. His biggest contributions came in the third period. When Portland began to fall behind by double digits, Hart ran across the floor and put the ball inside. His layups and short shots provided a steady stream of points when nothing else worked. His continued aggression was evident. He and Grant really sparked the team in the second half. Hart’s last line of stats reads: 19 points, 8-11 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists in 38 minutes.

And justice for all

Justise Winslow was key in the third and fourth periods for the Blazers. He played defense, converted layups, grabbed rebounds and even hit a three-pointer. Coach Chauncey Billups kept him for a late extension, even when the starters returned. Some of the starters did NOT return as Winslow played center forward and center for critical time. It was quite a testament to his efforts. Winslow had 11 points and 8 rebounds (3 offensive) on 5-9 shooting in 26 minutes. It’s a minute more than Nurkic has played.

Forward Thinking

In case it wasn’t clear, Portland forwards – Grant, Hart and Winslow – won this game for the Blazers in the second half. Their energy, rebound and commitment to drive gave Portland the spark they needed.

Almost exceeded

If Portland’s guards faltered during this contest, De’Aaron Fox didn’t have that kind of problem. The Sacramento point guard shot 12-21, 5-9 from the arc en route to 33 points. The Blazers had no answer for him on defense. Get well soon, Gary Payton II.


The score of the box

The Blazers will face the Phoenix Suns Friday night in their home opener at Moda Center at 7:00 p.m. PT.

#Blazers #Corps #steal #crown #Fox #Kings

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