• OPPONENT: Sacramento Kings

    RECORD: 18-49 (3-7 last 10 games, 10-22 on road)

    MEASUREABLES: 101.3 offensive rating (30th), 110.0 defensive rating (29th), -8.7 net rating (29th)

    PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG De’Aaron Fox, SG Bogdan Bogdanovic, SF Justin Jackson, PF Zach Randolph, C Willie Cauley-Steon

    INJURIES, ABSENCES: Garrett Temple (back – questionable), Iman Shumpert (foot – out), (Harry Giles (knee – out for season)

    WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 10:00 EST, Moda Center (Portland), NBC Sports Northwest/NBC Sports Bay Area

    The most striking takeaway from the Portland Trail Blazers’ 118-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings on February 9 was the dominance of Damian Lillard. A week before playing in his third All-Star Game, Lillard scored 50 points on 16-of-26 shooting in just 29 minutes, sitting out the entire fourth quarter of his team’s second road win in as many nights. Well, sort of. Terry Stotts actually sent Lillard to the scorer’s table when the Kings cut their deficit to 13 points on a 3-pointer by Buddy Hield with 4:46 remaining on the game clock. Fortunately, Shabazz Napier drained a three of his own shortly thereafter, ending Lillard’s night for good before he was forced to play crunch-time hero.

    That was hardly the only time the Blazers’ grasp on victory was tenuous. After leading 62-52 at halftime, Portland’s lead was just 75-74 when Zach Randolph scored with 4:25 left in the third quarter, extending Sacramento’s mini run to 10-2. Lillard came to the rescue from there, of course, scoring 15 of the Blazers’ final 17 points of the third quarter to give his team a 92-74 advantage heading into the final stanza.

    Any road win in the NBA is a feat in its own right, and extenuating circumstances of a back-to-back partially explain Portland’s struggle to put one of the league’s worst teams away. Those “struggles” are all relative, too; basketball is a game of runs, and the Blazers slowed the Kings’ before Lillard went on a bigger one of his own, essentially ending the game before it was over.

    For fans who have grown accustomed to Portland playing to its level of competition, though, that game was typically frustrating for its majority. The same can obviously be said for this team’s frantic comeback against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. The common denominator between those two games, other than Lillard forcefully burgeoning his All-NBA case? The Blazers, in the thick of one of the most competitive playoff races in NBA history, won both games.

    Now 34-26 and winner of three straight, Portland sits at sixth place in the Western Conference, tied with the fifth-place and surging New Orleans Pelicans in the standings but just two games ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers. None of the six teams fighting for the West’s bottom four playoff spots can afford losing imminently-winnable games, and Tuesday’s at Moda Center against Sacramento certainly counts as such for the Blazers.

    Chief to avoiding that letdown is guarding the 3-point line. Led by underrated rookie wing Bogdan Bogdanovic and sharpshooter Buddy Hield, the Kings are shooting 40.7 percent on 27.0 3-point attempts per game in their last five outings. Even lottery-pick point guard De’Aaron Fox, billed as a non-shooter coming into his rookie year, has gotten in on the act of late, connecting on three of his four long-range tries in Monday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Another potential deciding factor: The availability of Zach Randolph. Coach Dave Joerger and front-office management began strategically resting veterans months ago, with the hope of accelerating the development of young players while increasing the chance of lottery-ball luck. Randolph didn’t play on Monday, ceding his starting spot to sophomore Skal Labissiere, who was recently recalled from the G-League. Al-Farouq Aminu and Zach Collins won’t have any trouble banging with the lithe, contact-averse Labissiere. But Randolph? Z-Bo isn’t the player he once was, but still has enough physical oomph left to keep a bad team competitive – especially given his recent proficiency from beyond the arc.

    This is another game Portland should win. Even better than just a victory, though, would be the Blazers getting a comfortable one without needing another virtuoso performance from Lillard.

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