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Improved defense helps Blazers top Kings

The SportsXchange

PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers' defense was porous their first four games.

Coach Terry Stotts liked the improvement he saw in the Blazers' 104-91 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night at the Moda Center.

"The things we emphasized the last couple of days -- transition defense, defensive rebounding, points in the paint -- we did a good job with for most of the game," Stotts said.

The Blazers allowed opponents to shoot 47.6 percent from the field, fourth-worst in the NBA through their first four games. But the Kings shot only 41.9 percent Friday night and had only five fast-break points.

At the other end, guard Damian Lillard and forward LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 42 points for the Trail Blazers (3-2), who led almost from start to finish.

Center DeMarcus Cousins collected a season-high 35 points and nine rebounds for the Kings (1-4), who have lost four in a row since an opening-night victory over Denver.

Lillard scored 22 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists. Aldridge contributed 20 points and seven rebounds.

Guard Wesley Matthews added 18 points and seven rebounds for Portland, which got double-figure scoring from six players. Forward Nicolas Batum had 14 points to go with seven rebounds and eight assists while center Robin Lopez scored 11 and forward Thomas Robinson came off the bench for 10.

"We got a lot of good things from a lot of people," Stotts said.

Portland gave up 54 points in the paint and 19 fast-break points to Houston in a 116-101 loss last Saturday. That was a focal point of the Blazers practice session Monday.

"We had a couple of drills that were harder than any transition defense in a real game," said Lillard, who was only 5 for 13 from the field but 4 for 9 from 3-point range and 8 for 8 from the foul line.

"Tonight, guys got back on the shot. We didn't stand and watch. We got back right away when the ball was in the air. We played physical, even in transition. We might have got away with a few fouls, but we did what we wanted to do."

Portland shot 48.8 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent from the line. The Blazers ruled the backboards 47-31 and had 28 assists on 39 baskets.

"We put (the Kings) in scramble move," Lillard said. "We moved the ball and guys knocked down shots."

"No defense," Sacramento coach Mike Malone said. "We scored (points), but we didn't defend anybody. They killed us from the 3-point line. It's a broken record until we buy in and try to defend for 48 minutes."

Portland held a five-point halftime lead despite the play of Cousins, who had 18 points and six rebounds to keep the Kings close. Matthews hit 5 of 8 shots from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, for 12 points and Lillard bombed in 3 of 4 3-point attempts for nine for the Blazers, who shot 53.7 percent in the half and 46.7 percent (7 for 15) on 3's.

The Kings had the difference down to 58-55 when the Blazers, led by Matthews, used a 10-0 spurt to go ahead 68-55. The lead rose to 72-58 before Portland settled for a 77-66 advantage going into the final period.

Sacramento, behind reserve guard Isaiah Thomas, kept after it, cutting the Portland lead to 87-81 with 6:42 to play. The Kings were still within six when Aldridge knocked down three jumpers to push the Blazers ahead 98-86 with 2:02 to go.

Portland broke loose from a 20-20 tie, with reserve forward Dorell Wright and Lillard sinking in back-to-back 3-pointers as the Blazers closed the first quarter on a 9-2 run for a 29-22 lead.

The Blazers hiked the margin to 37-26 before Sacramento rallied, getting to within 41-38. Matthews then heated up, scoring 10 points in a four-minute period to send Portland intermission on top 54-49.

NOTES: The teams play against Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena. ... F LaMarcus Aldridge scored at least 20 points in all five games, the first Blazer to do that since Clyde Drexler in 1988. ... Portland reserve C/F Joel Freeland, who sat out Tuesday's loss to Houston with a hip injury, returned to action, providing four points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 17 minutes. ... F Thomas Robinson, who played for Sacramento as a rookie last season, had a big first half against his former team, going 4-for-4 from the field while collecting eight points and three rebounds. He finished with 10 points and four boards in 12 minutes. ... Blazers coach Terry Stotts considers Sacramento C DeMarcus Cousins, who averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in the first four games, "one of the most skilled centers in the league. Great hands, great touch around the basket. He can make perimeter jump shots, he's an excellent offensive rebounder and passer. He's a handful. He's the foundation of their franchise. They signed him to a big contract and he's only going to get better."
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