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Blazers 'D' up, stick it to Kings

It was only moments after Portland's 104-91 victory over the Sacramento Kings Friday night at the Moda Center, and already the Trail Blazers were setting their sights on the next opponent.

The Sacramento Kings.

Over 82 games, 30 teams and six months of play, NBA schedule-maker Matt Winick still put Portland and Sacramento together on back-to-back nights. So the Blazers and Kings will tee it up again Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena.

"It's never easy, especially when you beat them the first time," Portland's Nicolas Batum said of facing the Kings twice in a 24-hour span. "That team will want to win bad at their place."

"It's tough to win back-to-back against the same team, and they play really well at home," Portland's Damian Lillard said. "We're up against a lot. We'll have to bring it."LILLARD

It could be worse. The Blazers (3-2) could be facing Miami or Oklahoma City or Houston.

Instead, they'll be matching up with Sacramento (1-4), a team expected to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference this season.

The Kings had the best player on the floor Friday night in center DeMarcus Cousins, who scored a season-high 35 points, grabbed nine rebounds and even collected a game-high four steals in a sensational individual display.

The Blazers, though, have by far the better team, and they had things going right on both sides of the ball Friday night.

They'd been lousy defensively through the first four games, allowing teams to shoot .476 (fourth-worst in the NBA), to score more than 50 fast-break points in every game and average 15 fast-break points.

Terry Stotts liked the progress after the Kings shot .419 and totaled 40 points in the paint and five fast-break points Friday night.

"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," Portland's second-year coach said.

The Blazers were particularly mindful of Sacramento run-outs after rebounds.

"We had a couple of drills that were harder than any transition defense in a real game," said Lillard, who led six Portland players in doubles figures with 22 points. "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 was good on offense, too, shooting .488 from the field, .435 from 3-point range and .889 from the field. The Blazers ruled the backboards 47-31 and assisted on 28 of 39 baskets.

"We put (the Kings) in scramble move," said Lillard, who had eight rebounds and seven assists in his 37 minutes. "We moved the ball and guys knocked down shots."

The Blazers led almost the entire way, extending a 54-49 halftime advantage to 68-55 with a 10-0 run early in the third quarter. the Kings cut the margin to six at 90-84 with five minutes to play, but Aldridge -- who scored 20 points -- went to work, knocking down three perimeter shots in a 90-second span to put the visitors away.

"We went to L.A. on the block in the fourth quarter," Stotts said. "Damian is picking his spots. We had a good performance by a lot of players tonight."

Wesley Matthews had his best all-around performance of the season, going for 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three assists.

Batum filled up the box score as usual with 14 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

Robin Lopez struggled defensively with the active Cousins but contributed 12 points and four rebounds, and Thomas Robinson -- going against the team that drafted him and traded him last season -- collected 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting and had four rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench.

The Blazers also got something from Joel Freeland, who had missed Tuesday's 116-101 loss to Houston with a sore hip. The 6-11 center-forward had four points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots -- including a two-hand job on ex-Blazer Travis Outlaw as he attempted a dunk -- in 17 minutes.

"Joel is extremely competitive," Lillard said. "In practice, it's the same thing. He's a perfectionist with the verticality. He always goes straight up. We tell him one day he's going to get dunked on, but he's blocking shots every game, getting offensive rebounds, chasing down loose balls. We need that from him."

Now the Blazers will see the Kings again.

"It's unique," Lopez said. "It's something different from the usual grind. It's good for us. In the playoffs, you'll face teams back to back."

The Blazers will hit Sleep Train Arena knowing they're facing a team they can't afford to lose to if they are serious about a playoff run.

"We need this game," Batum said. "It's a step-up game. We made a mistake against Phoenix the first game (a 104-91 win by the Suns). We have to do the same job as tonight but be even more intense, because it will be harder."

"This wasn't an easy win," Stotts noted. "It took a lot of mental and physical effort to get it. Getting another one there (Saturday) night is going to be even more difficult."

NOTES: Portland, which entered the game leading the league while committing only 12.8 turnovers per game, had 17 that turned into 21 Sacramento points. … Aldridge has scored at least 20 points in all five games, the first Blazer to do that since Clyde Drexler in 1988. … Matthews was 2 for 3 from the 3-point line and increased his career total for treys to 465, moving past Drexler (464) into fifth place in Portland's career list. … Lillard has 20 3-pointers this season, more than anyone in Blazer history through five games. … Asked how Cousins ranks with the NBA's top centers, Lopez answered, "He's up there. Offensively, I'd put him with Brook (Lopez of Brooklyn). They're probably the two best offensive centers in the game." Brook and Robin Lopez are twins. … Stotts on the 23-year-old Cousins: "He made his jump shots early. We kind of dared him to shoot some shots. We needed to be closer to him. He finished around the basket, and he's a strong guy who can convert through fouls. He's a talented player. The whole league knows that." … Robinson, asked if he was motivated to play well against his former team: "That whole thing is over with. This was the fourth time I played against them. I just did what Coach (Stotts) wanted me to do." Robinson evidently played against Sacramento three times after being sent to Houston at the trade deadline last season.

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