The Kings (6-15) and Trail Blazers (13-9) must be getting downright familiar with each other. They play tonight for the third time in the Kings' first 22 games.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on when the game tips off at 7 p.m. at Power Balance Pavilion, with the Kings looking to avoid their sixth consecutive loss:
1. Will Marcus Thornton return to the lineup? The Kings' guard, who has missed the last four games with a significant hematoma in his left thigh, said he hopes to play tonight -- with the approval of team doctors. Thornton is averaging 16.4 points a game. More than that, head coach Keith Smart said yesterday, the Kings have missed his veteran-type presence and "savvy" on the court, and his ability to be a creative and explosive scorer. If Thornton does play tonight, it will be interesting to see how many minutes he logs and how quickly he can shake off the rust, having not appeared in a game since Jan. 21.
2. The Kings haven't been able to contain Gerald Wallace. Wallace, the Trail Blazers forward, has had his way around the basket in the teams' first two meetings. Wallace was 17-for-23 (74 percent) from the field in those two games, averaging 22.5 points and 8 rebounds. Much of the responsibility for slowing Wallace down tonight will probably fall to Kings forward John Salmons.
"He's one of the guys who's been killing us in transition, so we've definitely got to keep him out of transition," Salmons said. "He's also been killing us around the paint, getting a lot of touches deep in the paint for easy layups. So that's two things we've got to take away from him."
3. The Kings can avoid setting a dubious record on offense. Tuesday's 93-90 loss to the Golden State Warriors marked the 13th straight game in which the Kings have scored fewer than 100 points. That's tied for the longest such stretch in the team's Sacramento era, a mark previously set in the 1997-98 season.
This lockout-shortened season is proving to be a down year for offense across the league. But over the past 13 games, the Kings have also allowed opponents to reach the 100-point plateau six times, and score 99 points twice. If the Kings want to snap the streak tonight, they'll have to do so against a Portland team that allows 91.3 points per game -- eighth-best in the NBA.
4. Keith Smart wants his players to keep a "live dribble." In the Kings' two losses to the Trail Blazers, Smart said the Kings hamstrung themselves on offense by catching and holding the ball rather than moving it, allowing the Trail Blazers to set their defense and force the Kings to play into their defensive strategy. Smart wants to see the ball move in order to keep the Trail Blazers on their toes.
5. The Trail Blazers have struggled on the road. A 10-1 team at the Rose Garden this season, the Trail Blazers are just 3-8 on the road. Granted, their road schedule has been tough (including the Clippers, Spurs and Hawks), but they have losses at Phoenix and Detroit as well. Both of the Kings' double-digit losses to the Trail Blazers came in Portland.
Tonight is the second game of a back-to-back for Portland, but the effect may be lessened. The Trail Blazers sat their starters for the fourth quarter last night during a 44-point rout of the visiting Charlotte Bobcats.
-- Matt Kawahara