Game 39 Preview: Blazers vs. Nets

A Look at the Nets

This game is dangerous for Portland in many of the same ways last night's game against Philadelphia was.  The Nets have a couple of brazen guards in Vince Carter and Devin Harris.  Harris is having a career year, averaging 23 points and almost 7 assists per game while shooting 45% from the floor and 83% from the foul line.  Oh, and by the way, he draws 9.6 free throws a game.  That's superstar territory.  Carter needs no introduction.  If he continues to be the jump-shooting scorer he's comfortable with rather than the insanely-effective slasher we saw earlier in his career, at least he's improved that jumper with age.  He's also shooting 45% and averaging 23 per game with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.  Plus he's coming off of a 1-10 effort against Boston last night which is going to make him interested in tattooing about 30 points on Portland's skull.  The Blazers don't like wing scorers anyway, let alone two of them.  Plus we're missing two guards out of our regular four-man rotation ourselves.  Either we'll be throwing Captain Inexperience and the Olé Kid out there against Harris or we're going to be playing Nicolas Batum out of position and depending on Brandon Roy to play the point.  Neither of those choices seem appealing.

Much like the Sixers, the Nets are stocked with adequate, occasionally dangerous role players.  Brook Lopez already averages 8 points and 2 blocks per game.  He also dropped 31 on the Thunder a couple games ago, which admittedly is like saying UFC Champ Brock Lesnar got 32 hammerfists in on his accountant the other day, but still.  Bobby Simmons and Keyon Dooling have been around the block a few times.  Yi Jianlian and Jarvis Hayes are having trouble scoring but each can break out with the occasional double-digit game.  Trenton Hassell and Eduardo Najera are there for defense and hustle.  Ryan Anderson and Josh Boone buttress the frontcourt.  It's not a flashy group, but with those guards thrown in the mix it works.  Basically everybody else holds you down while Harris and Carter beat you up.  That's a technique that has foiled the Blazers more than once this season.

The Nets' biggest problem this year has been their defense.  They allow opponents to score inside and out as long as the ball gets moved a little bit.  There are too many weak spots individually in their lineup when it comes to defense, leading to a 101.3 average for opponents.  The Nets don't force a lot of turnovers or block a lot of shots either, which could make up somewhat for the poor percentage defense.  They're not horrid, just anemic.

The one area that the Nets have down defensively is rebounding.  They're one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the league.  Portland will have to work hard to get its usual diet of offensive boards and second shots.

Offensively New Jersey relies on the main options and makes everybody else line up for leftovers.  Their starting guards plus Lopez are the guys to worry about.  Everybody else either won't shoot enough or won't shoot well enough to break you.  They're not fantastic inside scorers nor offensive rebounders.  You just have to cover the whole floor against those guards.

The Nets are coming off of a stiff drubbing at the hands of the Celtics and won't be eager to repeat the experience at home.  That's pretty much going to cancel Portland's "avenge last night's loss" mojo.  This is going to be a tricky game.

Keys to the Game

1.  Survive the guards.  Normally you'd try to take one or the other out but with our backcourt stretched so thin the better plan is probably to match them score for score.  That won't necessarily come from just our backcourt, of course, but Roy plus Aldridge or Outlaw or somebody pretty much needs to equal Harris and Carter.

2.  Odenize Lopez.  New Jersey will lose ground if Greg can score on Brook and also defend him.  This lines up to be a great matchup.

3.  Take advantage of the defense by moving the ball around, driving on the weak point, and then finishing or hitting an open shot off the dish.  Basic Blazer basketball should be effective here if executed properly.  A lot of one-on-one would probably be a mistake for anybody but Roy.

4.  Get back in transition.  This was one of the areas lacking last night.

Final Thoughts

The Blazers have usually started their road trips well.  It's odd to be in a position of saying that this game could swing the trip.  But it will.  Win it and we could be a satisfying 3-1.  Lose it and we're 2-2 at best and facing the possibility of a disappointing 1-3.  Last night was a game where pretty much everything went wrong all at once.  That won't happen again tonight.  Let's hope a better showing is enough.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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