Game Time: 7:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
Believe it or not, the Portland Trail Blazers actually do play games! After a long early-season layoff and hopefully some time to recuperate physically and psychologically, the Blazers welcome the 11-3 New Orleans Hornets tonight. After riding an amazing opening streak New Orleans is 3-3 in their last 6. All of those losses have come on the road. Two of them were against Utah and Dallas, not exactly conference lightweights. They also got bushwhacked by the GG Show (Gordon and Griffin) in L.A. on Monday. With San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the horizon they're going to want to win this game pretty badly.
These teams faced each other two weeks ago, much to Portland's dismay. The Blazers looked dispirited. The Hornets mopped the floor with them, never letting Portland sniff at the win. New Orleans is riding some fine defensive play which ranges out to the three-point arc. They're one of the few teams who can and will guard you everywhere. They give up good looks like Scrooge gives up ha'pennies, which is to say grudgingly. They back up their rangy play with fine defensive rebounding. They're a percentage-oriented offensive team of the type the Blazers would ideally like to be. Chris Paul is potent scoring or passing, obviously. David West is playing fewer minutes than in years past but is making more of them. This typifies the Hornets' approach this year. In past seasons they fielded a bunch of players who needed to score in order to be effective. This year the attitude is "do more with less" with everybody producing and making fewer demands. The results have been impressive. Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli...all are able to play to their strengths while having their weaknesses covered by teammates. Monty Williams is getting the most out of his team right now.
All of that said, this is another litmus test for Portland and the Blazers better register a win or at least put up a fight. They've already shown they're not able or ready to play like a conference elite team and win this kind of game on the road. (That's natural, considering all that's gone on.) But they still have to post wins at home against the Hornets of the world in order to be a decent playoff-level club. Waving a white flag, as happened in the first game between these two, would be a disaster for the Blazers. This is about pride, about establishing yourself, about meeting good basketball with good and inspired basketball. Inspiration is exactly what the Blazers will need tonight. Winning this game would indicate that Portland's hard-fighting tendencies and self-confidence are back. Losing without a murmur, even to a supposedly superior team, would speak volumes about the Blazers' self-image. Portland needs a win against a very good team in the worst way and tonight is the night to get it.
The obvious story tonight is how much and how well Brandon Roy plays. The secondary effect of his minutes on the roster, particularly Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller, is also a reason to watch. He could be a blessing or his return could disrupt whatever continuity the Blazers have found in the last couple weeks. Joel Przybilla is also expected to return for limited duty tonight, an emotional boost if nothing else.
If the Blazers play like this is Black and Red Friday they have the tools to send the Hornets packing with a loss. Any kind of second-guessing (or worse, standing and watching) will be enough opening for New Orleans to exploit though. It's a tough way to return from most of a week off. Let's see if the Blazers are up to the test.
See the New Orleans perspective at At The Hive.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.