Game Time: 4:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
New Jersey comes into this game with a 5-11 record. But that's roughly twice the number of wins they garnered all last season so things are actually looking up in the Garden State. Only 1of those 5 wins has come against a quality opponent--an overtime victory against the Hawks last Tuesday courtesy of Brook Lopez--but at 8-7 the Blazers aren't exactly quality right now. Nor is Portland playing quality ball. Comparing relative expectations this should be an easy victory for Portland but with the Blazers falling short of their expectations and New Jersey perhaps marginally exceeding theirs, nothing is certain.
The Nets have tightened up their defense some this year. They're middle of the pack in field goal percentage allowed and three-point percentage allowed. They're also a middling defensive rebounding team. (Keep in mind that "middling" is a step up for this team.) They don't get steals or force turnovers at all. They're dead last in the league in both categories. They don't have the luxury of gambling, let alone getting fancy, at this stage of their evolution. They just play you straight up and get the ball back off the miss more often than not. It works well enough.
The Nets' struggles come on the offensive end. They just don't produce enough points to win. They're 24th in the league in field goal attempts, 26th in field goal percentage, 29th in points scored. They don't get offensive rebounds, they don't get to the foul line, they're mediocre from the arc, and they don't get easy buckets. They're just...anemic. That's not to say they lack potential. Center Lopez and point guard Devin Harris are familiar names with healthy scoring averages, though Lopez takes a lot of shots to get his 18 per game. Guard Anthony Morrow and forward Travis Outlaw are familiar to West Coast fans. They have the ability to post big numbers but don't put out every night. Posting, rebounding forward Kris Humphries and forward Troy Murphy round out the bigger names, except to say that point guard Jordan Farmar finally found a team that will let him shoot the ball.
Despite all of this, the Blazers have been suffering from many of the same woes the Nets are facing, particularly on offense. If Portland can move the ball, run a little, and grab some offensive rebounds they should score enough to take this ballgame. But if this turns into an ugly-fest (not that those ever happen in the NBA) New Jersey has as good of a chance of winning as Portland does. The Blazers will need to keep Lopez off the boards and keep Harris from scoring 30 in addition to generating points themselves in order to feel safe.
If Portland does lose this game it's going to be a soul-searching moment, especially as this is only the first night of a four-game road swing. With Washington and Philadelphia also on the docket it's not like a loss is irredeemable, but losing to the Nets would call those games into question as well. And the Blazers don't need any more questions right now.
Both Joel Przybilla (stomach flu) and Sean Marks (right ankle) have been ruled out for tonight. -- Ben
See what it's like to be a Nets fan at NetsDaily, perhaps remembering the days when this 8-7 record would have been a cause for celebration among, rather than wailing from, Portland fans.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here. Don't forget the early start.