Game 66 Preview: Trail Blazers versus Hawks

Game Time:  4:00 p.m.  TV:  CSNNW

The Trail Blazers played the Atlanta Hawks two weeks ago in Portland, an 83-90 loss in which the Blazers couldn't manage to hold onto the ball or rebound, two of their season-long strengths.  Atlanta's length, speed, and tenacity took the Blazers completely out of their game.  That was also Gerald Wallace's first night of active play with the Blazers, a limp beginning to an arc which has ascended since.  The Blazers have done well since that night, posting a 4-2 record.  The Hawks have gone the other way, losing 5 of 6 including three on their home floor.  The common denominator in almost every loss has been the scoring prowess of the opposition.  We're talking Knicks, Thunder, Lakers here...three teams at different levels but with uniformly potent offenses.  The one loss to a defensive team came to the Bulls, probably the best defensive team in the league right now.

This tips Portland's hand tonight.  They'll have to do a couple of basic things they didn't do in Portland...the ones we just mentioned.  They need to prevent Atlanta from collecting the ball off of the glass and running, as that's one of the few ways they put up points.   Ditto for not turning the ball over, giving up run-outs.  The Blazers can deal with Joe Johnson scoring a bunch as long as they don't let his teammates waltz to easy points.  But the other end of the floor is where this game will be won or lost.  Atlanta's not the most intimidating defensive team in the league but they're physical and rangy and they don't back down.  Portland will have to be much more than timid and compliant to take this game.  Settling for long, forced jumpers is a sure sign of doom.  Missing wide open jumpers, allowing those long, powerful Atlanta defenders to crush any penetration with ease, is another.  The Blazers need to be smart and competent hitting their jumpers then use that pressure to open up the middle.  They need to be in a 48-minute, all-out fight to claim rebounds on both ends, taking control away from the Hawks and generating a few extra points in the process.  Marcus Camby hitting even a couple of shots from the top of the key to draw Al Horford out of the middle would work wonders.  LaMarcus Aldridge cannot be intimidated or outplayed by Josh Smith.  On defense the Blazers need to understand who they're guarding in each instance.  Most of the Hawks will pass the ball but when somebody goes to score it that somebody is going to attack in a specific, and in most cases limited, manner.  Don't double-team stupidly.  Play guys for the shot or the drive depending on their strengths.  For all of Portland's defensive acumen this is where they fall apart many nights.  If you're playing Kirk Hinrich to penetrate your defense is already ineffective.  You know what Horford and Jamal Crawford are going to do when they touch the ball.  Most of the time you know what Johnson and Smith are going to do too.  You have to counter their athleticism with smarts.  

This team is beatable.  They just give the Blazers a devil of a time.  Remember the loss in Portland.  Heck, remember the loss last night.  Then just go and bludgeon them with Aldridge and Wallace and whoever else shows a hot hand.  Score 100 and the game is your oyster.  Score 75 and there's probably no way to win it.  Let's see how much heart and effort the Blazers put forth when the chips are (once again) down.

Peachtree Hoops is your ATL hookup.

Here's your Jersey Contest game form,  Just give the only answer possible for the glitched-up third question.  Those who heed these instructions will gain an automatic 10 points.  Those who don't will go without.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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