Game 13 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers versus New Orleans Hornets

Game Time: 12:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW

A recent ESPN hyperlink headline dubbed the New Orleans Hornets as "hapless". It's cruel, perhaps a tad overstated, but generally accurate, as their 3-9 record shows. 80% of New Orleans' hap left with Chris Paul and David West. 19% more went into street clothes when Eric Gordon--the main return in the Paul trade--went down with a knee injury. If ESPN wants to round down approximately 1% hap to "hapless", I guess that's their prerogative.

Right now the Hornets' eye-opener is former Blazer combo-guard Jarrett Jack. He's starting at point, averaging 14 points and 8 assists, the latter nearly double his career average. The Hornets need a decent point guard because they're not set up to dump the offense to any single player and watch it run. Alongside Jack stand shooting guard Marco Belinelli (marginal at anything besides shooting threes), forward DaJuan Summers (filling in for the injured Trevor Ariza), and a couple of centers: Chris Kaman and Emeka Okafor. All of these players have defined strengths, about what you'd expect...rebounding and interior play from Okafor, a little more range and rebounding from Kaman, smart shots from Summers. But all are in the "pretty good" camp instead of great. Well, except Belinelli. He's not even pretty good.

As you might expect with injuries carving the heart out of the lineup New Orleans' bench isn't strong right now. Veteran forward Carl Landry leads the bunch. After than we're talking Al-Farouq Aminu and Greivis Vasquez...the latter of whom sounds like he should have been a character on Battlestar Galactica and thus is in the running for the Coolest Name in the League award. Sadly production doesn't live up to syllabic fortitude, as the Hornets field players who would make most teams say, "Maybe we'll take a chance on this guy." Right now New Orleans actually has to depend on them instead of taking chances.

The Hornets' two wins came when they were at full strength during the first two games of the season. Since then they're 1-9 against a host of good opponents. If the Blazers can play like a good team today, they should have no trouble.

New Orleans' main trouble is a severe lack of scoring power. They've topped 94 points only once in their last 10, that against the semi-permissive Memphis Grizzlies...and they still lost. I like Jarrett Jack, but when he's your leading scorer you're not fielding much firepower. They play slow, score few fast break points, attempt few three-pointers, draw few foul shots. The only thing they do is score in the lane. In fact points in the paint account for 47% of their overall scoring average. That's a rate comparable to the league's leading point producing teams, exceeding them if you factor out fast break opportunities. In other words, this may be the most lane-dependent halfcourt offense in the league. Their abysmal production shows how bad they are at everything else.

On the other end of the court the Hornets are decent at defending the paint and perimeter both. Their big weakness is stopping the break. If you can raise the tempo on them they're done. They prevent this through excellent rebounding on both ends. They do commit turnovers.

The profile here is pretty clear. The Blazers want to pressure Jarrett Jack and anybody else who handles the ball to see if they'll cough it up or rush a bad shot or pass. Failing that the Blazers need to remember that this is a one-pass-to-the-interior offense. The Hornets want to score inside and if they're not chucking shots with Jack and Belinelli they're going to depend on Kaman, Landry, and Okafor. As long as you are able to recover to Belinelli you can simply swarm the ball wherever it goes. If Jack gets it to a big guy, double that big guy. He's the only guy they want scoring it.

The danger points for Portland are that same interior scoring plus rebounding and pace. The Blazers are thin on the inside even with Camby defending. If he's not playing both Okafor and Kaman become issues. If the New Orleans' bigs can draw a couple early fouls on their Portland counterparts where will the Blazers go for help? Ditto in the rebounding department. The Hornets don't fast break but an offensive rebound put-back has nearly the same effect. Easy twos are easy twos. Plus if the Blazers can't rebound and get the run going then they fall prey to the New Orleans percentage defense. Minus offensive rebounds of their own it's hard to see where the Blazers could get easy scores. That would leave them in the same struggle for points as the Hornets. From there it's anybody's game.

It's likely Portland will have to run small lineups during the course of this game. When that happens they need to swarm and run. Take advantage of the Hornets being slower so their size doesn't tell. The success of those smaller lineups may be the difference in this contest.

See the New Orleans view over at At The Hive.

Enter the Jersey Contest form for this game here. Don't forget the early noon start.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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