Blazers Try to Avoid Letdown vs. Hornets

USA TODAY Sports

Will the Blazers have big fun on the bayou tonight or get mired in another swampy effort against a weaker opponent? Portland-New Orleans...it's on!

The Portland Trail Blazers conclude their three game "Western" conference road trip (which started in the wild western province of Memphis, Tennessee and continued even further west in San Antonio, Texas) with a Sunday-afternoon visit to that bastion of westernocity, New Orleans, Louisiana. The game's at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time (approximately six time zones to the left of New Orleans) and will be televised on CSNNW.

The Hornets are tied with the Phoenix Suns for the conference's worst record, 21-41. The Suns have earned their futile mark by losing almost every road game they've played. New Orleans is more balanced, sporting an 11-20 record at home. They've lost 8 of their last 10. They have two significant wins in the last month and a half, owning victories over the Atlanta Hawks and...oh look! The Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets turned into killer bees versus the Blazers on February 13th, destroying them 99-63 in Portland's worst outing of the season (which is saying something). You may remember that evening featured 32% shooting, 12% arc marksmanship, 6 offensive rebounds, 16 turnovers, 26 points in the paint, and no fast break points for the Blazers. Breaking the laws of the universe would be required for the team to play any worse. Rule #1 for the Blazers tonight: Don't cross the streams! That didn't work out so well last time.

Fortunately the Blazers should be able to get by playing just normal basketball. Rookie of the Year Runner Up (with one vote from Chuck Swirsky) Anthony Davis has been spotty lately, carrying a shoulder injury through inconsistent playing time. Scoring guard Eric Gordon has also been injured and inconsistent. He'll put up 20 but take a billion shots to do it. Shots being more or less there for the taking in this lineup, it's no big harm. But on any other team he'd be labeled a liability at this point. Center Robin Lopez has been great some nights, invisible others. Point guard Greivis Vasquez has been on a heck of a roll the last couple weeks. Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu is one of the legion of new-breed NBA wings who's good on defense, average offensively. Stretch forward Ryan Anderson is the main weapon off the bench (watch his threes!) but nobody else is a real threat. This lineup is like your local greasy buffet. The mediocrity never ends. If you find one really good thing to eat on a given night, count yourself lucky.

New Orleans features an inside attack on offense bolstered by a decent three-point percentage that they probably don't take enough advantage of. They play slow, ideally dumping it inside first and using the jumpers when your defense shifts. The ideal falls short when Gordon goes on solo missions or when those bigs can't establish any scoring threat. Then the Hornets get stuck shooting guarded jumpers and they're done.

Defense brings out the worst in this squad. Half the time they don't get back. Even when they do, they don't cover the lane or perimeter that well. Davis is going to be a really good defender but like most rookies he's on and off, still figuring it out. Aminu is good individually. Lopez is OK some nights. But all their scorers and their entire bench are pretty much junk defenders. That makes winning difficult.

Honestly, this game is about the Blazers. Portland's had great games (two days ago vs. San Antonio) and horrible games (last time they visited New Orleans). They've shown talent, skill, emotion, unselfishness, and plenty of comeback moxie. They've not been good at putting away lesser opponents. The kind of professionalism that allows you to high five over the San Antonio blowout while still disposing of the Hornets in your next outing has eluded them. Incomprehensible losses have followed emotional wins as flat starts have come on the heels of hot finishes. The Blazers have to figure out whether they want to be a nice, happy, easy-to-root for team or whether they want to be a good team. They've already achieved the former. Adding the latter to the mix means approaching New Orleans games with the same respect and energy level you had in San Antonio. If we see that tonight this will be a victory. Otherwise...ugh.

At The Hive covers the Hornets.

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Portland Trail Blazers tickets

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--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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