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Game 9 Preview: Blazers vs. Hornets

So…here we go.  True contender, at their place.  This kind of story hasn’t had a happy ending for the Blazers yet this season.  Can we flip the script tonight and get an amazing third straight win on the road against a good team?


A Look at the Hornets


For the third time in as many days the Blazers get to face a superstar who’s tearing up the league early.  Chris Paul hasn’t had quite the mind-blowing scoring start that Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade have.  Compared to their 78 ppg average (more or less) Paul’s 22.6 looks downright pedestrian.  But then…ooops!  He’s shooting 55%?  38.5% from distance?  81% from the line?  12 assists per game?!?  Over three steals?!?  A 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio?!?!?  5.5 rebounds from your point guard???  OK, next you’re going to tell me that he makes fresh, tasty juice, hides those unsightly bald spots, absorbs cola stains from underneath my carpet with just a few pats, and can be mine for three easy payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling.  (That last part is an obvious lie.  Technically speaking he can be yours for only 228,824 easy payments of $19.99, but only if you act now!  Next year it’ll take almost 690,000 payments.  Plus don’t forget the S+H.)  The difference between Paul and those other guys is that you know their numbers are going to come down some as the year progresses.  I’m not sure Paul’s will that much.  He’s that good.  Any way you slice it offensively he can beat you.


But wait!  There’s more!


Along with Chris Paul you have the chronically underrated (even by me usually) David West.  The Hornets key power forward is having a little bit of an off start shooting-wise but is still averaging close to 20 per game.  He can rebound and defend pretty well, but that burden falls largely on the shoulders of Tyson Chandler who, though definitely not an offensive power, is a monster on the glass and can clean up any ugly stuff in the post.  He makes everybody in a Hornets uniform look better on defense.  This would include the New Orleans wings Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson.  Like West, both are struggling to find their offensive rhythm early.  So far Peja is deadly from distance but Dudley (as in Chris) from anywhere else.  Mo Pete can’t do diddly doodly from the three-point arc compared to his normal rate but he’s averaging it out elsewhere.  It’s working out OK so far but Paul could sure use some of his fellow starters to catch fire.  It would make his life easier.


The Hornets bench pretty much defines “journeyman”, with one great specimen in James Posey who is well known for his defense and intensity and a bunch of lesser lights (being polite) like Rasual Butler, Melvin Ely, and Hilton Armstrong.  Butler can still shoot. Back-up point guard Mike James could always explode on you (never met a shot he didn’t like) but he’s had a semi-sad start.  Basically New Orleans’ bench isn’t going to blow the game for you but, Posey aside, they’re mostly marking time until the main guys can get back in.


New Orleans does pretty much everything you’d expect of a good team.  They rebound well, shoot well (especially from distance), take pretty good care of the ball.  They defend well enough to win.  Though they’re capable of running their starters aren’t great transition defenders.  Any fool team can get up and down the hardwood.  The Hornets are generally at their best in a chess match, exploiting their matchup advantages and letting their big guys get set on “D”.


Keys to the Game


1.  Let’s start with this.  The Hornets are third in the league at three-point shooting at 41%.  The Blazers are dead last in the league at defending the three-point shot, allowing 42%.  New Orleans is no great shakes defending out there either, coming in 26th by allowing 39% themselves.  And look!  Portland also shoots 41% from distance!  I doubt either team will be well-served by chucking first and asking questions later.  However the team that can get a hand in the opponent’s face out there without giving up the middle of the lane entirely is going to have an advantage.  Both teams do like to shoot the long ball.


2.  What to do about Chris Paul?  Fielding Blake, Sergio, and maybe some bigger guys like Roy, Fernandez, and Batum  you’re not going to stop him.  If you’re going to try and take something away, I would limit his passing.  It seems silly to make one of the best scorers in the league at his position into even more of a scorer.  But figure this.  The Hornets already get by on a low margin of 35 made field goals per game.  Paul himself accounts for 8 of those, leaving 27 for everybody else.  He’s dropping 12 dimes per game…assisting on almost half of that remaining total.  Take away 5 or 6 of those and all of a sudden the rest of this team is struggling offensively.  Buckets beget buckets and I’d rather have Paul begetting a few more and everybody else questioning themselves than watching us scramble to shut down West and the wings while Paul laughs and slices us to death in the meantime anyway.


3.  If you can’t stop Chris Paul, try and stop David West.  He’s as important of a scoring leg as the near-MVP is.  This might be manageable between Lamarcus being active and Frye and Outlaw running him around.


4.  What key is always a key with the Blazers?  That’s right, children:  rebound.  If you box out on Chandler they’ll never get an offensive board.  They don’t allow many either but Portland’s gotten pretty good at nabbing them.  This could be an advantage.


5.  Outside of Chandler there’s zero shot blocking out there tonight.  Take it to the hole!


6.  The Hornets have not won this year when they’ve failed to reach 100, nor have they lost when they’ve scored triple digits.  The gap has been wide too.   They’ve either been above 100 or scoring 89, 86, or 79.  Keep them low and you can win even if you’re low too.


7.  Portland’s second unit should do well against New Orleans’…if that ever happens.  The Hornets are used to playing their bench guys pretty big minutes but my guess is that Portland’s second unit is also going to have to do well against the Hornets starters, as they’re rested and Byron Scott won’t let the game get out of hand with his subs in.  Nevertheless, go magic bench unit!  Go!


Storylines to Watch


1.  Calling all Point Guards!


Chris Paul has had an insane double-double in every game he’s played this year.  20-10 has been his lowest production.  Who can contend with this?  The best solution might be to throw some of our kookier lineups out there and at least make him defender bigger players or active players or some kind of players.  Don’t be surprised to see, like, five different people out there against him.


2.  Oden?


Impact?  Bully dunks?  Couple rebounds?  Hard to contend with?  Please?


3.  The Spaniard and The Outlaw


These two jokers have had a couple of nice games lately.  Oh how those 20-point bench efforts make life easier!  Can they do it again?


4.  How Far Out of the Doghouse Is Sergio?


It’s really only of interest to Blazer fans but I can’t remember Sergio Rodriguez playing down to the wire in a non-blowout game.  Ever.  He did against Miami.  Is this new-found confidence or are we back to 11 minutes and a well-worn bench groove?  And if he does get minutes again, how does he respond?


5.  Matchup of the Night


Aldridge/West…  Last year West scored 22.8 ppg in four games against Portland and Aldridge scored only 12.3 in three against New Orleans.  We’ll need a better spread than that tonight.  LMA’s confidence is high.  Let’s hope this game doesn’t ruin it.


Final Thoughts


New Orleans is a conference crown contender.  Temper thy frustration should things not go our way tonight.  On the other hand a win should elicit boundless bliss, not just because it’s the Hornets but because of the continuing streak of victories.


Check out the New Orleans view at  AtTheHive.


Don’t forget to enter the Jersey Contest  here.


--Dave (