Game Time: 5:00 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast
As anyone who's ever spent any time playing first-person shooters, asking out girls, or passing gas can tell you, timing is everything. At first glance the 3-6 Hornets might look like easy prey for the surging Blazers. But Portland is catching them at the rottenest of rotten times.
As Ben informed us earlier today (and by the way, if you haven't given Ben a hearty round of applause lately for being all over everything, you should, because he is) the Hornets have bid adieu to former Coach of the Year Byron Scott and have replaced him with current "Wait, He's a Coach?" Jeff Bower. Down the road this is likely to be an issue. But there's an immutable law of the universe which reads that every NBA replacement coach wins his first game. The universe apparently likes to hear fans say, "Whew! Thank goodness that worked out!" just before they stumble backwards into a bottomless pit. The universe is cruel that way.
Adding to the bad timing ledger: the Hornets just got their dorsal ocelli gouged out by the Phoenix Suns. The 20-point blowout marked their fifth double-digit loss of the season in nine games. Caution #1 is that four of those five blowout losses have come on the road against good teams. Caution #2 is that, even though they're understandable, being swatted like that is going to make them as mad as...well...you know. Beating the Blazers isn't exactly a signature win yet but it's a good one. They're going to want it and Portland is going to bear the full brunt of their attack.
What does that attack look like? Pretty much like you remember, with a caveat or two. Chris Paul is hitting everything he puts up from everywhere on everyone. The guy is his own three-guard lineup. Need a point guard? 9.3 assists per game and a 4.2 assist/turnover ratio. How about an off-guard? 62% shooting from the field, 65.5% from three, 85.7% from the line, 26.1 points per game. A small forward? I wouldn't put it past him if they asked. If he served up any more facials he'd need cucumbers, mud, and a loofah. He runs. He shoots. He dishes. He can make homemade salsa in less than 30 seconds and then mix a margarita with just the flip of a switch! And he can be all yours for just six easy payments of $19.99. Million, that is. Only the L*kers have been able to slow him down and they did it by pressuring and hacking him.
L.A. might have actually been on to something there, concentrating on Chris and letting the other Hornets go. So far this year nobody has been able to help him on a consistent basis. Forward David West is always good for some points and he's shooting near his normal percentage but he's taking far fewer shots than he did last season and he's only producing 15 points per game instead of 20. Peja Stojakovic is moving like a Hutt and shooting like a stormtrooper. Mo Peterson is playing so poorly that ex-coach Scott figured he was better off getting fired for playing a 22-year old named Julian than letting ol' Mo Pete suit up. The bench players produce enough points to be considered legitimate superstars...in soccer. It ain't going good in the offensive department.
Adding to the problem, most nights the Hornets defend like generic Kleenex. They have Emeka Okafor in the middle but he's not enough to hold the fort despite some impressive blocked shot totals. He doesn't always move to the best advantage and his teammates aren't showing him in the best light. He's a good rebounder, though mainly on the offensive end. He's about the only consistent defensive rebounder the Hornets have but again, he's not near enough. James Posey was supposed to help with defense and rebounding but he signed a contract with New Orleans and immediately disintegrated. He's under 20 minutes per game this season. Okafor and Posey don't help the offense either. You can play with a post center in the run and gun but he better be able to pass. That's not Emeka's game. He holds it and clogs it, allowing defenders to sag, thus foiling penetration in the halfcourt. Too often New Orleans' offense becomes "gun and gun". That's not the way to win no matter how good your perimeter shooters are. You do have to watch Okafor's finishes but he himself is not enough to tip the balance for the Hornets.
All of that aside, New Orleans can still bust on you offensively. They've been above 100 four times this year, scoring 111 on the Knicks, 114 on the Mavs in OT, and 112 on the Clippers. Somebody on the roster has popped off for 25 or more in seven of their nine games. The lesson here is that if you don't defend them the can still spank you. This isn't Minnesota. You better come with some respect.
Pivotal Points of the Game
1. The Hornets will probably rabbit out of the gate. Don't let that throw you. Keep playing hard, reel them in, and try to convince them by the middle of the third that this is going to be another loss. If you get up before that point keep stomping them until the final horn sounds. They are dangerous.
2. Okafor and West are good offensive rebounders. Keep them off the glass and you'll limit the extra points that the Hornets rely on.
3. West versus Aldridge may be the biggest matchup of the night. Chris Paul will do what Chris Paul does. It's the second scorer you want to either inhibit or match. LMA will need to be active tonight on defense and make West pay on the other end.
4. Don't let them run!
5. Again we face a team with a combination of no shot blocking and poor perimeter defense, not only in the sense of staying in front of dribblers but also in hawking the passing lanes and recovering to outside shooters. What does that spell, children? Drive and get fouled or drive and dish. Do not be intimidated. Take it to them. No early jumpers off the dribble! There is no need.
6. If we do get into a situation where Roy needs to take over, be cool with that. Play defense, rebound, and make yourself available for his passes, keeping your head in the game. Brandon has the kind of game that either will produce points at the rim and foul line, make them keep a non-scorer on the court to watch him, or make them devote multiple people to stopping him. Any of those are to your advantage but he has to threaten to make them work.
7. Bench points = easier victory.
This is a winnable game but not a game in which you necessarily expect a win. It features some extreme mismatches in the backcourts and some awesome head-to-head matchups in the frontcourt. Putting up a good fight would be a good sign for the Blazers. Winning would be a great one.
Don't forget to enter the Jersey Contest here.
ALSO DON'T FORGET that this is the opponent we'll see on January 25th for Blazersedge Night at the Garden. We're looking for people to help send kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend a game. We're closing in on the 400 tickets we set out to donate but there are still some remaining (and plenty of kids waiting to hear if they can go). For details see this post and please help send a kid or two (or ten) if you can.