A Look at the Hornets
In many ways this game is similar to the one we played Saturday night against Utah. A playoff contender has undergone injuries (in this case center Tyson Chandler and forward Mo Peterson) and is relying on its star point guard to get through. The Hornets are on a losing streak as well, though granted it's hardly a "streak" at two games, but even two games is significant for a team as good as New Orleans is. It's a fair bet they'd regard three as a disaster, especially with this being a home game for them. The Blazers should expect no quarter tonight.
Overall the Hornets remain the team they've been all year. That's the way it is with the best teams. They make you adjust to them instead of the other way around. They don't rush, they execute on every play, they're unselfish, and they're opportunistic enough to take extra points on the break and/or off turnovers if you give them. They all but ignore the offensive glass but they're devils on the defensive boards, depending on ball control to put them over. Chandler's absence will obviously affect the rebounding but then again last time these two teams met they whipped Portland soundly on the boards with Chandler playing about half a game (and not a great half a game at that). They're decent shooters, upgrading to excellent from the perimeter. Forward David West and the ubiquitous Chris Paul mandate attention from the defense, allowing guys like Peja Stojakovic, James Posey, and Rasual Butler to clean up outside. If that sounds a little like Portland's offense that's no accident. That kind of mismatch-driven, ball-sharing attack wins a lot of games. As is true with the Blazers, you have to disrupt the Hornets to stop their scoring. They don't rattle easily either.
That said, the Hornets have lost two straight. The first was a home loss to the Golden State Warriors in which they shot horribly and let Don Nelson's club beat them on the boards. (It was only by 1 rebound but against the Warriors that's not good.) Corey Maggette blistered them late in the game to secure the Golden State win. Once he got past the perimeter defense there was nobody to stop him. The second loss came on the road against the Spurs. The Hornets shot better and rebounded much better but they couldn't defend the Spurs a lick. This time it was Tony Parker burning them. Clearly Chandler's absence hurts this team.
In both cases, however, Chris Paul had monster offensive games. Even with the weakened defense and potential paucity of rebounding New Orleans has enough firepower to beat you.
Keys to the Game
1. The fourth quarter appears to be a critical time for New Orleans right now. They're having to scramble hard to make their rotations. By the end of the game they're vulnerable. If the Blazers can stay close enough through 36 minutes they may be able to put the pedal to the metal in the final 12 and come away with a win.
2. Despite the implied threat in Paul's scoring those high numbers may not be as much to the advantage of the Hornets as they seem. He dished 8 assists against Golden State and 4 while playing the Spurs. This coming from a guy who's a whisker shy of averaging 11 per game. We saw this play out with Deron Williams on Saturday and it could hold true again. Score your 30, don't set your teammates up, and our team will beat your star.
3. David West is the only real offensive threat inside. They're starting Hilton Armstrong in Chandler's absence. He's playing limited minutes and they're going small the rest of the time. This has several permutations for us on defense. First, if Lamarcus Aldridge can handle West it should be free rein out there for everybody else. We should never see an open shooter. We should also never doubt we are getting the rebound, which could allow us to take more chances running and pressing. Even if Lamarcus needs help it should be in specific situations which do not include West just chucking jumpers. In any case whatever interior double-teaming we do should be measured, precise, and seldom interfere with covering those perimeter shooters. If we're at all active tonight we should be able to bother them.
4. Speaking of interior presence, the advantage should be even more pronounced on our offensive end. Greg Oden owes Hilton Armstrong a good game because Hilton kind of embarrassed him earlier in the season. I don't see anyone to stop Oden from owning the offensive paint as long as he doesn't get bothered by Hilton's speed and gets in a hurry. Much as happened with Golden State and San Antonio, this game should be free license for Brandon Roy to drive. Get past one defender and either a shot or a great pass will be open to you.
5. The big concerns will be dealing with New Orleans' motivation and toughness. They still have veterans who can get into you, particularly James Posey. They're a great team with deep playoff aspirations and they're not going to let this game go without one heck of a fight. On the other hand this is the kind of game Portland should be very invested in winning, as it's against a quality opponent on the road who might be vulnerable. You can't let those chances go by.
This is going to be a tough little road trip with the Hornets tonight and the Mavericks on Wednesday. With the Thunder on the schedule for Friday the playoff-bound goal would be winning 2 of 3. The Blazers had a habit in their early-season road trips of getting off to great starts, giving the potential for extraordinary trips and providing a cushion for a loss here and there. It would be nice to see that pattern repeat.
Head over to AttheHive for some New Orleans style fun.
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