A Look at the Nets
Despite having lost 16 of their last 27 games and carrying a 28-36 record into this contest the Nets remain a dangerous opponent for the Blazers. They sport a high-scoring backcourt in Devin Harris and Vince Carter. Between them they average 43.3 points, 11.7 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per game. Both shoot well. Carter can hit the long ball. Harris draws 9.3 free throw attempts per game. With a relatively weak defensive backcourt like the Blazers have facing Harris and Carter is going to be like taking an Organic Chemistry final. You think you're prepared, but who really knows? It's not going to be easy in any case.
New Jersey also sports one of the fine, young centers in this league in the person of Brook Lopez. He's shooting over 52%, scoring 12.6, grabbing 8 rebounds, and averaging 1.9 blocks per game. He's strong, active, determined, and isn't afraid of anybody.
Even if you're not intimidated by their 4-7 players individually (Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes, Bobby Simmons, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, and Trenton Hassell) you have to be mindful of what they bring as a unit. Every one of them outside of Hassell is a three-point threat. All of them rebound to some degree, even the guards. A couple of them hustle.
This isn't a great defensive team. This is an average defensive rebounding team. This team probably won't get a lot of second-chance points. They're poor shooters. You're not going to see a lot of complex offensive sets. What you are going to see is two guards coming at you full bore and everybody else setting picks for those guards and looking to pick up the easy looks their offensive pressure creates.
The last time the Blazers played the Nets it was an offensive dream. The Blazers shot 48%, the Nets 51%. Nobody forced turnovers. Nobody bothered anybody else (except the Nets screening offense predictably caused us problems.) The difference in the game was superior rebounding on the Blazers' part plus a 33-17 advantage in foul shots for Portland. The Blazers got those foul shots because Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless turned the tables on the Nets, driving it hard and driving it frequently. Roy had 16 free throw attempts, Bayless 11. That kind of foul production is going to be difficult to duplicate exactly but the lesson still holds for tonight.
Keys to the Game
1. We just said it. Outside of a couple bench players they're poor at stopping penetration at just about every position. Why make it an easy night on them? Drive and watch them try to keep up.
2. Their guards are the heart of their offense. Carter shoots a lot of jumpers. Harris drives more. Any time a guard challenges you with offense you want to test him right back. Jumpers lead to long rebounds. Missing on penetration puts the guard out of position to get back. Either way, rebound that ball and run. As long as Przybilla can keep Lopez occupied (Lopez being a masterful offensive rebounder) the rest of the Blazers should be able to grab and dash.
3. On defense Portland has to beware of the long ball. You have to find a way to watch Carter, Harris, and Lopez that doesn't sacrifice the perimeter integrity. They will shoot it often and well. Your job isn't over once you've helped out! Hustle up and close out.
4. We're short-handed tonight but that just means our bench players have more of a chance to come through. They're not going to defend you well Travis, Sergio, Jerryd, and Channing. All of you can do this offense thing. Eat them alive! If the Nets' bench stays even with ours in scoring it's probably going to be a hard battle.
5. If our danger point comes in guarding Harris, theirs comes in guarding LaMarcus. If he keeps playing aggressively they're going to struggle to find a solution. This is also true of Travis. Those two forwards may tip the scales for us.
6. Just make it easy. Put them down early and just keep scoring at a reasonable pace after that.
As Casey and I discussed in the podcast today this game really sets the table for us. If you win it there's less pressure to have the perfect road trip. You give yourself cushion in case something goes wrong out there. If you lose it you're looking at a 2-2 homestand and two straight losses right before heading out on the road to play an athletic, motivated Atlanta team. Plus you have Cleveland on this trip. Losing tonight would turn a few games in the next week into must-wins. That's never good on the road. The Blazers need to come out with energy and motivation. This isn't an obviously pivotal game but given the situation it's pretty important.
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