In a Nutshell
In honor of Martin Luther King Day the Blazers and Hornets play a game so nondescript that it practically begged viewers to go read a copy of Letters from a Birmingham Jail, listen again to "I Have a Dream", or do anything they could to escape the monotony. On the bright side the Blazers did more things right than the Hornets and nabbed a much-needed win.
The only pretty points scored in the first period for either team came on the break following forced turnovers and run-outs for the Trail Blazers. It wasn't a matter of everything going wrong for both teams. Rather all the things that went right conspired to prevent sustainable scoring. New Orleans rebounded the ball excellently. The Blazers defended the paint well. The Hornets returned the favor. That left both teams bereft of easy shots in the halfcourt, shooting eyesore jumpers. The only exception, as just noted, came when the Blazers trapped the ball and played the passing lanes. New Orleans lacks true point guards and the Blazers exploited their ball-handlers for turnovers and finishes. This let the Blazers grab a lead until the bench came in and tried to give it back through their own turnovers. (Groan.) The Blazers still led 20-15 after one, though. (Groan.)
The second quarter would actually get worse. (GROAN!)
The Blazers actually improved their rebounding in the second period but the turnovers dried up. New Orleans' size and athleticism off the bench was sufficient to keep the Blazers out of the paint completely in the halfcourt. The result was more jumpers (groan) and more misses (groan). The Hornets didn't exactly set the world on fire either. In fact their collective offense wouldn't be enough to set a marshmallow on fire. If you discount 11 points scored from the free throw line the teams combined for 26 points in the period (groan). The Blazers totaled 17 points in the second while the Hornets managed 20. Portland led 37-35 at the half. Groooooaaaaaaannnnnnnn. Just shoot me now.
Thankfully the Blazers came alive in the third period, giving viewers exactly one quarter of watchable basketball. (Yay!) The Hornets still tried to pack in the defense but the Blazers moved the ball against their slower, larger defenders and came away with a combination of open mid-range jumpers and quick slashes into the lane. This looked like a blizzard of scoring compared to the isolation brick-fest of the first half. The 27 points the Blazers scored seemed a feast. New Orleans, meanwhile, puttered along with 16. Portland led 64-51 at the end of the third.
With the Hornets offense being what it is, this double-digit lead should have invoked the league's Mercy Rule. Sadly the refs missed the call and let them play the fourth. Nursing their advantage, the Blazers had five defenders place feet in the paint whenever the Hornets tried to post. That and some more decent rebounding were enough to keep New Orleans from getting close. The Blazers win 84-77.
Take Away Points
The Hornets are hurting for production right now.
The Blazers did a great job keeping them out of the paint.
Other than that and some individual observations below, the win was the only true take-away point from this game. Thankfully that's also the only one Portland really needed.
LaMarcus Aldridge started slowly in this game, a combination of his usual pattern and some nice, big Hornets defenders keying on him. The ball movement in the second half loosened the floor and gave him room to operate. He finished with his standard good game: 10-17 shooting, 22 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals. His defense and rebounding were nice in this game too.
Gerald Wallace feasted on those early turnovers and otherwise had a good defensive and rebounding game too. He finished 5-11 for 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists.
Kurt Thomas outscored everybody on the floor in that first period, somewhat akin to towering over every person in Munchkin Land. He ended up shooting 4-5 from the floor for 8 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes.
Wesley Matthews shot 4-10, 2-5 from the arc in another intermittent game. 10 points.
Raymond Felton had 12 assists (yay!) and some incisive drives (yay!) but also committed 8 turnovers (groan), shot 1-8 (groan!), and his defense alternated between (groan) and (meh).
Nicolas Batum again earned the game ball. He started out with some tough rebounding, helping turn that department to the Blazers. He added some shooting, driving, defense...it was his second excellent effort in a row. A third would be close to a record for him, so let's see what happens against Atlanta. 6-11 shooting, 5-6 from the line, 2-5 from the arc (those shots loosening up the interior for teammates), 19 points, 6 rebounds.
Craig Smith played some nice defense on Chris Kaman and scored on him too. He might have tried to do a little too much offensively. He hit 2-2 from the field for 4 points but also had 2 turnovers and 2 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Jamal Crawford, mired in a slump, spent much of this game giving up the ball. He had 7 assists but also passed up some open shots. That's OK for today but the Blazers do need him to shoot and score. 2-8 shooting, 5 points.
Fun With Numbers
- New Orleans 30 points in the paint. That's the only one you need to know. They would have lost with that number no matter what. Great job by Portland of taking away their only real strength.
It's nice to break the losing streak.
If the Blazers seriously thought they could content this year, or were close, they could probably call up the Hornets and make an offer for Emeka Okafor. He has an expensive (Camby-level) contract running through 2014. The Blazers would be luxury-tax payers in 2012-13 and 2013-14. But he's exactly what the Hornets don't need right now--non-scorer, inside player, rebounder and defender, big guy, and expensive--and most of what the Blazers do need. I don't believe the Blazers will assess themselves as being far enough towards elite status to justify the expense. But Okafor should be there for the picking if anyone wants him.
Hear more groaning at At The Hive.
Here's your Trail Blazers vs Hornets boxscore.