The Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Hornets will face off at 6:00 p.m. in the Rose Garden tonight. The game will be televised locally on CSNNW.
The main drawing point of this game is that it'll feature this year's Rookie of the Year and the first runner up facing off against each other for the first time. This almost masks the Hornets playing at a 2-15 pace in their last 17 games. Almost.
What's going wrong with the Hornets? Like so many teams the Blazers have faced recently, offense is a serious issue. Few points in the paint + few fast break points + no offensive rebounding + very few free throws attempted = absolutely nothing coming easy. The Hornets field some really nice three-point shooters. That's about it. But that's not nearly enough for a team generating the fewest possessions per game in the league. An ultra-efficient offense could get away with it. But the Hornets are bottom-third in offensive efficiency. They blow possessions and never get a chance to make up for it.
Adding to the New Orleans woes: the worst defensive efficiency in the league. All those easy buckets they don't score themselves they allow to the other team. Fast breaks, points in the paint, offensive rebounds...the cruelest irony of all is their 30th position in defending the three-pointer, their only corresponding offensive strength. A really good three-point shooter can fire at a 40% rate from the arc. New Orleans allows 40.7% from distance as a team. Everybody's Ray Allen against them.
The only high-percentage shooters from the field in the Hornets offense are their centers: starter Robin Lopez and reserve Anthony Davis. But they don't get a ton of plays called for them nor do they take a ton of shots. Power forward Ryan Anderson leads the team with 15 shot attempts per game but 8 of those come from beyond the arc. Staring point guard Greivis Vasquez barely clears 40% from the field. Shooting guards Austin Rivers and Roger Mason Jr. shoot well under 40%. They're basically three-point marksmen. Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and reserve point guard Brian Roberts are the only players bucking this trend and they only average 15 shot attempts and 17 points between them.
So what do the Blazers have to watch out for tonight? They have to be wary of being out-muscled by bigs in the lane, as always. Any legit center is a legit threat to Portland. If New Orleans found a way to control the paint they'd have a foothold on Easy Points Beach, the critical missing element to their attack. Portland devoting extra attention to the middle would also free up their otherwise-excellent three-point threats for open shots. Cascading is a possibility here, although remote.
In addition the Blazers must guard against taking this game for granted after an emotional win versus a great San Antonio club on national TV Thursday. Anybody remember the Sacramento Kings last Saturday? The Washington Wizards on the recent road trip? Portland is capable of letting down anytime, anywhere. If they do, they don't have the rotation to beat anybody, even New Orleans.
If the Blazers play with anything close to reasonable energy, though, the Hornets should go down to their 7th straight defeat and the Blazers will crawl within a game of .500.
At The Hive covers the Hornets for SBNation. Read more about Anthony Davis and company there.
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