Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
The most interesting thing about the New Jersey Nets coming to town is the battle of the standings: not for, but against. Normally at this time of year fans are rooting for their team to make a strong run towards the playoffs, watching teams just ahead of and behind their favorite squad in the standings. This spring there's no other team watched so closely in Portland as New Jersey. They're not in the same conference, they're not a factor in any post-season race, and the two teams aren't comparable in the standings. Instead this is all about Portland owning the Nets' top-three-protected first round pick this year. Blazers fans desperately want New Jersey to end up in the 4th position in the draft, the highest spot that would allow Portland to take their pick. Portland fans would probably take 5th but they definitely don't want 3rd. Meanwhile many Blazers fans are also hoping for Portland to get lucky in the lottery with their own pick, the odds of which would be helped by Portland losing some games. Since the Nets sit with the 6th-worst record in the league as we speak, a New Jersey loss would be nice. Portland has the 11th worst record. A loss for the Blazers wouldn't be all bad either. Sometimes commentators speculate that it's too bad there can't be two winners in a hard-fought game. Some Portland fans might lament that there can't be two losers tonight.
Fortunately that sentiment is not shared by the guys on the court. The Blazers have mixed wins and losses haphazardly through the recent schedule but the effort has been there every night. Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson, and Nicolas Batum have all joined LaMarcus Aldridge for star turns, frustrating opponents and demonstrating that the team isn't tanking. On the other hand those efforts have been intermittent enough that the Blazers haven't been able to gain ground on playoff-bound rivals. Portland sits in the dreaded "Better than New Orleans But Not As Good As Denver" zone.
New Jersey, meanwhile, has been piling on wins...four in the last week, albeit against the weaker sisters of the league. They seem to alternate between 100-point, defense-free score-fests and 85-point, grind-it-out slug-fests, until recently losing either way. They're happy with Deron Williams' 22 point, 9 assist average, not so much with his 41% shooting (down from 46% the year prior and a career low). They love new addition (and former Blazer) Gerald Wallace but they're hamstrung by season-long injuries to Brook Lopez. Kris Humphries, Jordan Farmar, and Anthony Morrow are pretty good. Gerald Green is having a nice enough year and he's on a real hot streak right now. Everybody else is an afterthought. They're thin, a little mismatched, ill-defined.
The biggest flaw in this team is an utter lack of easy buckets. They don't score on the break and they're last in the league in points in the paint. Having to manufacture every bucket they get outside of offensive rebound put-backs drags their shooting percentage into the toilet. They're only average at three-point shooting and drawing fouls. They work too hard and don't get paid off enough. Add in a bunch of turnovers and this offense is in trouble most nights.
New Jersey has no problem giving away points, however. They're lower-tier in fast break points allowed, even worse in points in the paint allowed. Granted, they're without centers and they've improved somewhat with Wallace on board, but it's still a sad story. They're dead last in the league in field goal percentage allowed, 29th out of 30 in three-point percentage allowed. They don't block shots, they're not that great at forcing turnovers, and their defensive rebounding is quite poor. Ugh.
In summation, New Jersey doesn't beat you, YOU beat you while New Jersey watches and collects the "W". If you make the game even slightly difficult for them you're going to end up ahead. If you play with such monumental ignorance and laziness that you allow them the easy buckets they crave, you deserve what you get. Yes, the Blazers are going to have to watch out for Gerald Wallace kicking their butts tonight, but even he shouldn't be enough to tip the scales in New Jersey's favor. The Blazers aren't great. The Nets aren't as bad as they were earlier in the year. But the gap hasn't closed enough that this game should be in doubt at home.
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