Portland Trail Blazers (11-3) vs. Charlotte Hornets (4-11)
Wednesday, November 26
Time Warner Cable Arena; Charlotte, NC | 4:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Hornets: Gary Neal (doubtful), P.J. Hairston (probable), Jeff Taylor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
SBN Affiliate: At the Hive | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers end their three-game road trip today against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Cable Warner Arena.
Portland comes in with an eight-game win streak intact on the heels of a 114-104 win against the Sixers in which the Blazers trailed at halftime. The Hornets have dropped six straight contests and eight of their last nine, putting them at 4-11 for the season.
In a come-from-behind, 102-100 victory over Charlotte at home two weeks ago, the Blazers rode the efforts of their All-NBA, All-Star duo of point guard Damian Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Down by 23 at one point, Portland heated up while the Hornets cooled down, setting the stage for a fourth quarter in which Charlotte led for about nine minutes. Backup point guard Steve Blake canned a three with just over three minutes remaining to put the Blazers up 96-97, and they salted the game away with a couple of Aldridge layups and a free throw from backup big man Joel Freeland.
The Hornets, as a team, are all sorts of discombobulated right now. In their last five games, their average scoring margin has been -11.2 points. In that time, they rank No. 21 in the league in assists per game (20.2), No. 27 in rebounds (37.4), No. 27 in points (90.2), No. 24 in field goal percentage (43.6 percent) and No. 23 in three-point shooting percentage (32 percent).
Charlotte's defense hasn't fared much better in that stretch, giving up a ton of points and offensive rebounds while allowing opponents to shot 49 percent from the floor (No. 29 in the NBA) and 36.8 percent from outside (No. 21). Though they've struggled this year otherwise, the Hornets do a decent job of defending the paint and preventing easy fastbreak points while hardly sending opponents to the free throw line.
Center Al Jefferson has paced Charlotte in scoring (19.2 points per game) and rebounds (9) the last five games, hitting almost half his field goals. Most of his shots come within the paint, and a third of them come right at the rim where he's struggled a bit lately. Jefferson is a willing jumpshooter if given midrange shots, but hasn't had much of a touch from further than 10 feet out the last several games. He shot 9-of-18 against Portland a couple weeks ago, converting a few times at the rim but attempting plenty of jumpers. The Blazers should do all they can to prevent Jefferson from getting touches down low, because he's a very capable scorer near the basket.
Point guard Kemba Walker is going through some shooting woes right now, averaging 13.6 field goal attempts his last five games but making just 36.8 percent of them, including 26.1 percent of his threes. Walker is usually somewhat aggressive attacking the rim -- where he's hit almost two-thirds of his shots the last five games -- but he's relied on his jumper more the last couple weeks. His penetration in the loss to the Blazers was limited, and he ended up firing off about a dozen jumpers, ending the night 6-of-16 from the floor. Like Jefferson, Walker is less effective the more he relies on his jumpshot.
Absent guard Gary Neal and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist recently, Charlotte's supporting cast has been inconsistent. Starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson fills out the stat sheet, averaging 13.8 points, 6 rebounds and 5.8 assists his last five games, but that's while shooting 35.8 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from beyond the three-point line. In a loss to the Clippers Tuesday night, Stephenson finished 1-of-8 for three points. He shot mostly jumpers against Portland, making 5-of-10 shots and ending with 14 points.
Small forward Gerald Henderson has shot 41.5 percent from the floor the last five games but has made 36.4 percent of his threes. Starting power forward Marvin Williams has been good for 46.7 percent of his attempts in that span, though he only takes about six shots a game. The Blazers will have to keep an eye on him around the perimeter, because he stretches opposing defenses out by taking several three-pointers a night while cashing in on half of them the last five games. Williams was a non-factor against Portland in the last meeting, shooting just two shots while the trio of Jefferson, Walker and Stephenson got the bulk of the touches.
Backup point guard Brian Roberts hasn't scored much lately, specifically struggling with his outside shot, but Hornets coach Steve Clifford values him more for his defense and ability to run the offense. Expect Roberts to play about 20 minutes off the bench tonight. Backup center Cody Zeller has been solid off the pine, hitting over half his attempts in limited touches. He led Charlotte Tuesday against the Clippers with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, stretching out to the midrange for about half his shots.
Center Bismack Biyombo has worked his way into Clifford's rotation, but rarely gets touches offensively. Point guard Jannero Pargo may see a couple minutes and guard rookie P.J. Hairston is probable tonight after missing several games with an ankle injury. He's been inconsistent from the field but has shown promise with his outside shot, hitting 38.5 percent of his threes in eight appearances this year.
The Blazers have been on a trajectory opposite the Hornets' lately, out-scoring and out-rebounding opponents significantly the last several weeks. Over the last five games, Portland has averaged 24.4 assists and limited opponents to 18 per game, while holding advantages in field goal percentage (46.8 percent vs. 41.7 percent) and three-point shooting (38.3 percent vs. 20.9 percent). According to ESPN.com, the Blazers are No. 3 in the NBA in offensive efficiency this year and No. 7 in defensive efficiency.
Lillard's shooting has cooled off a bit the first two games of this East Coast road trip, sitting at 48.5 percent from the floor and 48.1 percent his last five contests, struggling in Boston on Sunday and playing more passively against the 76ers the next night. Lillard dropped 29 points on the Hornets two weeks ago, though, making 12 of his 21 shots and five of his eight three-pointers.
Aldridge picked up 25 points and 14 rebounds against Charlotte and has been good for 48.6 percent of his field goals the last five outings. His jumper has been inconsistent in that time, and he's had to hit the paint for a decent amount of his points.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews showed some promise with his offense against Boston a couple days ago, but followed that up with a 6-for-16 performance -- while missing six of his eight three-point tries -- the next night in Philadelphia. He's been up-and-down lately, his outside shot not falling as well as it did early in the season, but Matthews has been best when he's able to overpower his defender. Stephenson and Neal largely kept him out of the paint two weeks ago, holding him to 5-for-15 shooting.
Wing Nicolas Batum's shot has been a bit flat since he sat out several games the last couple weeks with a knee contusion, and he continued to struggle against the Sixers Monday, but ended up with six points and six assists.
Center Chris Kaman has been the scoring spark off the bench coach Terry Stotts has needed, but his shooting has been less efficient the last several games. Starter Robin Lopez has been the more accurate shooter, making 61.7 percent of his shots the last five games, and he's demonstrated a nice touch in the pick-and-roll game. Kaman was more of an aggressor against the Hornets the last time the two teams faced, hitting 6-of-10 shots compared to 2-of-5 for Lopez.
Blake, backup guard Allen Crabbe and big man Joel Freeland round out Stotts' typical rotation. The three-year coach of the Blazers has rotated in wings Will Barton and Dorell Wright on a situational basis, seemingly based on game-to-game matchups and performances in practice. Barton's been the better scorer lately. Blake has had a rough time from the field recently, including an 0-fer night against the Sixers, but his passing and defense keeps him in games. In an excellent article published here on Monday, Willy Raedy outlined why Crabbe has picked up so many wing minutes lately. Essentially, he's aware of his role in Stotts' offense and plays it consistently while keeping the ball moving and putting in solid effort on the defensive end. Expect Blake, Kaman, Crabbe and Freeland to get the majority of the reserve minutes tonight, barring injury.
The Hornets scoop up a solid portion of available defensive rebounds, but they don't do well on the offensive boards at all. Biyombo and Jefferson are great individual rebounders, and Stephenson is good for his position. The Blazers excel at rebounding on both ends, with Kaman, Aldridge and Lopez leading the way. Freeland is a very effective offensive rebounder in limited minutes. In their earlier meeting with Charlotte this season, Portland held a 48-38 overall advantage on the glass while overpowering the Hornets on the offensive boards, 15-6.
The Blazers have cruised to eight straight victories, but five of those games needed big fourth quarters for Portland to come through, particularly the matchup with Charlotte two weeks ago. The Blazers will have to keep the Hornets out of the paint and try to push Jefferson and Walker toward the perimeter as much as possible. If those two and Stephenson get their offense going at home, Portland could be in trouble.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, they're still trying to work out the kinks in their offense and get their defense back to respectability, while the Blazers are one of the hottest teams in the league. Still, they can't look past tonight's matchup, because the Hornets certainly have enough firepower to put points on the board and they have the framework to field a good defense if things finally click for them this season.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter