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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Charlotte Hornets Preview

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As the Portland Trail Blazers' four-game road trip continues, they face off against the Hornets and former Blazer Nicolas Batum. Can they escape Charlotte with a win?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (4-6) vs Charlotte Hornets (4-5)
Sunday, November 15
The Time Warner Cable Arena | 2 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury reportMeyers Leonard (Out) | Charlotte injury report: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Out), Cody Zeller (Questionable) SBN Affiliate: At the HiveBlazer's Edge Night 2016

The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Charlotte Hornets in the second game of a four-game road trip on this afternoon. The Blazers will be trying to get back in the win column after losing a heartbreaker against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night, their fourth consecutive defeat.

The Charlotte Hornets have had an up and down season to this point, starting the year off with three consecutive defeats before winning four of their next five contests. While they have a middling defense, ranked No. 16 in the NBA with a DRtg of 103.8 (basketball-reference.com), the Hornets' offense has been a pleasant surprise, generating a 105.0 ORtg, good for No. 9 in the league. The Hornets are also the NBA's best at taking care of the ball, only turning it over 11.7 times per contest.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the Hornets' offensive success is that it is being driven by a lot of new team members. Of the ten Hornets players averaging double digit minutes-per-game, five were not with the team last year. Traditionally this type of roster turnover can lead to on-court turnovers, as players adapt to one another (as Blazer fans are seeing so far this year).

Former Trail Blazer Nicolas Batum is among those newcomers who is having success in Charlotte. Playing shooting guard instead of his traditional small forward role, Batum is the Hornets' leading scorer, dropping in 16 points per game, to go along with 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.2 steals. Batum is also hitting the 3-pointer at a 43 percent clip, averaging just under five attempts per game.

Bench wing Jeremy Lamb, acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Luke Ridnour, has emerged as a legitimate scoring threat in the sixth-man role, averaging 13.4 points per game on 55 percent shooting, including 42 percent from the 3-point line. To a degree, Lamb is merely taking advantage of the first consistent minutes of his career, but a closer look shows that he is taking a larger percentage of his shots within three feet of the rim, while continuing to opportunistically shoot the 3-pointer.

As the Hornets look to play small and maximize the 3-pointer, Marvin Williams moves into the stretch four slot. Fortunately for Charlotte, Williams is currently shooting lights-out from 3-point land, hitting at a 42 percent clip. He is also rebounding at a higher rate than ever before, pulling in 7.8 boards per contest. Defensively, Williams uses his length to pester opponents and, while he'll never be confused with a traditional power forward, he does an adequate job challenging shots and denying entry passes.

P.J. Hairston starts at the small forward position, taking more than 60 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, and only hitting 26 percent of them. As Hairston continues to struggle, Coach Steve Clifford continues to limit his minutes, only giving him around 18 per night.

Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson are the two holdovers from last year's starting lineup. Theoretically the Hornets are "their" team, but these two veterans are being outplayed by some of the aforementioned players, with Walker averaging 15 points on 38 percent shooting, and Jefferson averaging 12.7 points and 6.6 rebounds. Fortunately for Charlotte, both players are notoriously slow starters each season, so the odds are high that both players will start to perform closer to their expected levels as the season continues.

The downside to this expected increase in performance is that both players need the ball in their hands to produce. Walker is a notorious high-volume shooter and Jefferson is one of the bigger black holes in the league. Once he gets the ball in the post, it's not coming back out. Clifford has a major challenge this season in ensuring that both players stay engaged while encouraging the more team-oriented basketball that the Hornets are currently.

The Charlotte's bench features scoring point guard Jeremy Lin and a trio of jump shooting big men - Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes, and rookie Frank Kaminsky. By necessity Zeller has worked to take most of his shots in the paint, but shoots more naturally from 16 feet out. Lin is having a typical "Jeremy Lin" type year, averaging 12 points per game.

The Blazers are coming off of a tough loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, where they rallied back from a fourth quarter deficit to take a one-point lead in the closing seconds only to have a Zach Randolph offensive rebound/putback make it all for naught.

After Chris Kaman got the start for the injured Meyers Leonard against Memphis, look for Coach Terry Stotts to go small against Charlotte. This means possibly starting Ed Davis with Mason Plumlee in the front court (trading some defensive quickness for some offensive spacing) or even starting Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward and opting to start Gerald Henderson or Maurice Harkless at small forward.

Portland has lost four games in a row and after they face Charlotte, they will face the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets on the road, and then return home to face the Los Angeles Clippers. It is quite conceivable that the Blazers will be looking at eight consecutive losses if they don't get a win tonight against the Hornets.

Keys to Blazer victory

CJ McCollum has a two-to-one assist/turnover ratio: CJ has been scoring consistently whether the Blazers are winning or losing, but his assists are down from 3.5 to 2 per game during the losing streak. Additionally, CJ is turning the ball over much more frequently as he tries to take his man off the dribble, including four against both the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, and eight against Memphis on Friday.

McCollum shouldn't try to be something he's not, which is instant offense, but he does need to get other players involved as defenses learn to key in on him.

Perimeter defense: Charlotte likes the 3-pointer, ranking eighth in attempts and seventh in percentage. Portland is going to have to not only do a great job closing out on shooters, but actively denying their shooters the ball in the first place. Should Stotts decide to go with Aminu at the four, he matches well with Marvin Williams on the perimeter, but Lillard and McCollum are going to have their work cut out for them against Batum and Walker, who average 8.5 attempts per game between them.

Force Batum to make mistakes: While Batum is prone to mental lapses and disappearing for long stretches, he'll likely be locked in while going against the club that traded him away this past offseason. Batum can still be pressured into making mistakes, and struggles against defensive pressure while handling the ball. He can be forced into lazy cross court passes as well as difficult jump shots when he is trying to get his offense going. When "good Batum" is in the game, he can help his team in a multitude of ways; it will be critical for the Blazers to take him out of his element as much as possible. The Blazers may want to look to switch up McCollum with Henderson or Allen Crabbe for stretches if Jeremy Lamb and Batum are in the game together consistently tonight.