Portland Trail Blazers (44-22, No. 4 in the West) vs. Orlando Magic (21-49, No. 13 in the East)
Friday, March 20
Amway Center; Orlando, FL | 4:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Magic: Devyn Marble, Evan Fournier (day-to-day), Willie Green (day-to-day), Tobias Harris (day-to-day), Dewayne Dedmon (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Orlando Pinstriped Post | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers try to even their current five-game road trip at 2-2 tonight when they face the Orlando Magic in the first half of a back-to-back.
Portland started this East Coast jaunt out on the right foot Sunday, defeating the Raptors 113-97 in fairly convincing fashion. The Blazers won each quarter, and the game was never really in question after halftime.
The Wizards came out of the gate strong against Portland the next night, dominating the game for almost three quarters. The visiting Blazers fought back valiantly in the fourth, but their 25-point deficit from earlier in the game proved insurmountable in the end. Two nights later, Portland would cruise to a large lead over the Heat through three periods, only to see it crumble in the final minutes amid a troubled defense and lack of execution offensively.
To straighten out their last extended road trip of the season, the Blazers need to find a way to win one of the next two games. Friday's game is the second half of a back-to-back against the Grizzlies in Memphis -- the No. 2 team in the West and a squad that has had Portland's number the last several times they've played. Could the Blazers win? Sure, but the odds are stacked against them.
Tonight, however, Portland marches into Orlando for the fourth game of the road trip. If the Blazers are in need of a galvanizing victory, the Magic will present them their best opportunity over the next few games to get one.
Orlando has lost six in a row and 10 of its last 12 contests, the last win coming almost two weeks ago against Boston. The Magic haven't shot well as a team within the arc or featured good ball movement their last several games. They sometimes struggle with turning the ball over and have the eighth-lowest Offensive Rating in the NBA the last five games, according to NBA.com, though they play at one of the league's faster paces. Orlando has a few solid three-point shooters but as a team, the outside shooting doesn't provide a significant scoring threat on a nightly basis.
The Magic's defense has given up a lot of baskets via plenty of assists lately, while opposing teams have made 49.9 percent of their field goals against Orlando the last five games (No. 29 in the NBA) and 43.8 percent of their threes (No. 29). To their credit, the Magic have been forcing a decent amount of turnovers recently, able to capitalize with points in transition.
Orlando has been pretty banged up the last few weeks, as forwards Tobias Harris and Dewayne Dedmon each missed the last game due to injury, while guards Evan Fournier and Willie Green have been out for over a week; All four players are listed as "day-to-day" at this point and may not be able to suit up tonight.
The Magic are led by wing Victor Oladipo, center Nikola Vucevic and rookie point guard Elfrid Payton. Oladipo attacks the basket hard, rarely settling for midrange jumpers. Generally he's a good finisher but has only converted on half his field goals at the rim the last five games, down 6.9 percent from his season average. In that time, his three-point shooting has dipped to 28.6 percent. Still, his ability to penetrate allows teammates open jumpers and Oladipo has been fairly adept at finding them lately.
Vucevic, a 52.5 percent field goal shooter for the season, has made just 42.9 percent of his attempts the last five games, his normally solid touch near the rim faltering. Vucevic tends to drift out into the midrange for shots, which will likely be encouraged by Portland's defense tonight as he's made just 39.4 percent of his tries there the last several games. Vucevic gets a lot of easy points by fighting down low for offensive rebounds and scoring on second chances.
Payton, an outside contender for 2014-15 Rookie of the Year honors, is a nifty playmaker who can create both for himself and his teammates. He loves taking it to the rack but has struggled to finish recently, his jumper the more reliable shot in his arsenal the last couple weeks. Payton is Orlando's best passer but can also be pressured into turning the ball over.
Harris, the Magic's most efficient scorer, is a big threat inside and effective shooting from either corner. Unfortunately, he may not be available tonight with a sore left ankle.
Guard Ben Gordon and forward Kyle O'Quinn have benefited most from Orland's injury issues recently, both hitting about half their shots off the bench as interim coach James Borrego has been open about tinkering with his rotations down the stretch of this season.
Guard Luke Ridnour, small forward Maurice Harkless and big man Channing Frye have all shot efficiently off the bench for Borrego lately, but none of the three generally takes many attempts or plays more than 20 minutes a night as younger players have taken up the bulk of the playing time. Rookie forward Aaron Gordon brings up the end of the rotation, shooting well inside on limited chances.
The Blazers have been unable to put in a wire-to-wire, full-game effort their last two outings. The ball movement and shooting have generally been good. For the most part, Portland is getting decent or better looks.
The defense, on the other hand, has been the Achilles' heel for the team missing one of its best individual defenders in guard Wesley Matthews, coincidentally to an Achilles injury.
Portland's in the bottom-10 in the NBA in Defensive Rating the last five games, according to NBA.com. Opponents have made 47.3 percent of their field goals against the Blazers in that time and 38.5 percent of their threes.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge has done all he possibly can lately to carry his team, making 59.1 percent of his field goals and hauling in 11 boards a game the last five. Poor free throw shooting tarnished his 34 points on 15-for-24 shooting against the Heat, but it's never proven to be a long-term issue and he's still shooting a scorching 71.4 percent at the rim and 57.7 percent from the midrange the last couple weeks.
Point guard Damian Lillard has put up 19.2 points, 6.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game the last five, shooting a solid-but-not-spectacular 45.6 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from deep. Almost half his shots have come at or near the bucket in that time, but his finishing has taken a slight hit. The last time these two teams met in early January, Oladipo and Payton put the clamps on Lillard, holding him to 3-of-10 shooting from the floor and 2-for-8 shooting from outside. Eight made free throws somewhat salvaged his terrible shooting night, but four turnovers also marred the performance and he was clearly bothered by Payton's aggressiveness.
Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum have shot 46.4 and 44.4 percent from deep the last five games, respectively, keeping the Blazers' three-point attack afloat. Afflalo's struggled from the midrange, though, which has been billed as one of his bread-and-butter spots on the floor. Once he gets that part of his game going -- as long as he continues to hit threes at a respectable clip -- Portland will be able to more effectively and efficiently attack more defenses in what is generally their weakest point. Batum continues to rebound and pass well, also scoring inside at a solid rate on limited attempts.
Center Robin Lopez had his first underwhelming night shooting the ball in weeks, making just two of his five shots against the Heat on Wednesday, never establishing himself as a legit option. Big man Chris Kaman did, though, scoring nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and fighting for 13 rebounds. He's quietly putting together possibly his best offensive stretch of the season.
Portland coach Terry Stotts has been sticking with his 10-man rotation, going with Kaman leading the charge off the bench. Guard CJ McCollum, forward Dorell Wright, center Meyers Leonard and point guard Steve Blake have each averaged at least a dozen minutes a night the last five games. Those four combined to shoot just 5-of-15 for Stotts off the bench Wednesday night, which isn't likely to cut it unless the Blazers are getting mammoth efforts from the starters and Kaman.
Portland has been the league's third-best rebounding team by percentage the last five games, while the Magic have been mediocre on the boards by that same measure. Still, Vucevic is fast becoming one of the better young rebounders in the game and reeled in 16 misses the last time these two teams matched up a couple months ago, eight of them coming on the offensive end. Kaman, Aldridge, Leonard and Batum have all been solid for the Blazers on the glass lately, while Lopez' rebounding stats have slightly dropped off. Even so, Portland should have a decided advantage tonight on the boards -- doubly so if Dedmon and Harkless are both scratched for the contest -- and should be able to weather the impact of Vucevic.
The Blazers have been torched by wings the last couple games -- Miami's Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng, Washington's John Wall and Bradley Beal -- and while Oladipo and Payton could be considered among the best young defensive backcourts in the league with plenty of potential on the offensive end, Portland really needs to make an effort at slowing down Vucevic tonight. He dropped 34 points on 15-for-23 shooting in a January loss to the Blazers, about half his points coming off offensive rebounds and extended possessions.
If Portland can control the boards, limit turnovers and not let the Magic run them out of the gym the way the Wizards did a few days ago, the Blazers should be able to escape the Amway Center tonight with a victory. A win would also square Portland's road trip at 2-2 and provide the team with some much-needed confidence heading into Grind City tomorrow night to take on the Grizzlies.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter
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