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Portland Trail Blazers at Charlotte Hornets Preview

Portland looks to continue their good road play in Charlotte against a struggling Hornets team.

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Houston Rockets Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (15-13) vs. Charlotte Hornets (10-18)

Saturday, December 16th - 4:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Hornets injuries: Cody Zeller (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: At the Hive

The Blazers travel to Charlotte to face the struggling Hornets. Both teams are playing their second game of a back-to-back. Portland won 95-88 last night in Orlando. The victory is their second in a row after a five game losing streak.

Charlotte lost at home Friday night to the Heat. The Hornets have had a disappointing season so far. They have lost nine of their last eleven, and only the lowly Bulls and Hawks have a worse record in the Eastern conference. They have been much better at home, however, where they are 8-7.

What to watch for

  • The point guard matchup. Both Portland and Charlotte are led by their point guards. Kemba Walker leads the Hornets with 22.2 points and 6.0 assists per game. Lillard has been red hot lately. He’s averaging 28.7 points per game in December while shooting 40 percent from three.
  • Guarding Howard in the post. Dwight Howard has had somewhat of a resurgence this season. He’s averaging 16.4 points—his most since his first year with Houston—and 12.4 rebounds per game. He’s getting twice the number of opportunities in the post than he did last year in Atlanta. Only Joel Embiid and LaMarcus Aldridge have more post up possessions per game than Howard. While his post play isn’t very efficient—he’s averaging 3.5 turnovers per game—Portland’s big men will need to stay out of foul trouble, especially if Nurkic remains on a minutes restriction (he played 25 minutes Friday night).
  • A sub-par bench. The Horents don’t have much sting outside of their starting lineup. Their bench has the third lowest net rating according to Rookie Malik Monk is only shooting 33 percent and has struggled to stay in the rotation. Frank Kaminsky is scoring 10.4 points off the bench but struggles on defense. Portland should look to capitalize when the starters, especially Kemba Walker, are sitting.

What they’re saying

Writing for At the Hive, Jonathan DeLong discussed Charlotte’s bad shooting late in close games.

On the season, the Hornets average 101.2 possessions per game, the ninth fastest pace in the league. In clutch situations, that number jumps up to 105.7, which is the fourth fastest mark in the league. On top of that, only 34.5 percent of the field goals the Hornets actually make in crunch time are assisted, nearly 20 percent lower than their normal, already poor rate. They also attempt a significantly higher number of 3’s.

It points to a problem that many eye tests have seen without the numbers to back it up. When the game is close late, the Hornets get in a hurry and settle for tough shots, largely from the hands of Kemba Walker. Kemba’s usage rate in the clutch is 40.6 percent, which isn’t uncommon for a team’s star player. Unfortunately, many of those possessions end in step back jump shots and contested 3’s off the dribble, which has led to his underwhelming field goal percentage down the stretch.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe listed the Hornets as something he didn’t like in his weekly “Ten things I like and don’t like” column:

Charlotte is down to 22nd in points per possession, with a predictable offense that hasn't evolved much -- in part because the personnel has stayed the same. It has regressed, really. Only 29 percent of Charlotte's shots have come from deep, fifth lowest in the league. They had the fourth-highest such share two seasons ago. They are dead last, or close, every season in corner 3s -- an inevitable result when your best 3-point shooters are either ball handlers who work up high (Walker, Batum), or guys who sets picks for them (Williams). When Walker sits, they are a G League team.

Hornets’ beat writer Rick Bonnell wondered in the Charlotte Observer if former Blazer Nicolas Batum would be better served sitting and allowing his elbow to heal more fully.

Batum came back after six weeks from a torn ligament in his left elbow. He keeps aggravating the injury, causing frequent pain and missed games. This limbo – not knowing sometimes until tip-off whether Batum is available – is counterproductive. The percentages suggest the injury affects his shooting (and probably his defense, too).

Batum and the team need to determine whether he can be effective in his current condition. If not, then maybe sit him for a period to see if more healing is required. Or perhaps even have the surgery he avoided back in October.