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Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Preview

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The Blazers hope to end 2017 with a three-game winning streak.

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (18-16) at Atlanta Hawks (9-26)

Saturday, December 30 - 4:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (questionable), Noah Vonleh (probable), Meyers Leonard (probable)
Hawks injuries: Dewayne Dedmon (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: Peachtree Hoops

After breaking a six-game home losing streak with a dramatic come-from-behind win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Blazers are heading back on the road to face the Hawks. Portland has now won two in a row and will look to finish 2017 on a positive note.

With only nine wins this season, Atlanta owns the league’s worst record. They have played better lately and have won three of their last four at home. Saturday’s game will be the Hawks’ second in a back-to-back. They lost 111-98 on the road against the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

What to watch for

  • The better rookie Collins. The Blazers traded up to draft Gonzaga prospect Zach Collins with the No. 10 pick this past summer. The Hawks drafted John Collins out of Wake Forest with the No. 19 pick. Through the first few months of the season, it appears Atlanta got the much better Collins. While ZC has shown some promise recently, he’s only appeared in 18 games, is shooting less than 40 percent, and has often been a step (or two) slow on defense. JC has been a key contributor for the Hawks. He’s averaging 11.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in 23 minutes a game while shooting 61.7 percent from the field (good for fourth in the league). The 6-foot-10 forward leads all rookies with 84 offensive rebounds and has given Hawks fans some highlight reel dunks.
  • Schröd(ing)er’s point guard. Dennis Schröder, now in his fifth year, continues to improve. The 24-year-old point guard leads the Hawks in scoring with 19.1 points (sixth among point guards league-wide). He’s averaging a career-best 6.7 assists per game and also taking care of the ball with his lowest turnover rate of his career. Schröder’s season illustrates the paradox of the point guard having a career year while also losing at a career-high rate.
  • Will Dame play? Damian Lillard was scheduled to return from injury on Thursday against the 76ers, but he was a late scratch after testing his strained right hamstring in a pre-game warm up. Lillard plans to test it before Saturday’s game before making a decision. The Blazers have managed to win two of three with Lillard out, although they haven’t played as well as that record may indicate. They needed a huge fourth quarter to come from behind against Philadelphia and looked lost for much of their win against the Lakers last week. One bright spot from Lillard’s absence is it’s provided Shabazz Napier an opportunity. The backup point guard has averaged 19.3 points in the games Lillard has missed and scored 20+ in each of Portland’s two wins.

What they’re saying

ESPN’s Zach Lowe included Hawks reserve DeAndre’ Bembry dribbling as something he doesn’t like in his weekly “10 things I like and don't like” column:

Bembry has dished 26 assists and barfed away 36 turnovers. He has coughed it up on (gulp) 37.9 percent of the pick-and-rolls he has finished with a shot, drawn foul, or turnover -- the very worst mark in the league.

Bembry is either overestimating the speed and dexterity of his handle, or underestimating the speed and dexterity of NBA athletes. When he slides the ball too far out in front of his chest, presumably to kick-start some sort of evasive maneuver, defenders snatch it. He tries to slither through corridors only the canniest ball handlers navigate unscathed.

Bembry also throws some of the saddest wayward crosscourt lobs you will see in the NBA -- lollipops so soft, multiple defenders have time to debate which of them should steal the ball.

Atlanta drafted Oregon Duck star Tyler Dorsey in the second round of this summer’s draft. He has played sparingly for the Hawks and spent most of the season with team’s G-League affiliate. Sam Meredith of Peachtree Hoops wrote about his promising development:

During his time in basketball’s minor leagues, Dorsey has posted a stat-stuffed scorecard of 19 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.5 APG and 1.4 steals in over 33 minutes a game. Dorsey is also hitting 3.5 three pointers per game at a 43 percent clip for Erie. However, the Hawks already knew he could score, and were really more interested in focusing his development in ball handling and on defense, albeit against G League competition, which Dorsey has done beautifully. Every game Dorsey plays for the Bayhawks, fans can take away something new from his game that he showcases including post-ups, running the offense as a point guard, showing off his handle and raining down three pointers.