Portland Trail Blazers (30-37) at Atlanta Hawks (37-31)
March 18, 2017, 3:00 PST
Watch: CSNNW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (probable), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Hawks injuries: Mike Dunleavy (out)
SBN Affiliate: Peachtree Hoops
Will the real Portland Trail Blazers please stand up?
Closing out a week that saw them get blown out by the 13th place New Orleans Pelicans before beating the 50-win Spurs on the road, the Blazers are back in action as they continue their last big road trip of the season against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks, currently holding steady in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, have had an up-and-down season, starting the year 9-2 before going through runs of 6-14, 9-1, and a current 11-12 stretch over the last eight weeks. They are only two games behind the Toronto Raptors for home-court advantage in the first round, and will be motivated to right the ship sooner rather than later.
The Hawks are led by their formidable frontcourt tandem of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. Millsap, an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season and rumored to be on the trading block earlier this season ahead of what will be a lucrative payday for his next contract, is having another stellar season - averaging 18 points and nearly eight rebounds. Millsap is one of the ultimate inside/outside players, with range out past the 3-point line, and makes an excellent frontcourt partner for first-year Hawk Dwight Howard.
Howard, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, has had a largely effective and drama-free year. While age and injury have robbed him of much of the athleticism that made him a perpetual DPOY and fringe MVP candidate, the player who remains is still a highly effective defender and rebounder, and one of the better pick-and-roll finishers in the league. Howard averages 13 points and 13 rebounds on 63 percent shooting. All but a handful of teams will take that out of their center seven days a week, and twice on Sunday.
After trading away Jeff Teague to Indiana as part of the George Hill trade, the Hawks turned over point guard duties to youngster Dennis Schroder. The move seems to have paid off, as Schroder for the most part has abandoned his inefficient ways and puts up nearly 18 points and six assists, shooting a career-high 46 percent from the floor.
At the wings, Atlanta features Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha. While Bazemore hasn’t lived up to the massive contract he signed in the offseason, he is a jack-of-all-trades wing with good defensive instincts. Unfortunately for Atlanta, he’s tended to settle for the mid-range jumper more often this season, a shot that he does not excel at. Sefolosha, primarily a defender, doesn’t look for his own shot on a regular basis, but can stick the jumper out to 3-point range if allowed to have open looks.
The Hawks’ reserve unit features Tim Hardaway Jr. —having a breakout season with 14 points per game—and Blazer-killer Ersan Ilyasova.
For the Blazers, Evan Turner has rejoined the team and is probable to make his return from a broken hand against Atlanta. It’s unknown whether or not he will return to the starting lineup, but it will be interesting to watch how well he meshes with Jusuf Nurkić in their first minutes together. Blazer fans may not see it this season, but Turner and Nurkić, with their mutual ability to find cutters, have an opportunity to form a fine two-man pairing in the future.
The Blazers will be eager to continue their improved level of play as they make a push for the Western Conference’s eighth seed. The team is 6-2* in their last eight games and is this close to the final stretch of the season, where they play 10 of 13 games at home. Since the tank clearly isn’t happening this season, Portland needs to win a couple tough games if they are going to catch Denver. They have an opportunity tonight to continue what they started in San Antonio.