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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Atlanta Hawks Preview

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The Blazers look to avenge last week’s embarrassing loss to the Hawks.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (19-18) vs. Atlanta Hawks (10-27)

Friday, January 5th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (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

The Blazers return home after a three-game road trip, where their only win was an overtime victory over the 13-25 Chicago Bulls, to face the Atlanta Hawks. With only 10 wins the Hawks have the NBA’s worst record, but they just beat Portland last week in one of the Blazers’ worst losses of the season.

Both teams enter Friday’s game with an extra day of rest: Portland fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, while Atlanta lost in Phoenix on the same night. The Hawks visit the Moda Center with a 3-16 road record.

What to watch for

  • Damian Lillard. Lillard sat out last week’s loss in Atlanta. Overall, Portland went 3-2 in the games he missed, but they did not look as good as that record may indicate. Dame returned against the Cavs, scoring 25 points and shooting 6-for-9 from three in 33 minutes. Lillard reportedly felt a cramp in the right calf he injured but is expected to play. Having their leader back on the floor will go a long way in helping the Blazers make up for Saturday’s road loss.
  • 3-point shooting. Both Atlanta and Portland rank in the top 10 in 3-point percentage at 38.1 and 37.1 percent, respectively. However, in last week’s matchup, the Hawks had a major advantage from behind the arc. They made 14-of-30 threes compared to the Blazers’ 7-of-25. Portland will need to shoot better and make more of an effort contesting threes this time around.
  • Bench production. Atlanta’s bench outscored Portland’s 41 to 23 in last week’s loss. That could be somewhat excused by Lillard’s injury moving Shabazz Napier to the starting lineup (he led the team in scoring with 21 points), but the Blazers have struggled to get positive production from their bench all season. They rank 25th in the league in bench points with 28.3 per game; Atlanta is ninth with 39.1. Will anyone step up for Portland when the starters rest Friday night?

What they’re saying

Greg Willis of Peachtree Hoops wrote about how Dennis Schroder’s improved play contributed to the Hawks’ strong finish to December:

From the beginning of the season, the young point guard looked free and aggressive. He was filling the stat sheet with shot attempts, points and assists. But point guards carry a heavy responsibility. They are expected to carry a load in terms of offensive production, but they are also expected to make the players around them better. Early in the season, Schroder was succeeding at the first and seemed to be struggling with the second.

Through the month of November, Schroder seemed to be making an attempt to transform his game towards balancing his aggressiveness on offense with an effort to distribute the basketball. The short-term result was shooting inconsistencies and increased turnovers.

In December, Schroder’s game changed as he nearly cut his turnovers is half. Importantly, he didn’t cut his turnovers by playing more passively. His scoring continued to be strong, his assists increased from 6.6 per game to 7.0 per game and he turned the ball over just 1.6 times per game. The result for December, and assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.3, which ranked first among NBA point guards who started more than five games in December.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore wrote about Taurean Prince’s improved three-point shooting:

Prince is shooting 41.8 percent (69-of-165) from 3-point range this season, the 27th best percentage in the NBA. He ranks third on the Hawks in percentage behind Dewayne Dedmon (.483 on 29 attempts) and Luke Babbitt (.441 on 93 attempts).

Prince points out that he’s always been a good 3-point shooter, with a .376 percentage during his 129-game career at Baylor. He said he needed some time to adjust to the longer NBA distance.

However, there was other work needed to get such drastic results. He said assistant coach Ben Sullivan worked on his hand placement on the ball and his balance.

“Two feet up, two feet down,” Prince said. “Last year, if you go back and look at the clips, I was landing on one foot when I shot the ball. It’s all about balance.”

Chris Guest wrote about Atlanta rookie John Collins’ improvement for Soaring Down South:

Collins is first on the Hawks in Player Efficiency Rating, which is a measure of per-minute production normalized to provide a league average of 15. JC clocks in with a magnificent 21.2 PER, which paces the Hawks by more than 2 points and is 25th overall in the league and easily the highest among rookies.

When Collins is on the floor, the Hawks are a completely different basketball team. As the most threatening pick-and-roll finisher on the team, Collins draws a lot of attention, and his usage percentage has also increased since early in the season, as he is now 4th on the Hawks in usage at 20.2 percent, behind only Schröder (29.3%), Bazemore (21.7%) and Belinelli (21.5%).

Another of Collins’s major strengths on the offensive end is his innate ability to fight through traffic and nab offensive rebounds at an impressive clip. JC always seems to be in the right place at the right time to grab boards on the offensive end and provide his team the opportunity to score some second chance points.