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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Charlotte Hornets Preview

The Blazers look to get back on track at home after three straight road losses.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (29-25) vs. Charlotte Hornets (23-30)

Thursday, February 8th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (questionable)
Hornets injuries: Marvin Williams (day-to-day)
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 return to Portland licking their wounds after an 0-3 Eastern Conference road trip. Portland had two days of rest after losing in Detroit on Monday. Despite their three-game losing streak, the Blazers have won their last eight games at the Moda Center.

Charlotte is in the third game of a four-game Western Conference road trip. They lost in Denver on Monday but had won their previous three games.

The two teams met in Charlotte in mid-December with the Blazers prevailing 93-91.

What to watch for

  • Who will suit up? With the NBA trade deadline being at noon pacific time on Feb. 8, there is some uncertainty surrounding the rosters of both teams. Charlotte already made one trade, acquiring center Willy Hernangomez from the Knicks for Johnny O’Bryant and two second-round picks. Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are two of the many players across the league that have been linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but there are no indications that any deal is on the table. For Portland, Moe Harkless has been named as a player to watch at the deadline, but there has been no movement so far.
  • The red-hot Hornets offense. Overall for the season the Hornets are in the middle of the league for scoring. Their 106.4 points per game is 14th best in the NBA. Recently, however, they’ve been lighting up the scoreboard. They are averaging 118.8 points in their last four games, but this increase in scoring isn’t limited to just the past couple weeks. They were a top-10 scoring team in January and have scored more than 120 points six times in 2018. For comparison, Portland has scored more than 120 points only five times all season.
  • All-Star point guards. Both Portland and Charlotte are led by dynamic scoring point guards. Neither guard played particularly well in their first matchup this season: Lillard scored 18 points on 7-for-19 shooting, while Kemba Walker scored 14 points while going 7-for-26 from the field. Lillard added 11 assists, but committed six turnovers. Both guards have been playing exceptionally in recent weeks. In his last 10 games, Lillard is averaging 25.6 points while shooting 42.5 percent on eight 3-point attempts per game. Walker’s numbers in his last 10 games are even better: He’s averaging 28 points, putting up 9.5 threes per game, and hitting 42.1 percent of them. Walker’s hot streak has come at just the right time, as he is one of the top candidates to replace Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis in the All-Star game.

What they’re saying

At the Hive’s Evan Dyal compares the numbers for Hornets back-up point guards Michael Carter-Williams and Malik Monk:

MCW is better on defense, and his passing is more valuable on offense. Especially on a team that already struggles with assists and ball movement. Add it up, and MCW net rating of -4.1 is not nearly as bad as Monk’s -16.5. As bad of a scorer as MCW is, he should be getting back up point guard minutes ahead of Monk. If the Hornets don’t address this position at the trade deadline, and continue to a playoff push, MCW should remain the backup.

But Hornets fans shouldn’t give up on Monk. As Steve Clifford said, he is “An elite shot maker.” Early in the season, he showed what he could do when he gets hot with two explosions against Milwaukee and at New York. He still reminds me a lot of C.J. McCollum, who only averaged two points a game as a rookie. If the season does go off the rails, I would try to find him some more minutes off the ball. In particular, I like playing him with Nicolas Batum, who would be the point guard and handle the passing duty. Monk could act as a gunner. For now, let him learn on the bench, or in Greensboro, but most importantly, keep the faith.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer talked to Nic Batum about his recent improved play:

He also knows the past nine games have represented a turnaround for him, and the underlying reason is obvious to him: Since returning from six weeks of medical leave, Hornets coach Steve Clifford has made it a priority to get the ball into Batum’s hands early in games.

“Cliff is back. I have been saying that for a while, you know,” Batum said of the cause of his upswing in performance. “It has been tough for me the first two months, with the injury (a torn ligament in his left elbow in the preseason). (Now) Cliff is back. He knows me and I know him, so I have been playing way better the last two or three weeks.

“I don’t want just plays to score. When you get me involved early in a game, I can do this ball-movement stuff,” Batum said following practice Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “Like (Friday’s victory over the Indiana Pacers): I scored, yes (31 points), but we were moving. There wasn’t a lot of one-on-one play. I don’t know how many assists we had in the first quarter, but it had to be a lot.”