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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Charlotte Hornets Preview

The Blazers look to swarm the Hornets when they visit the Moda Center Friday night.

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (25-17) vs. Charlotte Hornets (19-21)

Friday, January 11 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Maurice Harkless (out), Damian Lillard (Upgraded to active)
Hornets injuries: Devonte’ Graham (day-to-day), 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

Update: Lillard is playing tonight.

The Portland Trail Blazers hope to close out a successful home stand with a fourth straight win on Friday. The Blazers are 3-1 during their current 5-game home stretch and have won five of their last six games overall.

At 19-21 the Charlotte Hornets are currently in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They will be playing their fourth game of a six-game Western Conference road trip. The Hornets have hovered consistently around .500 all season, never getting more than one game over or two games under the mark. A Blazer win on Friday would put Charlotte three games under .500 for the first time this season.

What to watch for

  • The point guard matchup. Both starting point guards are averaging more than 25 points per game this season: Kemba Walker scores 25.1 ppg; Damian Lillard scores 25.9 ppg. Walker has cooled off a bit from his hot start (he averaged 30.1 ppg in October), but he’s still the driving force behind Charlotte’s 10th-ranked offense. Lillard has been shooting poorly lately—only 35.8 percent since the calendar switched to 2019—but he’s been distributing the ball very well, averaging 9.8 assists during the current home stretch. Lillard is listed as questionable for the game.
  • Three-point shooting. Charlotte and Portland both shoot well from distance, but the Hornets shoot more frequently (32.6 vs. 30.4 attempts per game). Both teams have also struggled defending three-pointers in different ways. The Blazers currently rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage against (36.7 percent). However, they have improved in that area recently with teams shooting only 32 percent from distance against them over the last eight games (which includes two games against the Warriors). The Hornets rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point attempts given up. While teams aren’t shooting a great percentage against them overall (34 percent), they give up 12.4 threes on 37 percent shooting when on the road.
  • The Hornets’ road woes. Charlotte’s 3-point defense isn’t the only statistic that gets worse for them when they are away from the Spectrum Center. Their defense allows 116.7 points on the road (vs. 108.3 at home). While Kemba Walker has similar scoring numbers his shooting drops from 45.6 percent at home to 41.8 on the road. Charlotte’s road record of 5-13 is the worst among current playoff teams, and they haven’t had a meaningful road win since November 11 in Detroit. Their only road wins since then have been in Phoenix (last Sunday) and New York (Dec. 9).

What they’re saying

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer wrote about how the Hornets will replace injured starting center Cody Zeller:

Neither [Willy Hernangomez or Bismack Biyombo] provides the reliability the Hornets get from a healthy Cody Zeller at center. Zeller is out for more than a month with a fractured right hand, and this now has to be center-by-committee, including power forward Marvin Williams.

Hernangomez has more upside than Biyombo or Frank Kaminsky. He got the first turn as starter when Zeller was hurt, and didn’t close the deal. He has the tools, but so far lacks the consistency, particularly on defense. Biyombo is still an NBA player, and figures to be for several more seasons, but he’s not someone you picture in a long-term plan.

The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler discussed risks and rewards of re-signing upcoming free agent Kemba Walker:

Obviously, the Hornets would like to keep their best player around. I’d ultimately advocate that they do that. Keeping Kemba, to me, remains the best percentage play.

But I don’t think tying up $35 million of owner Michael Jordan’s money in any player outside of the top five guys in the NBA makes much sense, and Kemba doesn’t fit in that category.

Either way, there’s major risk. Kemba is the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. But he needs more help, and it’s been that way for seven years.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News reports that the Hornets are willing to trade former lottery pick Frank Kaminsky but would like to unload one of their bad contracts when they do so:

Teams have expressed interest, including some contenders, but the Hornets would most prefer to put the money remaining on Kaminsky’s $3.6 million deal with another big salary. Charlotte, according to league sources, is desperate to get out of the two years and $52 million remaining on Nicolas Batum’s salary, and at least one team was told that Kaminsky could be had if Batum were included.

The Hornets would also like to move the $17 million owed in 2019-20 to center Bismack Biyombo. That’s a tough sell, getting another team to take that money in order to acquire a guy who will be a restricted free agent in the summer and does not appear to fit into his coach’s plans. Charlotte would need to lower its asking price.