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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Charlotte Hornets Preview

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Charlotte comes to town on the second night of back-to-back to take on the Blazers.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Utah Jazz Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (16-24) vs. Charlotte Hornets (15-26)

Monday, January 13 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Skal Labissiere (out), Mario Hezonja (questionable), Hassan Whiteside (probable)
Hornets injuries: None
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: At The Hive

The Portland Trail Blazers have lost eight out of their last ten games and need a victory badly. With a difficult road trip looming to Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City, failure against Charlotte at home is simply not an option.

In their last game, the spirited Blazers were outclassed against the Milwaukee Bucks, losing by a score of 122-101. Against the Hornets the Blazers should find an opponent on a more equal footing.

Though Charlotte’s record is not all that different from the Blazers, they certainly feel better about themselves right now than Portland. With young talent, expiring contracts and zero expectations for this year, Charlotte fans are excited about the future and are enjoying the present, win or lose. Their last game was a loss, 100-92 against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night in Phoenix .

What to watch for

  • If the Blazers get a lead, they need to be extra diligent to keep it. The Hornets aren’t a great team, but they do have a hidden superpower: they win close games. Along with that, they make games close that appeared to be over. It goes both ways. They’ve shown an ability to stage dramatic comebacks, but they’ve also blown big leads. The Blazers haven’t been very good at holding on to big leads themselves; they need to do better against Charlotte if they get one. Read more about the Hornets’ penchant for clutch performances in What The’re Saying below.
  • Height advantage? The Blazers have been coming up short lately in more ways than one. Against the Milwaukee Bucks for example, Portland didn’t have a single player on the court over 6’8”, and did it ever show. While as of this writing it isn’t known for certain if Hassan Whiteside will play, the Blazers would seem to match up better against the Hornets regardless. While Charlotte has four players over 6’8” on their roster, none are starters and only one (power forward Cody Zeller at 22.9 minutes) averages over 20 minutes per game. If Whiteside is able to play, the Blazers might have a height advantage much of the night for probably the first time in months.
  • Perimeter defense. Without a bunch of height under the basket, who is carrying the scoring load for the Hornets? Their two shortest players, naturally. Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier are the only Charlotte players averaging over 15 points per game, and they are both listed at 6’1”. Not allowing the them open looks and swatting away shots when they penetrate will be vitally important for Portland. Preventing these two from having big nights will go a long way towards securing a Portland victory.

What they’re saying

Folks in Charlotte are pretty excited about some of their young talent, especially Devonte’ Graham and PJ Washington. Zachary Padmore of Swarm and Sting takes a closer look:

This leads me to a question — which player is the better long-term prospect for the franchise? Now hold on, I know that the Hornets have both, and they are lucky to have that, but still, it doesn’t hurt to debate and come up with our own opinions on the two.

The Hornets are young but competitive according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:

Arguably, the most surprising thing about this season is they are top-10 in the NBA in net rating in clutch time; the only team with a losing record in that top 10. The players who make them that way — Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier and P.J. Washington — are young keepers, not the veterans whose contracts are about to expire. That says good things about the rebuild general manager Mitch Kupchak is overseeing. Twelve of the Hornets’ 15 victories so far were decided in clutch time (the last five minutes of a game, when the margin is five points or less) including the recent overtime victory at Dallas.

Jonathan DeLong of At the Hive has more about how the Hornets are coming through in the clutch at a remarkable rate:

53.3% of the Hornets’ wins this season have been by three points or less. No team in the last five-plus seasons has touched 40% in that mark.