Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) vs Charlotte Hornets (4-2)
The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, the first time the Blazers are leaving the West Coast this season. The Blazershad two big wins against the Grizzlies and Clippers and are hoping to improve on that momentum in this game. The Hornets are coming off of a loss to the Miami Heat, hoping to get back to their success out of the gate, as they started 3-0.
What To Watch For
- Defense. In the last few years, whenever the Blazers’ defense was brought up, it was almost never positive. However, so far this season, the Blazers are sixth in defensive rating. Five games is a small sample size, but could this be a sign of things to come? The Blazers have played some high-level offensive teams this season as all of their opponents so far finished in the top fifteen in offensive rating last season. Is this improved defense an apparition, or is it a sign of a shift to come?
- Off-season jumps. The Blazers and Hornets have two of the biggest surprises in the early season in terms of players elevating their play this off-season. Both CJ McCollum and Miles Bridges have made substantial leaps it seems early in this season. McCollum is averaging 24.2 points per game through five games, and Miles Bridges is averaging 25.5 points through six games. Both players have had a massive impact on their respective teams’ early success, and the question is whether or not this is a hot streak. For McCollum, he started off the previous season in a similar manner before being set back due to injury, so the jump seems as if it is real. Bridges is in a contract year after betting on himself and turning down a four-year 60 million dollar extension this past off-season. The motivation that comes with a contract year could have fueled Bridges to take this leap into stardom.
- What happens in the clutch? There is only one example of the Blazers in a close game so far this season, and it was during one of Damian Lillard’s worst shooting games of his career. We all know that Lillard Time exists, but with four blowouts in a row, there hasn’t been a real chance to see it. If this game comes down to the wire, what does the Blazers offense look like? There was reason to be optimistic with the way the Blazers played against the Sacramento Kings during their comeback, but it is impossible to know how the Blazers will play in the clutch under new head coach Chauncey Billups.
What Others Are Saying
Jack Simone of At The Hive talked about Miles Bridges and the improvements he has made from next season to this one.
Although it is very early in the season, Bridges ranks top-20 in the league in scoring and has looked absolutely incredible so far. The aggressiveness with which he plays is something that a lot of players just don’t possess. Bridges attacks the paint with bad intentions every time he drives. Throw in the fact that he has one of the best playmakers in the NBA running the offense, and it makes for a deadly combo when it comes to cuts.
His three-point shooting has also been incredible so far this year. His numbers went down a bit after a rough night vs. the Celtics, but he’s still looking good. Bridges is shooting 35.7% from deep on the year, but before the game against Boston, he was shooting 44.4%. He also thrives in catch-and-shoot situations. He shoots 46.7% on catch-and-shoot threes this year, and that includes the game vs. the Celtics.
Cody Taylor of The Rookie Wire highlighted James Bouknight’s stellar pre-season, and talked about the Hornets struggles to find him a spot in the rotation early on.
Bouknight earned praise from the Hornets for his ability, and Terry Rozier believes he can develop into a special player. He responded by averaging 15.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, one assist and one steal in four preseason games, finishing third in scoring among all rookies.
However, Bouknight has logged two appearances in five games, totaling two minutes. The team is loaded in the backcourt and hasn’t found playing time for him, something head coach James Borrego said they would like to do.
Roderick Boone of Charlotte Observer talked about the off-season additions of the Hornets.
The additions of Kelly Oubre and Ish Smith looked good on paper, but it’s always hard to tell if the new players mesh together with the key returnees until they actually face live competition for a few games. Suffice to say, those two have fit in and then some, assisting in alleviating some of the offensive workload missing with team leader and last season’s top scorer Terry Rozier missing all but one game.
Originally pegged for a sixth-man role and to be an insurance policy behind Gordon Hayward, Oubre has comfortably executed from the starting shooting guard spot. He posted double figures in four of the six games and is hitting 3-pointers at a 35.7% clip, which is better than his 32.7% career showing.