With a no-good, very bad, six-game road trip and the Christmas holiday in their rear-view mirror, the Portland Trail Blazers return to the Moda Center tonight to take on the Charlotte Hornets. After the 2-4 swing away from home, the Blazers hold a 17-16 record. It seems disappointing until you look at the Hornets at 9-24, headed straight for Wembanyama Nirvana.
Caution: two of those nine wins have come in Charlotte’s last three games, courtesy of the returned LaMelo Ball, who posted 23 in each. Even without Ball, the Hornets were capable of cracking 120 points. With him in tow, they pasted 125 on the Sacramento Kings and 134 on the Los Angeles Lakers in victory. With Portland not defending well lately, the puncher’s chance is a live possibility tonight.
Trail Blazers vs. Hornets - Monday, December 26 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass, NBA TV
Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Gary Payton II (out), Nassir Little (out)
Hornets injuries: Dennis Smith, Jr. (day to day), Cody Martin (day to day)
SBN Affiliate: At The Hive
What To Watch For
On the Rebound: The Hornets have one of the least efficient offenses in the NBA, but they make up for it somewhat by dominating the offensive glass. It’s not a distinction you want, but it could give the Blazers trouble. When Portland doesn’t control the boards, they tend to lose control of the game as well. Also, Charlotte’s rebounding prowess gives them one of the highest marks in the league for field goals attempted. If Portland doesn’t defend well on average, letting the opponent have all kinds of extra shots will be a disaster, negating the Blazers’ natural offensive advantage in this contest.
On Guard: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Luka Doncic...the Blazers have faced a bevy of high-octane guards over the last two weeks, stopping approximately none of them. Charlotte fields a scoring-intensive backcourt in Ball and Terry Rozier. Without Justise Winslow, Nassir Little, and Gary Payton II, Portland lacks wing defenders. The Blazers starters better be ready to defend at least a little. Throw in small forward Gordon Hayward and the lack of defensive depth could become even more of an issue.
Threesy Victory: LaMelo isn’t the only Ball in question tonight. The long ball should also come into play. The Hornets are bottom-third in the league defending the three-point shot, dead last in shooting it. The Blazers can’t allow Charlotte wide-open looks, but even a little pressure should be enough to pry a significant edge beyond the arc.
One by One: The same could be said, to a lesser extent, about free throws. Charlotte gives up a lot of foul shots. If they’re not shooting long, the Blazers should press towards the bucket, trying to earn cheap ones.
‘Ware the TO: The Hornets don’t turn over the ball much, but they’re third in the NBA in steals and ninth in turnovers forced. If the game is going to get away from the Blazers, this might be the place it slips.
What Others Are Saying
I mean, literally nobody is talking about the Hornets, but you can hear the difference LaMelo Ball makes in this game recap from Hornets-Kings a few days ago.
Be sure and join our Game Day Threads this evening, starting at 6:00 PM, Pacific!