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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Atlanta Hawks Preview

Two “disappointing” teams face off in Atlanta as the Blazers begin a six game road trip.

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (29-33) vs. Atlanta Hawks (31-31)

The Portland Trail Blazers margin for error is getting smaller. What a perfect time for a six-game road trip! First up is a tilt against a fellow disappointing team, the Atlanta Hawks.

Disappointing they may be, but there is a lot working against the Blazers. Flying across the country is never easy, but the task is made even more difficult by an injury situation that just doesn’t want to seem to clear up. While Anfernee Simons hasn’t been ruled out at the time of this writing, the odds seem to be long that he’ll be able to go. There is also this growing sense that if Damian Lillard doesn’t go super nova, Portland doesn’t have a chance. In spite of all of that, this is the type of game that the Blazers need to find a way to win if they want to keep playing past Apr. 9.

The Atlanta Hawks have more than their share of challenges too. The obvious one is adjusting to new coach Quin Snyder. His debut resulted in a 119-116 loss at home to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. Perhaps more troubling though are rumors that not all is well between the team and Trae Young. Snyder has his work cut out for him to get Young engaged and to try to reverse the feeling around the team that they are going no where fast. All is not lost for a team currently sitting in eighth place, but much like the Blazers there is a sense that time is running out to start playing solid basketball if they don’t want to finish the season with a very bad taste in their mouths.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Atlanta Hawks - Friday, March 3 - 4:30 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Ryan Arcidiacono (out), Anfernee Simons (doubtful)

Hawks injuries: Trae Young (probable)

SBN Affiliate: Peachtree Hoops

The Matchup

  • Trae Young. There is a lot of negative buzz about Trae Young in Atlanta these days, but the fact remains that he can put the ball in the basket. Three games in a row of over 30 points illustrates that fact. The Blazers haven’t been great defensively lately, and Young is exactly the type of player that can take advantage. Portland needs desperately to have a good performance for all four quarters on the defensive end, and that starts with minimizing the impact of Young.
  • A better percentage from deep. At times this season the Blazers have been an elite three-point shooting team. Not so much lately. Against Golden State they shot 30.8 percent, and against the Pelicans they dipped to 28.9. Both figures are well below their season average of 37.5 percent. All this while attempting 39 and 38 threes respectively, above their season average of 35. The Hawks don’t take a lot of threes and are generally middling at making the ones they do take, so shots beyond the arc are a good way for the Blazers to gain an advantage — if they can make them.
  • Portland needs a strong second half. Far too often this season the Blazers have been outperformed in the second half. A lot of hard work goes up in smoke when you can’t manage even 18 points in the third quarter like on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors, or 20 points in the fourth quarter like on Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Injuries are certainly a factor, but the standings don’t care if you are injured or healthy. If the Blazers hold any hopes of post-season play they need to start finding a way to perform at a high level after halftime.

What Others Are Saying

The Hawks have a host of problems, but Trae Young is at the center of them writes Jeff Schultz of The Athletic. (subscription required)

Most of all, they have a superstar going in an uncertain direction. The team’s recent mediocrity isn’t all on Young anymore than it was all on McMillan. But the player is still here, and he’s not just a guy on the end of the bench. He draws the most eyes. He makes the most money. Off the court, Ressler and the front office need to be better. On the court, if the Hawks are going to get fixed, it has to start with their best player understanding he’s more than just a player.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that Quin Snyder is a “good get”.

I didn’t believe the Hawks could get Snyder, the best candidate available, because of organizational dysfunction. Fields and team owner Tony Ressler proved me wrong. To do it, Ressler had to give Snyder a contract with four more years after this one, substantial cash and a “significant voice” in player personnel decisions, per ESPN.

Job one for new coach Quin Snyder is figuring out what to do about Trae Young according to Bill Reiter of CBS Sports.

Starting with the locker room, it’s no secret there’s a serious disconnect between Young, the team’s star player, and many — though some say nearly all — of his teammates. He is not beloved, sources say, and there’s a strong view that Young fails to lead, to understand or care to understand what is required of him, and that as a result the team will never achieve what it should until that reality is fixed.