Over the past few seasons, trips to the Big Easy haven’t always been so easy for the Blazers. But if you’ve seen the Hornets this year you can’t help but feel that might change. Tonight, Portland takes the floor in New Orleans for the 3rd road game of this swing. Normally this would have been the ‘circled’ game of fear on this road trip. This year…not so much. It won’t be as easy as beating Minny or Memphis but beating NO on the road is much more doable than ever.
The Hornets are a hot mess. They’re like that girl who used to be a hot, fun drunk except its 3 years later and she’s not as hot and just sloppy drunk. And they were a hot mess before Byron Scott got das boot yesterday. You know you’re in trouble when optimism surrounding your team fades away within the first week. And that’s what happened in NO, as the ‘OMG Chris Paul’s being held hostage’ stories started nearly ASAP. And truth be told he really is. Defensively they are putrid for NO standards, giving up 105 points a game. I mean if you saw the way the Suns shredded them in the first quarter it was almost sad. Defense has always been a strength and they’ve tended to drag the Blazers to ugly battles. Those days could be gone. Offensively, it’s Chris Paul, David West a bunch of role players in roles they shouldn’t be in. Emeka Okafor is their third best offensive player. Yeah. Blame Byron Scott for losing his team but throw some of that blame towards Jeff Bower as well. Jeff who? Yeah they’re current head coach who is trying to pull a reverse KP. Also glad Tim Floyd will no longer be breaking up girlfights in malls.
The Hornets are led by Chris Paul. The man is going..to..work. 26.1 points, 9.3 assists is double impressive when you look at what’s surrounding him. If the Hornets weren’t so booty he’d be in ‘the discussion’ for MVP. David West is always dangerous, and we all know he seemingly loves to go to work on Portland. Emeka Okafor has established a low past presence. And then the rest of the NO offense is in shambles. They only have three guys averaging double figures. Peja has had the yellow light on his career forever. If Devin and Bobby Brown are ‘key offensive’ players…yeah you’re headed in the wrong direction.
The fear for Portland is how the Hornets are going to respond. Do they come out inspired, free of the chains of Byron Scott and play their best basketball of the year? Or do they take a step backwards and reveal to the world that they’re just really, really bad. It could go either way and we’ve seen it go either way in NBA history. There’s an emotional aspect to tonight’s game that will be interesting to be seen.
Portland has to continue to execute offensively. The Hornets are a step above Minny and Memphis defensively, but not by much. Its hard to believe that right? They need to continue to get balanced efforts from everyone. The Blazers are at their best when they are able to get multiple guys in double figures. I’m not too worried about anything else to be honest.
Keys to game
Don’t let Chris Paul be a scorer and distributor. Much, much easier said than done. If he has 25, 30 or 40…ok. But if he has those kind of numbers and 10-15 assists…uh oh. He’s either got to be a scorer or a distributor. He can’t be both. If we let him get going and drag his teammates to a higher level, things could get ugly in NO.
Win the battle inside. Its LMA/Oden v West/Okafor. If we can win those battles we have a good chance. Hornets frontline is not deep, get one of those guys in foul trouble and we’re entering Songaila, Marks and Hilton Armstrong territory. Also, outplaying their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers would bode well.
Protect the paint. Unless Peja has a flashback to 2000, I don’t see too many shooters out there for NO.
Attack, attack, attack. Perimeter players should be in attack mode at all times.
Be prepared for an emotional start. They may come out fired up and on a run. Take the punch and keep it moving but don’t let it end the game.
As always we’re going to learn something about this Blazer team. This is one of those weird, kind of tweener games. Its a game that Portland can and probably should win. But it’s definitely not as easy as just showing up. Portland has to improve on the road and tonight will certainly be a test.