It’s funny how much things can change in a couple weeks time.
Let’s go all the way back to November 3rd. The Blazers were set to host the Atlanta Hawks. Coming in everyone knew Portland had a lot to figure out. There were question marks surrounding the rotation, the offense, the defense….shoot pretty much everything. However, it was expected that a solid defensive effort and good offensive execution would sink the Hawks. Well, the Hawks stomped into the Rose Garden and took a game from Portland. That loss was arguably the low point of the season for the Blazers. Things were a mess. The defense smelled funny, the offense was more stale than Wanda Sykes, Andre Miller was being called a bust, it was just all bad news bears. Everyone and their mom was about ready to hit the panic button. Then, Nate went with the 1,2,3 guard lineup (you have to sing it like the Britney Spears song for effect) and the Blazers have been rolling ever since. That loss to the Hawks was the last time Portland has lost a game. And now it is interesting that the team who sent us to our low point can now give us our high point of the year. Make no mistake a win in Atlanta would be huge for this team. It would be the first big road win of the season. Not disrespecting the W’s at Memphis, Minny, NO and Charlotte but those were games we were supposed to win. Beating a legit team, one who has been dominant at home so far is something we can really hang our hat on.
There isn’t much more new to say about the Hawks except they are a lot better than anyone thought they were on November 3rd. I’m impressed with Atlanta in ways I didn’t know I could be. They’ve always had the talent and potential but it looks as if they are finally figuring the importance of defense, rebounding and effort all the time. For pete’s sake NBA.com has them #1 in their power rankings. Atlanta enters tonight’s game in at 8-2 and are winning at home by an average of nearly 18 points. I don’t think the Hawks have ever been this dominant in Philips Arena. Since that Portland win they have some eye-opening, impressive, resume building wins. Beat the heck out of Denver 125-100 at home. Mmmm hmm. Went to Boston and beat the C’s by double digits. Yeah, they’re legit.
For Portland, I’m very interested to see how the offense works. This will be the test of the three-guard lineup. It was created because of the poor ball movement against these very Hawks. Will there be an improvement? With Travis Outlaw out, what is the rotation going to look like? Way more Juwan Howard? Which bench player is going to have to shoulder the load offensively? Rudy? Martell? Bayless? Very interested to see how Portland plays offensively, because it’s been ugly on this road trip. The wins have masked this to a certain degree but tonight will be a test. Atlanta is very talented offensively and seems to have gotten their act together on the other end. You’re going to have to either stop them or score with them so Portland will be getting a nice test to see where we’re at on both sides of the court.
Keys to the game
- Contain Jamal Crawford. He destroyed us in Portland and has been on a tear this year. Has to be the 6th Man of the Year in this young season. He gives them a scoring dynamic off the bench that this core Atlanta team has not really had. Normally I’d talk about Joe Johnson this and Joe Johnson that. Joe Johnson’s more than likely going to get his numbers. What Portland can’t allow is foe Johnson AND Crawford to go off.
- Win the battle of the boards. Hawks out-rebounded Portland 46-35 a couple weeks ago, including 11 offensive rebounds. Portland has to rectify that.
- Attack the basket. Atlanta surprised us the last game with their defensive rotations. The Blazers weren’t prepared to attack them and get to the line, only attempting 16 free throws compared to 21 three pointers. Hmm.
- Step up offensively. Travis Outlaw is out so that puts more pressure on guys to step up and take offensive pressure off of Roy and LaMarcus. Rudy Fernandez has to show up. This is his chance to show everyone ‘hey I need to be playing more, look at what I’m doing’. I don’t want to say it’s ‘put up or shut up’ time for Rudy because it isn’t, but he definitely will have our eyes on him tonight. Martell Webster has to show up. He can’t just be an invisble enigma on the court, he has to give us something. He’s taken a step backwards.
A win here will wrap up what would be an amazing 5-0 on a road trip. A loss makes it 4-1, which is still pretty great. More importantly it is another chance early in this season to see where Portland is at. We get to see if this team has made strides offensively and defensively. They have done enough to beat teams they are supposed to beat, now can they raise their game against tougher talent? That’s what I’m looking forward to. We’ll see after tonight.