Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6′6″, Washington), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Milwaukee Starting Lineup: PG Brandon Jennings (#3, 6’1″, Oak Hill Academy), SG John Salmons (#15, 6’6″, Miami), SF Carlos Delfino (#10, 6’6″, Italy), PF Drew Gooden (#0, 6’10″, Kansas), C Andrew Bogut (#6, 7’0″, Utah)
Chalk up yesterday’s embarrassing loss in Chicago to a learning experience. As exciting as it was to start a season 3-0 for the first time in 11 years, expectations needed to be kept in check. The Blazers played well but not spectacularly in their first three games, doing enough to come away with victories but clearly showing that there was room for improvement. And there’s nothing to hammer that point home quite like being lit up for 40 points by Luol Deng.
The Blazers will look to bounce back tonight in Milwaukee to close out a four-game road trip, and they have a lot working in their favor. While the Bucks are a cut above the three teams Portland has beaten this year, they don’t have a singular player on their roster who commands a double-team the way that Derrick Rose does. They do, however, have a deeper rotation than the Knicks and arguably even the Bulls sans Carlos Boozer, meaning that this isn’t the kind of game you can prepare for by saying, “if we can stop Player X, they don’t have any other weapons.” The Blazers were able to stop the Knicks by double-teaming Amar’e Stoudemire early, but when they gave that same level of attention to Rose last night in Chicago, Deng made them pay big-time.
Second-year guard Brandon Jennings is coming off a stellar rookie season and may soon become one of the top point guards in the league. He will likely be the focus of the Blazers’ defense, the player they stick Nicolas Batum on at first, but it would be foolish to ignore the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup. For the second night in a row, Marcus Camby will be paired up with a center averaging double-digit rebounds in Andrew Bogut. While the Blazers fared better on the boards against the Bulls than they did the Knicks, this will be another game during which they absolutely cannot afford to lose Camby to foul trouble. Carlos Delfino had 23 points against Charlotte on Saturday, and is somebody the Blazers should not leave open from three-point range. John Salmons has struggled early, but capable of putting together big scoring nights. Ditto Corey Maggette, a physical guard who can get to the free-throw line at will and punish teams inside.
That said, the Blazers match up fairly well against the Bucks, and this is a winnable game for them, so long as they play their game right and don’t make the kind of mistakes they have so far. Play a smart and balanced game and you come home to Oklahoma City with a 4-1 record. Let Maggette or Delfino kill you the way Deng did last night and I’ll start to sound like a broken record in these game previews very quickly. Portland’s problem last night was the same as it was against the Clippers last Wednesday: the offensive rebounding was there, but they couldn’t convert a second-chance opportunity to save their life. That has to change not only for the Blazers to win tonight but for there to not be too many more games like yesterday’s.