Game 9 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons shooting guard Richard Hamilton (L) tries to elude Miami Heat
Blazers: 5-3

Pistons: 2-5

Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)

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 Detroit Starting Lineup: PG Rodney Stuckey (#3, 6’5″, Eastern Washington), SG Richard Hamilton (#32, 6’7″, Connecticut), SF Tayshaun Prince (#22, 6’9″, Kentucky), PF Austin Daye (#5, 6’11”, Gonzaga), C Ben Wallace (#6, 6’9″, Virgina Union)

My, how a week changes one’s outlook. Since putting together a solid win against Milwaukee last Tuesday, the Trail Blazers have blown a game at home in overtime to the Thunder that they controlled for three and a half quarters, played an unbelievably sloppy game against Toronto that should have ended with twice the margin it did and would have likely been a loss against any other team, and been annihilated by the Lakers. Now, Brandon Roy is expressing misgivings about his own health and hinting at wanting less minutes per game. Rudy Fernandez is injured (he’ll probably play tonight, but you can never be comfortable with your top outside-shooting threat off the bench experiencing nagging back problems). Wesley Matthews is struggling. And after tonight’s game against Detroit, the next two games on the Blazers’ schedule are on the road against Oklahoma City and New Orleans. Suddenly, the team’s strong start to the season isn’t looking to encouraging.

This game falls into the same category as the Raptors game on Saturday: it’s a game the Blazers have to win, because of what it would say about them if they didn’t. Detroit has won two games in a row, but make no mistake–this is one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. Outside of Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton, who are rarely on the floor at the same time, the Pistons don’t have a ton of scoring threats. Ben Wallace can still rebound, but Marcus Camby should be able to handle him just fine. Rodney Stuckey has started the season decently, but hasn’t yet fulfilled the potential Detroit sees in him, and recent conflicts with head coach John Kuester have led to questions about his role. Eight-year veteran Tayshaun Prince, once thought of as one of the up-and-coming forwards in the league, hasn’t been nearly as effective as he once was. Tracy McGrady signed with the Pistons this summer in hopes of resurrecting his career, but he’s been almost a complete non-factor so far.

There is no level at which the Blazers aren’t a better team than the Pistons, at least when they’re playing well. The problem is, they haven’t exactly been doing that lately. The Pistons have more offensive options than the Raptors (if only slightly), so they won’t be able to get away with the kind of lackluster, at times lethargic play they were guilty of against Toronto. Even if we chalk Sunday’s drubbing to being overmatched against the defending champions, a cohesive, balanced game is essential tonight to restoring morale and focus before the Blazers’ upcoming stretch of tough road games. It’s too early in the season to be worried too much, and every team goes through rough patches. Tonight–at home, with a day of rest, against a vastly inferior team–is a perfect opportunity for the Blazers to snap out of this one. Or sink deeper into it.

Email me | Twitter: @ripcityproject | @shighkin

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