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 New Orleans Starting Lineup: PG Chris Paul (#3, 6′, Wake Forest), SG Marco Belinelli (#8, 6’5″, Italy), SF Trevor Ariza (#1, 6’8″, UCLA), PF David West (#30, 6’9″, Xavier), C Emeka Okafor (#50, 6’10″, Connecticut)
The Trail Blazers continue their three-game road trip today with a stop in New Orleans, to face off against a Hornets team with a few familiar faces that has become the unlikely early story in the Western Conference. The Hornets are in their first season under new head coach Monty Williams, who spent five years as an assistant under Nate McMillan, and Jerryd Bayless was also traded there a few days before the start of the 2010-11 season. A win for the Blazers tonight would almost make up for last night’s frustrating loss to Oklahoma City, given that New Orleans is the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA.
Let’s be honest here, nobody expected the Hornets to look this good. After a disappointing 2009-10 campaign, they were surrounded by questions not only about superstar point guard Chris Paul’s health but also his commitment to the Big Easy. Before Carmelo Anthony became the big-name-who-wants-out of the moment, CP3 was reportedly asking for a trade from the Hornets. This, coupled with the introduction of a new head coach and general manager, a long, drawn-out possible sale that still hasn’t come to a conclusion, and trades to bring in Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli created a lot of uncertainty around the Hornets heading into the season. They were one of the teams in the Houston/Memphis/Sacramento category, that most pundits expected to be competing for one of the last two playoff seeds if and only if everybody stayed healthy.
So far, absolutely everything has been going right for them. After being sidelined most of last season with an ankle injury, Paul has looked phenomenal, and despite the best efforts of Rajon Rondo has reasserted himself as the best point guard in the NBA. The Hornets are playing better defense than they have in years, led by Ariza and Emeka Okafor. Belinelli is having a breakout season after having never quite fit in Toronto or Golden State.
Given Brandon Roy’s recent knee trouble, compounded with the fact that the Blazers are on the second night of a back-to-back, a win tonight is going to depend on big games from Andre Miller, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as the team’s bench. Rudy Fernandez shot the ball well last night against the Thunder, and another good night from him will help to keep the Hornets’ defense honest.