Game Details: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ. 4:00 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 New Jersey Starting Lineup: PG Devin Harris (#34, 6’3″, Wisconsin), SG Anthony Morrow (#22, 6’5″, Georgia Tech), SF Travis Outlaw (#21, 6’9″, Starkville High School), PF Kris Humphries (#43, 6’9″, Minnesota), C Brook Lopez (#11, 7’0″, Stanford)
You know it’s a rough stretch of season for Portland when you’re writing about a game in November against the Nets like it matters, but with every day that goes by it gets harder to rationalize the Blazers’ recent string of games. The losses against playoff teams are starting to add up, and the team’s barely-above-.500 record gets more painful when you realize that three of those losses (the two against Oklahoma City and the one against Utah) were games the Blazers controlled most of the way and then let slip. With the month of November almost over, the Blazers have had a pretty tough early schedule, but you’d think that a truly elite team could beat at least a few of the other contenders they’ve played, right? At this point, the only likely playoff teams the Blazers have beaten are Milwaukee and Denver. Every other team going somewhere this year–the Bulls, Lakers, Thunder twice, Hornets twice, and Jazz–have beaten them. And this is a problem.
At 5-11, the Nets are not one of these teams. They’re not nearly as bad as they were last season, when they flirted with losing more games than any team in NBA history, but if the Blazers can’t find a way to beat them, then we can truly start to panic. New Jersey has some nice pieces, and can play well together on occasion. Devin Harris’ All-Star days are likely over, but he’s averaging 17.8 points per game. Brook Lopez is quickly developing into one of the league’s elite rebounding and shot-blocking centers, and with Joel Przybilla continuing to be sidelined with stomach flu, this will be another game in which Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge will be expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting inside. No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors has been erratic but has a ton of potential. Anthony Morrow and our own Travis Outlaw are streaky shooters who can do some damage if you let them.
Normally, this is the kind of team the Blazers should be able to take care of, but their play lately has been pathetic, to put it kindly. The only silver lining of Friday’s abysmal performance against the Hornets was the return of Brandon Roy, who scored 27 points and (for the most part) didn’t look like his knee was bothering him. The problem was that nobody else on the team could hit anything. Roy looked fine on Friday, but given the increasing liability that is his knee, other players–be it Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez, anybody–need to step up and take on some of the scoring load. Making Roy carry the team on his back, especially against highly beatable teams like the Nets, is not in the Blazers’ best long-term interests.
Tonight’s game kicks off a four-game road trip that will also see the Blazers make stops in Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington. Realistically speaking, we can’t count on the Blazers beating the Celtics, who have looked as good as ever so far this season. But the other three games are against teams the Blazers need to be able to beat. Give them this road trip before we really start assessing where the season is going, but anything less than a 3-1 showing will not bode well, to say the least.