Game Details: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA. 5:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), C LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas)
Projected New Orleans Starting Lineup: PG Chris Paul (#3, 6’0″, Wake Forest), SG Marco Belinelli (#8, 6’5″, Italy), SF Trevor Ariza (#1, 6’8″, UCLA), PF Carl Landry (#24, 6’9″, Purdue), C Emeka Okafor (#50, 6’10”, Connecticut)
This time last week, the Hornets were as much in the mix as anybody for one of the same playoff seeds that the Blazers were competing for. However, with David West’s ACL tear sidelining him for the rest of the season, their playoff hopes seemed poised to die. But much like the Blazers, this team hasn’t laid down in the face of significant injuries to key players. Maybe it’s that Monty Williams knows how to deal with these things from his years as an assistant in Portland, but the Hornets are still a tough out even without West. Their trade at the deadline for Carl Landry flew somewhat under the radar at the time with all the Carmelo Anthony/Deron Williams/Kendrick Perkins headlines, but since West went down, the hard-nosed forward has stepped up in a big way. If the increasingly worn-down LaMarcus Aldridge thought he was getting an easy night without West to account for, he was sadly mistaken.
The rest of the Hornets we know. Chris Paul is Chris Paul. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza make up part of a strong defensive unit—it’ll be interesting to see how the Blazers of the Gerald Wallace era stack up. The rest of their rotation, from Marco Belinelli to Jarrett Jack to Jason Smith, are all capable of contributing. Even still, West’s injury creates a hole for the Blazers to exploit if they can.
This game will be especially important for the Blazers because they currently hold a one-game lead over the Hornets for sixth place in the Western Conference, with eight games to go in the season. The way the top half of the playoff race currently shakes out, the difference between the sixth and seventh seeds is the difference between a first-round matchup with the Mavericks or with the Lakers. I don’t need to tell you which one of those teams would give the Blazers a better chance to win their first playoff series in 11 years. This is a must-win for the Hornets too, for the same reason. Even without West, they’ll make the Blazers fight for everything they get. The Blazers will likely do the same. Due to work obligations, I’ll be DVR-ing this one for later, but I’m expecting a good, hard-fought game between two teams struggling to prove that injuries don’t make them less of a playoff threat.