Game 13 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Hornets

Blazers: 7-5 (4th Northwest Division)

Hornets: 3-9 (5th Southwest Division)

Game Details: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA. 12:00 PM. TV: CSNW Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Kurt Thomas (#40, 6’9″, Texas Christian)

Projected New Orleans Starting Lineup: PG Jarrett Jack (#2, 6’3”, Georgia Tech), SG Marco Belinelli (#8, 6’5”, Bologna, Italy), SF DaJuan Summers (#22, 6’8”, Georgetown), PF Chris Kaman (#35, 7′, Central Michigan), C Emeka Okafor (#50, 6’10”, Connecticut)

Happy Martin Luther King Junior Day, and congratulations to those individuals who are not going to be watching this game at work. Portland is 0-2 on this six-game road trip, they’ve lost three straight, and they’ve fallen from 1st, to 2nd, to now 4th in the Northwest Division.

All is not lost though. Looking at the schedule, it will be totally possible for Portland to finish this excursion with four straight wins, not to mention, almost all of the remaining games in January are very very winnable. Starting with what might be the most important game of this trip: Monday afternoon in New Orleans against the Hornets.

Wait, did I just say that a game against a 3-9 team that is without two of its best players and has only one win since December 28th is the most important game of this trip? I did, and here’s why. Portland needs to find a way to win on the road. They need to build confidence that they can finish games on the road. And they need to beat bad teams (on the road or no). Beating New Orleans might just be the spark this team needs to get back up to the top of the conference, where they belong.

But not only that, losing to New Orleans would not be good. A four game skid is a no-go; dropping a game to an inferior team is equally not good. Any heat still on the Blazers will be gone should they fail to beat to Hornets on Monday. What a win could mean for the rest of this road trip, not to mention the rest of the road season, coupled with how bad a loss to the Hornets would be, is why Monday’s game might be the most important afternoon of Portland’s early season.

How should Portland go about winning this game? That’s the easy part. Play their game. Friday in San Antonio, Portland’s offense didn’t show up. Saturday in Houston, Portland failed to execute down the stretch. The Blazers will have to do a lot wrong to lose to New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. To avoid that outcome, Portland has to establish what they want to do on offense and defense, and carry that through for 48 minutes. That means getting LaMarcus Aldridge involved early, letting Gerald Wallace relentlessly attack the rim and New Orleans’s front line, and figuring out a way to get the shooters to click.

It might sound like a tall order, but it isn’t. This team can put together a winning game plan every night. It’s just an issue of executing that game plan. Maybe the best way to to get into the groove of executing on a nightly basis is to get a blow out victory on the road.

A couple of things I’m going to be looking for:

  • Can Portland get and hold a lead: Portland was never really in the loss to Phoenix or to Orlando (except of course at the very end of that one), but they had leads in San Antonio and in Houston. And both times they had leads in the fourth quarter. The key, of course, isn’t getting a lead, it’s hold onto that lead. Against Houston, Portland got ahead by three late into the final period, and couldn’t push that lead and it ultimately cost them the game. A couple of possessions in a row the Blazers turned the Rockets over, and were unable to make those turnovers count. At one point, Portland got a big-time steal that turned into a three on two fast break. Instead of a lay-up, Nicolas Batum was called for charging, and the ball went right back to Houston. At this point a little more than five minutes remained to be played. A five-point lead with five minutes to play isn’t a done deal by any stretch, but at that point the Rockets hadn’t scored a point in almost two minutes. If, instead of rushing to turn overplay a three on two fast break, Portland had pulled the ball out, setup a play, and taken the time to get a good look at the basket, they might have been able to give themselves enough breathing room to finish Houston off. Again, that’s about execution. If Portland can get a lead, then execute their offense to hold that lead, they should be fine.
  • Will Portland avoid getting down by double digits: Portland has lost in pretty spectacular fashion in three out of four failing efforts. Even in the OT loss on Saturday, the Blazers trailed by 14 points. Avoiding double digit deficits is always a good idea, doubly on the road. Playing against a fired up crowd is always tough, and battling back to close a gap only to have see that gap opened again by a couple of made jumpers can really knock the wind out of a team. Also, when trailing late, a team has to basically play every possession perfectly. A turnover in the midst of a comeback can derail the whole effort. If Portland doesn’t get out to an early lead, they will at the very least have to play to keep the game close. If they get behind by 10 or more at any point Monday afternoon, they’ll be in trouble.
  • Can Portland NOT overlook this team: Trevor Ariza is out, Eric Gordon is out, Jarrett Jack is the number one guy. This is one of the worst teams in the NBA. But it’s still the NBA. Any time can win on any given MLK Jr. Day. Portland needs to take this team seriously. They have a couple of players that tend to have big games against the Blazers, Chris Kaman is one Carl Landry is another, and if Portland sleeps on this team, or gets too caught up in preparing for Atlanta or whatever leads to teams overlooking their opponents, the Hornets can win.
  • Nicolas Batum: I left my projected starting lineup with Kurt Thomas, mostly because NOLA has a pretty burly front line, but I think there is a chance Nicolas gets the nod. He had an amazing game against Houston, but I’m willing to bet it felt incomplete to him because it didn’t end in a Blazer victory. Nicolas wants to win games more than anything, more than starting, more than getting his looks. And most of all, he wants to help Portland win games. I expect him to come out with a vengeance on Monday.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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Tags: Blazers Chris Kaman Eric Gordon Gerald Wallace Hornets LaMarcus Aldridge MLK Jr. Day Nicolas Batum Trevor Ariza

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