January 16, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack (2) is defended by Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first quarter of a game at the New Orleans Arena. Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Game 27 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Hornets

Blazers: 14-12 (4th Northwest Division)

Hornets: 4-22 (5th Southwest Division)

Game Details: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA. 5:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazers 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 Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11’’, Massachusetts)

Projected Hornets Starting Lineup: PG Jarrett Jack (#2, 6’3”, Georgia Tech), SG Marco Belinelli (#8, 6’5”, Bologna, Italy), SF Trevor Ariza (#1, 6’8”, UCLA), PF Gustavo Ayon (#15, 6’10”, Tepic, Mexico), C Emeka Okafor (#50, 6’10”, Connecticut)

Back-to-back home losses are no good. Made even less good by Portland’s complete inability to get it done on the road. A remedy for what ails this team? Well that’s easy, how about a game against the worst team in the Western Conference in one of the three gyms where the Blazers have won a game outside of the Pacific Northwest. Portland should be salivating over this game.

They also should be preparing for it, taking it seriously, and expecting that it won’t be easy. The New Orleans Hornets are a shell of a team. Chris Paul? Gone. Eric Gordon? Out. Carl Landry? Out. Trevor Ariza? Paid and disengaged. Chris Kaman was shelved because NOLA didn’t want to play, but it looks like he’s back, so at least they’ve got that.

Along with Kaman, what the Bees do have is a bunch of guys that want to play a grind-it-out, down and dirty, physical style of basketball. Not quite Portland’s best look. The Blazers should have a formula for getting this win. Forget about who’s on the other team, and just play. There aren’t enough guys on NOLA’s roster to defend everybody the Blazers have. If Portland can take advantage of mismatches, punish New Orleans where they are thin, and not try to win the game every time down the floor they should be OK.

The biggest mismatches in this game are going to come at the small forward position, Gerald Wallace versus Trevor Ariza, and at the power forward position, LaMarcus Aldridge against Gustavo Ayon. Ayon is an athletic big, with a good defensive personality. But he’s a rookie; LaMarcus is an All-Star.

Following Wednesday’s uninspiring loss to the Houston Rockets, one thing I told myself is that this is still a good team, they just haven’t clicked yet. They better click soon, because this season will be over before you know it. But that failure to come together, in my opinion, isn’t a personnel issue, and it isn’t a talent issue. It’s a confidence issue, or maybe, a concentration issue. This is the NBA, a team has to come out every night focused and ready to play, or they risk losing.

In Portland’s losses, especially the home games they actually lost (not the Oklahoma City game which doesn’t count), the Blazers have started slow, and at times looked disinterested. That has to change. No better way to start making that change than putting a hurting on team that has only won four times in 26 tries.

Here’s what I’ll be watching for:

  • Gerald Wallace: No need to explain this one. We’ll all be paying close attention to Crash until he has himself a big road game.
  • What being an All-Star means for LA: I went over this a bit already, so I won’t get into it too deep. LA has had big games against good opponents all season. A true All-Star can have HUGE games against bad opponents too.
  • Can Portland take care of business against a bad team: Portland should be able to get out on this team, build a lead, and put them away. They haven’t done that kind of thing yet this season. The goal should be to win this game–preparing for a game expecting it to be a blowout if your favor usually leads to bad results–but a close game is not what this team wants to see at all.

Email me: [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

 

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