Mar 28, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Hornets head coach Monty Williams on the sidelines against the Golden State Warriors during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Game 51 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Hornets

Blazers: 23-27 (5th Northwest Division)

Hornets: 13-37 (5th Southwest  Division)

Game Details: Rose Garden Arena Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazer Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8”, MSB Le Mans, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas). C Joel Przybilla (#10. 7’1”, Minnesota)

Projected Hornets Lineup: PG Jarrett Jack (#2, 6’3”, Georgia Tech), SG Marco Belinelli (#8, 6’5”, Foritudo Bologna, Italy), SF Al-Farouq Aminu (#0, 6’9”, Wake Forest), PF Jason Smith (#14, 7′, Colorado State), C Chris Kaman (#35, 7′, Central Michigan)

OK everybody, are you ready for this? It’s Thursday, the weather is crappy so there won’t be any outdoor drinking this afternoon, there’s only seven home games left, so Blazer fans won’t have too many more chances to see the team live and in person, and the Hornets are in town, so this could very easily be Portland’s last guaranteed win.

But wait a second, isn’t this just the kind of game Portland should be trying purposefully to lose? Yes. And that’s what is going to make this game all the more interesting. We all know the situation by this point, the Blazers should want to lose to teams behind them in the standings so they can improve their draft status. New Orleans is one of those teams.

However, Portland brass hasn’t yet issued the official white flag memorandum, so as far as they’re concerned they are still playing for the post season. We were in this situation not a week ago against the Warriors. There’s one major difference though, beating the Warriors took some effort; beating the Hornets won’t take the same kind of effort, meaning if Portland really does want to lose then they’ll have to come up with a pretty serious game plan.

I’m not pro tanking, mostly because as I’ve said before the Blazers aren’t bad enough to have it make any real impact and keeping the paying customers happy right now is more important than moving up a spot in the draft lottery, but if I were head coach Kaleb Canales and I really believed it was in my best interest to lose this game, here’s what I would do: start Hasheem Thabeet, let Jamal Crawford handle the ball all game, don’t let J.J. Hickson or LaMarcus Aldridge set foot on the court, continue to run pick and rolls on offense but only with Joel Przybilla. That would be tanking.

Portland isn’t going to do that. They’re committed to winning games, and they’ve got players to develop. Those facts alone will probably be enough to win tonight. J.J. Hickson has played well two games running, and definitely wants to prove that he can still be a big-time player. Nolan Smith probably wants to prove that he can out-play Jonny Flynn (which he didn’t do Tuesday), and Jonny Flynn wants to prove that he can once again out-play Nolan Smith (which he did for the first time Tuesday). Jamal Crawford should want to prove, at least to himself, that he can hit a shot. The list goes on.

My prediction is Portland wins this one in a really ugly, really poorly played game, and when it’s over everybody complains that they didn’t try hard enough to lose. Don’t worry, there are going to be plenty of more opportunities for this team to lose not on purpose before the season’s over. It’ll all even out.

Briefly, here’s what I want to see:

  • Back-up PG battle: Not since the good old days of Jerryd Bayless versus Armon Johnson back in the preseason of 2010-11 has the back-up point guard spot be so hotly contested in Portland. Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith split time right down the middle Tuesday because Raymond Felton was gone. Ray’s back. Who gets the minutes? Nolan first, and if he messes it up Jonny will get the second half.
  • J.J. Hickson: I think Hickson could be a keeper. I know J.J. thinks that too. I think J.J. has the best chance of anybody on this roster still in limbo of making an impact on the Blazers next year. NOLA plays the type of physical game where Hickson can really excel. He played an efficient game on Tuesday against the Thunder. The Hornets don’t have even close to the front line of OKC. Coming in off the bench, J.J. might have a decent shot at a big night. A couple of big nights, and he’s got a roster spot.

Email me: [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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