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November 11, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Atlanta Hawks power forward Ivan Johnson (44) blocks a shot by Los Angeles Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe (12) in the second half at the Staples Center. Clippers won 89-76. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (2-4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (2-3)

The above tweet is apropos of nothing, unless you think the fact that Hannibal Buress is absolutely hilarious and will be in Portland later this month (November the 26th to be exact) playing a show with local hilarious dude Ian Karmel in some way pertains to Monday night’s match-up between the Blazers and the Hawks at the Rose Garden.

Atlanta comes to town on the second night of a back-to-back, having played and lost in Los Angeles to the Clippers on Sunday night. The Hawks are also the losers of their last two games, and as far as I can tell having not spent any time actually watching Atlanta they seem to be struggling just a little bit following the departure of Joe Johnson.

Portland, who I have seen play just a little bit in 2012-13, are also struggling, and very much like the Hawks are in need of win right about now. The Blazers have always played better at home, but have started this most recent season 1-2 in the Rose Garden. Not just does Portland needs to stop a three-game skid, they need to prove that they can carry strong home showings (which they’ve had in all three home games) through to meaningful home victories. The leash is long with this team considering its relative young age, the atrocity that was last season, and the inspired play of the starting unit, but a win-less home stand is not how a team of any age or prospective end of the year positioning wants to start a long and trying season.

Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson

Hawks Starting 5: PG Jeff Teague, SG Kyle Korver, SF Josh Smith, PF Al Horford, C Zaza Pachulia

Take a look at those starting lineups. It’s hard to look at scenario in which Portland is outmatched at any position. Al Horford is a strong power forward, one of the best in the league, but he is going to get stretched out on defense against LaMarcus Aldridge and his offensive strengths can be neutralized pretty effectively by LA’s length. Jeff Teague/Kyle Korver are no Lillard/Matthews even if Matthews can’t match the gunner from Creighton (a nickname that for some unfathomable reason has yet to catch on) shot for shot. I’ll take Nicolas Batum over Josh Smith especially if Smith decides to jog up and down the court and shoot ill-advised jumpers. Pachulia versus J.J. is something of a push, but if J.J. is wanting to bang down low, as his recent tweets may suggest, there’s nobody better than the Georgian bruiser (another nickname not gaining any leverage for who knows what reason) to get that started against.

So, this game will come down, as the last game did and as every game will for some time, to the bench. Atlanta’s bench looks like this: Devin Harris (former All-Star), Lou Williams (noted Blazer killer), Ivan Johnson (anger management issue sufferer), and Anthony Tolliver (former Portland Trail Blazer 10-day contract earner). Blazer fans would take any single one of those players coming off Portland’s bench right about now.

What to Watch For

  • Can somebody step up? I don’t care who it is. Sean Highkin at Portland Roundball Society brought up a good point about Portland’s bench problem having more to do with personnel than with how bench player numbers are the anchor dragging this team to the bottom of the figurative NBA sea. Head coach Terry Stotts can not be blamed by switching up who plays how much and when considering that it probably can’t get worse than Saturday night. In case you live under a rock, Portland’s bench scored four points compared with 63 points against San Antonio’s bench.
  • Meyers Leonard. Atlanta is a lot like Portland in that they are basically playing without a center. Pachulia is 6’11”. Ivan Johnson is 6’8”. Meyers Leonard is 7’1”. He can play big. He can finish around the rim, especially when he is being guarded by a guy who gives up a couple of inches. Meyers had his best game against the Clippers, and although he accounted for 50% of Portland’s bench scoring against the Spurs, I would say Saturday was his worst showing. His defense was suspect. He shot two very bad jumpers in the middle of the second half run that killed Portland’s lead and helped San Antonio basically steal a win. I like Meyers as a player. I think he can be an x-factor for the Blazers once he figures it all out. Monday night he’ll be the only real big man on the floor. He needs to realize that and take advantage of it.
  • Will Portland play with a sense of urgency? Six games into an 82-game season is not time to panic for a team without much in the way of expectations. But like I said earlier, this team needs to play like winning matters and they need to win to keep the fan base engaged. The home crowd is going to be thirsting for only Portland’s second home win. The sooner they get it the better, because if that win doesn’t come until later this week or at worst next week or next month there isn’t going to be anybody around to see it. Rebuilding is no fun. At some point Portlanders are going to find some other way to spend their free time and disposable income.

In case you didn’t believe me, Hannibal Burres is in fact very very funny.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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Tags: Atlanta Hawks Damian Lillard Jeff Teague Josh Smith Kyle Korver LaMarcus Aldridge Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers Wesley Matthews Zaza Pachulia

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