Maybe you knew this, and maybe you didn’t, but the phrase “just when you thought it was safe…” is the tagline from Jaws 2. It’s meant to terrify movie-goers. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..” JAWS AGAIN, this time only different.
It’s fitting, then, that the tagline for Wednesday’s match-up between the Blazers and the Indiana Pacers should be “Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Rose Garden…” Why would it be safe to watch the Blazers right now you may be asking. Well, they’ve lost six in a row, so they’re due for a win. That, and all of their most recent losses have come on or close to the last possession, and we know winning close games is mostly based on luck and luck has a tendency to change.
But wait…in three games, Portland has lost to two teams with 20 wins between them, and Wednesday they face the 26-win Pacers who gave LeBron James the night sweats in last season’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Just when you thought the Blazers were bound to turn it around…THE THIRD BEST TEAM IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Pacers Starting 5: PG George Hill, SG Lance Stephenson, SF Paul George, PF David West, C Roy Hibbert
From a pure roster standpoint, Wednesday is a bit of a match-up nightmare for the Blazers. Portland has no center; Roy Hibbert is enormous and scores almost exclusively at the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge is playing great; David West is a bully who tends to beat up on LA when the play. Nicolas Batum is playing like an All-Star; Paul George probably is an All-Star. Wesley Matthews has been clutch and has been knocking down a lot ton of jump shots; Lance Stephenson is a big athletic guard who will give Wesley fits on both sides of the ball. Damian Lillard is Damian Lillard; George Hill is the kind of point guard who can, on a good day, eat Damian Lillard’s for breakfast.
The key for the Blazers will be keeping Hibbert from going off. That’s going to mean J.J. Hickson or LaMarcus Aldridge putting a body in big Roy and keeping him from catching the ball deep in the paint. It’s also going to mean Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews have to attack the rim and try to get Hibbert into foul trouble. Keeping Roy off the floor is the best plan of action, but stopping him is going to be equally important.
As for the back court match-up, Lillard and Matthews have to stay at least equal with Stephenson and Hill. There’s a good chance that Portland will get killed in the paint. If they get killed in both the front court and the back court, they won’t have much of a chance.
The match-up that might be able to swing this game will be Paul George versus Nicolas Batum. Both guys are playing great, and Wednesday could become a flat-out shoot out between the two small forwards. George attacks more than Nic does, so Batum will have to work hard to stay out of foul trouble. I have a feeling that Nicolas is going to be on a mission Wednesday night. Considering that he has disavowed his first career triple-double since it came in a loss, expect Nic to be fired up to an all-time high. I would guess the winner of George vs. Batum will dictate which team wins Wednesday night.
What to Watch For
- Will Portland’s bench be able to hang with Indy’s. There are no bench superstars on the Pacers, but there are bench guys who can have an impact. Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, even Ian Manhinmi can have an impact against what the Blazers bring off the bench. I’m over thinking Portland’s reserves or going to win a game for the Blazers, but I still believe it’s possible for the home team’s bench to not lose a game.
- How into it will the fans be. The start to Monday’s game took me a little by surprise. The Rose Garden was empty. Chalk the slow arrival up to it being a holiday if you like (and I’ll give you that by the time Wesley Matthews hit a three to tie the game, the RG was loud), but the word is out that there might be better ways to spend a weekday evening than watching the Blazers. I’ll be the first to tell you that watching the Blazers is still fun, but it is true that watching them lose is no fun. Indiana is a top level team, but without a marquee star on their roster they aren’t much of a draw. We’ll see who shows up.
- Slow starts. We know how it goes. If Portland starts slow, they’re in trouble, if they don’t…you just never know.