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Jan. 07, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) shoots the ball over Orlando Magic power forward Josh McRoberts (17) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Rose Garden. The Blazers won the game in overtime 125-119. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (25-25) Vs. Orlando Magic (14-36)

As we’re gearing up for what might be the most important game of Portland’s current six-game road trip (I know I said that about basically every game on this trip so far, but I stand behind it every time because this is a really, really important trip), let’s take a minute or two to talk about conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s never better to see a struggling team than in the middle of a rough stretch of games. Call it a get-right game. Call it chicken soup. Call it whatever you like. If you’re a .500 or better team, hoping to slip into the post-season, and you’ve dropped two in a row, you’ve got to feel pretty good about stepping into the a gym against a team with only 14 wins to their credit.

Conventional wisdom says, also, that losing 13 times in a row in the NBA is a tough feat. Not as tough as winning 13 times in a row, but still, it’s a notable, if ignominious, accomplishment. If I’m setting the odds for Sunday’s game between the Orland Magic and the Portland Trail Blazers, I’m probably giving the benefit of the doubt to the team with the better record, but I’m working into my formula some minor derivation to account for the fact that a regression game, at this point, for the Magic means a win.

There’s a third, much more specific, element of conventional wisdom. In 2012-13, Portland plays very well against good teams and not so well against bad teams. Already this season the Blazers have lost to the Wizards after that team dropped 12 straight games, so there is an established precedent here.

We could take the conventional wisdom that advises a flattering Blazer team should be able to make quick work of a Magic team that’s circling the drain. Or we could take the conventional wisdom that advises a group of highly paid professionals who are arguably some of the best basketball players in the world will not let themselves get beat for the 13th straight time. Or we could go with the conventional wisdom that Portland in 2012-13 has not brought their A game against bad opponents and could very realistically get caught flat-footed by the Orlando Magic.

Two of those three scenarios favor the Magic. As Sunday is more or less a must-win game, let’s hope that the Blazers don’t put too much stock in conventional wisdom.

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

Magic Starting 5: PG Jameer Nelson, SG Arron Afflalo, SF Maurice Harkless, PF Andrew Nicholson, C Nikola Vucevic

When the Blazers played the Magic in Portland back in January, winning in overtime, the home team rang up an impressive 125 points. On that night, three members of the Orlando Magic scored at least 2o points. Those three guys were Arron Afflalo (24 points), J.J. Redick (29 points off the bench), and Jameer Nelson (21 points). J.J. Reddick is most likely out on Sunday nursing a sore shoulder (and trying not to lower his trade value too much), but Jameer Nelso and Arron Afflalo will certainly be the offensive engine that will drive the Magic Sunday.

Nelson and Afflalo or both skilled shooters and crafty veterans, but they won’t be able to beat Portland all by themselves. The guy to watch (or the guys to watch) will be Orlando’s big guys. Nikola Vucevic scored a respectable 17 points (to go with 13 rebounds) in the Rose Garden. More than that, though, he put up a serious fight against LaMarcus Aldridge. Andrew Nicholson is an athletic big. He played only 17 minutes in Portland, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds in that time, but he’s seen his playing time and scoring go way up in the last few weeks. There’s big-game potential for Nicholson, especially if he’s been guarded by J.J. Hickson and no LaMarcus Aldridge.

What to Watch For

  • Can Portland take advantage of J.J. Redick being out. J.J. Redick’s status has yet to be called, but he sat out Orlando’s last game. If he’s out again on Sunday, the Magic will be without arguably their most potent offensive weapon. In January, J.J. was absolutely unconscious, knocking down six threes, and almost getting a win for the Magic by himself. His scoring will be missed, and if the Blazers can take advantage of Orlando being short-staffed, they’ll have a good chance of coming out victorious.
  • Is Nicolas Batum recovered/out of his slump. Batum has been struggling as of late. His wrist injury is certainly partially to blame. That being said, a hot shooting second half in Houston may have roused Nic from his doldrums. If Batum gets hot Sunday, he could lead his team to a big win.
  • Will the Blazers get off to a hot start. If Portland wants to win on Sunday, they have to have a big first quarter. Coming from behind on the road is tough, especially if Orlando holds a late lead and sees an end to their losing streak on the horizon.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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