Feb 11, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; New Orleans Hornets power forward Anthony Davis (left) listens to New Orleans Hornets head coach Monty Williams (right) during the first quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (25-27), Vs. New Orleans Hornets (18-34)

Wednesday is Portland’s final game before the All-Star Break, and it really can’t come too soon. The Blazers haven’t been bad thus far in 2012-13, not as bad as a lot of people projected that they’d be, but it’s been up and down the whole way and stressful enough that I for one could use a couple of days off.

My only worry is that this team will be checking out a day early, and this “make or break” road trip will end 1-5 and it might finally be time to talk about the best way to wind the season down so as to avoid that anti sweet-spot where Portland misses the Playoffs and punt their first round pick.

Depending on how you feel about the Blazers, seeing the New Orleans Hornets Pelicans Hornets is either the best or the worst thing that could happen to this team one day before they get their only extended break of the season. A loss puts the Blazers closer to keeping their pick; a win might get Portland back on track for the Playoffs.

That NOLA is one of the bottom dwellers of the Western Conference adds an extra wrinkle. The Blazers played one of their best games of the season in a loss to Miami on Tuesday night and one of their worst in a loss to Orlando on Sunday. The Hornets are closer to the Magic than they are to the Heat. Portland has shown they play to the level of their competition.

Wednesday’s competition is not great. That could go a long way to determining the outcome of the final game of this trip, and that outcome (considering what implications it might carry over to the final run of 2012-13) could go a long way to determine the relative stress levels of Blazer fans everywhere.

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

Hornets Starting 5: PG Greivis Vasquez, SG Austin Rivers, SF Al-Farouq Aminu, PF Anthony Davis, C Robin Lopez

The first time these two teams met, Portland took a big lead early but let NOLA make it interesting down the stretch. Not really a recipe for success, but it led to this:

Damian Lillard’s first game winner came in his second full month as a pro and in his 23rd game. That seemed late considering he’d been magnificent in every game up to that point without hitting a game winning bucket. To say our expectations for Damian are high is an understatement. To say that he hasn’t exceeded even those high expectations in patently false.

So here we are almost two months removed from Lillard’s game winner, and he’s still improving every time out. His nominal competition from Rookie of the Year includes NOLA’s Anthony Davis. That’s probably enough to get Damian fired up for Wednesday (whether or not he claims to care about competing with Davis). Even more of a motivator for Wednesday is the fact that his team seriously needs a win. My contention is, tonight, as Damian goes, so will go the Blazers.

What to Watch For

  • Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum. New Orleans is probably weakest at shooting guard and small forward (depending on whether or not Eric Gordon plays significant minutes). Wesley should not struggle on either end with Austin Rivers. Same goes for Nicolas an Al-Farouq Aminu. Both Batum and Matthews should be able to go off. If they do, the Blazers should win.
  • Can Portland tighten up the screws. The Blazers have played a bit loose in the last few weeks. Their defense isn’t great, and they tend to make a lot more mistakes than they really should. NOLA is not a great team, so if Portland plays tight defense, doesn’t turn the ball over, and doesn’t give up too many offensive rebounds/second-chance points, they should be alright. Conversely, if the Hornets feast on the Blazers’ mistakes, Portland will be in trouble.
  • Ryan Anderson. Dude can bomb. The Blazers can’t defend shooters. Not a great combination.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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Tags: Anthony Davis Blazers Damian Lillard Hornets

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