Jan 19, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center J.J. Hickson (21) is fouled by Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (31-35) Vs. Milwaukee Bucks (33-32)

Sports are filled to the brim with cliches. There are plenty of reasons for this, one being that sports is a business, businesses like to maximize profit potential, and because of that they need to reach the most people in the most efficient way possible. Reducing all the disparate and unique elements and narrative threads that make up any given professional sport’s season into easily digestible cliches for mass consumption is done to directly service the bottom line.

But there’s another reason why cliches abound in pro sports. It’s because sometimes they are true.

Every NBA season is like a snowflake, no two are exactly the same. However, each NBA season has it’s similarities. These similarities lend credence to a number of the most common NBA-themed cliches. Scenarios repeat themselves every NBA season, therefore   these scenarios can be effectively reduced to a cliche without that cliche actually being cliche.

Where am I going with all this cliched cliche talk about cliches? The Blazers started a five-game road trip in Philadelphia Monday night with a one-point loss, a loss that could have been a win if a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper would have gone down at the buzzer, or if a Damian Lillard free throw hadn’t rimmed out at the end of the fourth quarter.

The cliche that follows a loss like the one suffered by Portland Monday night is that the Blazers need to have a short memory. It’s kind of a trite to say that, professional players probably don’t really dwell on games in season all that much and telling them to get over it is a waste of breath because trust me they are over it, but getting over a tough loss in record time has never been more important for Portland than it is in this moment right now.

The Lakers and the Jazz lost on Monday. Dallas doesn’t play against a sub .500 team for about a week and a half. The playoff door isn’t wide open, but it’s ajar. There’s a chance. There won’t be a chance, though, if the Blazers get bogged down in the mistakes they made Monday night and get beat again in Milwaukee. And there really won’t be a chance if losses in Philly and Milwaukee lead to losses in Chicago and Atlanta.

Portland needs a win on this road trip, and they need it now. They couldn’t get a win on Monday, and they need to have forgotten about that before they left the airport Monday night. It’s cliche, for sure. But that doesn’t make it not true.

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

Bucks Starting 5: PG Brandon Jennings, SG Monta Ellis, SF Marquis Daniels, PF Ersan Illyasova, C Larry Sanders

The last time the Blazers faced off against the Bucks, Portland was in the middle of a streak of six losses by less than 10. A streak that followed six wins by less than 10 in seven games. The narrative of the Blazers being a good team in close games whose score differential would eventually catch up with them has come and gone, mostly because it turned out to be true.

Portland’s run of close wins that turned into close losses didn’t then turn back into close wins, or at least it went back and forth for awhile before the Blazers fell off a cliff and lost seven straight. Portland’s only lost two in a row once since they snapped their seven-game slide at the end of last month, which bodes well for Tuesday, but to counter that, they’ve won only twice in their last 10 road games.

If the Blazers want to win in Milwaukee, they’ll have to throw out their game plan from their earlier face-off with the Bucks. That night, Brandon Jennings scored 30, getting half of his points from the line. Keeping Jennings off the line is important because it’s an important way to keep Jennings from getting hot.

Portland did a decent job stopping Monta Ellis, although his 5-of-15 might have been just Ellis having a bad night. The Blazers need to try to limit Monta’s shots attempts, he can make 15 shots as easily as he can miss 15 shots. Ball denial or overplaying him for the pass will keep his field goal attempts down.

Most importantly, though, if the Blazers want to escape Wisconsin with a win, they need to not get beat by Ersan Illyasova and Mike Dunleavy. Back in January, Milwaukee’s stretch fours combined for an impressive 41 points. Both Bucks were on fire from three, shooting a combined 6-of-8 from range.

Portland hasn’t exactly staked their name to the power forward as floor stretcher offensive scheme, but it’s something head coach Terry Stotts has been preaching lately, and a system that at times works very well for the Blazers. If Portland loses the battle of the stretch fours in Milwaukee, they will not win this game.

What to Watch For

  • Bench play. In January, Nolan Smith played the worst two plus minutes of his career. He was blamed, in part, for Portland’s loss at the time. What’s not to be forgotten, though, is that Joel Freeland was also on the floor with Nolan Smith during that first quarter sequence. He wasn’t ripped apart by Brandon Jennings like Nolan was, so maybe he doesn’t bare the responsibility that Smith does, but his +/- (a remarkable -17 in 2:37) matched Nolan’s. Fast forward to March, and Nolan Smith is no longer in the rotation. Joel Freeland isn’t either. Portland’s bench consists now of Eric Maynor, Meyers Leonard, and Victor Claver. Will Barton’s minutes are sporadic, like Freeland’s. With Claver not making the trip, there’s a chance Barton and Freeland will play, there’s a chance too Luke Babbitt will get in. Luke played 12 minutes in Philly, his first game with more than 10 minutes since February 13th, and knocked down two threes. I don’t expect Babbitt to get a ton of minutes in Milwaukee, but because he’ll have relatively fresh legs, anything’s possible. If Luke plays, he’s going to have to shoot the ball when he gets it.
  • Larry Sanders. Milwaukee’s center is Twitter’s favorite player casual fans probably have never heard of. He’s a Most Improved Player nominee for sure, and he’s very likely to be a force inside for years to come. He’s also the type of center who can give Portland a very serious headache. J.J. Hickson gives up size and athleticism to Sanders. Hickson won’t be able to defend him, he also won’t be able to shoot over him. Hickson will have to be careful with his shooting. He will also have to be careful with his defensive rotations. Slow defensive rotations will lead to easy buckets at the hoop for Sanders. Too many easy buckets inside, and it will be a long night for the Blazers.
  • Slow start. I talked about it before Monday’s game. Again, if Portland gets down early in this game, they probably won’t be able to recover.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]


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