The Portland Trail Blazers (9-2) take on the Milwaukee Bucks (2-7) tonight, hoping to complete the sweep of their four game road trip. It’s easy to look at a team whose leading scorer is O.J. Mayo and write them off, but to do so would be a mistake. Their injury riddled roster is coming together regardless of expectation, and the Trail Blazers cannot take them lightly.
Players to watch out for:
O.J. Mayo – He has had trouble scoring inside this season, but he’s made up for it by shooting very efficiently from the 3-point line. His 53.3% from deep is a career best, and even better than Wesley Matthews highly touted 52.6% to start the season. Fortunately, Wesley Matthews is a better defender, and will be guarding Mayo at the perimeter.
Ersan Ilyasova – The Turkish James Franco is reportedly ready to return from the ankle injury that kept him out of the Bucks’ last six games. Ersan is another spectacular 3-point shooter, who will be able to draw LaMarcus Aldridge out of the lane, creating more space for our next watch-listed player to operate.
Zaza Pachulia – He and head coach Larry Drew both arrived from Atlanta in the offseason, and Drew is very comfortable leaning on Pachulia in the absence of starting center Larry Sanders (thumb). He hasn’t made much noise on offense lately, but has proven capable of putting up as much as 20 points with Ilyasova stretching the defense.
Caron Butler – What do you know? Another solid 3-point shooter. I’m beginning to see a pattern. Butler (shoulder) is listed as probable for tonight’s game and has the potential to get hot at any time. If both he and Mayo heat up, the Blazers could be in for a rough night. Nicolas Batum must do his part to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Gary Neal – Okay, I had to include one more 3-point shooter to drive the point home. Neal is widely known as an “irrational confidence” guy, but he’s working hard to drop that first word this year. He has shot 54.8% from the arc so far and will share minutes at point guard with rookie Nate Wolters as Brandon Knight recovers from a hamstring injury.
Don’t let the Bucks’ 2-7 record fool you. Yeah, they’re nowhere near the NBA’s upper echelon, but they have been missing several key players (and still are to some extent). With Ilyasova, Butler, and Neal all healthy enough to play in the same game, the Trail Blazers have their work cut out for them; especially on the road. Whichever team controls the arc will win the game. Count on it.