The Portland Trail Blazers (39-18) will host the Brooklyn Nets (26-28) at the Moda Center at 7:00 p.m. PST tonight. The Trail Blazers enter the second and final meeting with the Nets on a three game winning streak. The Trail Blazers won the first meeting in November at Brooklyn 108-98. The Brooklyn Nets are one of three teams in the Eastern Conference to hold a playoff spot while having a losing record.
The Trail Blazers played last night in Denver and walked away with a 100-95 victory. Gaining a win is always the number one goal but the Trail Blazers sputtered at the end. After having two quarters in which they scored at least 30 points, the Trail Blazers scored a total of 18 points in the fourth quarter. Lately it seems as though the Blazers are finding it hard to put teams away. This should be a point of emphasis for Stotts and the coaching staff going forward.
Damian Lillard electrified the game with his performance once again. Lillard finished with 31 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. Who said he can’t do it all? All starters scored in double digits but the Trail Blazers got hammered on the boards and points in the paint. The Nuggets finished with a +23 rebound advantage and +28 advantage in points in the paint. Denver possibly exposed a huge weakness for other teams to take advantage of when the play the Trail Blazers.
The Brooklyn Nets are 6-4 over their last 10 games. Their season long winning streak sits at five (which they have done twice) and they haven’t be able to post more than two wins in a row since mid-January. The Nets come into Portland after a 108-102 win over the Lakers on Sunday. They have had two days of rest and probably needed it as tonight’s game will be the fifth game in a seven game road trip.
Although their play on the court hasn’t be newsworthy, the Nets were involved in history on Sunday. Jason Collins, who came out as the first openly gay NBA player, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday. Not only did he sign with the Nets on Sunday, he played 10 1/2 minutes. His play was nothing to write home about as he collected two rebounds and committed five fouls, scoring no points, but Collins is now the first active openly gay player in the four major U.S. professional sports leagues. I’m sure you’ve heard about it every day since Sunday but it’s worth mentioning again because I believe the signing is good from a basketball stand point.
The Nets lost Brook Lopez for the season with a broken foot and didn’t make a play for a replacement center before the NBA trade deadline. Nets general manager Billy King decided to take a chance on Collins. The Nets have a lack of big men especially in back-to-back games when Kevin Garnett doesn’t play his normal minutes and sometimes sits out. Collins could help the Nets increase their presence inside and get over the .500 mark by the end of the season if re-signed after his 10 day contract expires.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- LaMarcus Aldridge did travel to Denver last night but did not play. Aldridge is starting to get some shots up in pre-game warm-ups but he will most likely not play until the Saturday at the earliest.
- Joel Freeland will be out as he continues to recover from an MCL sprain. Freeland has also been able to shoot around pre-game.
- Meyers Leonard will most likely be out another week due to a left ankle sprain.
- Thomas Robinson suffered a knee injury last night and struggled to play through it. His status is listed as day-to-day and with Aldridge out, the Blazers will have to play small at power forward if Robinson is sidelined tonight.
- Marcus Thornton has missed the last two games with food poisoning. He is expected to play tonight in Portland.
- Shaun Livingston sat out on Sunday against the Lakers with a bruised tailbone. He will be a game-time decision tonight.
- As mentioned, Brook Lopez is out for the season with a broken foot.
Keys To The Game
Dorell Wright vs. Paul Pierce. Dorell Wright was inserted into the starting line-up after Aldridge was sidelined with a groin injury. Wright has posted two games with double digit points including going 3-5 from the field for 12 points in last night’s win. Wright has played 20-plus minutes in three of the last four games. It will be important for him to be productive and stay on the court with possibly both Aldridge and Robinson out. He will also have to guard a veteran scorer in Paul Pierce. Pierce is definitely not the player he used to be. He is averaging only 13.5 points but can go off on any given night. Pierce posted 25 points against the Lakers on Sunday and will be a threat tonight on two days rest.
Limit Deron Williams. Williams comes into tonight’s game with a lot of confidence. He scored a season-high 30 points on Sunday and will look to exploit Damian Lillard’s sub-par defense. Williams sat out the first meeting in November with a sprained left ankle. His performance this season isn’t exactly what we’ve been accustomed to over his career, as Williams is averaging just 14.1 points per game, which is his lowest since his rookie season in Utah. Maybe getting a center back in the mix will help create more scoring opportunities for Williams going forward.
Finish Strong. The Trail Blazers offense fizzled in the fourth quarter last night. Against a more worthy opponent, last night would have been a loss. The Trail Blazers had 24 in the fourth against the Timberwolves on Sunday and had 15 in a loss against the Thunder a few weeks ago. If the Trail Blazers get off to a hot start and build a sizable lead against the Nets tonight, it will be interesting to see how they react. I would prefer it if they would not mess around and finish as strong as they start. In the NBA, it’s very rare that you can get away with putting it on cruise control in the second half.