The Portland Trail Blazers (41-19) finish up a four game home stand tonight when they host the Atlanta Hawks (26-32). This is the first of two regular season meetings between the teams. The Trail Blazers enter the game on somewhat of a low note after a falling to the Lakers on Monday (107-106). The Hawks have been able to score at will recently, but have failed to secure wins.
The loss to the lowly Lakers was hopefully a gut check for the Trail Blazers. They fell behind early (as we’ve grown accustomed to) and didn’t have enough to pull off the win. Damian Lillard did have a chance to win the game but couldn’t find the space to put up a high percentage shot. “I don’t know about flipping the switch, but they started in fifth gear and we kind of started in third gear,” Terry Stotts said after the game. “Eventually we caught up, but you know, we made a great comeback, take the lead – that’s what you want. You want to be in a position to win the game. If you look at the whole game, the fact that we were ahead with under a minute… we were in a good position to win the game, but we didn’t quite have enough.”
LaMarcus Aldridge seemed to be more comfortable in his second game back. Aldridge contributed 21 points and six rebounds. Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum were the main reasons for Portland’s late game surge. Lopez has been in the zone and continued his outstanding play by putting in 19 points and 16 rebounds. Batum, who had 17 points and 15 rebounds, recorded 12 or more rebounds in consecutive games for the first time in his career. The starting five continue to shine and now the bench must step up like they did in the absence of Aldridge.
Lately, the Atlanta Hawks have been an offensive machine. Over their last five games, the Hawks have averaged 108.2 points. The problem has been finding the winning combination of offense and defense. They have lost four of those fives games, including Sunday in Phoenix after putting up 120 points. They exhibited tremendous offensive power on Sunday but allowed the Suns to score 129 points. The Suns even set an NBA season high 79 points before halftime which included an NBA season high 15 three-pointers. The Trail Blazers relapsed from their recent defensive success on Monday and won’t be able to do the same tonight if they hope to hold off the Hawks.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Damian Lillard was sent home sick from practice yesterday. He will be probable for tonight’s game.
- Thomas Robinson will be out but did go through a light workout during yesterday’s practice.
- Joel Freeland is out as he continues to nurse an MCL sprain in his right knee.
- Al Horford is out as he will sit the rest of the season with a torn pectoral.
- Paul Millsap is out but says his bruised knee feels a lot better. He did travel with the team on this six game road trip.
- Pero Antic was available and dressed for the game on Sunday but was held out. He is recovering from a stress fracture in his right ankle. He will most likely be out for tonight’s match-up.
- Gustavo Ayon is out for the season after suffering an injury to his shoulder that will require surgery.
- John Jenkins had lower back surgery last month and is out for the remainder of the season.
Keys To The Game
Robin Lopez vs. Mike Muscala. Robin Lopez has played two games in March as a Trail Blazer. He put in 18 points in the first against the Nuggets and 19 points against the Lakers on Monday. That brings his March averages to 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. The last thing Lopez is known for is his scoring ability. I mostly attribute his newfound offense to the ball movement the Trail Blazers have found again. He should (and probably will) continue to reap the benefits of the pick-and-roll and ball movement. Mike Muscala has been recently acquired by the Hawks. He debuted on Sunday, playing 19 minutes and putting in four points while grabbing five rebounds and blocking two shots. The Hawks are in need of a productive big man with Horford and Ayon out with season ending injuries. We could be in for a good (and highly unusual) battle in the post tonight.
Transition Defense. The Trail Blazers defense has been porous for most of the season. Before Monday’s debacle, the Trail Blazers proved that they could play good defense. They held teams to an average of 92.4 points during their five game winning streak. The transition defense was miserable against the Lakers. They gave up 32 fast break points in the game with 22 of those points coming in the first half. The Trail Blazers must get off to a better defensive start and cause teams to establish their half court offense instead of letting them get out on the break.
Teamwork. The Trail Blazers are a great team. I’m not talking about wins and losses but they play and act like a family. As mentioned, it seems that they have rediscovered the art of ball movement. When they move the ball, they create open shots and sometimes it even leads to a highlight reel dunk. Teamwork also comes into effect when you lose like the Trail Blazers did on Monday. They probably hated losing to the Lakers as much as the fans did. I was screaming to myself, “Anyone but the Lakers!” The team will need to regroup and focus on the game at hand. Mo Williams recently did a promotional video that talks about the teamwork aspect of this year’s team. This is not a shameless plug to try to convince you to purchase game tickets. Although if you watch the video below, it may cause you to purchase tickets to see the team in action.