Blazers/Hawks Pre-Thoughts


Nothing like a return to the court to make everyone forget about the rollercoaster ride we just experienced. The trade deadline has come and gone, Portland has made no moves and this is the team who will battle for the rest of the year. No problem with that, obviously there was no move out there that would have made us significantly better. Also let’s exercise a little bit of patience here: there’s no rush to try and make a big move. The players we were in discussion to acquire were all talented and would have fit, but let’s admit we all had to talk ourselves into it. Whether it was Richard Jefferson’s overall softness, Gerald Wallace’s inability to shoot or Vince Carter’s age, there wasn’t anything that made us all jump for joy. Something’s coming in the summer thought, belee dat.

Onto tonight’s game, the Blazers face a mighty challenge against the Atlanta Hawks. I feel like these two teams could and should be siblings. If you look at their stats…they are nearly identical. Obvious comparisons between B-Roy and Joe Johnson. Both teams have a lot of youth, a strong starting five. It’s just kind of creepy. Both are 4th place in their respective conferences. You see where I’m going here and even if you don’t fully agree you have to admit we could be related. Atlanta comes into tonight at 32-22, King of the non Boston/Orlando/Cleveland triangle in the East, taking that spot from Detroit who have absolutely collapsed.

Similar to Portland, the Hawks are led by their balanced offensive attack. They have 6 guys who average double figures (we have 5). Led by Joe Johnson who is the type of player who can put up 40 with ease (we don’t do well against these type of players). His stroke has been a bit off as of late (35 and 36% the past two games) but he’s averaging 18 attempts a game so we know he’s shooting. Mike Bibby and Josh Smith both are averaging 15, Marvin Williams with 13, Al Horford with 10 and Flip Murray with a career resurrecting 10 points a game. Their balance is their greatest strength. It’s hard to key in on one guy when everyone on the court can play and score. Especially with a one-two bunch in the backcourt like that. Not to mention they have a couple guys who if they get hot can absolutely bury you. Joe Johnson, Bibby…and I guess I’d say Flip Murray on his best, best day. They are a very scary and dangerous offensive team, especially if you let them get in the open-court. Now if we’re scoring buckets and defending them in the half-court I feel a little better about things. Mike Woodson struggles with the basic concepts of a half-court offense which can lead this great offensive attack to sputter. We need the sputtering tonight.

On the Portland side of things this game will be a challenge, but this is just the type of opponent we need to play right now. This is the first +.500 team we’ve played at home in 20 days (since beating Utah on Jan 31st). And not to mention the first +.500 team we’ve played in the past 5 games. It will be nice to see how we play against higher competition. Part of me blames the recent “struggles” on the level of opponent as perhaps we played down a little bit. Tonight the defense will have to be brought up a few notches, the offensive execution will have to go up, and we’ll see if Portland is having some real problems or if we played down to our competition.

Keys to the game:

  • Contain Joe Johnson or Mike Bibby. I don’t expect us to get both struggling but it’s key we force one of these two into an off-night. Balance is great but to win you need someone to score around 20+ to compliment the other double figures. Obviously, Joe Johnson is that guy. We can’t let him get going early because it could be a long night. It’s not like he’s going to the line a lot (averages 4.5 attempts) so contest all of his jumpers and make him earn everything. Ditto for Mike Bibby. He might be struggling but I still have flashbacks to him as a King and it’s not pretty. Not only do we have to watch out for his scoring but we have to watch out for penetration. He can create for others, keep him in front.
  • Win the battle of the boards. We’ve got to attack the glass but also box out on the other end. They have guys who can give us nightmares on the offensive glass. Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams can all get in there and fight. We can’t give them second shots. On the other hand, Atlanta doesn’t particularly like boxing out. They give up around 12 offensive rebounds a game (22nd in the L) so this is a game where Pryzbilla, LMA and co. are going to have to attack the glass and get us some easy buckets as well. I doubt we’ll do what the Lakers did to them (out-rebounding them 67-39) but still.
  • Bring the intensity, energy and effort. Atlanta is a mediocre road team at 9-15 but have only won 5 of their last 20 on the road. They have a tendency to come out flat at times. Portland has to come out and take care of business by playing a complete 48 minutes. It won’t be easy but it can be done.
  • Use our depth to our advantage. Travis, Rudy, Bayless vs. Zaza Pachulia, Solomon Jones and Acie Law? COME ON! Although let’s be honest, the Bobcats had a sub-par bench and those guys found ways to score.
  • Attack offensively. This isn’t the greatest defensive team. They gave up 55 in a half to the Bobcats, they gave up 120 to the Clippers. If we excute offensively we should be fine.