Monday, January 25, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Hornets: Game 46

After earning a 2-2 split on their previous four-game road trip, the Trail Blazers (27-18) head home to the Rose City for a short two-game home-stand, starting off tonight against the Hornets (23-20). Not unlike any other matchup this season to date, this one rides heavily on the availability of key players on both sides. For Portland, guard Jerryd Bayless has been upgraded to probable tonight with a sprained ankle and forward Nicolas Batum wants to play tonight, but the question remains whether or not he can convince Coach Nate to allow him to play. Batum is probable as well, but if he plays, he will not play more than 15 minutes. With Roy's latest re-aggravation of his hamstring, don't be surprised to see Portland be even more cautious in rushing back players from injury. On the New Orleans side, All-Star forward David West is questionable after missing last Saturday's loss in Denver, after he sprained his left ankle in their previous win over Minnesota. Also just reported, the Hornets have agreed to send guard Devin Brown to Chicago for Aaron Gray, which leaves them a little extra shorthanded for tonight's game.
For no reasonable explanation, Chris Paul does not perform well against the Trail Blazers. His career averages are 19.5 points, 10 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game while shooting 47.5% from the floor. On the other hand, his splits against the Trail Blazers are significantly lower at 13.7 points, 8.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.93 steals per game on only 42.7% shooting. As we all know, the Hornets go as CP3 goes, so slowing him down is obviously a key to victory. One way to minimize Paul's affect on the game is to try to keep him in front of you and not let him wreak havoc in the paint. If West can't go, this would be huge news for Portland, as he is the one who puts up gaudy numbers against us and is always the recipient of a CP3 dime drop. Since 2006-07, New Orleans is 1-5 playing in the Rose Garden, the only win coming last season with Brandon Roy out. Unfortunately, Roy will still be out for tonight's game, but unlike last year, the team is more accustomed to performing without its franchise player.
How amazing is it that the Trail Blazers still have the 8th best record in the entire NBA and would have home court advantage if the playoffs started today? Pretty damn amazing if you ask me. They still refuse to quit in the face of adversity and defy the odds nearly every night. Even myself, a pretty big optimist, have questioned whether this can last, yet they continue to prove me wrong. These next 10 games before the All-Star break will be crucial for playoff seeding as every team is either at or above .500 and with six of the four at home, the Trail Blazers must protect the home court. Outside of Charlotte coming to the RG on the 1st of February, this games looks like the most winnable, so the Blazers must find a way to get it done tonight. Although 2-2 on the road trip was admirable, the bottom line is they let two very winnable games slip away in the 4th quarter at Washington and Boston. For a team playing with their backs against the wall on a nightly basis, nearly every game close in the 4th must go our way to make the playoffs in the hotly contested Western Conference, where 4th place and 11th is separated by a mere 3 games.
Whether or not West goes, its a plus for Portland. If he plays, he's arguably not 100%, which could slow him down and if he can't go, take away about 16 and 8 from the Hornets statistics. This is a game where I think can be a little sloppy. The first home game back after a road trip usually have a high probability to be losses as the team is just now settling back home and taking care of personal matters. I don't think this will happen though. The team knows how tight the Western race is and will be up to meet the challenge. What I really like about this matchup is New Orleans' center Emeka Okafor is more of a power forward playing center as he is 6'10", which is comparable to Aldridge and Pendergraph. Also, he is not offensive minded, which should help keep the points in the paint down a bit and allow Portland to play him straight up. With Bayless' ankle probably a bit too tender, don't look for him to go crazy on New Orleans, rather Andre will continue his stellar player and the team will take a ride on the L-Train as he will be unstoppable in the post tonight. A close game early on, turns into a double-digit home team victory!
Game 46 Prediction: Trail Blazers 101 Hornets 90
Post-Game Thoughts
Another heartache in Portland. The Trail Blazers rallied from a 24-8 deficit in the 1st quarter to take the lead at the half by two, 49-47. Portland extended their lead all the way to 9 in the 2nd half and were in control by 8 with around 3 minutes to go. I know the team is undermanned and missing their closer, their MVP, but enough is enough. Just in this month I have seen a Trail Blazer team blow good-sized leads late in the 4th (Memphis and New Orleans) as well as fail to close out games in the closing minutes (Washington and Boston). Is the "magic" gone? In the previous two seasons, if you gave Portland a lead late in the game, it was over. We were the 4th quarter team of the NBA, now we can't close out a game to save our lives. What went wrong tonight?
First off, I think Coach Nate has done a tremendous job this year, by having the Blazers in position for home court advantage in the West even though the team has been decimated with injuries from top to bottom, but tonight I was a little baffled at some of the things done late in the game. Mainly, why did Jerryd Bayless only get 13 minutes of action? I realize he had to be pulled in the 1st half due to three fouls, but he was hot throughout the game, 12 points on 5-8 shooting and he found his teammates by connecting on five assists. Maybe most important of all, he was really playing tough defense on Chris Paul. I just didn't understand inserting Steve Blake for Bayless with 4 minutes to go. We had the lead, Bayless was a big contributor to that lead, and we had NO in the penalty. Blake is by far the better shooter, but wouldn't you want the slashing Bayless to play late in the game, when you've got free throws coming your way after every single foul? Here's a stat for you. In 1,202 minutes of game action this year, Blake has only attempted 28 free throws.In almost half the time, 687 minutes, Jerryd has got to the foul line a staggering 145 times.
Also, why do we get so conservative late in the game with leads? It was almost like a carbon copy of the Memphis game. We get a nice lead that should be insurmountable then we decide to go away from what is working for us. For whatever reason, we love playing iso-ball with 3 minutes and under left. Personally, I am not a fan of this strategy, because there is no ball/player movement. It gives the defense a chance to see exactly where you are going and put our players in bad rebounding position. I can understand using Roy late in games to work this strategy, but he is one of only a handful of players capable of making this a successful strategy. The Blazers went the last four minutes of the game without a field goal, because we got stagnant and wouldn't go away from Andre Miller isolations. Again, I have no problem trying to run Dre on the blocks one, maybe two times, because he does possess a size advantage over Paul and Collison and is comfortable down on the post, but he was cold all night long, 1-8 shooting, so why did we run the same play four times in a row? Bayless, Rudy, and Marty all shot above or near 50% for the game and with Miller ice cold from the floor, it may have been more beneficial to let Dre use his play-making skills to set them up for make-able shots as he did hand out 10 assists on the night.
Just like in any team sport, one person shouldn't get all the credit for the win, and one person shouldn't take the fall for the loss. Coach Nate just had an off night and he'll go back and dissect the film and learn from the game. No one is perfect 82 games a season. With that said, one has to wonder if we don't blow them out of the water if the starters even bothered to show up tonight. Every single starter had a +/- of -10 or worse, outside of Miller's -5. The defense was lackluster to say the least, allowing the Hornets to score 31 points in the 1st and gave up 16 of the team's 32 points in the paint. The Hornets took advantage of lazy rotations by hitting some three's as well as running the slip pick and roll to death, before our team learned how to control it. Out of all the starters, I give Marty a pass on his negative +/- rating, because he was scorching hot again tonight from downtown, hitting four of six, and started the Blazer rally by coming out of nowhere to swat a Hornets lay-up attempt, igniting the Blazer crowd.
We can't be Debbie Downer about everything, even as easy as it can be to do so. On the flip side, each member of the bench tonight had a +/- of at least +7. Rudy is looking more and more like the Rudy of early on last season as he tallied 12 points (4-7), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. It wasn't just the statistics he put up, it was the way in which he did so. For the first time this year, we saw the play-making Rudy show up. Bayless once again put together an efficient stat line together as previously mentioned. Even more uplifting is knowing his ankle shouldn't be too much of an issue the rest of the way, the way he was moving on the floor tonight. But the person who stole the show for me tonight was the season debut of Nicolas Batum. He only played 10 minutes due to him not being in game shape yet and only dropped 6 points, but it was how he looked on the court. One player in particular that stood out to me was him receiving the ball at half court, dribbling through the defense, and using a step-through move to finish at the cup with a pretty lay-up, which was very reminiscent of Clyde The Glide and Scottie Pippen. This kid is going to be special!
Box Score

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