Let’s let them Blaze a Trail . . off a Cliff
Trail Blazers(5-3) @ Hornets(4-3)
Off Efficiency: Blazers 109.0(2nd), Hornets 104.9(9th)
Def Efficiency: Blazers 109.5(29th), Hornets 102.6(16th)
The Trail Blazers come into New Orleans on a four game winning streak, having picked off two patsies(Miami, Minnesota) and two decent teams(Rockets, Magic) during that stretch. The Hornets are set to meet them, having received an ugly drubbing at the hands of the Lakers. I’m hoping the Hornets come out angry, and end that streak now – though we know from last year that Portland can really get on a tear and rip off long winning streaks.
Games against Portland are always entertaining. Some members of the two teams seem to genuinely not like each other – and last year the Hornets had some furious meltdowns as a result. Something about Przybilla in particular really pisses off Chandler and West. There are some unsubstantiated rumors that they feel he has too many consonants at the start of his name, but that may just be me being irritated at having to look up how to spell his name every time we play them. Regardless, these battles get ugly, there are usually technicals involved, and last year, other than the Lakers and Utah, I always wanted to beat them more than anyone else. On to the teams.
Outside of the shot-happy Toronto Raptors, the Hornets and Blazers shoot more jumpshots than any other teams in the league, with each team generating 74% of their offense from jumpshots. Not really the most efficient way of scoring, unfortunately, but we should see a lot of deep shots raining down, which can be exciting.
So far this season, the Blazers have played well at home(3-0) and not so well on the road(2-3) as they unleashed a strong offense(2nd in the league). Their offense, however, is not based on high-percentage shooting – since they rank right in the middle of the pack in both effective FG% and True Shooting%. No, their offense is more predicated on precision and crashing the boards, as they rank in the top ten in offensive rebounding, and are 2nd in the league at not turning the ball over.
Problematic for the Blazers, they’ve also had the 2nd worst defense, allowing 109.5 points per 100 posessions. Considering their strong boardwork and turnover numbers, this is a little surprising, but could be explained by their reliance on Steve Blake and three rookies(Batum, Bayless, Fernandez) to defend for large portions of the game. LaMarcus Aldridge is also not the toughest defender around. The Blazers are hoping that Oden will erase some of those mistakes, and he should be back in the game tonight after getting his feet wet in 16 minutes against Miami on Wednesday.
Blazers: Roy and Oden have nagging injuries, but both should be playing.
Hornets: Oh joy! Sean Marks has recovered! Peterson still has a sore knee, but should play too.
PG: Steve Blake v Chris Paul
Steve Blake is probably one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. His defense may be mediocre, but it is intelligent, and that covers a plethora of ills. His offense is excellent. Blake handles pressure as well as anyone in the league, rarely makes a mistake, and can knock down open shots. He’s not going to be an explosive pick-and-roll player, but when you have Roy, Aldridge, Fernandez, and Outlaw on the floor, you just need to be able to get the ball quickly into the attack zone and spot up. Blake does that. Of course, Paul does that and so much more, but still, I like Blake too.
SG: Brandon Roy v Morris Peterson
Roys the all-around player everyone knew he would be coming out of college – but he’s better at all of those skills than he was initially given credit for. He can defend, shoot, rebound, draws a good number of free throws, and his floor game is good enough that he can easily operate as a point guard. Morris can do a couple of those things.
SF: Nick Batum v Peja Stojakovic
Batum only plays about fifteen minutes, allowing Portland to run out Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez as a deadly one-two scoring punch off the bench. His job is to be an active defender and run the floor. He alright at it, but he’s still a rookie. As for Peja, I’d be shocked if he went 3-13 again. His shot is going to start falling.
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge v The Fluffinator
My impression of Aldridge has changed since last year. Last year I said Aldridge seemed to be a lot like David West earlier in his career – a tall jump-shooting machine with good touch. I’m not sure I can still say that though. West always had a nascent post game – one that he’s used more and more each year. I’ve seen no inclination from Aldridge to get in there and mix it up. No post game and weak rebounding numbers for a guy his height equals David West Lite.
C: Joel Przybilla v Tyson Chandler
I guarantee there will be lots of arm flailing – lots of Chandler knocking away grasping hands, and lots of elbows being tossed. Both of these guys are going to get their fair share of rebounds, but if Chandler can keep his cool, he’s easily better the Przybilla.
For about six months I’ve had an urge to put together a post about Portland’s Kevin Pritchard – a man who is celebrated as “teh best GM evah” by many. I’m not actually sure he is, considering the starting line-up I just went through. Is that really that good of a team? Even with Oden? I’ve not written anything yet because he definitely needs to be given more time to see how his stockpile of young players pan out, but so far Pritchard’s hallmark has been skill with the press, a willingness to spend millions of his owner’s money on typically low-reward draft picks, and extreme activity. His draft night binges remind me of that line from MacBeth. No, not “I dare do all that may become a man”, I was thinking “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
Now, with that out of the way – let’s go on to the actual bench – which is where Pritchard can stake his claim to excellence. The Hornets roll out two competent players in James Posey and Rasual Butler. The Blazers roll out shotblocking Greg Oden, clever scorer Rudy Fernandez, Athletic shooter Travis Outlaw, Channing Frye(he’s Aldridge Lite, so does that make him David West Lite Lite?), speedster Jerryd Bayless, and a fast, clever ball-handler in Sergio Rodriguez. Two of them, Fernandez and Outlaw, play nearly starters minutes, and all are fairly effective in their way. That is a bench to be proud of. Clear advantage to the Blazers.
Enjoy the game. I’ve given up predicting the point spread.