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Game On: Trail Blazers at Hornets
In both teams’ last game before the All-Star break, Portland heads to New Orleans less than 24 hours after a double-digit loss in Miami.
The Blazers are 25-27 so far this season, surprising many people (including myself) by being just three games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland has exceeded my own preseason projection for them largely due to the unexpectedly strong performances of two players – Damian Lillard and J.J. Hickson. The former has blown the cover off of Hollinger’s projected PER of 11, while the latter has transformed himself from a league average player (PER between 14 and 16 in every season since his rookie year) to an impressive front court starter, as he has averaged a double-double this season (PER of 19.9). Not only have these two played better than expected, but they have also played more minutes than expected, therefore reducing the minutes for the team’s lower quality backups. Add them both to a starting core of Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge, and you have a very strong starting five on paper, despite their -4.1 net rating as a group this season.
The problem, of course, comes when those guys leave the game. Meyers Leonard is the Blazers’ only player to have a PER above – wait for it – 9.0. That’s right, no other Portland player even cracks double digits in efficiency rating. The Blazers clearly understand the ineptitude of their bench, too, as their starting lineup has played nearly eight times more minutes together (817) than any other 5-man lineup. Something to watch for, though, is when the Blazers go small. While it only has 67 minutes played this season (50 of them since the new year), their Lillard-Matthews-Babbitt-Batum-Aldridge lineup has a net rating of +29.9, outscoring their opponents by an insane 42.5 points per 48 minutes. Let’s dive into Portland’s rankings as a team to figure out the Hornets three keys to tonight’s game.
Keys to the Game
- Expect lots of 3-point attempts and box out when shots go up. The Blazers attempt the 4th most 3-pointers per game in the NBA, but convert them at the 5th lowest rate. Matthews, Batum, Lillard, and Babbitt are all capable of making open 3-point looks, but none are lights-out; all four are between 34% and 38% from that distance. Apart from them, though, no one else shoots over 27% from 3-point range, so let the rest of them chuck it up as much as they want. What the Blazers are pretty good at, however, is turning missed threes into second chance points; they are a pretty average offensive rebounding team, but they are 7th in the NBA in second chance points per game. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how many times the Blazers rebound their own missed threes and score.
- Work for high percentage looks. Portland allows more points in the paint (45.1) than any other team in the NBA, right in line with the 46 points in the paint that the Hornets scored in the two teams’ first meeting. This weakness plays right into the Hornets’ hands, as their two hottest players on offense recently have been Lopez and Vasquez. If Lopez can continue his success by scoring in the post and Vasquez can keep getting to the rim against a sub-par defender in Lillard, New Orleans can really capitalize in this area.
- Don’t be careless with the ball. The Blazers are one of the league’s worst teams at generating turnovers; only five teams create them on a lower percentage of opponents’ possessions. During their current four game losing streak, each of their opponents have turned the ball over less than 12 times. If the Hornets cough the ball up their usual 15 or so times tonight against a team that usually doesn’t get that many chances to score off of turnovers, the game will turn into a very difficult one to win.
Enjoy the game tonight, and go Hornets!