Let’s get some Trailblazers Lost in the Big Easy

Game Preview
Blazers(25-16) @ Hornets(28-12)
Off Efficiency: Blazers 105.3(13th), Hornets 106.3 (9th)
Def Efficiency: Blazers 104.0(20th), Hornets 100.0 (3rd)
Bloggers: Blazers Edge

First, I'll need to dispel an illusion created by comparing the two team's efficiencies like I did up above.  These teams are not as far apart as it looks.

It is generally accepted by Basketball stat guys, whether it is John Hollinger of ESPN or Dave Berri of Wages of Wins or any other of the major stats analysis guys that point differentials(Points scored per game vs Points given up per game) tell a lot more about a teams quality than simply its win-loss record.  Studies show there is a much greater correlation between teams with a high point differential succeeding in the playoffs than teams with good record succeeding in the playoffs.(I.E. You can luck into a good record, but you can't luck into a good differential)

Judging by these two team differentials for the season, the Hornets are clear winners with a differential of 5.5. Portland only has a differential of 1.4.  With those numbers, it could be assumed that the Hornets, a conference contender, should beat Portland, a playoff also-ran, rather handily.  But that's not the whole story.  Portland had a rough month of November as its young players figured out their roles and how to play with one another.  But when December arrived, they were able to settle their rotations and explode out of the gate.  Since December 1st they have been winning games at an average of 5.75 points a game – the differential of a conference contender.

Now, to be fair, the Hornets also needed a period of adjustment in November – they were working in a new starter in Morris Peterson and pretty much a new starter in Peja Stojakovic, who missed all but 13 games the year before.  Their differential, leaving off November as I did for the Blazers, is 7 points per game.

What can we take from those numbers?  Just this:  both of these teams are young, improving, and dangerous.  And this game will be a good one.

Positional Analysis
PG: Stevett Jalake vs. Chris Paul
Advantage: Hornets
The Blazers and Hornets are very different.  The Blazers have extreme depth, can keep their players fresh as a result, and can keep rotating solid guys until they find the hot hand.  At point guard, they alternate the extremely solid floor general Steve Blake with the high energy combo guard Jarrett Jack.  They make a potent one-two combo and are solid at chasing Chris Paul.  Paul will still get his, he'll just have to work for it.

SG: Brandon Roy vs. Morris Peterson
Advantage: Blazers
The one position the Blazers don't rotate very much is filled capably by the do-everything Brandon Roy.  Roy is a capable scorer with a point guard's floor game.  He's also extremely poised and confident.  Morris will have his hands full chasing the guy.  Hopefully he'll still have enough spring in his legs to hit shots.

SF: Marvis Webslaw vs. Peja Stojakovic
Advantage: Even
Another rotating position, Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster are a study in different styles.  Webster is a semi-passive long range shooter, and Travis the slasher with a surprisingly good ranged shot.  Both players compliment their units perfectly – Webster the outside threat for the starters, Outlaw the primary scorer for the second unit.  Stojakovic will be a handful for either, but he'll have a hard time containing Outlaw.

PF: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Lord Fluffington
Advantage: Hornets
Aldridge doesn't rotate out much because his backup Channing Frye is a serious drop off and duplicates his game.  The other rotating positions rotate to throw different looks at the other team and keep them off balance.  Aldridge reminds me a lot of David West in his third year.  Capable mid-range shot – some developing post moves, and less rebounding than there should be.  He's a better defender though due to his length.  He'll bother David West a little inside, but so far this year has shown he can't slow him that much, especially if West's patented 'Fluffy Bunny' jumper is falling.

C: Joel "No One Likes Me" Przybilla vs. Tyson Chandler
Advantage: Hornets
Last game preview I mentioned that Tyson seems to really despise Przybilla.  A couple days later I saw this article by Kelly Dwyer over at Yahoo!  Then I remembered another article about a fight in a Portland practice between Martell Webster and, you guessed it, Przybilla.(yes, I know the article is supposed to be feel-good, but still, it's another fight) I just thought you should know you aren't alone, Tyson.  Joel?  You're very alone.  So alone you should just quit basketball and take up gardening.  Plants can't hate.

Oh – this spot rotates too – Joel only plays 21 minutes, with the rest going to a combo of Aldridge, Frye and LaFrentz.

In case you couldn't tell from above, this is a BIG advantage for the Blazers.  Their team is legitimately 10 deep.  Besides Travis Outlaw, Jarret Jack and Channing Frye that I mentioned above, they can run out James Jones(hitting at 53% from three this season), speedy point guard Sergio Rodriguez(16 points in 16 minutes last game) and servicable big man Raef LaFrentz.  The Hornets will be missing Bobby Jackson and though the reserves are playing better, Pargo is still unreliable, Ely still limited, and Bowen still REALLY limited, if fun to watch.

Hornets win, 93-90

And don't forget to take a gander at the questions I peppered Dave of the Blazer's Edge about over the weekend!

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