7-8 Indiana at 5-9 Portland

Portland once more manages to get a game with a team missing their best player. This time it is former Trailblazer Jermaine O Neal who will be out. The departure of Jermaine is a microcosm of everything the Blazers were doing when they were a franchise in decline. They drafted him out of high school, sat him on the bench, watched him develop into a budding superstar, then let him go. What were they thinking? He had shown flashes of his huge potential and was about to spring into the outstanding player he has become. Now he is with a franchise that seemed to be in decline or at least in a state of flux.

Yet it is a talented team even with Jermaine out of action. They are coming off a road win in Denver. They have, not including Jermaine, 5 people averaging double figures and 2 more averaging over 9 points a game. They score over a hundred a game even with 2 major contributors (Jermaine and Ike Diogu) out with injury.

Even though Portland is catching Indiana at a good time...on a lengthy road trip, without their star and a talented role player...this will be a tough game for Portland. Dunleavy is on a role and the Pacers are turning their season around. Meanwhile, after a strong start the Blazers are fading.

They are confused about where to get consistent offense. They typically do not identify their best scoring option and take advantage of it. Their leader is reeling from a series of bad games.

Portland is a strange team this year. They have the talent to compete with any team in the league. The question seems to be do they have the basketball intelligence and/or the heart to compete?

That is a strange question to ask of a team with two players (Przybilla and Blake) who took less money to play here, one player who took over leadership as a rookie (Roy), and who, as a whole, voluntarily got together before training camp to work out together and develop unity, cohesion and chemistry. But it is a valid question. Why is this team losing games it could and should win? Is it just youth and inexperience? Or does it go deeper than that?

The Pacers start Foster at center, Williams and Granger at the forward spots, and Dunleavey and Tinsley at guard. Foster drags 9 boards a game while Dunleavy and Granger each snag about 6. This could be troublesome for a Portland team whose second leading rebounder, Przybilla, is a sub and their third leading board man, Webster, only snares 5. In short, Portland will struggle all night on the boards.

If they continue their tough defense, there will be a lot of balls coming back from the rim. Unless Webster and Outlaw in particular step up to help on the boards, that alone might be the difference in the game. If both teams shoot roughly the same percentage, Portland continues to stink up the joint from the foul line, and they get crushed on the boards it will be a long night.

For Portland to win they need to identify AND USE their scorers. If whoever has the hot hand is ignored for 8 - 15 minute stretches Portland will lose and lose big. Conversely, if Aldridge and Roy have average games, Webster has a good night and they get some extra offense from one or two of their third line scorers then Portland will win. They could also win on a big night from just Aldridge, just Roy, or just Webster. There is a pretty good chance this will also be a Chalupa night. Overall, though, I think negativity is seeping into my mind because I just can't see my way clear to predict anything other than another Portland loss by 10+ points.

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