Pre-view, Hornets at Blazers

The Hornets are looking good early this season, racing out to a 3 - 0 start heading into their Tuesday tilt with the Lakers. Blazer fans will note that game is just 24 hours prior to the Blazers home opener against those same Hornets, so there is some positive news.

The negative news is the Hornets seem set on playing defense. They went into Denver and shut down the high-scoring Nuggets, holding them to a mere 88 points on their home court...and over half of those came from Iverson and Anthony who put in 46 points on woeful 32.6% shooting.

The Hornets did not exactly shoot the lights out...they shot 38% as a team. Nor did they have a stand-out performer. Their leading scorer tallied only 17...but they have great balance as 6 guys made the dip into the double digit pool.

Portland struggled against the Hornets the first time they played but that was A) on the road, B) the middle game of a three game opening road stretch and C) sandwiched between games against the World Champion Spurs and the title-contender Houston Rockets.

Mentally, they should be more prepared at home for their home opener. With the Grizzlies on the horizon, there is no reason to "look past" the Hornets.

New Orleans plays a lot of defense and spreads the ball around on offense. Look for Aldridge and Roy to continue their hot starts to the season and Webster to keep looking for his shot. At home, the other guys might be a bit more comfortable. It seems likely Jack and Outlaw will play better at home than they did in Houston and add the scoring punch the Blazers need to be competitive.

Portland will come out jacked up from the home-opener festivities. It would not be surprising to see an 8 or 10 point lead early in the quarter, but New Orleans will buckle down and make up ground after that opening flurry...if the flurry ever occurs.

This will again be a defensive battle and it is doubtful chalupas are on the horizon for Blazer fans for this game, but they should still come away with a 4 - 8 point victory in the low to mid 90s.

Addendum: In light of the beat-down the hot-shooting Hornets laid on the Lakers, it might be time for a reassessment of the game tonight.

The Hornets were hot, no doubt, particularly Peja and his 10 treys and Paul with his assist machine rolling.

Against Portland they will be seeing a revamped line-up with Frye replacing Pryzbilla and Blake replacing Jack.

Pryzbilla backed up what I have been saying all along about him being right for this team; not only did he not complain, he agreed his move to the bench "is probably the right thing for this team". That is not an NBA attitude...most players insist on starting regardless of what the team needs. And the argument that Frye will work better in the starting line-up alongside Aldridge where he does not have to go inside and bang as much sounds good. It will also add a defensive presence to the second unit. At least, that is how the coaches are presenting it and I have to admit it makes sense.

Additionally, Frye looks for his offense a bit more than Pryzbilla who primarily scores on broken plays and offensive rebounds. Frye has better range and moves. Since Portland has had a hard time getting out of the box this year...well, under McMillan, to be honest, since this was a problem last year as well...this can be a positive move in several ways.

The other move...I am not a huge Blake fan. I do like that he wanted to come here and that his teammates like him. I just think Jack has a better upside. Blake will be what he has always been...a 2nd or 3rd tier point guard. The top guys run circles around him and the average guys match him. Paul is a top guy who will have another field day against Blake. Again, Blake has a bit more offense, at least so far this year, than Jack, so perhaps it will be a positive move.

Overall the Blazers are looking to start a bit faster which they will need to do against a red-hot Hornets team that I now slot as a slight favorite, maybe 3 - 5 points, over the wobbling Blazers. Ouch.

Blazers (0-2) v. Rockets (2-0)

It was the wife's' birthday so I had other things to do and did not see the game. My pre-view was pretty short and succinct...basically, in just one sentence, I predicted they would lose.

I was not surprised to see them lose...but I was surprised by the complete lack of offense shown. Roy, Aldridge and Webster had games close to average...actually, I would add Pryzbilla to that...but the rest of the team was pretty flat.

Aldridge and Webster were uncharacteristically off the mark, though had Aldridge made but one more bucket in the same number of attempts he would still have shot 50%. But once you got past those three players, no other Blazer scored more than 6 points.

When a team tries to solve this point deficit one way is for the most talented players to step up and have monster games. This relies on the point guards to recognize who is scoring and get them more shots. In this case, that means Roy (9-18) and Aldridge (7-16) were the threats. Give each of them another 8 - 10 shots and see what happens. Since I did not see the game it is not clear to me if Roy, Blake, or Jack was running things, but which ever one it was, they needed to get the ball in the hands of Roy, Aldridge, and Webster in shooting positions more often.

Though perhaps that is not fair...after all, those three guys did take almost 62% of the total shots and made almost 45% of them. But for the Blazers to take the next step and make that surprise appearance in the post-season that I still think they can take a run at, they need more consistency from their guys like Jack, Outlaw, and Frye. There is no excuse for Jack or Outlaw not to hit double digits, and for the 2 of them to combine for over 51 minutes of playing time but a mere 12 shots...what was going on?

I assume Roy and Aldridge took over and were taking the bulk of the shots as they tried to claw their way back. I wish they had taken over a bit more.

At this point both of them tend to be a bit too willing to pass when their teammates are unable (Jones, 0-4, Outlaw, 2-7) or unwilling (Blake, 3-3) to take the shot. In a game where 20 points was not attained in any of the first three quarters shot totals of 18 and 16 for your two best players and scorers are not enough, and with Jack and Outlaw not contributing, Blake was scoring but was not shooting much.

It was not as if Houston was setting the world on fire, either. They only totaled 89 points themselves with just three players in double figures. On a night where McGrady looked human...and beatable...shooting a woeful 8 for 23 from the field, they never really competed. The early hole was just too big to dig out of.

On the bright side, despite entering the 4th with a 16 point deficit (and a pathetic 46 points) the Blazers made a run to get within 8 deep in the 4th. That provides hope that they will not quit and will compete right up to the end, even when the shots aren't falling, they are on the road, and are up against a better team, which they were.

2 statistics really stand out to me:
First, the good. Roy, Aldridge, and Frye had positive +/- for the night. As a long-time hockey fan, I have a firm appreciation for that stat. Night after night Roy and Aldridge have positive numbers in those categories, even against world-championship caliber teams like the Spurs.

Then for the bad and ugly; Pryzbilla, 19 minutes, -20, and Green, less than 3 minutes, -9. Neither had anything that stands huge turnover issues or foul problems.

Now, I am a big Pryzbilla fan. I think he fits the team very well. He rebounds (8 boards in 19:40 is pretty good), doesn't demand the ball when the more high-profile guys are shooting and scoring well, and is happy to do the "little things" like set picks and rotate the ball. Is Ming just killing him? How did he give up a point a minute? And he is the common denominator...the second highest total was Green's -9. That one is also a curious number. He took 1 shot in three minutes and had 1 steal. So I can only assume he had a hard time getting the offense started to give up 3 points per minute.

Overall, it was just one of those nights for the Blazers. They were beat by a better team in that team's building, had a rough night shooting and still were only down by 9 when the buzzer sounded. They are not "there" yet...but they are moving.