Preview: Portland vs. New Jersey

4-7. Not the record expected at this point in the season. A team full of promise and hope. A team with 3 big stars and a roster of talented subs. 1 star injured.

This is the story for Portland and New Jersey both. They have identical records and similar stories. After the draft is was expected Portland would be driven by big-name stars Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge while New Jersey would ride the talents of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Now, a month in we know Oden is starting play next year and Carter is out for a few more games probably. Both teams could reasonably expect to come in with 7-4 records yet both are 4-7. Both teams have had problems scoring. The question is...are they headed the same direction?

New Jersey has started 8 different people. The only locks seem to be Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. at least until Carter returns. Krstic has started the next most, 8 times, but he is averaging but 16 minutes. The Nets are a team in turmoil. They scored all of 69 against the Boston juggernaut. The Heat held them to the low 90s. If they score 100 they get nose bleeds from the altitude.

How is this possible on a team where Kidd is averaging 10 assists a game? Easy...they shoot 43%. Well, Portland has given up 70% + shooting for a quarter (the 4th against Charlotte) and a half (the 2nd against the 76ers). So this might be a chance for New Jersey to get healthy.

Also, Kidd is exactly the type of point guard that has caused the Blazers fits in the last few games. He can penetrate at will which gets their defense scrambling, leads to open shots and then offensive rebounds. The Blazers have to adjust their defense to stop that penetration and must figure out a way to control the defensive boards.

At the offensive end they need to work more cohesively. Webster needs to be more aggressive at driving more and standing around in the corner waiting to launch 3s less. I am still a fan, I just hope he gets over his struggles soon. They need to be more aggressive in looking for Aldridge, also, and Roy needs to get involved in the offense earlier.

Portland should win the game...but it is not a huge upset if they lose and if their psyche is shot, they could even get blown out. But I predict a win, say in the 6 - 8 point range inside the last couple minutes.

Charlotte 101, Portland 92

The Blazers are a streaky team this year.
They lost their first 3 games, all on the road.
They won their next 4 games, all at home.
They lost their next 4 games, all on the road.

I figured they were not ready to beat Denver. I wrongly thought they were ready to defeat Philadelphia. With the confidence of their home wins against Dallas, Detroit and Charlotte I thought they would handily beat Philadelphia which would lead to further wins against Washington and Charlotte. All three of those were eminently winnable games against teams Portland was better than. At half-time, even after the third quarter against Philadelphia, I looked like a genius.

Then things fell apart. They gave up a blistering shooting percentage, gave back 21 points in the 4th quarter alone and lost a game they should have won by double digits. I instantly revised my prediction to having them lose every game on the road trip.

They did not disappoint. They went out and laid down to a bad Wizards team that was missing its best player, then went into Charlotte to face a team whose best player is out for the year.

And promptly had a horrendous game. They shot 42%. They gave up 19 turnovers. They got Aldridge only 6 shots...and he played but 20 minutes.

That is one move NBA coaches make that I often wonder about. Sure, Aldridge was in foul trouble...but would you not rather have him for 25 or 30 minutes and have him foul out than have him for 20 minutes and have a foul left? Let him play a bit more. Let him get that foul...or maybe learn how to play with foul trouble and still be effective. The Blazers need more than 6 shots from LA if they are going to win games.

The Blazers have talent, no doubt, but there is even less doubt that offensively they have Roy and Aldridge on one level, then everybody else. The difference is that big. And when Roy struggles and Aldridge is non-existent they just are not going to win.

I was able to listen to most of the first half. The Blazers were struggling mightily. They were careless with the ball, giving up turnover after turnover after turnover, they were not rebounding defensively...for the fame they gave up a whopping 13 rebounds...and they were not identifying their scorers and getting the ball to them. They followed up a respectable 23 point quarter with a woeful 13 point quarter...and 3 of those were a desperation half-court heave with time expiring.

Somehow Portland has to find a way to create scoring opportunities. 92 points is not going to win many games, particularly when you are giving up 47% shooting to teams like the Bobcats and putting them at the line almost 30 times. That is a path to numerous blow-outs.

This game wasn't. Portland even managed to take a lead early in the 4th quarter before allowing their defense to implode once more. 38 point quarters happen to the Suns, not the Bobcats.

Reports have surfaced of McMillan really unloading on the players behind closed doors. It is understandable why he would. This road trip is not the type of performance you would expect from a team that came together before training camp to work out together and build chemistry. It is not the type of performance you would expect from a team with players like Brandon Roy who is trying to build himself as a leader, with players like Blake and Przybilla who took less money to come here because they liked the direction it is heading, with players like Aldridge who typically play with a smile on their face because they are enjoying the game.

Portland laid down to Denver and Washington, did not even try to compete with either. They gave away a 17 point 4th quarter lead and lost to probably the worst team in the league. Then they gave up a huge 4th quarter to an improving but not yet good Charlotte team. It was a terrible, terrible set-back in their season that, at the end of the year, we will look back on as the time they lost their playoff spot. Sad.

I still like this team, I still think it has talent and possibilities, and there is still time for them to turn it around, win 42+ games and sneak into the playoffs. But I no longer am positive they will. Now it is more like a long-shot hope.

After the Philadelphia loss, I predicted they would lose every game on the road trip. I just hoped I was wrong. On the bright side, they are coming home, so they should win a couple now.