Game Time: 10:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports South; NBA League Pass
Record Against Portland Last Season: 1-1
Two days removed from a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Charlotte Hornets will face off against a strong Portland Trailblazers team sitting atop the Pacific Division at 4-3. The Hornets are still looking for their first road win, and it won't be easy winning against the Blazers who play well at home, and who last season beat the Hornets by 20 in Portland.
Portland ranks second in rebounds per game, and third in points allowed, which means it will be even more difficult for the Hornets to score after only managing 92 points against the Lakers, who were dead last in points allowed entering Sunday.
The Blazers attempt the second most 3-pointers in the league at 27.6, and rank seventh in 3-point percentage at 37.8 percent. Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, Steve Blake, C.J. McCollum, and Nicolas Batum are all capable shooters from behind the arc. Batum however, will miss tonight's game with a right knee contusion.
Keeping Portland off the offensive glass will be tough, as the team ranks second in offensive rebounds per game, largely thanks to Robin Lopez, who is averaging four a game. The good news is the Hornets have the highest team defensive rebounding percentage in the league at 81.9 percent. Let's hope the Hornets can cancel out Lopez and the rest of the Blazers from collecting second chance points.
The Blazers are led by All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who is averaging 22.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Aldridge can score from the block and the high post, and has extended his shooting range to the 3-point this season. While he only attempts 1.6 3-pointers a game, he is shooting a respectable 36.4 percent.
Lillard is averaging 17.4 points per game, which is down slightly from last season. His shooting percentage is down slightly as well, but he is still an All-Star caliber point guard that will be a handful for Kemba Walker and the rest of the team to guard.
Keys to the Game
So what will it take for the Hornets to pull off the upset? For starters, avoid a second half collapse. The Hornets led all first half against the Lakers, but then poor shot selection and defense allowed the Lakers to go on a run, and Hornets fans all saw how that ended.
Converting more free throws would help as well. Al Jefferson has struggled from the line this season, averaging only 55.3 percent as opposed to 69 percent last season. Kemba Walker has struggled from the line as well, with an free throw percentage of only 69.7 percent, down significantly from 83.7 a season ago. If there is good news for Walker, his shooting percentage is up slightly from last season to 40.2 percent.
The Hornets should also look to get Michael Kidd-Gilchrist involved on offense early. This sounds crazy considering where MKG was last season, but giving him scoring opportunities early has helped set a tempo for the team in past games this season, and also helps get him into a rhythm as well. On Sunday he seemed reluctant to involve himself in the offense as a scoring threat, which was a shame given how well he is attacking the basket this season. The team should find ways to get him to be more aggressive offensively, and getting him opportunities early may be a way to encourage that. Jefferson should still be the primary scoring option, getting MKG's motor running in the 1st quarter often has a positive effect on the rest of the team.
The biggest key is limiting turnovers. As Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer pointed out, the Hornets are struggling in that area this season:
They committed the fewest turnovers in the NBA at 12.12 a game last season. This season they are 19th among 30 teams at 15.3.
While part of this can be attributed to new players learning a new system, there is still no legitimate excuse to have this large of a drop off.
How the Hornets respond after Sunday's loss will be interesting. A few bright spots this season have been overshadowed by the low points, and the loss to the Lakers may have been the lowest of them all. Consistency is key, and the Hornets simply haven't show it enough so far. Earning a win tonight will be tough, and the Hornets must put in a complete game to have a chance.