When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
Injuries: Hornets - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (out), P.J. Hairston (questionable), Blazers - C.J. McCollum (out)
Things are pretty rough for the Charlotte Hornets right now.
They've lost six straight games, which is tied for second-worst in the NBA right now (Oklahoma City also has six, and Philadelphia, unsurprisingly, is on a 14-game[!!] losing streak). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has missed the last seven games with a foot injury. Two other Hornets, Gary Neal and P.J. Hairston, have been dealing with injuries of their own lately and that's impacted their ability to play meaningful minutes. The team is struggling to adapt its offense to its new additions in Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams, while also trying to mitigate the ever noticeable loss of Josh McRoberts.
To make matters worse, the Hornets are taking on one of the hottest teams in the league tonight — the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers have won their last eight games, and look like a team not content with just making the playoffs this season. They're fourth in the league in point differential (9.1), sixth in true shooting percentage (55.7 percent), and seventh in assist ratio (18.2). They're also third in rebounding percentage at 53 percent and first in rebounds per game, at 47.7. In other words, they Blazers are consistent and efficient. They're a well-oiled machine, and a frightening team to face this early in the season, especially for a squad like the Hornets that are still figuring out their identity.
The Hornets are still without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is targeting a return to action on December 3. That leaves the Hornets' big three — Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and Lance Stephenson — to carry the majority of the offensive load once again. And against a team like the Blazers, who are limiting opponents to 41.9 percent shooting from the field while grabbing 68.2 percent of missed two-point field goal attempts, that's going to be a struggle.
Damian Lillard has already established himself as one of the league's premier point guards. He's shooting an incredible 50 percent from the field on shots taken with one or less dribbles, and coupled with his ability to knock down shots while tightly guarded (45.2 percent shooting with a defender less than four feet away from him), he's a reliable scoring option that doesn't necessarily need many touches to be effective.
Lamarcus Aldridge scored 25 points on 10 for 21 shooting along with 14 rebounds when the Hornets played the Blazers on November 11. He's been a steady force for the Blazers this season, averaging 22.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. How he's guarded by the trio of Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, and Al Jefferson could decide the outcome of this game.
Open shots won't be easy to come by for the Hornets, and they'll need to space the floor and nail whatever open looks they get from 3-point range to allow Jefferson to score against a big frontcourt that flaunts Aldridge, Robin Lopez, and Chris Kaman. The Hornets simply cannot allow the Blazers to suck their defense in like other teams have recently. At some point, the Hornets will need to make 3-point shots to regain flow in their offense.
Another day, another game. Hopefully not another loss. Let's go Hornets!