When: 10:00 pm EST (gross)
Where: Moda Center; Portland, OR
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Before the season started, I don’t think a single person would have predicted that the Hornets and Blazers would be within two games of one another at the halfway point of the season.
The Blazers are kind of the anti-Hornets. Most pundits had the Blazers pegged as a guaranteed Western Conference playoff team. Their roster underwent some changes on its periphery, but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still there. Hassan Whiteside was supposed to provide a reasonable stand-in for Jusuf Nurkic until he returned from a broken leg. Zach Collins and Rodney Hood have missed most of the season with injuries, but you wouldn’t think that would be enough to completely derail their season.
Yet here we are. You expect them to figure it out at some point and get their season on track, but it’s not happening. Any good that happens, like their four game winning streak in mid-December, is immediately followed by something bad, like them losing eight of ten after said winning streak. They were so desperate for a spark that they signed Carmelo Anthony off his couch, but it’s done nothing to help despite his okay-ish production.
The main problem lies in Portland’s inability to generate efficient offense without Damian Lillard. With their All Star point guard on the floor, the Blazers outscore their opponents and score 112.8 points per 100 possessions, which roughly equates to a top five offense. When he sits, their offensive rating craters to 104.4, which is worse than all but two teams this season. They’re getting killed even if McCollum is on the floor for those non-Lillard minutes (This is a situation every Hornets fan is familiar with). That’s due in large part to the Blazers living in the mid-range area without Lillard. With him on the bench, 38.7% of their shots come within the mid-range, which is more than anyone in the league except for that team with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge taking all the shots.
The Hornets will have to dominate the minutes while Lillard sits to give them their best chance to win this game. They’ll have their full complement of players to do that with. Bismack Biyombo is the only player on the injury report after getting popped in the nose last night. He played through it last night, so I can’t imagine he’ll sit out tonight.