When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
This is going to be a tough game for the shorthanded Hornets. These two teams squared off in Portland back in March and the Blazers pulled away in the second half for a 123-111 victory.
The Hornets were without Gordon Hayward, Devonte’ Graham, and Cody Zeller in that first meeting and got 30 points from LaMelo Ball and 19 more from Malik Monk, a luxury which won’t be an option in this one. But Portland had their own injuries to deal with in their first meeting with shooting guard CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic sitting.
Portland will be without six-time All-Star Damian Lillard in this one. He’s listed as out with a hamstring issue, but the Blazers have already shown they can beat the Hornets even when without one of their stellar guards.
As of the time of this writing, PJ Washington and Devonte’ Graham were listed as questionable for the Hornets while Malik Monk is still out. LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward remain figments of our memories of the good ol’ days when Charlotte was seriously contending for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Trail Blazers overview
Without Lillard, CJ McCollum will carry an even bigger load than normal. He’s a great offensive player who tends to end up on the “All-Star Snubs” report every year and has never been an All-Star despite averaging more than 20 points per game in each of the last six seasons. This year he’s dropping over 23 points per game and shooting 40% from the 3-point line. He’s had five 30-point games this season, including a 44-point outburst against the Rockets early in December, and will probably be looking to score in bunches with Lillard in street clothes.
The Blazers acquired wing Norman Powell at the trade deadline from Toronto and he’s been a solid addition. He’s averaging over 16 points per game with Portland and is shooting a scorching 43% from the 3-point line this year. Power forward Robert Covington is a versatile defender who struggles to score, but he can hit open shots as witnessed by his 38% 3-point shooting. Center Jusuf Nurkic is a traditional big man who can score in the paint and control the boards.
Their bench consists of three offensive weapons in Gary Trent Jr (15.0 PPG), Carmelo Anthony (13.3 PPG), and Enes Kanter (12.1 PPG) who can usually outscore the opposing team’s second unit.
How the Hornets can win
Even without Damian Lillard, this is a dangerous Blazers team. Portland is fighting to overtake the Lakers for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and won’t overlook this game.
The Blazers strategy is to simply outscore their opponents. They rank No. 6 in the league in Offensive Rating (115.9) but they have the league’s second worst defensive rating (116.1). Charlotte should look to slow down the pace and play physical perimeter defense on CJ McCollum. With this game being played in Charlotte, perhaps the refs might swallow their whistles a bit, and the Hornets can disrupt Portland’s offense.
Even this ragtag group of Hornets can exploit the Blazers weak defense, though. Perhaps James Borrego can draw up offensive sets that will milk the clock, yield efficient scoring, and limit the Blazers in transition on misses. If they can keep things close through three quarters, anything can happen in the fourth.
It’s a tough ask, but let’s see if the Hornets can pull out an important home victory.
What do you predict for tonight’s game?
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Hornets win easy
Hornets win a close one
Blazers win a close one
Blazers win easy