When: 7:00 pm EDT
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, N.C.
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Outfitting: Hornets-Association (white); Trail Blazers-Statement (red)
CHA: LaMelo Ball (left ankle sprain), OUT; Gordon Hayward (left shoulder contusion), OUT; Cody Martin (left quad soreness), DOUBTFUL.
POR: John Butler Jr. (index finger soreness), PROBABLE; Jerami Grant (ankle sprain), PROBABLE; Damian Lillard (calf strain), PROBABLE; ; Gary Payton II (core rehabilitation), OUT; Keon Johnson (hip pointer), QUESTIONABLE; Jusuf Nurkić (adductor soreness), PROBABLE; Olivier Sarr (wrist sprain), OUT; Anfernee Simons (foot inflammation), PROBABLE; Justice Winslow (ankle sprain), PROBABLE.
The Charlotte Hornets play host to the Portland Trail Blazers, looking to snap a five-game losing streak as they round out a three-game homestand.
As one can tell from the paragraph-long injury report above, the Blazers aren’t exactly a picture of health right now, much like Charlotte. Damian Lillard played in his first game since Oct. 26 in Portland’s win over Miami on Monday, dropping 19 points and six assists on 4-12 shooting. Anfernee Simons missed a pair of games against Phoenix as well, leaving the Blazers’ starting backcourt intact for just six of their 10 games so far.
In spite of literally half the roster being present on the injury report, Portland has gotten off to a surprising start. The Blazers have received impactful minutes from veterans Josh Hart and Justice Winslow, both of whom enhance the team’s defensive fortitude and handle point guard duties at the same time. Enigmatic rookie Shaedon Sharpe has begun proving doubters wrong already, starting in four of his 10 games played and averaging 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game, providing at least one gravity-defying finish in each appearance. The Athletic’s Jason Quick wrote an excellent piece highlighting Sharpe’s development into “must-see TV” early in his career.
As a team, Portland’s 39.5 percent mark from long-range ranks third in the NBA, though they rank 26th with 29.9 three-point attempts per game. Perhaps that number is dragged down by Lillard and Simons missing some time, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Blazers’ team percentage falls throughout the season, or if their attempt rate rises to take advantage of their efficiency. They also draw a lot of free throws while rarely fouling themselves, ranking fifth in both offensive (24.1) and defensive (18.5) free-throw rate per 100 field goal attempts, per Cleaning The Glass.
Jerami Grant was the Blazers’ biggest offseason acquisition, following years of fan-created trades that had been shipping him to Portland to be the team’s defensively-inclined second option after it became clear the high-scoring duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum was eventually going to split up. Grant has been awesome so far, posting 18.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, easily re-adapting to the role of second or third option after leading the offense in Detroit for two seasons.
The comically-long injury report clouds the view of tonight’s game at this point (9AM, when I’m writing this), but most of the Blazers players are listed as probable, so it’s fair to assume that the lot of them will be available. If not, it can only help level the playing field for Charlotte with Ball, Hayward and most likely Martin all remaining out.
The are a few parallels between head coaches Chauncey Billups and Steve Clifford, too; both prefer a slower pace, preach defensive effort and extract value out of players not expected to contribute. Billups has overseen the breakout of Drew Eubanks, seamlessly weaved Sharpe and Jabari Walker into the lineup when necessary and given the likes of Keon Johnson and Trendon Watford a chance to prove themselves as NBA players early in their careers, and it seems to be working out for Portland now.
Since starting the season 2-1 with impressive victories over Atlanta and San Antonio, the Hornets have amassed a smooth 1-7 record. As we all know, injuries are unquestionably the biggest factor in the team’s struggles so far, but the bleeding has to stop at some point. Right? Right?!?!