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BY ERIK GUNDERSEN
The Portland Trail Blazers (29-32) will face the New Orleans Hornets (21-42) on Sunday afternoon. Tip-off is set for 4PM and the game will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.
• In improbable fashion, the Trail Blazers handily defeated the team with the Western Conference’s best record on Friday evening. The Trail Blazers defeated the San Antonio Spurs on their home court, a place where San Antonio had only lost three times before, 136-106. Led by a historic night from Damian Lillard in which he scored 35 points, dished nine assists and had no turnovers, becoming the first rookie to accomplish such a statline since turnovers became a statistic in 1978-79. LaMarcus Aldridge had a monster night, scoring 26 points and going 12-for-18. However, despite the great performances across the board, the Trail Blazers are facing an opponent that defeated them handily in their previous meeting.
• The previous match-up between these two teams in New Orleans, the last game before both teams went to the All-Star break, was an ugly one for the Trail Blazers on February 13th. The Trail Blazers couldn’t hit any of their jumpers in the early going and New Orleans did a good job of not allowing Portland’s playmakers to get to the rim. Wesley Matthews left the game due to injury in the first half and things would only get uglier. The Trail Blazers lost by the score of 99-63. The Trail Blazers had a shooting night that most of them would like to forget. They collectively shot 32 percent and 11 percent from three on 17 attempts. Anthony Davis had one of his best games of the season in February as he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and three assists on 10 of 17 shooting. His performance that night was his best since the New Year. Also something that Coach Stotts will certainly want to focus on this time around as he always does, is getting the Trail Blazers to run. The Hornets play at the league’s second-slowest pace and they slowed the previous game down do their liking, as it was only an 85 possession game. The Trail Blazers average 91.3 possessions per game. Getting out in transition will certainly be key to the Trail Blazers having success this time around in the big easy.
• Along with Davis, there are a couple of other weapons the Hornets have that the Trail Blazers have to be ready for. Ryan Anderson is averaging 20 points on 60 percent three-point shooting in two games against the Blazers. In addition to Anderson, the Trail Blazers will have to contend with one of the best distributors in the NBA this year in Greivis Vasquez, who, with Rajon Rondo injured, leads the NBA in assist percentage at 46 percent. That means that Vasquez assists 46.6 percent of all the baskets his team scores while he is on the floor. Now the Trail Blazers have a new weapon that has unleashed an offensive renaissance, new back-up point guard Eric Maynor. The Trail Blazers offense has been performing at an incredible rate over the last six games since Maynor’s arrival. The Trail Blazers are averaging 115 points per 100 possessions starting with Maynor’s debut on February 24th against Boston. As a point of reference, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the highest offensive rating with 110.9 points per 100 possessions. Maynor is averaging 8.5 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from deep. Also, Maynor’s arrival has helped relieve some of the ball handling pressure on Damian Lillard, and Lillard’s numbers have gone up as well. Since February 24th, Lillard is averaging 22 points per game, 5.7 assists while shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three on 5.7 attempts. His true shooting percentage during that stretch, a metric that combines field goals, free-throws and three point shooting, is at 61.8 percent. Maynor’s arrival has given Lillard a rebirth and has helped him avoid the so-called “rookie wall,” many claimed would soon be on the horizon.
• This is the Trail Blazers final game on the road trip as they will return to Portland, only to continue to face tough teams. After Saturday's games, the Trail Blazers are two games behind the Jazz and the Lakers for the 8th spot. With playoff team after playoff team appearing on the schedule, Sunday’s game is one that the Trail Blazers have to win against a team with a bad record. Also, revenge will certainly be on the mind of the Trail Blazers, as they will be looking to make amends for getting embarrassed in February. Also, on a lighter note, this will be the final time the Trail Blazers face the Hornets as the Hornets, as they will become the New Orleans Pelicans next season.
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