The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off of a big-time win over the Chicago Bulls, but the question is, was it enough to spark a late-season push at the postseason?
Matchup: Portland (32-36) vs. Atlanta Hawks (38-30)
Venue: Philips Arena
Time: 4:30 PM PT
Date: Friday, March 22, 2013
Every fan wants to know if they should root for a spot in the playoffs or a spot in the lottery. Nobody knows the answer at this point, but what we do know is that Portland has become one of the toughest teams to predict in the entire NBA.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
The last time the Blazers played the Hawks, Atlanta won by eight points. That wouldn’t be such a big problem if Atlanta hadn’t closed the game on an 8-0 run.
Portland has been beyond guilty of finishing games poorly as of late. We’ve seen this crew switch from closing out games to letting them go half way through the season, and currently, they’ve lost three of four with all three disappearing late. The Blazers need to pull ahead against the Hawks, and make them be the ones to force a comeback.
Despite destroying Chicago, the Blazers’ last seven losses have all been close, winnable games. This team needs to win those contests to have a shot at the playoffs, and losing them only ensures a spot in the 2013 lottery.
What to Watch: Portland
When it comes to the Trail Blazers, the No. 1 thing to watch in this contest is pace.
Portland has proven that it can play well when it’s playing quickly. More specifically, this team shoots better when it plays up-tempo, and when it shoots better, its defense doesn’t have to work as hard.
The defense on this team has been sporadic, and when it is allowed to take a break, that’s when games officially turn in its favor.
If the Blazers can speed up the game, they’ll earn good looks at the rim. Historically, the Hawks like to run isolation sets, and tempting them into transition basketball will be the best way to get them out of their element at home come Friday.
What to Watch: Atlanta
The only problem with Portland pushing the pace is that Josh Smith is more than capable of keeping up. He’s the kind of player who can impact both sides of the floor, and when the game us up-tempo, that’s when he’s at his best.
Smith is going to look to get up the floor on both offense and defense, and he’s going to look to be involved on both sides. Don’t forget that he’s in a contract year, and there’s no better incentive to play well than a max contract.
His offensive game is still a bit inconsistent, as he’s not a natural small forward. The problem for opposing defenses is that it doesn’t matter what position he’s playing. When he’s running, he’s scoring; and when other team’s are running, he’s defending.
Josh Smith has played the small forward position most of the year, but he’s recently made the switch back to the power forward spot.
If Smith plays the 4-spot come Friday, the key matchup in this game has no other location other than the power forward position.
LaMarcus Aldridge might be playing the best basketball of his career. Recently named the Western Conference Player of the Month, LaMarcus Aldridge is scoring points, gathering rebounds and playing low-post defense like he never has before. He’s impacting both sides of the floor, and he’s truly making his teammates around him better.
Smith is better at playing in transition, but Aldridge is better at impacting a game from start to finish. This game could come down to which forward has a better performance, meaning Aldridge needs to be on top of his game.
Portland: Doubtful—Sasha Pavlovic
Atlanta Hawks: DAY-TO-DAY—Deshawn Stevenson
The Trail Blazers haven’t been good on back-to-backs this season—especially on the road. The Hawks are a tough team, and it’s easy to see them running away with this one without much of a contest.