Live from the Rose Garden as the Portland Trail Blazers welcome the New Orleans Hornets. Tuck in your shirt and do something about your hair, because ladies and gentlemen, Nicolas Batum is back. It only took 45 games, but the Frenchman is scheduled to see minutes for the first time this season. Oui!
While there will be Batum tonight (about five minutes per half), there won't be any Roy. Brandon Roy will miss a handful of games—possibly past the All-Star game—due to a hamstring injury. Jerryd Bayless (ankle) is questionable for tonight, but has been cleared to play (and fall into the first row of seats on every layup attempt).
Meanwhile the Hornets are not the same team that nearly sprinted into the NBA Finals a few years back. While Chris Paul still carries the team on his (tiny) back, CP3's surrounding cast has not aged well. Former All-Star David West might be traded within weeks, and the franchise is more interested these days in saving money than winning games. Today, they did just that; trading roll-player Devin Brown for salary dump Aaron Gray.
Following the national anthem, a man to my right screamed "FREEDOM!"
11:07 - The "FREEDOM!" guy is sickened by the Hornets scoring on their first two possessions and he walks off. 5-0 New Orleans
10:52 - Pendergraph with a monster drunk from a Webster feed. New nickname: Penderstache. 7-2 New Orleans.
9:03 - There have been two missed shots by both teams combined. I don't see this lasting. 13-8 New Orleans
7:09 - Chris Paul is amazing. He's one of the rare players that are a treat to watch even if they are schooling the Blazers. He threads a pass through traffic which leads to a David West trip to the line. 17-8 New Orleans.
5:03 - New Orleans is hitting 72% of their shots, while Portland has made 33% of theirs. Guess who is winning? Come on, take a guess. 24-10 New Orleans.
3:05 - Martell Webster drums up some energy from the fading crowd with a block shot, a near-assist to Rudy, and finally, a three-pointer. 26-17 New Orleans.
0:03 - Bad ankle and all, Bayless checks into the game to a healthy round of applause. One play later, he splits a double team and lays it in. 31-23 New Orleans.
12:00 - It's never a good thing when Juwan Howard leads the Blazers in scoring after one quarter. He has six points, one for every decade he has been alive. 31-23 New Orleans.
12:00 - Nicolas Batum steps on to the Rose Garden court for the first time since April 28th of last year, which was the fifth game of the playoff series against Houston. Welcome back.
11:05 - Less than one minute in, Batum scores on a short driving layup. 33-25 New Orleans.
9:38 - The Blazers bench—Rudy, Batum, Howard, Cunningham, Bayless—might be better than the starting five—Webster, Miller, Pendergraph, Webster, Blake. They certainly have trimmed this lead from 16 to five (and shrinking). 35-30 New Orleans.
8:08 - It wasn't the prettiest alley-oop but Batum finishes off a Bayless pass for a quick score to pull within three. In this current five off the bench, Howard is the oldest by a dozen years. 35-32 New Orleans.
6:54 - James Posey elbows Batum in the face—no, not the face—which results in a very delayed technical foul call. Batum got hit, looked at the official, who then paused, checked his Facebook status, texted his wife, then finally called the foul. 39-35 New Orleans.
6:18 - Oh god, don't pull him at five minutes. Batum swoops in for a steal and a layup on the other end. I don't remember him scoring like this last year. 41-40 New Orleans.
2:12 - Oops, our internet went out for a minute. I almost had to actually pay attention to the game. Phew, that was close. 44-44 tie.
1:32 - Webster for three, but Miller exits the game after the shot after appearing to bang knees with someone on the Hornets. 47-44 Blazers.
0:02 - Off a Rudy feed, Blake hits a three and the Blazers take a halftime lead, 49-47.
12:00 - Miller is back. No need to panic. 49-47 Blazers.
6:50 - Paul has eight points in this quarter alone. The Blazers should just quadruple team him with all four point guards. Just fire Patty Mills at him from a cannon. 65-63 Blazers.
2:56 - Webster is four for five from beyond the arch, and both teams have hit better than half their three-point attempts. 69-68 Blazers.
0:44 - Aldridge shows off the finesse with a tip-in of a miss from 'Ole Man Howard. 73-72 Blazers.
10:32 - West gets Howard to foul him with one second, or less, on the shot clock. Howard is not happy with that whistle. 76-75 Hornets.
9:45 - Rudy for three, and following a turnover, he hits an impossible arching layup while getting sent to the floor by Emeka Okafur. That better be on SportsCenter tonight. 80-78 Blazers.
6:27 - Double digits for Howard as he tricks James Posey—usually a defensive force—into falling for his pump fake at the basket. One play later, Miller hits Aldridge for an alley-oop and the Blazers have their biggest lead of the game. 86-80 Blazers.
5:07 - Rudy with a steal, to Miller, back to Rudy for the layup. And now it's so loud here that it hurts. 90-81 Blazers.
3:47 - Juwan Howard, tied for the Blazers scoring lead with 16. Meanwhile an elbow from Marcus Thornton sends Rudy to the floor. Thanks to the force of the blow, and Rudy's acting, Thornton is given a flagrant one foul. Two shots and the ball. 94-88 Blazers.
3:26 - Rudy came back about ten days ago, but tonight is his real return. He is annoying the Hornets (hence the elbow to the grill), scoring at will, and passing the ball like he's running the offensive. 96-88 Blazers.
2:40 - Forgotten in the Rudy Fernandez Show was the Hornets' offense. A quick six straight, capped by a three from Darren Collison. 96-94 Blazers.
2:00 - Collison again, and we are tied. Don't blow this, Portland. 96-96 tie.
0:32 - Miller misses a short jumper in traffic, and while Paul gets a wide open chance, his runner rims off and into Webster's hands. Portland ball. 97-96 Blazers.
0:03 - Miller with another miss, and on the other end, Paul buries a jumper during a broken offensive play, New Orleans lead. This is where this team needs Brandon Roy the most. 98-97 Hornets.
0:00 - Bayless gets a chance, but it misses long. Game over. Chris Paul pulls off a dramatic comeback, and the Blazers drop a game they really shouldn't have lost. Ouch. Your final score, New Orleans 98, Portland 97. See you Wednesday.