How do the Blazers take the sting out of losing 11 of their last 16 games? Securing a season sweep over the lowly New Orleans Hornets would certainly be a start.
We're live from the Rose Garden, as your Trail Blazers welcome the Hornets for a battle between the worst team in the Western Conference (that'd be NOLA) and the club occupying the bottom of the Northwest Division (that'd be, well ... you know).
Just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, Rip City hasn't thrown in the towel on 2012 just yet, and the Blazers will certainly have ample opportunity to get interim coach Kaleb Canales' record to .500 tonight against one of the least potent scoring squads in the NBA. N'Orleans will be without the services of center Emeka Okafor and Gustavo Ayón, while guard Eric Gordon is on the mend and was on the floor taking jumpers pre-game. Portland, meanwhile, welcomes back guard Raymond Felton, who missed Oklahoma City's 109-95 drubbing of the Blazers on Tuesday.
After winning 11 of 12 in the Garden to open the season (sigh), Portland has since gone 5-8 at home. Can they turn it around by beating a team they've already topped three times this year? The only way to find out (slight exaggeration) is to click past the jump, and follow along as I deftly describe all the action, on and off the
Jarrett Jack Greivis Vasquez and Marco Belinelli at guard. Chris Kaman at center. Carl Landry, Jason Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu at forward.
Portland: Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews at guard. Joel Pryzbilla at center. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicholas Batum at forward.
PREGAME: The Hornets have just EIGHT players in uniform tonight, as it looks like Jack and Kaman will sit this one out. That hurts, especially because the pair are averaging a combined 28 points for New Orleans this season. And for a team scoring a 29th-best-in-the-NBA 88.9 points per game, that's quite a chunk.
NOLA coach Monty Williams, a former Blazers assistant under Nate McMillan, gets a nice applause as he's introduced.
And away we go ...
10:31 - Hornets lead 4-0 after Landry follows an Aldridge block inside with a lay-in. Blazers pick up where they left off on Tuesday—and by that, I mean they've taken all jumpers so far.
9:29 - Aldridge takes it inside and draws a foul. Five seconds later, Matthews draws another. A pretty sound strategy against a team with three subs on the bench.
8:22 - Felton nails a 3 from straight-on, but New Orleans leads 8-5. On the ensuing possession, Aminu takes it in a bit too strong and he's called for the offensive foul.
6:55 - Aminu is the most active player on the court early on here. He's got one block and just forced Batum into traveling. New Orleans, which is 6 for 6 from the free throw line, leads 13-7.
5:29 - Aldridge hits his fourth J of the night to get Portland within four, 15-11. JJ Hickson checks in for the Blazers.
3:29 - Batum rises up for a monster block on Aminu, and that leads to a lay-up by Matthews on the other end. Portland is picking it up after a slow start.
2:19 - Media timeout, and New Orleans leads 21-17. Blazers have four early turnovers, but NOLA has failed to score off any of them. Aldridge leads all scorers with eight points. Babbitt, Flynn and Crawford check in for Portland.
2:05 - Flynn draws some attention and finds Matthews wide open for a 3-on the left wing. Portland within a point, 21-20.
1:19 - After Landry scores his eighth point of the night, Babbitt answers with a 3 to tie this one up at 23.
End of 1st - Nifty passing by New Orleans leads to a Aminu bucket inside to give the Hornets the lead, but Babbitt answers with his second 3-pointer of the night to give Portland a 28-27 edge after one. Both teams are shooting better than 55%, and Portland is 4 of 8 from beyond the arch.
11:22 - Hickson, coming off 21 points on Tuesday, hits one inside to put Portland up 30-27. Portland is hot from 3-point land, but they'll do better to get it inside and draw some fouls against the depleted Hornets.
9:58 - Babbitt dives into the first row to save a Hickson block and set up a breakaway, then drains another 3-pointer (he's a perfect 3 of 3 so far) to put Portland up 33-29.
8:43 - Carl Landry is the first player to double-figures. He hits a jumper to tie it up at 33.
7:34 - Batum misses his fourth shot and picks up a frustration foul. Portland has four fouls to New Orleans' none—two for Batum. He waives toward the bench asking to stay in, and Canales responds by pointing at his temples—coaching sign language for "Getcha head in the game!"
6:34 - Belinelli with his second 3 of the game and New Orleans has the biggest lead of the night, 40-33.
5:36 - Portland takes a timeout, down 42-35.
4:42 - Aldridge goes strong to the hole off a pick-and-roll with Felton and draws a foul. Two fouls each on Aminu, Landry and Smith, while Thomas has 3. That's trouble. LA hits one of two, and New Orleans leads 42-36.
3:29 - Matthews with a crossover and drive into the lane to earn a trip to the line. He hits one of two, and the Blazers are on a six-point run to get this one back within a point, 42-41.
2:18 - Belinelli with two straight 3s and New Orleans leads 48-44. He's got 14 points to lead all scorers. After the awkward Happy Birthday greetings on the JumboTron, LaMichael James is shown sitting courtside and the arena DJ queues up the UO fight song (Go Beavs). Also in the arena? A few fellas I'm more accustomed to live-blogging about, Timbers Futty Danso, Kalif Alhassan, James Marcelin and Kris Boyd.
1:23 - Babbitt takes it inside and dishes to Matthews, who drains a 3 form the left corner. Portland within a basket, but New Orleans still leads 50-47.
0:36 - Aldridge jams home a Batum lob and the Blazers are again within 3. A New Orleans turnover leads to a wide-open look for Crawford, but his shooting struggles continue and it's way off. Babbitt is called for a foul in the paint and the officials are taking a look at who Babbitt got a hand on. It's Thomas, who hits both free throws to put New Orleans up 54-49. Hornets are 12 of 12 from the line so far.
HALFTIME: Undermanned New Orleans leads Portland, 54-51. Aldridge leads all scorers with 15 points, but the Hornets are perfect from the line and are out-rebounding the Blazers 20-13. NOLA has three players in double-figures (Belinelli has 14, Landry and Vasquez with 10) while Matthews has 14 points for Portland. Babbitt, whose career high is 12 points, has 11 so far in this one.
And we're back at it ...
11:12 - Vasquez hits the first bucket of the quarter, a jumper from the top of the key, and NOLA leads 56-51.
10:34 - Landry jab-steps to Pryzbilla, who attempts to pick up the charge. Instead, Landry scores it and hits the free throw to give New Orleans its biggest lead of the night, 59-51.
10:23 - And Batum answers with a 3 from the right wing, his first field goal of the night. Blazers really need to get him going.
8:46 - Matthews lobs one to Aldridge on the break, but LA draws all iron on the 'oop attempt. Out of bounds to New Orleans, and the crowd groans.
8:08 - Thomas and Aminu pick up back-to-back fouls, which is four on each of them.
7:20 - Batum with another 3, and we're tied at 61.
6:38 - Felton on the break, fakes Belinelli out of his shoes and lays it in to give Portland a 63-61 lead. As the teams walk to their respective benches for a Hornets timeout, the PA announcer exclaims, "BLAZERS LEAD! BLAZERS LEAD!" They do, indeed. Blazers showing plenty more energy this half, which is to say, some.
4:48 - Felton with a bullet pass inside to Batum, who lays it in. Blazers lead 67-65. On the other end, Aminu finds his way to a loose ball and scores +1, while Landry comes up limping. He hits the free throw (Hornets are a perfect 16 of 16 from the FT line), and New Orleans once again leads, 68-67.
4:31 - Aminu with his fifth foul. Does Monty have a jersey on under that dapper tan suit? His team may need him.
3:09 - Portland with two straight offensive boards, and on the their third try, Felton finds Aldridge on a lob. Portland within one, 70-69.
1:39 - Portland with eight straight points after Felton finds Batum for a layup +1. New Orleans has shown plenty of fight in this one, but this the point where the Blazers need to pull away. Batum hits the free throw and Portland is up 76-70.
End of 3rd: Portland leads 76-70 after their best offensive stretch of the game occurs during New Orleans' roughest patch. Blazers shooting 50% (29 of 58) from the field, while the Hornets are at a 44% (25 of 57) clip. Aldridge leads all scorers with 19, while Matthews has 18.
11:04 - Crawford with the first jumper of the quarter, and it's way off. Yikes. Hickson, however, gets a higher percentage shot (a dunk) on the Blazers' next possession and Portland is up 78-70.
10:07 - Babbitt having a night. He hits his fourth 3 of the game to secure a new career high. After New Orleans gets a bucket to break up the run, Babbitt goes to the baby hook inside to put Portland up 83-72.
7:34 - Hornets have scored seven straight after Belinelli keeps New Orleans perfect from the line (19 of 19!) and Landry drains one. 83-79 and Portland. Just. Can't. Put. These. Guys. Away. Aldridge checks back in.
6:18 - Babbitt misses two straight 3s and the Hornets pull within a basket after Landry scores his 21st point of the night on an easy layup. It's 83-81 and New Orleans isn't going anywhere. Blazers take a timeout.
5:32 - Felton with a beautiful look inside to Hickson, who always seems to be near the rim. Belinelli answers, though, draining a pretty ridiculous 3-pointer as he fades away.
4:29 - After Hickson again scores one at the rim, Belinelli hits another big 3. Aldridge follows that one up with a dunk to put Portland up a basket, but Landry returns the favor with a dunk of his own to tie it at 89.
3:39 - Timeout on the floor. You have to give credit to the Hornets, who've fought back from 11 down to tie this one up. Blazers looked prime to put this game away, but Monty Williams' crew is keeping this crowd in their seats.
2:50 - Aldridge with a fadeaway J to put Portland up 91-89. He's got 23 points and 10 boards.
2:31 - The Hornets have missed a free throw, their first of the game. Landry hits the second one, but the Blazers lead 91-90.
1:40 - Felton drains a three from the left wing, and Portland leads 94-90.
0:58.1 - And Batum may have just put this one away with a 3 from the right wing. Blazers lead 97-90, and after going scoreless in the first half, Batum has 14 points.
0:44 - Hornets turn it over and Belinelli fouls Felton. That'll be 15 turnovers for New Orleans.
0:19.6 - Aldridge hits a fadeaway J from the left baseline but Belinelli answers with his seventh 3 of the night. Felton is fouled to give the sellout crowd a chance at Chalupas, but misses both free throws. Buy your own, kids.
FINAL: Blazers win 99-93. Aldridge leads the way with 25 points (on 11 of 18 shooting) and 12 rebounds, followed by Matthews with 18. Felton notches 12 points and 10 assists, while Babbitt has a career high 16, Batum scores 14 and Hickson adds 12.
Portland let New Orleans hang around waaaaaaay too long, but it's a victory nonetheless (and a season sweep!) against the least-best team in the west. But give the Hornets their due: With eight guys in uniform and foul trouble for all their bigs in the second half, they damn near stole one here. Belinelli led all scorers with 27 points (on 7 of 11 from behind the arch), followed by Landry's 24 points and seven rebounds. Vasquez added 14 and Smith scored 13 points and grabbed 9 boards.
After a bit of a lackluster first half—particularly on the boards—Portland nearly closed the gap to be out-rebounded 34-33. But they out-assisted New Orleans 26-12 and the Blazers' bench outscored the Hornets' three guys 30-8.
That's it for tonight folks. But check back on Sunday for more HOT LIVE BLOG ACTION, as the Blazers host the Timberwolves at 6 p.m.