Originally written November 12, 2012 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
Time to get back on track The Portland Trail Blazers have been tested by legitimate contenders early this season, but the schedule is about to turn in their favor, as the rest of the month features teams who are either fighting for late seeds in the postseason or heading back to the lottery in 2013. Matchup: Portland (2-4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (2-3) Venue: Rose Garden Arena Time: 7:00 PM PT Date: Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 Like the Blazers, the Atlanta Hawks are in rebuilding mode right now, and these are two teams who will be competing against each other not just on the court come Monday, but in the free-agent market come next summer. Game Notes/How They Match Up The Trail Blazers are looking to bounce back after a tough loss against the Spurs. (Photo: AP) It wasn’t too long ago when these two teams were following the same model of how to succeed in the NBA. They both had a star shooting guard who played iso-heavy basketball, they both had a potential Big Three at the 2-guard, power forward and center positions and they both had a coach who loved to slow it down and use all 24 seconds of the shot clock. As it turned out, both teams truly were on the same path; it just didn’t lead to the success they expected. Neither team was able to excel in the playoffs, and as a result, both have gone through personnel changes. Portland’s changes have happened more quickly—and as a result of injuries—but neither team is where they projected to be a few year ago. On the court, the Blazers have played better offensively this season, but the Hawks have been much more balanced when it comes to playing their first and second units. Defensively, the Hawks are average in comparison with the rest of the league, while the Blazers have some serious work to do on that end of the floor. What to Watch: Portland If the Blazers are going to beat the Hawks, they have to play defense. They’re allowing 104.3 points per game through six contests, which is the second-worst of any team in the entire NBA. The Hawks are a middle-of-the-road offensive squad, but they have the talent on their roster to take advantage of a poor defense. Jeff Teague is leading the team in scoring, Al Horford is right behind him and Josh Smith and Louis Williams are as dangerous as anybody when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. This team even gets scoring off their bench, which is a completely foreign concept in Portland this season. The Blazers have been good offensively, but they must lock down on the defensive end if they hope to outscore their first East Coast opponent. What to Watch: Atlanta Atlanta may be just 16th in the league when it comes to three-point percentage, but that by no means equates to a gun-shy offense.  They’re currently fourth in the NBA in three-point attempts, as they’ve taken 23.5 shots per game from behind the arc. Portland has been decent defending the three this season, but their defensive struggles could very well lead to a lot of open opportunities for the Hawks. If Atlanta can take advantage from deep, they could be the fifth team this season to put up triple-digits against the Blazers. Josh Smith will be a tough challenge for Batum. (Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty) Key Matchup The Hawks have traditionally played Josh Smith as the team’s power forward, but this season we’ve seen him slide down to the 3-spot more and more, with Al Horford playing his natural position at the 4. If this trend stays true come Monday, that means Nicolas Batum will be given the assignment of playing against one of the most athletic players in the entire NBA. Nicolas Batum and Smith are approximately the same height—Smith has a slight advantage—but the difference comes in their overall mass. Smith can muscle players all over the court with his strength and athleticism, which is something Batum certainly can’t say at this point. Where these two players are similar is out in transition. Batum doesn’t quite have the athleticism that the Hawks’ forward has, but he is able to find more success when he gets out and runs. Batum’s shot is much better at this point, but with inconsistency plaguing him throughout his time in Portland, getting to the rim is what sparks success for the 23-year-old. Defensively, Smith has had the edge over his fellow small forward, but Batum is finally starting to come around, having averaged the fourth-most steals in the entire NBA this year. Injury Report Portland: PROBABLE—Wesley Matthews Atlanta Hawks: OUT—Johan Petro Prediction The Trail Blazers are looking for a performance to regain their confidence, and a Hawks squad that is sub-.500 on the season could be just the team to help them get back on track. Blazers 104 – Hawks 97 CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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