Originally posted on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 1/19/13
The season starts now It wasn’t much more than a week ago when the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They had won six of their previous seven games – including 12 of their last 15 – and they had just taken down the Miami Heat on National T.V. Now, the team that looked like it was headed for the postseason is a game-and-a-half behind eighth place out West, and an ugly four-game stretch has people wondering if the playoffs are a reasonable goal this season. Matchup: Portland (20-19) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (20-18) Venue: Rose Garden Time: 7:00 PM PT Date: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 The Blazers have struggled since taking down the Miami Heat. (Photo: Bruce Ely/The Oregonian) Game Notes/How They Match Up The Trail Blazers and the Milwaukee Bucks come into this matchup with nearly identical records. The Blazers are 20-19 while the Bucks are 20-18, but with the Eastern Conference having less depth than the West, the Bucks would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. From an offensive perspective, the Blazers’ No. 1 option can be found in LaMarcus Aldridge on the low post. The Bucks, on the other hand, don’t have an inside option they can rely on. Defensively, Milwaukee has the ability to dominate this game in the paint. They lead the league in blocks—a category where Portland ranks just 20th—and they have the leading blocks-per-game player in the league in Larry Sanders. What to Watch: Portland The Blazers, who were once known for their ability to finish tight games, have dropped four straight in close fashion. The Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers all had their number this past week, and Portland has to bounce back. Portland has the players to finish close games. They’ve shown that LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews can all hit clutch shots. The problem is that these players can only spend so much energy getting back into a game before they lose it at the end. When Portland has won close games, it’s been when they establish themselves early and keep the game close throughout. The past four losses have been come-from-behind attempts, and the Blazers have simply run out of gas when it counts. This team needs to be ready for the Milwaukee Bucks from the opening minutes of the first quarter—not the opening minutes of the fourth. Playing from behind never helped anybody, and a shallow Portland roster is certainly no exception. What to Watch: Milwaukee Like the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom the Blazers just played, the Milwaukee Bucks get a good amount of their scoring from their backcourt. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combine for 37.2 points per game, and they’re the only players who average more than 11.5 points per contest. This team has decent balance in scoring throughout the rest of their roster, but you know what you’re getting yourself into when you play against these two guards. Brandon Jennings will challenge Damian Lillard defensively. (Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports) As the only players on the team to average double-digit shot attempts—17.8 and 16.3 respectively—you know where your focus has to be on defense. They’re going to look to push the tempo, and they’re going to attack from both the outside and at the rim. If you force Milwaukee to get their points elsewhere, you change their game plan drastically. However, if you allow the guards to take over, you must adjust and do whatever it takes to slow down their offensive attack. Key Matchup With Brandon Jennings and Damian Lillard playing against each other, you can expect a lot of points to come from the point guard position. These two players have a score-first mentality. Lillard has proven this year that he can control an offense and facilitate, but nobody is going to take the scorer out of him—not that anyone would want to. Lillard is coming off a less-than impressive performance against the Cavs, and he’ll be looking to make up for it Saturday night. Injury Report Portland: DOUBTFUL—Meyers Leonard Milwaukee: N/A Prediction The Los Angeles Lakers recently stated that their season officially began with a win that broke a long losing streak. The Blazers need the same mentality moving forward, and they need to make it happen with a win over Milwaukee. Blazers 95 – Bucks 93 CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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