Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 11/9/14
Momentum coming home The Portland Trail Blazers took to the road in their last four contests, and with the exception of an ugly performance against the Toronto Raptors, the team came away extremely satisfied against some tough competition. Matchup: Portland (18-15) vs. Orlando Magic (12-21) Venue: Rose Garden Time: 7:00 PM PT Date: Monday, Jan. 7, 2012 The New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves couldn’t handle the Blazers, and the Orlando Magic will now try and take down a young team with high hopes. The Blazers closed out their four-game road trip with a win over Minnesota. (Photo: AP) Game Notes/How They Match Up Coming into this game, the Trail Blazers and the Magic are headed in different directions. Both are young teams with a ton of questions, but the Blazers are coming off a successful road trip, while the Magic have lost eight straight games. For those who thought the Blazers were entering a rebuilding stage, Orlando fans have you beat. They finally rid themselves of Dwight Howard last offseason, and with the centerpiece of their roster being a strange combination of Glen Davis, Aaron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, it’s difficult for them to know where to turn with the game on the line. This is the reason they’ve struggled to win close games. Portland has been very good at finishing strong throughout the year, and if the game comes down to the wire, you have to believe the home team has the edge. What to Watch: Portland Despite being as young as they are, the Blazers have been great at closing out games this season. They have three go-to scorers in LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, and Wesley Matthews has also proven he can make shots when it counts. The Magic, on the other hand, cannot close a game to save their lives. Five of their eight straight losses have come by four points or less, and when the Magic win, it has to be by double-digits—or at least near double-digits. If Portland wants to win this game, they have to keep it close or blow it open early. If they fall behind and give Orlando the momentum, that’s when the Magic take advantage. Look for the Blazers to get their stars going early. The home crowd will be behind them all game following their performance on the four-game road trip, and they’ll look to energize the team as they take on a struggling opponent. What to Watch: Orlando Ever since Glen Davis went out with a shoulder injury, this team hasn’t had the kind of energy they had to begin the season. Nobody’s going to claim that Davis is the anchor of their defense, but throughout their current losing streak  they’re allowing an incredulous 104.6 points per game. This team has struggled to put the ball in the basket, so giving up so many points has been detrimental to their success. Nikola Vucevic will challenge J.J. Hickson Saturday night. (Photo: Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY) In such a lengthy losing streak, this team has to start feeling like they have nothing to lose. They just dropped four straight games at home—six of their last eight, to be more specific—and it’s possible they come out with a fury on the road that shows they’re willing to win games on energy alone. Key Matchup Speaking of energy, the key matchup in this game belongs to J.J. Hickson and Orlando big man Nikola Vicevic. We all know Hickson’s story. Being in Portland has re-vitalized his career, as he’s becoming a near-guarantee for a double-double night in and night out. He’s averaging 12.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, and he provides the hustle that leads to second-chance points better than anybody else on the roster. Vucevic has quietly done the same thing for Orlando, and he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in Orlando. His 20-point, 29-rebound performance against the Miami Heat on Dec. 31 is arguably the best individual performance of the entire NBA season, and he is one of the few players capable of putting up J.J. Hickson-like numbers on a regular basis. These two won’t make many highlights Monday night, but they could each be the player who tips the game in his team’s direction by the end of the contest. Injury Report Portland: DAY-TO-DAY—Meyers Leonard Orlando: DAY-TO-DAY—Glen David, E’Twaun Moore Prediction The Blazers have been a tough team to predict as of late, but the Magic are in the midst of an eight-game skid, and Portland should be able to take advantage of a struggling young roster. Blazers 101 – Magic 89 CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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