Scouting Report: Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers (45-27) come to Philips Arena looking to snap a 3-game losing streak (3-7 in their last 10). The Hawks (31-38) have a 4-game losing streak of their own, and both teams hold just a two game lead over ninth in their respective conferences. The Blazers sit in fifth in the West, but with five through nine separated by just two games, they are far from safely in the playoffs.
After a scorching start to the season, Portland has cooled off significantly, going 5-9 in March, and with LaMarcus Aldridge (back) missing the last seven games (3-4) the Blazers have struggled to find the same rhythm they had early in the season. Aldridge has been upgraded to questionable for tonight’s tilt with Atlanta and said earlier in the week that he was targeting this game for his return. Aldridge himself had cooled off prior to the injury, but has still averaged a career-high 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game this season.
Aldridge gives the Blazers a frontcourt scoring threat from the post and, more significantly, mid-range. No player in the NBA has come close to taking the number of mid-range shots Aldridge has — his 786 mid-range attempts is 97 higher than second-place Carmelo Anthony. Helping Aldridge this season has been Robin Lopez, who provides a quality rebounder and defensive post presence next to Aldridge — something they lacked last year. Lopez can stay on the block while Aldridge picks and pops, and on defense allows Aldridge to play against power forwards where last year he often got worn down by opposing centers.
Damian Lillard is the reigning rookie of the year, and has continued his strong play from last year. Averaging 21.1 points and 5.6 assists per game, Lillard is explosive off the dribble and is a threat attacking the rim and shooting from three-point range (38.5% from three this season). Jeff Teague will have his hands full on the defensive end against Lillard, but Damian is a below-average defender, so Teague and the Hawks’ guards should have opportunities to get open looks at the basket.
Both teams have plenty of motivation going into this game with regards to the playoff race and each is on a losing streak preempted by injuries to important players (Aldridge and Kyle Korver). For the Blazers, finding ways to get defensive stops — their defense has struggled during this losing streak — will be key, while the Hawks have to find a way to slow Lillard and Aldridge while limiting their own turnovers — 25 against Minnesota doomed them.
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