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HORNETS VS. TRAIL BLAZERS
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 30, 2011

In one of the most important games of the regular season thus far for each team, the Hornets and Trail Blazers hold their fourth and final meeting of 2010-11. New Orleans enters Wednesdays matchup with a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Portland, meaning a win would give the Hornets a 3-1 season-series victory and the potentially key tiebreaker that comes with it. The winner of Wednesdays game will also claim sixth place in the Western Conference, at least temporarily.

During New Orleans 8-0 start to the regular season, the Hornets posted a 107-87 home victory over the Trail Blazers on Nov. 13. Thirteen days later, NOLA emerged with a 97-78 road triumph on Portlands home floor. The Blazers broke through for their first victory against the Hornets on Feb. 16, registering a 103-96 verdict.

Despite facing adversity in the form of rampant injuries over the past few seasons, Portland has remained a force in the Western Conference under head coach Nate McMillan. Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden has missed the entire 2010-11 campaign due to injury, while past All-Star shooting guard Brandon Roy has received reduced playing time as a result of a knee ailment. Although Oden and Roy have not been able to make their anticipated impact, several unheralded players have kept the Blazers competitive. Wing players Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum averaged double-digit points, while point guard Andre Miller has provided his customary steady leadership on the floor.

Portland is bidding to make its third consecutive NBA playoff appearance, but the Trail Blazers have been eliminated in the first round in the previous instances, falling to Houston in 2009 (a Rockets team that featured Carl Landry) and Phoenix in 2010. Portland has not advanced past the first round of the postseason since 2000.



INTRIGUING MATCH-UP


Small forward, Trevor Ariza vs. Gerald Wallace
Two of the premier defensive players in the league go head-to-head. Both players joined new teams this season, with Ariza arriving in New Orleans in a trade during the summer, while Wallace was acquired just before the trade deadline by Portland. In two victories over the Bobcats this season, the Hornets limited Wallace to averages of 16.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. Wallace racked up 40 points in a Sunday loss at Oklahoma City.



HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT
A closer look at the Portland Trail Blazers:


Wesley Matthews


LaMarcus Aldridge

GUARDS
Point guard Andre Miller is seeking his seventh NBA playoff trip in an eight-year span, having been on a team that qualified for the postseason every year since 2004 (excluding 2007) as a member of Denver, Philadelphia and Portland. However, Miller has yet to advance past the first round. The University of Utah product is a dependable veteran who rarely misses a game, having appeared in at least 80 regular season games in each of his first 11 years in the league.

Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews made a name for himself in the NBA as a rookie with the Utah Jazz in 2009-10, helping spark Utah to a first-round playoff upset over Denver. Matthews is a versatile scorer and dangerous from three-point range.

Brandon Roy missed over two months of action during the middle portion of 2010-11 due to knee problems. Roy made his All-Star debut in 2008 in New Orleans and was also selected in 2009 and 2010, but his injury woes have mitigated his impact. Hes been coming off the bench in recent weeks, occasionally delivering games of 20-plus points depending on playing time.

Bench catalyst Rudy Fernandez, a native of Spain, has experienced a down season shooting-wise but plays about half of each game, averaging roughly 24 minutes.

Australian point guard Patty Mills has been Millers backup throughout 2010-11. Mills didnt play much as a rookie but has improved in several areas in his second NBA season.

FORWARDS
At times this season, LaMarcus Aldridge has carried the Trail Blazers offense, helping compensate for the injury absences of several key teammates. Aldridge poured in 34 points in Portlands lone victory over New Orleans this season, finishing 13-for-18 from the floor in that 103-96 triumph. The University of Texas product has gradually improved throughout his pro career, but 2010-11 has served as a breakout season.

Nicolas Batum is another example of the Blazers success in scouting and developing international players. Batum, a native of France, provides Portland with solid contributions on both ends of the floor. Hes capable three-point shooter, as well as an athletic defender who frequently draws difficult assignments.

When NBA analysts listed their trade-deadline winners and losers last month, Portland was often mentioned in the winners category based solely on its acquisition of small forward Gerald Wallace from Charlotte. Wallace has been one of the leagues more underrated players, partly due to the Bobcats only making the playoffs once in team history. The Alabama native is an above average rebounder, shot-blocker, defender and fast-break finisher.

CENTERS
In his 15th NBA season, Marcus Camby has seen his offensive production dip in 2010-11, but he remains a frequent double-digit rebounder. Camby has been on a team that qualified for the NBA playoffs nine different times in his career. In just his third year in the league, he sparked the eighth-seeded New York Knicks to a trip to the 1999 NBA Finals. In 2000, Cambys Knicks reached the Eastern Conference finals. Since then though, Cambys teams have not advanced past the first round, including a stretch with the Denver Nuggets.

LSU product Chris Johnson spent part of this rookie NBA season with the Boston Celtics, before signing with Portland two weeks ago for the remainder of the season. The 6-foot-11 player was playing for the Dakota Wizards in the D-League prior to being called up.

Jarron Collins, the twin brother of Atlanta center Jason Collins, provides additional frontcourt depth for the Blazers.


Players the POR/NOH want shooting free throws in a close game
BLAZERS HORNETS
Rudy Fernandez
Nicolas Batum
Wesley Matthews
Andre Miller
Brandon Roy
85.6
83.5
83.1
80.6
80.2
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
David West
Marco Belinelli
Carl Landry
85.4
85.0
83.9
80.3
77.2
If the POR/NOH need a three-pointer, their best options are
BLAZERS HORNETS
Wesley Matthews
Rudy Fernandez
Nicolas Batum
Brandon Roy
Patty Mills
39.6
36.7
36.7
35.2
33.1
Marco Belinelli
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
Quincy Pondexter
Willie Green
39.7
36.0
35.0
34.8
31.7
Career FT percentage (through March 27) Career three-point percentage (through March 27)




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