By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
November 13, 2010

Headlined by All-Star backcourt players Chris Paul and Brandon Roy, respectively, the Hornets and Trail Blazers meet for the first time in 2010-11. Saturdays matchup is the first of four games between New Orleans and Portland this season, including one of two November encounters. New Orleans will pay a visit to Oregon for a game Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving.

Saturdays game also marks the first time unbeaten Hornets head coach Monty Williams has faced one of his mentors, Blazers coach Nate McMillan. Williams served as a Portland assistant coach under McMillan for the previous five seasons, helping oversee the Trail Blazers steady rise from a lottery team to one that has made the playoffs each of the past two springs.

Portland managed to win 50 games last season despite a slew of injuries to key players, including centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. Those players were still out of action at the outset of the 2010-11 campaign, but behind Roy, forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Andre Miller, Portland remains one of the most feared teams in the Western Conference.

The Trail Blazers are in the midst of a difficult stretch of schedule, a three-game road trip that includes stops in Oklahoma City (Friday), New Orleans and Memphis (next Tuesday).


Center, Emeka Okafor vs. Marcus Camby
Through the first two weeks of the season, Okafor was receiving significant accolades from around the league for his outstanding start. As one of the anchors of New Orleans greatly improved defense, Okafor has blocked 16 shots over the first seven games, including five swats against Houston and four vs. Denver. Hes also shooting 73 percent from the floor, an extremely efficient rate that was highlighted by his going 12-for-13 vs. Miami. Camby is a similar player in that hes regarded as a very good shot-blocker and rebounder, though Camby scores a larger chunk of his baskets from further away from the rim on flat-footed perimeter shots. The lean 6-foot-11, 235-pounder is also a bit more athletic, able to swoop in for tip-ins on offense. One of the Hornets main objectives will be to locate Camby prior to missed shots and limit him from making an impact on the boards.

A closer look at the Portland Trail Blazers:

Brandon Roy

LaMarcus Aldridge

On and off the court, shooting guard Brandon Roy is one of the NBAs most respected players. The University of Washington product burst onto the pro hoops scene in 2006-07, earning the leagues Rookie of the Year award (the previous years winner: Chris Paul). Since his smashing debut, Roy has been Portlands best player and go-to scorer. Although not quite as recognizable to casual basketball fans as Paul, Roy has enjoyed a similar career arc. Both men made their All-Star debut with the Western Conference squad in 2008 here in New Orleans, and are now three-time selections to the midseason classic. The 6-foot-6 Roy possesses a unique change-of-pace offensive game that doesnt rely on reckless drives to the basket; its more of an old-school approach heavy on deft footwork, pump fakes and positioning. Roy is also regarded as a first-class gentleman around the league, having been named by his peers as a finalist for the NBAs annual Sportsmanship Award.

The always-reliable Andre Miller has been an above-average starting point guard in the NBA for over a decade. At a sturdy 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, the 34-year-old has the ability to post up against smaller guards under the basket and drive by them for layups or pull-up jumpers. With a career average of 14.5 points over 897 games entering this season, Miller produced some of his biggest offensive nights as a pro in 2009-10. In a Jan. 30 game at Dallas last season, the Los Angeles native poured in 52 points, the second-highest single-game output in Portland franchise history.

Like fellow Portland backcourt players Roy and Miller, Wesley Matthews is short on flashiness but long on production. Undrafted out of Marquette in 2009, Matthews eventually became Utahs starting shooting guard last season and helped spark the Jazz to a first-round playoff-series victory over higher-seeded Denver. This summer, Matthews was rewarded with a long-term free-agent contract by the Trail Blazers.

Backup point guard Armon Johnson was a second-round pick in 2010. His emergence as a second-string player at the position helped pave the way for Portlands decision to trade Jerryd Bayless to New Orleans in October.

One of several NBA players from Spains ultra-talented national team, Rudy Fernandez averaged double-digit scoring as a rookie, but has seen his role decrease slightly each of the past two seasons. Hes a dangerous three-point threat and can be an energetic sparkplug off Portlands bench.

Now in his fifth NBA season, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is a frequent producer of double-doubles in points and rebounds. Aldridge, a Portland lottery pick out of the University of Texas in 2006, has often been mentioned as a potential All-Star candidate, a level he may be able to attain someday soon with modest improvement. The 6-foot-11 player reminds many of now-retired forward Rasheed Wallace, due to Aldridges ability to score by posting up in the paint or draining 20-foot jump shots.

Billed primarily as a talented defender during his rookie season of 2008-09, 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum emerged as one of the leagues most improved offensive players last season. The native of France nearly doubled his scoring average in 2009-10, putting up 10.1 points per game after posting 5.4 in that category as a first-year pro. The second player in NBA history to wear uniform No. 88, those digits also represent Batums birth year of 1988.

A second-round pick in 2009, Villanova product Dante Cunningham capitalized on an unexpectedly large chance to play as a rookie, when the Trail Blazers were hit by widespread injuries. Cunningham is a consistent scorer and rebounder in backup minutes.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, much of the story in recent seasons at the center position has been related to injuries. Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft selected one spot before Kevin Durant has been hampered with health ailments for most of the ensuing three years. He missed all of what was supposed to be his rookie season of 2007-08, then appeared in a total of 82 games combined in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The timetable for his return to action this season is uncertain, as he continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury he sustained Dec. 5, 2009.

Like Oden, Joel Przybilla has recently been a hard-luck victim of injuries, forcing him to miss extended periods of action. The 7-footer initially ruptured his right patella tendon on Dec. 22, 2009, then re-injured the same knee in March of this year when he slipped in the shower. Although Przybilla is still not ready for game action, he and the Trail Blazers have targeted Portlands Nov. 26 home game vs. New Orleans as a potential date for his return.

With both Oden and Przybilla unavailable to man the center position for the Blazers, they made a critical trade acquisition last season when they landed Marcus Camby. A 15-year NBA veteran, the 6-foot-11 Camby first rose to NBA prominence during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, when he helped lead New York to an NBA Finals appearance despite being a No. 8 seed.

Former Hornets center Sean Marks was signed by the Trail Blazers recently in an effort to add to their depth in the paint. The native of New Zealand played for New Orleans in 2008-09 and 2009-10, starting five times for the Hornets in 08-09.

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