Photo via OregonLive
After a rough patch where the Blazers lost 8 of its past 11 games, the team has seems to have bounced back with a trashing of the lowly Phoenix Suns and a good win over the underrated Timberwolves. In order to continue on their winning ways, they have to taken on three tough opponents this week, especially the two road games against Western Conference Rivals. Who are these teams and how can the Blazers stop them? Find out in this week’s edition of Blazers Weekly Preview.
Blazers @ Rockets- 12/11
This season has been rough for the Houston Rockets. After infamously almost advancing to the NBA Finals last year, the Rockets have “inexplicably” not been able to recapture their magic of last year. After their slow opening start was wrongfully blamed on Carmelo Anthony, they have continued to struggle. Much of their issues have been due to their lack of consistent wings. However, a subtler issue has been the decline from Chris Paul. While he was injured early in the year, he seems a couple of steps slow than in previous years, putting even more pressure on James Harden as well as Clint Capela, who is not a natural offensive threat. With the team’s bench almost non-existent outside of Eric Gordon, it starts to make sense why this team is struggling. Despite their struggles, Houston is still a dangerous team led by the reigning MVP. The key to a Blazers victory will be to not let the Harden show add a partner, so stopping Paul, Gordon, and other are key. With Houston struggling on defense and the Blazers inconsistent on that end, expect a high scoring affair.
Eric Gordon, brought off the bench for most of the year, may get a chance to start over James Ennis III, partly due to his comments last week about the team “not having any fun.”
Marquese Chriss will be doubtful with a sprained ankle.
Brandon Knight and Zhou Qi will both be out due to knee and ankle injuries, respectively.
Blazers @ Grizzlies- 12/12
The Blazers follow up a game against one of the most disappointing teams of the year in Houston with a game the next night against one of the most surprising teams this year. While many people wrote the Grizzlies off as a legitimate team this year (I am proud to say that I was one of the few who believed), NO ONE thought that the Grizzlies would be spending time at the top of the Western Conference. The duo of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are back and fully healthy, and have played like one of the top duos in the NBA. Rookie standout Jaren Jackson Jr. has exceeded expectations for a player that was deemed to be a raw talent, and players such as Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green, and Shelvin Mack have filled in remarkably.
After a year of trying to adjust to the NBA’s pace and space culture, the team has brought back its Grit n’ Grind mentality, which consists of a top notch defense and a slow, methodical offense. The lack of pace in these games has been a huge benefit to the Grizzlies. Teams have had trouble adjusting to the difference in gameflow, which I believe has been one of the keys to their success. For a Blazers victory, they need to not let the change in pace affect, and try their best to control the tempo of the game. Even if the game becomes slower, both teams match up well and should be competitive. The Blazers will have to bring out their inner dog and exhibit the toughness that they showed in October.
Both Oregon alum Dillon Brooks and Chandler Parsons will be out due to knee injuries.
Raptors @ Blazers- 12/14
This game will be one of the toughest of the year for the Blazers. The Raptors are playing like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and are seemingly the favorites to win the Eastern Conference Finals. It is not difficult to see why the team has played so well. Kawhi Leonard, despite the fact that he still does not seem 100% healthy, is a fringe MVP candidate. After an off year, Kyle Lowry is back, and despite his scoring numbers at its lowest since becoming a starter, he has taken a huge step as a distributor, averaging just over 10 assists per game. While their top two players are world class, what makes the Raptors special is the depth that they have. Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Fred Van Vleet, Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka all probably deserve to start, but more importantly, have bought in and fit within the system well. The talent does not end there, however, with Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and Norman Powell all providing sparks off the bench as well. To beat this juggernaut of a team, the Blazers have to play almost a flawless game and hope for the best.
Norman Powell will most likely not play in this game to a left shoulder subluxation (dislocation)
Lowry’s back has been bothering him the past few games, so expect our backcourt to take advantage of this matchup whether its Lowry on the court or Van Vleet and Wright taking his spot if the Raptors decide to hold Lowry out.
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