Mar 06


The Blazers head out on the road for their final east coast swing of the season, with four games in six nights. The trip includes two sets of back-to-backs (Orlando on Monday and Miami on Tuesday; and Charlotte on Friday and Atlanta on Saturday.

All four opponents combine for a 146-104 overall record. Portland's combined record against the four is 2-2.

Orlando, which sits in the sixth spot in the east, will be without the services of arguably the best center in the league (Dwight Howard), but that's only one cause for optimism. The Magic are 40-23 overall and 24-10 at home, the latter being good enough for a .706 mark. They lost their last game, but have won seven of 10, including a win at Miami on Thursday. While Howard scores a bit over 23 points per game, six other players average in double figures. The good news is that none of them register over 13.8 points per game. The question seems to be: who will step up in his absence? Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson and Brandon Bass are all guys to watch. Sans Howard, no one on the Magic roster stands taller than 6'10". The Blazers beat the Magic in the first game this season, 97-87, on December 9 at the Rose Garden.

Portland and Miami went to overtime before the Heat took the game, 107-100 on January 9. The Blazers led by seven points with under two minutes left in regulation, but Miami scored seven straight to force the extra period. The Heat aren't much of a mystery to the league, being led by Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. Chris Bosh completes their top three. They've lost their last four games (including a 30-point blowout to the Spurs on Friday) Theywill have had three days rest by the time they tip off against the Blazers, while the Blazers will be on the second end of a back-to-back. Miami is 40-23 and 22-8 at home. They are 13-11 against Western Conference teams. James averages 26.3, Wade 25.5 and Bosh 18.2. Aside from those three, no Heat player averages over eight points. In fact, Miami's big three combined for 96 of their team's 107 points in that first contest.

The Blazers have two days off before facing off against Charlotte for the teams' second meeting in seven days. By now the trade of Gerald Wallace for Joel Pryzbilla and Dante' Cunningham (et al) is pretty much old news. The Blazers are coming off a 93-69 win over the Bobcats in which they led by just five at halftime. Charlotte's 69 points for the game were a low for a Blazers opponent this year, but the Bobcats are likely to be more formidable in their own arena. They're 16-14 at home and 26-36 overall, sitting just a game of out eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Stephen Jackson, who missed Saturday's game in Portland with a hamstring injury could be back for this game. Jackson is the Bobcats' leading scorer at 19 points a game. D.J. Augustin averages 14.4 points and nearly six assists per game. Of course, this game will mark Wallace's first return to Charlotte following the trade. It should be interesting to see the reception he receives from the Bobcats' fanatical faithful.

Atlanta created problems for the Blazers in Portland on February 27 when the Hawks prevailed, 90-83, in a game that was probably not as close as the score indicates. Portland had just three players score in double figures for the game with Andre Miller leading the way at 20. The Blazers shot just 39 percent from the field in the game, including 19 percent from behind the arc. The Hawks sit in fifth  in the east with marks of 37-25 overall and 18-10 at home. They're 4-6 in their last 10 games and, like the Blazers, will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back (they play at Chicago on Friday). Six Atlanta players average double figures, led by Joe Johnson at 19.2. Other players to watch include Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford and Kirk Heinrich. Smith leads the Hawks with 1.68 blocks per game, and Horford claims 9.9 rebounds.

The Blazers are at as full strength as they have been this season upon entering this road trip. Marcus Camby has registered two straight double-digit rebound games, Aldridge looked good against the Bobcats, and Patty Mills has had back-to-back double-digit scoring outings off the bench in the past two games.

The Blazers can win any of these games. This trip provides a good test as they enter the final stretch of the season.

~ Kassandra


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