Last season early on I looked at the rosters and predicted a Portland victory. I was wrong. The Hornets came out and controlled the game start to finish, cruising to an easy win. I was not alone in missing. The Hornets played much better than people expected and had a shot at the Finals.
This year, I look at the rosters and think, wow, Portland has a really good shot at this game. Let's go old school for a moment:
Tyson Chandler v. Joel Przybilla
Chandler will put up more points than the Vanilla Gorilla and might even have a couple more rebounds but Przybilla will make him work for it. The point differential and rebound differential will scarcely be noticeable.
David West v. LaMarcus Aldridge
On the season West scores almost a point per game more and rebounds three tenths of a board better. Yet last year, against my expectation, he completely dominated this match-up. It would be extremely arrogant of me to proclaim that a fluke, but I also don't believe West is 10 points per game better than Aldridge. At some point this year, Aldridge will break loose against the Hornets and give a monster performance. Meanwhile, expect him to show up better than he did last season.
Peja Stojakovich v. Nicolas Batum
Batum starts but plays only 15 - 20 minutes a night. What minutes those are, though. He is exactly the type of defender that gives Peja fits; he typically stays home on his man, has the long arms to bother shots, and against players like that, Peja typically struggles and shoots a low percentage.
Batum pretty much only scores in transition or when his defender drifts away from him, so don't look for huge point totals from either player. Later this season when Martell Webster returns, it will be a different story but that is where it sits for now.
Brandon Roy v. Morris Peterson
Let's see, All-Star v. journeyman, budding Superstar v. guy filling minutes. Roy in a landslide. He should dominate in points, rebounds, and assists.
Chris Paul v. Steve Blake
Another no contest. All year, Portland has struggled with fast guards with good court vision. Sound familiar, Mr. Paul? Paul will have a huge game. Blake can't stay with him and will get absolutely torched.
James Posey can put in some solid minutes and Rasaul Butler is having a nice year. Rudy Fernandez or Travis Outlaw alone could eclipse their point total without even bringing into the equation Channing Frye, Sergio Rodriguez, or Greg Oden. Yeah, I know...Oden has not looked good so far.
Lighten up, people, he has what, 20 minutes of game time? He will have some bad games this year, but he will have some jaw-dropping, "did I just see that?" type games as well. Teams like the Hornets that have to play their starters big minutes are good candidates for that.
So how does a game like this one go? New Orleans has to build a lead early because if their bench needs to play catch-up against the Portland bench it could get ugly quick. Of course, that is true of a lot of teams...and New Orleans has the starters who can build the lead.
Fortunately for the Blazers, they have the starters who can stay close or even build a lead of their own. It would not surprise me to see, relatively early in the game, Coach McMillan put Batum on Paul.
That could go several ways. A lot of them are good for the Hornets. Batum could pick up fouls in bunches, he could get scorched by Paul, etc. But it could also turn out well if his length and agility cuts off some of Paul's passing lanes, and keep Portland's bigs from having to collapse on Paul and thus the Hornets will have to work harder for their scores. Admittedly, the first possibility is more likely...but for Blazer fans, it is nice to contemplate the alternative.
Meanwhile, Outlaw would probably draw the Peja assignment. That would result in more points for Peja...but also for Outlaw as Peja cannot stop the Outlaw jab-step.
Meanwhile, the Hornets will struggle to contain the Blazers' second unit. Fernandez and Outlaw should have big nights again and their production will be tough for the Hornets to overcome.
Now, after all that, I still think the Hornets come away with the win. There is a reason they went deep in the playoffs last year and will do so again. Paul, West, Chandler, and Stojakovich can all score, and the Blazers have a history of getting guys like Mike James...especially Mike James...going so don't be surprised if he breaks out of his season-long slump with a big night.
Besides those things, Portland is on the third game of a 5 game swing, are young, and don't yet realize they can beat the Hornets. I would not be surprised by a Portland win...but don't expect it.