If the season ended today, the Hornets (42-32, 24-11 at home) would be the 7th seed, one game behind tonight's opponent, the Blazers (43-31, 17-21 on the road). The two teams have already played three times this season, with the Hornets winning the first two games in blowout fashion and the Blazers winning the last game (it was relatively tight though). That makes tonight's game even bigger- win, and the Hornets will own the tie breaker over the Blazers and be tied with them for the sixth seed. Lose, and the Blazers two game lead will likely be insurmountable for a Hornets team running on fumes. Speaking of playoffs, the Hornets have a three game lead on 9th seed Houston with eight games to play. Houston has a relatively cake schedule from here to the end of the year, and will likely end the season with somewhere between 42-45 wins. That means the Hornets need to win just three of their last eight games to almost guarantee themselves a playoff spot (of course, we have one game left against the Rockets, and winning that game would be a big one).
Carl Landry and Oak vs LaMarcus Aldridge
This is really interesting. In the past few months, Aldridge has elevated his game to one of the elite power forwards in the league. If the Hornets were healthy, him and DWest would battle at this spot- indeed, this is what happened in the last game between these two teams, when DWest had 27 points on 18 shots (pretty good, right?), only to be outdone by Aldridge's 34 points on 18 shots. However, with West out, the Hornets really don't have anyone who can match up with Aldridge. Oak is not quick enough to keep up with him and doesn't have the defensive range to guard Aldridge's jump shot, while Landry gives up 4 inches to him, so Aldridge could just shoot right over him. It'll be interesting to see what schemes / players Monty decides to throw Aldridge's way. Expect a big game from him, and this game could get ugly if the Hornets can't find an answer for him.
CP3 vs Andre Miller
With Brandon Roy detoriating post knee surgery (same injury + surgery as had CP3 btw. Gulp!), Miller has stepped in to claim the PG spot for Portland. The vet has done a solid job too, averaging almost 13 points and over 7 assists per game. He's been modestly effective on the offensive end against the Hornets, but he's been very good at keeping CP3 from scoring. CP has averaged under 12 points per game on 8 of 18 shootign against the Blazers so far this season. He also hasn't really been able to get anything going in the steals department. Fortunately, he's been a terror distributing the ball, notching 13 assists in both Hornet wins. However, without DWest, we really need CP to find his scoring/shooting streak for the Hornets to take the game.
The Blazers are 1.5 favorites. Call me crazy, but I think the Hornets showed a lot of heart against the Lakers Sunday night. With fresh legs and the homecrowd behind them, I think CP3 has a big game, Beli drills 4 threes in the first half, and the Hornets get a big win.
Hornets 95 (sorry, no chicken!), Blazers 84
Bonus prediction- these are two slow paced, half court teams that both rely on defense to win games. The over under is 181. That's a pretty low under..... but you might want to take it anyway!