HORNETS AT BLAZERS
7 p.m. Monday at Rose Garden (CSN, cable Channel 37)
Key match-up: Trevor Ariza vs. Gerald Wallace
The Hornets have a pretty humble record at 9-28, but they have delivered wins against teams such as Orlando, Denver, Boston and Dallas. Ariza provides nettling length that can stifle on defense while scoring 11.9 points per game. Wallace possesses a similar frame and is coming off a 25-point, 14-rebound performance against Minnesota. We’ll see if he continues to play with the motivation of a guy who is “just tired of losing, man.”
To win: Normally, we would say that Portland just has to play its game, but given that the team has lost six of its eight at home, “its game” might not be the proper remedy.
The Blazers can’t get lazy defensively (they’ve given up almost 110 points per game since the All-Star) break, and if they can establish LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and knock down 3’s off double teams, they should pull at the victory.
BLAZERS AT TIMBERWOLVES
5 p.m. Wednesday at Target Center, Minneapolis (CSN)
Key match-up: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Kevin Love
There is no way Aldridge had a proper night’s sleep after Love dominated him in their last meeting Saturday. Love had 42 points to Aldridge’s 14 and continued to make his case as the league’s top power forward. There was a time when it seemed Aldridge managed to get the better of Love in their one-on-one matchups, but given how Love has expanded his game, those days may be over.
To win: As Nate McMillan emphasized Sunday, the Blazers have to communicate. They also have to realize from the opening tip that every possession matters, and not dig themselves a hole by, you know ... giving up 40 first-quarter points. The smack Minnesota laid down Saturday should have instilled some fear in Portland, but it’s TBD as to whether the team still has some fight.
BLAZERS AT CELTICS
4:30 p.m. Friday at TD Garden, Boston (CSN)
Key match-up: Paul Pierce vs. Nicolas Batum
Before Batum was inserted into the starting lineup and became a marquee scorer for Portland, there was a time when he was dubbed a defensive specialist. Friday, he may have to revert to that role. At 34 years old, Pierce is still a viable scoring threat (18.0 ppg) and can still deliver in the clutch as he showed by hitting a late 3-pointer against the Knicks on Sunday that sent the game into overtime en route to a Celtics win.
To win: The Blazers must contain Pierce and disallow Rajon Rondo from penetrating the paint. The Celtics point guard had 17 points, 18 rebounds and 20 assists against Knicks on Sunday and had deadly shooters such as Ray Allen and Pierce to kick it to should he draw a double team. Sometimes records can be deceiving, and Boston’s 19-17 mark likely falls into that category.
BLAZERS AT WIZARDS
4 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Center, Washington, D.C. (CSN)
Key match-up: Raymond Felton vs. John Wall
Let’s assume that Felton will have been re-inserted into the starting lineup by now, as the point guard seemed to indicate Sunday. If so, he’ll have his hands full defensively with one of the quickest basketball players in the world. Wall possesses inimitable athleticism that helped the Wizards stun Portland at the Rose Garden on Valentine’s Day and is certainly capable of making it two in a row.
To win: At 8-28, the Wizards don’t look like much. Then again, at 5-12 on the road, the Blazers don’t either. Portland cannot treat this team as a cellar dweller but rather like it’s contending for a title. At this stage of the season, it’s not the slightest bit hyperbole to think that one game can be the difference between making the playoffs and going home.