With half of the Circus Trip behind them, the 41-29 Brooklyn Nets kick off their final four games in the eight-game, 17-day road trip in Portland against the 33-37 Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and are back home after a five-game road trip of their own.
Joining us to delve into just what comprises this Trail Blazers team is USA TODAY Sports NBA writer Sean Highkin, formerly of Portland Roundball Society and Hardwood Paroxysm.
And as always: The BK Game Streak is up above. Make yer picks, ‘n’ good luck.
Devin: Pick one: Damian Lillard’s last month or Deron Williams’s last month.
Highkin: In a vacuum, I’d take Lillard because he’s younger and doesn’t have Williams’ injury history. But people forget that there were several years in Utah where D-Will had a legitimate case as the best point guard in the league. I think a lot of the backlash he’s faced over the contract and inconsistent play has been unfairly harsh because of what he used to be. But he’s looked like the 2008 Deron in the past month or so, and it’s pretty hard to argue with that.
Devin: Blazers forward/center J.J. Hickson’s been a new player since he joined the Blazers — he leads the team in PER, shoots 56.4% from the field, and is averaging a double-double. Has he turned a corner here or is this statistical black magic?
Highkin: If you follow me on Twitter (note from Devin: you should), you know my general feelings on Hickson. Look, I’d have no problem with the guy if he played 15-20 minutes a night off the bench and the Blazers used him as Reggie Evans but with a better offensive game. But he’s an atrocious defender and steals rebounds from teammates more so than opponents, so I’m not huge on him playing starter minutes like he’s done all season. Plus, the double-doubles are going to get him paid this summer, and I’d much prefer it isn’t Neil Olshey handing out that $30 million contract.
The last time these two teams played, LaMarcus Aldridge sat out. He’s questionable tonight. If he’s in, how does he affect the game and how will he match up with the Nets’ revolving big man rotation?
Highkin: Aldridge has been Portland’s most consistent scoring option this season. More than anything, he gives them a counter for Brook Lopez’s diverse offensive game, and can stretch the floor with his midrange shot.