Portland at Atlanta 11-16-09

November 16, 2009

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The Atlanta Hawks have yet to be challenged at home, winning their first four games inside Philips Arena by an average of 17.5 points while cruising to an early lead in the Southeast Division. The Portland Trail Blazers, though, have been nearly as flawless on the road. The Trail Blazers haven’t lost since they were beaten by Atlanta nearly two weeks ago, and they’ll look to complete a perfect five-game road trip and win a seventh consecutive game overall Monday night while trying to deny the surging Hawks a fifth straight victory.

Coach Nate McMillan wasn’t pleased with Portland’s ball rotation or defense in a 97-91 home loss to Atlanta (8-2) on Nov. 3, so he decided to stick free agent acquisition Andre Miller into the starting lineup three days later against San Antonio. Miller’s numbers as a starter haven’t been spectacular – 12.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game – but his impact has been felt. The Blazers (8-3) have won their last six games by an average of 14.3 points, with the biggest improvement coming on the defensive end. Portland was giving up a respectable 93.2 points per game through its first five contests, but has cut that average to 82.0 points since Nov. 6, limiting opponents to 39.5 percent shooting.

As the Blazers seek their first seven-game winning streak since a 13-game run from Dec. 3-28, 2007, though, they’ll be without Travis Outlaw Fourth on the team in scoring at 9.9 points per game, Outlaw suffered a stress fracture in his left foot Saturday and could be out six to eight weeks. Outlaw had 19 points off the bench in the loss to Atlanta, but he wasn’t the most impressive reserve to see key minutes. Jamal Crawford had a game-high 27 points for the Hawks, and has averaged 17.7 points while shooting 47.6 percent – seven percent better than his career average. Crawford had 21 points Saturday and Joe Johnson scored a team-high 26 in a 121-98 win over New Orleans.

The last time Atlanta won its first five home games was in 1997-98, when it opened 7-0 en route to the franchise’s last 50-win season. Along with the addition of Crawford, the biggest difference so far has been the Hawks’ interior play. They lead the league with an average of 54.0 points in the paint – 20.5 more than 29th-place Portland. This is a payback game for Portland.

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