When the Portland Trail Blazers hosted the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night, neither team had the 2012 NBA Playoffs in mind. Before the game, John Hollinger's playoff odds listed the last-place Hornets with a 0.0 percent chance to make the bracket, while the Blazers still carried a 6.5 percent shot but have unofficially turned their focus to pushing that number even lower (read: they are tanking for better odds in the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery). Even so, the Blazers entered as the favorite for two good reasons: (1) they have won more games at the Rose Garden alone than the Hornets have won in total this season and (2) New Orleans only showed up with eight active players. That Hornets octet played a scrappy game, but ran out of gas down the stretch as the Blazers reluctantly pulled away for a 99-93 win.
Hornets head coach Monty Williams entered battle with less than a full deck, but he managed to keep his team motivated until the very end. New Orleans had to take on the Blazers without Chris Kaman (illness), Trevor Ariza (sore right ankle), Gustavo Ayon (birth of first child), Eric Gordon (knee) and Jarrett Jack (sprained right ankle), but Carl Landry and Marco Belinelli stepped up under the circumstances. Landry pumped in 24 points on 9-13 shooting, worked hard to get good looks in the post and in face-up opportunities and grabbed seven rebounds to boot. Belinelli played stints at both spots in the backcourt and scored a game-high 27 points thanks to electric shooting from beyond the arc (7-11 3PTs). Grieves Vasquez chipped in 14 points and six assists as well in an encouraging showing.
LaMarcus Aldridge did the heavy lifting for Portland. He turned in a 25-point, 12-rebound double-double and scored from all over the court. The Hornets had no answers, and when Jason Smith picked up his fourth foul on the first play of the second half, nobody really had the size and skill to keep him off the scoreboard or glass.
A few quirky things happened during the game that are worth mentioning. Jamal Crawford improved his league-leading free throw percentage (92.4 percent) by hitting his only attempt from the line -- he has never finished in the top-10 during any season in his 11-year NBA career. The Hornets shot 20-21 from the free throw line as a team, but also somehow managed to screw up a 4-on-1 fast break opportunity. Carl Landry scored a season-high 24 points and busted out the two-armed flex celebration after he earned an and-one opportunity against Joel Przybilla. Luke Babbitt scored a career-high 16 points on 5-8 shooting, which could either be cause for celebration or a harsh indictment of Babbitt as an NBA player.
The last time Luke Babbitt had this many points in a game was March 17, 2010 against Wichita State.— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) March 30, 2012
Last, but not least, Raymond Felton continued to sabotage his relationship with Portland fans when he failed to convert either free throw attempt with seven seconds left in the game that could have pushed the point total to 100 to win the fans a free Chalupa voucher.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.