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Preview: Hornets begin crucial three-game road trip tonight in Portland

AP Photo – Chuck Burton

The Hornets are struggling and the upcoming week is not one to be excited about for a Hornets team that has lost four straight. This week involves a short West Coast road trip with stops in Portland, Golden State and Utah — three games in five nights. If the Hornets want any shot at home court advantage in the playoffs they need to turn their season around now. A 3-0 trip would be a miracle, but Charlotte must avoid 0-3 — the February schedule is absolutely brutal.

Jan 31. @ Portland (21-28)

The Hornets roll into the Rose City on Tuesday night looking to sweep the two-game season series with Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers. Charlotte got a complete victory two weeks ago at home, 107-85. The Hornets played their best defensive game in recent memory that night, keeping both Lillard and McCollum under their season averages, and holding them to 14-36 combined from the floor. The Trail Blazers fell behind in the second quarter, and were outscored 53-39 in the second half as the Hornets pulled away in the victory. Offensively, the Hornets were paced by Kemba with 23 points on 8-14 from the floor, and Roy Hibbert with 16 points off the bench on 7-8 shooting. This game is one the Hornets should win, but lately they have let too many slip away to inferior teams on the road. The key will be energy. If Charlotte has another slow start and the versatile guard combo of the Blazers get going, it could be a long night for the boys in Teal and Purple.

Feb 1. @ Golden State (41-7)

How can the NBA make a difficult road game even harder for the Hornets? Put it on a second night of a back-to-back, of course! The Hornets hung tough with the Warriors at home and always seem to get up to play these guys. However, reality states the Warriors rarely lose at home and they will be rested, having not played since Sunday. Depending on how things go in Portland, if I’m Coach Clifford, I give serious consideration to resting Kemba and maybe Batum for this one. I’m not usually one for resting healthy players, but Kemba has been showing signs of fatigue here and there and with him being selected to the All-Star Game this month, that is some rest that he will miss out on. I would focus on winning in Portland and then see how guys legs feel for this nearly unwinnable game. Focusing on 2-1 during this road trip should be the plan.

Feb 4. @ Utah (30-19)

The Hornets finish up the trip with a visit to Utah with Rudy Gobert and All-Star Gordon Hayward. Charlotte won an early season match-up at home, 104-98, but that was back in early November and the Jazz were without starting point-guard George Hill and Boris Diaw. The Hornets did a good job slowing down Gobert in the middle, but Hayward and Derrick Favors did combine for 45 points on 18-31 shooting. The bench carried Charlotte in that game, outscoring Utah 41-20. The bench will be key again — the Hornets will need another strong night from them in order to keep pace with the Jazz team who is playing much better than in November, and who look like a team that might have home-court advantage in the playoffs out west.

This is going to be a very important week for the Hornets — the question is will they use this trip as a chance to turn around their fortunes, or will this be the trip that pushes them just too far behind to make a serious playoff push?