Monday, February 1, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Bobcats: Game 50

After a successful split on the Texas Two Step, Portland (28-21) returns home to the friendly confines of the Rose Garden to face off against the surprising Bobcats (24-22). Since acquiring Stephen Jackson from the Warriors on November 15th, the Bobcats have really taken the East by surprise, going 21-16 and supplanting themselves as a legit playoff contender for the first time in franchise history. Outside of giving themselves much more offensive firepower with Jackson, 1st time All-Star Gerald Wallace has found a way to improve even more so in his 9th season in the league. His 19.3 points per game are up from last year's 16.6, rebounds have soared from 7.8 a night to 11, and his three-point shooting is up nearly 8% from 29.1% to 37.1% all while maintaining his approximate 3 combined steals and blocks per game. Although being above .500 is uncharted territory for the Bobcats, they have done much of their damage at home, going 18-5, while playing abysmally away from North Carolina as their 6-17 road record would indicate. They are 7-3 in their last 10, so something has to give, either their recent hot play or struggles away from home.
A lot of people felt that Stephen Jackson was a product of the Golden State offense and his numbers only reflected an extremely high pace which enables their players to shoot at will, basically inflating his statistics, yet Jackson has proved them wrong so far in his 37 games with the Bobcats. His 21.2 points per game with Charlotte is the highest in his 10 year career as is his .423 field goal percentage with at least 750 attempts on the season. Earlier in the year if Portland had matched up with this current Bobcat team, I would be worried, but since the return of Batum, I have a great feeling Jackson will have to earn everything he gets tonight and if for whatever reason Batum's assignment is someone else, Martell Webster hasn't been too shabby so far on defense this year either.
If Charlotte goes big, which they could with Chandler, Diaw, Wallace, Jackson, and Felton, it could cause a lot of matchup problems for the Trail Blazers. With Roy's absence, the Blazers have been using a two point guard backcourt, which has its own advantages but Bayless and/or Miller trying to guard Jackson would be a nightmare. Batum can't defend everyone, so it becomes imperative that LaMarcus Aldridge steps up tonight defensively and on the glass. Without Greg and Joel, Chandler could have a field day on the glass and Aldridge must improve on that 4 rebound performance again Dallas. On defense, he is either going to be checking Diaw, who had a team-high 21 points in the last meeting between the two teams, or Wallace, who plays with reckless abandon and is one of the hardest working players in the league. What I have noticed about LMA lately is he likes to swipe at the ball/player way too often as seen by his late foul on Nowitzki on Saturday when he poked him in the face. He must play disciplined defense by doing the fundamentals, moving the feet and keeping his hands up.
Tonight's key to the game is defense, bottom line. In the past two home losses, New Orleans and Utah got to any spot of the floor at will and made it happen. They used many variations of the pick and roll to obtain well over 45 points in the paint and over 50% field goal shooting to boot. Portland must hold Charlotte to under 45% field goal shooting and below 45 points in the paint. Andre Miller can not score 52 points every game in Roy's absence, so the defense must be there tonight even if the offense isn't running on full cylinders.
Tonight's game is a toss-up either way you split it. I can realistically see either team coming away victorious tonight. On one hand, Portland is playing at home and coming off of an emotionally high win in Dallas and add to the fact Charlotte is terrible on the road, it could lead to a Blazer win. Then again, Portland has been playing awful lately in front of the home crowd, could get off to another slow start, and get out-hustled by the scrappy Bobcats. My head says Charlotte, heart says Portland. Got to go with the heart on this one as I just can't fathom losing a third straight home game in what has become one of the toughest venues in all of the NBA. Don't expect much out of Dre tonight as he is probably still feeling the effects of going off for 52 and will be dog tired, so look for Bayless' aggressiveness, Batum's defense, and Rudy's big play-making ability to lead the charge for Portland tonight.
Game 50 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Bobcats 94
Post-Game Thoughts
Behind six Trail Blazers scoring in double figures, including a career-high 10 from Dante Cunningham and a team-high 17 from Aldridge, Portland takes it from Charlotte, 98-79, in a wire-to-wire victory which improves their record to 29-21. The two things Portland had to accomplish in order to get the W were holding Charlotte to less than 45 points in the paint and under 45% field goal hooting, which they did as Charlotte was only able to muster 32 in the paint and shot 40.6% from the field the entire night. The starters definitely held serve at the start of the game, which was refreshing considering their past two home game starts, but make no mistakes about it, the bench was the difference tonight. Portland's bench outscored their Bobcat counterparts, 45-19.
"Their bench was great," Charlotte coach Larry Brown said. "Batum, Cunningham, Fernandez, (Steve) Blake -- their bench was so good. Their starters did a good job, but their bench was far superior to ours. They determined the game."
"That was big," said starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who totaled a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds on an 8-of-13 shooting night. "It made it easier for us. (The Bobcats) couldn't key in on the starters. They had to worry about everybody."
It's really hard to single someone out when everyone on the team played to their roles and helped contribute to be big home win. Words can't express how badly the players needed a blowout win after so many close, grind it out games, but the fans got a glimpse of what this season was supposed to be like. Rudy is finally hitting his stride after such a slow start to the season and his play is very reminiscent of his Olympic run in 2008 and the first couple months of his rookie year. The slashes to the hoops are back, as he is now not just content sitting in the corner, settling for threes. As crazy as he can play sometimes with his style, turnovers are inevitable, as well as gambling on defense, but Coach Nate has started to loosen the reigns off of Rudy and let him freestyle, which is where he is at his best. He had a tip-jam late in the game which exemplified what flair Rudy can bring to the team as well as an insane lob-pass to Batum. When the dust settled on his night, the stat sheet read 11 points (4-9), 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Stephen Jackson got his 23 points, but it took him 19 shots and, to be honest, it was a quiet 23 in a game where it never seemed like the Bobcats had a chance to win it. As Portland started to re-pull away from the 'Cats in the 4th, Batum was assigned to S-Jack and completely locked him down numerous times. I know it has only been five games since his return, Batum looks like a completely different player. The D is still there, but his confidence is through the roof compared to last season as well as his ball-handling skills, which was one aspect of his game I didn't think he could take to the next level. Apparently, playing overseas for France did wonders for his ball-handling skills, because Parker was injured, it allowed him to become the primary ball handler.
If indeed this was a sign of the Trail Blazers peaking, they picked a great time as their are only 32 games left, Brandon Roy looks to return later this week, Outlaw should be back in late February, and the schedule sets up perfectly once the All-Star break is over. Barring any more injuries (*knock on wood*), when this team is clicking, even without Greg and Joel, they possess the athletes, play-makers, and skill players to potentially win a round in the playoffs providing the right matchup comes along. What I love most about this current bunch has to be the fast break points and willingness to push the ball and force tempo. If they can continue to play this way, without any pressure or expectations, it could be an incredible run to the finish line.
Box Score
Official Game Photos


  1. Firstly: You're welcome! love the blog! and thanks for leaving some love over on mine! :)

    Secondly:Couldn't agree more about Batum! What a HUGE difference he has made for this team! I knew he'd be back to his Parisian Pippen ways after becoming comfortable on the court but I never thought it would be this soon and this good! His overall game (especially defense though) has been something the Blazers have really been missing. So good to have him back!

    I definitely think this team will make a good run at the playoffs, maybe to second round. Western conference....probably not but who knows, it would be one hell of a ride if this team shocked everyone and took the whole thing all the way to finals (I can hope!).

    Also, what do you think about Batum coming off the bench? Do you think Nate should start him in place of Marty or do you think that would mess with Webster's flow too much(meaning no more Marty Parties :/)?

  2. I was listening to Courtside tonight and they made a good point: The roles have flopped. Marty is now starting while Batum is getting all the remaining minutes. It really isn't about starting but who's finishing.
    Personally, I like the idea of Marty and Rudy being our offensive weapons off of the bench and it really is inevitable that Batum will start. He is legit.
    As long as Marty can be mentally zoned in, there will always be Marty Parties, starter or reserve, but he does seem like the type of player who performs much better when the team needs him the most (IE: his 24 pt 3rd quarter came when Roy left the game at half)