Game 50 Preview: Bobcats vs. Blazers

Game Time:  7:00 p.m.  TV:  Comcast

Look at the January the 24-22 Bobcats had.  They started the month with wins at Miami, at Cleveland, vs. Chicago, vs. Memphis, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Miami.  Their only loss in that stretch was an aberration to New York on the road.  Then they lost three in a row:  at Atlanta, vs. Orlando, at Denver.  But now they're at it again with three straight road wins in Phoenix, Golden State, and Sacramento.  That's a 12-4 month for anyone who is counting.  And the caliber of competition has been plenty high.  Well...that's true at home anyway.  On the road their pattern has been to beat anyone who doesn't play defense well but lose to teams who can clamp down.  7 of their 12 victories overall have come while scoring 105+.  One of the major questions of the night will be whether the Blazers can and will defend.

And what will the Blazers be defending?  A team which relies on brute power and athleticism to put the ball through the net on most nights.  Gerald Wallace is the archetype here.  He just punishes you.  He shoots 48%, 37% from three-point range, draws 8 free throws a game, rebounds all over, and runs it down your throat every chance he gets.  He's a one-man whirlwind.  Raymond Felton is a formidable point guard at 6'1", 200lbs.  He'll bump you and shoot over you, whichever is easier on a given night.  You have Boris Diaw and Flip Murray who will slash or gun.  And then you have the newest Bobcat, Stephen Jackson.  He's added a little bit of smooth to this suppression-fire attack.  He takes too many threes but he can pass, rebound, and he's scored 30 twice in the last week.  You have to keep your head on a swivel against Charlotte these days because they'll come at you from all of these directions.  They're a slower-paced team still but they've moved to the middle of the league in points in the paint and fast-break points.  With the addition of Jackson they don't have a ton of offensive weaknesses anymore, save perhaps pure distance shooting.  Their greatest strength probably comes at the line where they average 5.4 more attempts per game than their opponents.

What's worse is the Charlotte defense which now ranks third in the league in efficiency.  They like to force turnovers whenever possible.  Boris Diaw is a fine defender as any Blazer fan will tell you.  Center Tyson Chandler is out with a foot injury but Nazr Mohammed is filling in decently.  I will miss seeing the biannual Przybilla-Chandler face-off which inevitably ends up with Chandler either:

A.  Getting ejected.

B.  Posturing futilely.

C.  Crying like a baby.  Or...

D.  Posturing futilely, getting ejected, then crying like a baby.

Even without Chandler this team is full of big, solid guys at almost every position and they'll knock you around plenty.

At the end of the day the key to this team is still Wallace.  They have a much easier time winning when he gets off the launching pad.  Control him and you knock a leg out from under them.

Keys to the Game

1.  Get back on defense.  The Bobcats aren't an imposing fast-break team on average but they'd like to be because it's one of their best modes of attack.  Wallace in particular feeds on quick, thunderous buckets.  It's not so much that you want to slow the Bobcats down, as they play pretty slowly anyway.  You just want to keep them away from the easy intimidation scores.

2.  Don't turn the ball over for the same reason we talked about in Point #1.

3.  In general forcing Charlotte outside is a good idea.  They will shoot it out there but they're not as proficient deep and those jumpers take away their other main weapon...free throws.

4.  This is a game in which I'd seriously consider an offense-heavy lineup, such as LaMarcus as the 5 and Batum and Webster in together at the forwards.  Charlotte doesn't have Raja Bell at the 4 anymore.  Jackson, Wallace, and Diaw can be handled by smaller forwards as well as bigger ones.  In fact those guys are probably better, being quicker.  The big question will be whether either of Portland's backcourt starters can match up with whatever guy the two forwards don't take.  Who do you leave with a Bayless or Miller on them?

Final Thoughts

It's hard to believe this is the 50th game of the year.  Only 32 games remain after this one.  The Blazers are in a 5-way tie in the loss column with Phoenix, New Orleans, OKC, and Memphis with Houston 1 loss farther back.  Home games are starting to become more important.  This would be a good get.  The Bobcats took out Portland in the Rose Garden last year a couple years ago (plus beating us regularly in Carolina).  No repeats tonight, eh?

Check out the Charlotte musings at RufusOnFire.  It's one of my favs.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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