Game 65 [Inverted] Preview: Trail Blazers versus Bobcats

Game Time:  4:00 p.m.   TV:  CSNNW

Last week a reader wrote with an interesting request.  He noted that Blazersedge previews and recaps follow a regular form:  the preview covers the opposing team almost exclusively, the recap the Blazers.  This makes both sense and best use of time and words.  He was curious, though, what a preview would look like if I wrote it about the Blazers.  He suggested writing a Blazers-oriented preview in Dave style when Portland played a team they had recently faced, thus lessening the need for the traditional preview.  The Blazers just played the Bobcats.  No doubt you're aware that, absent star Gerald Wallace, they're stocked almost completely with players other teams have given up on.  (Roster Here)  Most of those players were abandoned for a reason, giving the Bobcats a decidedly thrift-store vibe.  They're seriously short of scorers, though that should be remedied somewhat by the presumed return of Stephen Jackson tonight.  In exchange they've lost Joel Przybilla to knee problems.  They don't have good defenders.  Few of their smaller players can shoot.  Jackson, D.J. Augustin, and occasionally Boris Diaw are dangerous but they shouldn't be near enough to take the Blazers if Portland pays any attention whatsoever to rebounding and transition defense, refusing 'Cats second opportunities and cheap points.  With that being the only capsule needed, I'll go ahead and make someone happy, inverting the preview to cover the Blazers.  Obviously it won't be exactly the same as I know Portland's nuances too well and am perhaps too close to maintain the necessary detachment.  But I shall try.

Three stories intertwine to form a rope dropping through Portland's 2010-11 season, offering a potential route out of the dark well in which they found themselves deposited with the news that center Greg Oden's knee required another microfracture surgery and Brandon Roy's knees lacked sufficient cartilage to allow him on the floor.  The first thread of hope comes in the form of LaMarcus Aldridge.  For years a reluctant bridesmaid, Aldridge has finally said yes to the dress this year, storming through February as the Western Conference Player of the Month and averaging 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 50% shooting on the year.  If the Blazers have needed something in the past two months--size, scoring, rebounds, defense, a tough stand--Aldridge has provided.  For now, Portland has a bona fide star around which to center their attack.  The second thread has been the return of Brandon Roy and center Marcus Camby from injury.  Roy is not fully healthy--never will be in all likelihood--but he has regained something of a first step and some confidence in his jumper.  He provides a crucial second threat with the ball in his hands that Portland's lineup otherwise lacks.  Camby is Portland's only viable center, giving them rebounding and defense plus a smart frontcourt operator balancing their youth elsewhere.  The final thread comes in the form of Gerald Wallace, the long-time Charlotte Bobcats star now transitioning to Portland's power-packed lineup.  Wallace provides instant energy, rebounding, and active defense, transforming Portland's admitted skill into long-awaited intimidation.  Wallace also provides another scoring threat and has even been hitting his jumper since coming to the Blazers, shooting 40% from the arc.  The rope is not a ladder.  It sways and slips some nights.  But after the bleak start to the year any chance at redemption for this injury-riddled team is welcome.

The Blazers sport a 37-27 record, having won 4 straight including victories against Miami, Orlando, and these same Bobcats.   After a shaky start to the season on the road they have surged back, winning 7 straight away from the Rose Garden, albeit largely against sub-par competition. 

Despite their collection of talent the Blazers have a hard time scoring.  They average 96.2 points per game, 23rd in the league.  Part of this is pace but part is also style of shot.  Portland generates few easy buckets, save occasionally from offensive rebounds (at which they are quite accomplished).  Portland is dead last in the league infast break points, 19th in points in the paint.  They create turnovers often, leading the league in forced turnover percentage, but seem congenitally incapable of scoring off of them.  Even worse, the Blazers don't generate extra points in the form of three-pointers or free throws.  They're 21st in three-point percentage.  Though they're excellent free throw shooters when they do draw fouls, they're 27th in the league at doing so.  Salt in a 22nd-place finish in two-point percentage and you end up with an offense that has trouble generating points.  They just don't hit enough shots, ending up with a wholly unsurprising 24th best shooting percentage in the league.

The Blazers fare a little better on defense.  A combination of pace and diligence makes them misers in fast-break points given (2nd in the league to Orlando).  For such a small team they're surprisingly good at preventing points in the paint given up as well, ranking 14th in that category.   When you switch to non-pace-dependent stats, however, Portland's defense doesn't look as good.  They're 21st in the league at shooting percentage allowed, 20th at three-point percentage allowed, 24th at effective field goal percentage allowed.  Simply put, you can get shots against this team with any kind of respectable halfcourt offense.  The Blazers are vulnerable to screens, to accomplished post players, and to any kind of attack that requires them to rotate consistently.  Their favored defense is the zone but that's only effective for short spurts.  The rest of the game Portland is scrambling and hoping to match you shot-for-shot.  Understandably it's hard to build and maintain leads on this basis.  Only three teams with winning records have a lower point differential than do the Blazers.  Every Portland game seems to be a nail-biter no matter what the quality of opponent, save those times when the Blazers roll over in front of an obviously superior team.

The Blazers excel at offensive rebounding and are mediocre in the defensive rebounding department.  Board work is the key to Portland's success and has been for years.  When they control the glass and control the ball Portland can sway the game.  If they're missing rebounds on the defensive end and missing out on second-chance points on the offensive end, the Blazers wilt.

In the end the Blazers register as a good team plagued by a healthy dose of "should be".  A team with LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy (returning from injury, but still), Andre Miller, and a bunch of young talent that can run and steal the ball should be generating more points.  A team with Roy, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Rudy Fernandez should be better at hitting the three and spreading the floor.  A team with Batum, Matthews, Camby, and now Wallace should dominate on defense, not just get by.  The Blazers can be coldly efficient at times.  They can be hot and full of hustle at times.  They just can't string those times together into a consistent whole...or at least they haven't yet.

Charlotte's best bet tonight is to do what most successful teams have done against Portland:  throttle down LaMarcus Aldridge and make Portland score elsewhere.  Aldridge may be the only Blazer outside of an occasionally-driving Wallace who can score any points of his own in the lane.  Portland's starting lineup is full of non-reliable scorers and dribblers.  Take away Aldridge and their first unit will register plenty of poor possessions.  Charlotte needs to make Portland defend screens on the other end, keep the Blazers off of the offensive glass, and have a good showing from their bench as Portland's is suddenly strong with the new Wallace and the returning Roy.  The Bobcats also have to remember that Portland is apt to start the game lackadaisically but finish strong.  If the Blazers open the door early Charlotte needs to jump out to double-digits and keep the pressure on.  Portland loves to reel you in as the game progresses but they tend to panic and fall apart if the separation gets too great.  Putting the Blazers down early makes the game much easier and may be the Bobcats' only hope tonight.

Read all about Charlotte at Rufus on Fire,

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest Form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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