The Portland Trail Blazers will have several roster advantages as they face the Charlotte Bobcats but none of them will matter if Portland can't muster enough energy and depth to press home those advantages.
After a thrilling win against the Cleveland Cavaliers the Blazers now march onward in the Never-Ending Road Trip of Dooooom, facing the Charlotte Bobcats in a game with a 4:00 p.m. start time televised on CSNNW.
Like the Blazers, the Bobcats have worked their way to a somewhat-better-than-expected record to start the season. In Portland's case 7-10 looks pretty good. In Charlotte's 7-8 looks fantastic. It's just about the same record the Lakers have, after all. (No, that never gets old.) (Unlike the Lakers.) The Bobcats have the expected Washington/Toronto-type wins in their portfolio but they've also taken out the Mavericks and Pacers. When they lose, they lose BIG. But getting out all the bad juju in one night apparently allows them to sneak by other teams.
The Bobcats run an interesting point guard platoon of Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions. It's interesting because, though they're the two leading scorers on the team, neither one of them can shoot worth a darn. Both are under 40% from the field. Walker shoots 26% from the three-point arc, Sessions right around 20%. Yet they happily fire away, making the rim sound like a djembe. They get a reasonable number of assists and Walker averages 2 steals per game, but if Damian Lillard can't keep these guys from going off he'll have trouble facing anybody.
Charlotte also rotates several interchangeable wings into the mix. Right now they start rookies Jeff Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Taylor is one of a couple Bobcats with legit three-point range. He's also got athleticism to burn. Like a few Blazers we know he's not the best off of the dribble but he's stills scary when he gets rolling. Kidd-Gilchrist is rebounding really well, defending well enough, shooting well...the all-around competence expected of him out of the draft. Behind them (but not far in raw minutes) come sweet shooting Ben Gordon. hyper-athlete (and darn efficient) Bismack Biyombo, and pretty soon veteran Gerald Henderson. This group isn't exactly deep but they're interesting. Every one of them brings something to the floor. It's just a matter of the Bobcats choosing who they want to run with down the road. For now the simple fact that Charlotte can run fresh players onto the floor at any given time may pose problems for the Blazers.
The 'Cats trot out Brendan Haywood and Byron Mullens as their starting bigs. Haywood is about what you remember: gifted offensive player, decent rebounder, not much of a defender. Mullens is inverted. He's a pretty good defender, decent rebounder, but 37.5% from the field would be a poor percentage for a guard, let alone a 7-footer. I've heard of bad shooting, but sheesh. Last time Mullens played Laser Tag he accidentally removed six of his own tattoos. That's bad.
You might also see power forward Hakim Warrick, small forward Reggie
Evans Williams, or center DeSagana Diop take the floor. Any of that would be good for the Blazers, with the caveat that Diop is still big and the Blazers don't deal well with big.
As you might expect on a team that features a bunch of jump shooters who aren't very good at jump shooting, Charlotte's offense is not very efficient. They're best when they're driving and getting fouled, using that athleticism to full effect. Unfortunately they don't have the ball handlers or the playmakers to take full advantage. Outside of Taylor and Gordon the Bobcats don't field three-point threats. They'll fast break when possible, hampered by mediocre defense and really poor defensive rebounding. Portland will need to get the guards back tonight but the bigs should be overwhelming the offensive boards. The Bobcats allow points in the paint that the Blazers can't score but they also allow fast break points which the Blazers definitely can. Charlotte loves to pressure ball-handlers and will certainly try to throw Damian Lillard off-stride tonight. Rebounding crisply and running hard would solve that problem and put points on the board to boot. The Bobcats don't turn it over so the rebound-and-dash may be the only source of break points possible for Portland.
Portland also needs to realize that only the point guards on this team pass the ball, and even they look for their own shots first. Defend the guy with the rock. Assume he's going to put up the shot and act accordingly.
Depth and athleticism are concerns for the Blazers in this game. Charlotte could tire out the road-weary and thin Portland squad. But skill, shooting, rebounding, star power, and game plan all go Portland's way. Under normal conditions you'd say this was a great chance for a Portland win. As the sixth game of a seven-game road trip, though, the Blazers will be hoping for enough pep in their step to make victory possible.
Will Barton, Nolan Smith, Luke Babbitt...this could be your night.
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