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Game 40 Preview: Blazers vs. Bobcats

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I will get through this preview without saying "Hornets".  I will get through this preview without saying "Hornets".  I will get through this preview without saying "Hornets".

A Look at the BOBCATS

The Charlotte BOBCATS come into this game with a 15-24 record.  Now, a couple of games ago I compared the 16-21 record of the Chicago Bulls to owning a '99 Ford Escort (adequate, but not very sexy).  All of the Ford Escort owners were up in arms, chiming in vigorously in the comment section of that preview.  So let me say for the record right now that a 15-24 record is nothing at all like owning a Ford Escort.

A 15-24 record is like owning TWO Ford Escorts.

I mean, it's OK to make mistakes, but you're not supposed to repeat them.

Then again, that record has them only 3.5 games out of the 8th seed in the conference, so I guess in the East an Escort might be enough to win the race...or at least get you on the lead lap.

In any case, having won only 18 32 games all of last season you can definitely pretty much say things are looking up for the BOBCATS.  They are going through a transition that Portland negotiated a couple seasons ago, moving from a team that everybody beats no matter what to a team that can beat you if you don't take them seriously.

The BOBCATS are led by a familiar trio plus another three new faces. 

The old hands are center Emeka Okafor, forward Gerald Wallace, and point guard Raymond Felton.  Okafor is the steady, intimidating low-post machine that he's always been.  He's averaging 11 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.  He's also shooting over 58% from the floor.  He recognizes his effective areas offensively and stays within them.  The career-high shooting percentage is still only translating into his same old 14 ppg, however, as he lets the offense flow through others.  The BOBCATS would love him to assert himself more but that's not his game.  Another guy taking fewer shots this year is Gerald Wallace.  He's a frantic, energy player chafing at the BOBCATS' slow pace this year.  He's still shooting quite well (46%) but his scoring average has fallen for the first time since he's become a regular rotation player.  He's still good for 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals a night though.  Felton, on the other hand, is shooting as much as ever.  He's also missing as much as ever, averaging only 40% on the year.  His three-point percentage has gone up 20 points to 30.6% but his chronic brick-fests keep him around 14 ppg as well.  This is undoubtedly what's driving a possession-oriented coach like Larry Brown crazy and is also leading to the rampant trade talks regarding Felton.  Nevertheless he remains one of the BOBCATS' better players and he's had some amazing games--several in the 20's and one 31-point effort against the Pacers--this season.

The new names include a couple of ex-Suns and a rookie.  Point guard D.J. Augustin is Felton's heir apparent.  He's got an abdominal strain and is officially listed as day-to-day but we're unlikely to see him tonight.  We will get to see Boris Diaw and Raja Bell who, if they don't provide as much firepower as the traded Jason Richardson, do provide maturity and better all-around play to a squad that needed both.

After that the BOBCATS' bench is hit and miss, with a general emphasis on the miss.  They have some veterans like Nazr Mohammed and Juwon Howard plus some young guys like Adam Morrison, Sean May, Sean Singletary and Shannon Brown.  Getting into the BOBCATS' bench is usually a positive thing for the opponent.

Charlotte just traded Ryan Hollins and Matt Carroll to the Mavericks for center DeSagana Diop but we'll probably not see him tonight either.

The most striking thing about the BOBCATS this year is the low number of shots they attempt and make in Larry Brown's offensive scheme.  One tried and true method of not letting games run away from you when you can't match up talent-wise is to grind, thereby lowering the deficit you're building throughout the game.  Also the BOBCATS want their percentage scorers to assert themselves and the king of those is Okafor, who likes to play slow.  Charlotte is last in the league in field goals attempted and made.  Unfortunately they're also 22nd in field goal percentage, which leads to their league-trailing 91.1 ppg average.  They're average free-throw shooters and below average three-point shooters as a group, so those all-important extra points are hard to come by.   They turn the ball over a lot which doesn't help.

With Okafor keying the interior defense the BOBCATS can hold their own most nights.  Like most teams they excel when you let them set and have problems when you move the ball.  They suffer from the lack of a wingman to help Emeka on the boards consistently.  A team playing possession basketball needs to rebound and they're only average offensively and poor defensively.

The Bobcats are 9-2 when they reach 100 points, 6-22 otherwise.

Keys to the Game

1.  This team often has a hard time putting up points.  Don't make it any easier on them.  No transition buckets for Wallace and no lazy, fouling halfcourt defense.

2.  Get a hand in Raja Bell's face if he tries to shoot from distance but pack it in on everybody else.

3.  Box out Emeka Okafor and you have the entire glass to yourself.  For most teams that's impossible but Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are pretty good rebounders themselves.  If they just keep a body on him and we get a little weak-side rebounding help we should dominate.

4.  Every player under 6'8" for them is exploitable defensively.  Don't settle for jump shots against this team.  You don't have to.  Penetrate, draw attention, then dish to somebody for the dunk or the three.

5.  All of that said, do not take this team for granted.  They still have individual athletes who can lay a whuppin' on you.  Put enough energy into the game to build a big lead and then let your bench outscore theirs to seal the deal.

Final Thoughts

There!  I did it!  All the way through without mentioning any name but BOBCATS!  Now, if we can just get Brandon Roy to play like that old-time superhero the Green Bobcat while Rudy and Travis come off the bench and strafe them like a couple of F/A-18 Bobcats... and if our offense doesn't sputter like an old AMC Bobcat (one of the few cars that could lose a race to an Escort) and if we manage to swarm them on the break like a bunch of picnic Bobcats around a soda can... well, then we'll be in business.

Check out the Charlotte point of view at RufusonFire.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

BallHype: hype it up!