We played Charlotte just 11 days ago. You can read a full preview, along with a mighty struggle on my part not to say "Hornets" here. The shorthand version:
--Okafor, Wallace, and Felton can all be dangerous. Try to body up Emeka and keep a hand in front of the other two. If you can play them to a standstill you should be able to take advantage of the Bobcats' bench.
--Charlotte gets up few shots and thus gives themselves few opportunities to score. The first step is making those opportunities hard. The second is not giving them free ones in transition, off of offensive boards, or on the free throw line. Basic, position defense is important.
--Watch out for Raja Bell from distance but otherwise it's good for Portland if Charlotte fires from out there.
--Outside of Okafor and maybe Bell (who always seems to give Roy a rough time) their defense is exploitable. Don't settle...attack.
The bigger deal for Portland tonight, however, is that we lost to Charlotte 11 days ago. We invoked a combination of shortcomings typical to Blazer losses lately: poor showing on the free throw line, lack of rebounding from anybody but the center platoon, sub-par three-point shooting, bad communication on defense, failure to stop penetration, and letting an opposing wing (in this case Gerald Wallace) go absolutely crazy. Even with all that the game still went to overtime.
The Blazers have already come a long way in patching some of these deficiencies. The game in question was Steve Blake's first in street clothes. Since the remaining players have become more familiar with each other in the interim we've seen better team rebounding, better looks for the perimeter guys, and better communication all around. One of the main criticisms of the Charlotte loss was lack of flow. Anyone who saw the game against the Clippers Monday night knows that the Blazers are in full flow mode right now.
Basically Portland needs to remember that game and decide that they're not going to get swept by the Bobcats this season. They need to come into this game like they entered the fourth quarter of the L.A. game--kicking butt and then taking names, but forgetting the names so then they have to come back and kick butt again and write them down this time. ("Hold up. Do you spell Cheikh with one ‘Ouch!' or two? Also, will you autograph my poster? No, no...down there where your head is.") If they do that the Bobcats won't have a chance to make up the difference no matter how many points Gerald Wallace scores.
There will be a couple of interesting storylines in tonight's game:
1. Greg Oden has been looking amazing lately. It's not so much the statistical success as the comfort level on the floor. I don't know if you noticed during the Clippers game amidst all of the back and forth dunking but Oden looked as smooth on offense as I've ever seen him. He shot with confidence, like there was nobody else out there with him. His quick hands and court vision were also on display. This followed a couple of excellent and foul-free games for him. But the common denominator in these games has been the utter lack of big-man opposition. He gets bodied up by one of the league's toughest bigs tonight. We need to see if the good performance continues. Obviously it won't come as easily, but Greg has to demonstrate that he can bring it against quality opposition before he's credible.
2. Gerald Wallace just destroyed us in that last game. It's not just that we didn't have an answer for his penetration. It looked like we didn't even know the questions. We need a little more control tonight. Hold him under 20 at least. (And I'm talking rebounds here.) Move thy feet. That is why they were given unto thee. Problem solved. He's out.
3. Raymond Felton also has big games against us. This will be a great test to see whether our point guards can punish him on the offensive end the way he punishes us on his offensive end. We need our point guards to finish some plays tonight as well as initiate them.
4. Since that Charlotte loss we've won 3 of 4 games, those being against the Bucks, Wizards, and Clippers. What do those games have in common? We were supposed to win them. To that I say, "Good!" This is exactly what we need to be: a team whose victories you can take for granted in some cases. Not that the team can take them for granted, but the rest of us need to not be surprised that the Blazers win that kind of game. In previous years every win was a surprise of sorts. So let the league say, "Yeah, but..." to these victories. That's a sign of growth. The catch is that you have to win tonight's game too to show that growth is real.
Check out the Bobcats lusting after a sweep over at RufusonFire.
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