Game Time: 4:00 Pacific TV: Comcast and NBATV
We won't try to sell the Bobcats as a good team because they really haven't been. Their 3-5 start this season is typical of their success level. But they've been good against Portland, especially at home, and that's enough. Charlotte has some nice individual talent and the kind of energy that gives the Blazers fits. It's like Portland comes in expecting a slightly sub-par team and gets jabbed in the face, stumbles, and eventually is overcome. Hopefully, road-weary as they undoubtedly are, the Blazers will come loaded for bear and not squirrel tonight, ready to match energy with energy.
Small forward Gerald Wallace leads Charlotte's attack and he's been particularly problematic for the Blazers over the years. He's never been a good jump shooter. When he's clicking he spends most of his time blitzing up and down the court trying to get the ball into the lane and finish strong. Even though the whole league knows what he's up to, he succeeds. He's just got the knack. Plus this year he's providing 12 rebounds a game, bolstered by 20- and 18- rebound performances late last month against the Nets and Hawks. Unsurprisingly he also generates steals and free throws, hallmarks of aggression. He's the kind of player who is no threat when you have him locked up but as soon as he's loose you might as well run for the hills because your bases are belonging to him.
Charlotte has surrounded Wallace with experienced, heady players, a little short on the offensive end but good game technicians and rebounders. Raja Bell doesn't seem like much until you see him handcuff Brandon Roy one-on-one. He can hit a three off of the check-down pass and he's capable of finding the open man himself. Power forward Boris Diaw is a fine all-around contributor who will take whatever you give him without giving you mistakes back in return. Raymond Felton is a point guard who likes to score (with mixed results, especially this year) but also racks up the assist numbers. He's not someone you'd hang your hat on but he can bust out with the big game.
Over the summer the Bobcats swapped franchise-level draftee Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler. Despite posting some decent rebounding numbers Chandler's effectiveness has been limited so far, partially from foul trouble and partially because of a non-existent offensive game. With Wallace the only superstar-potential scorer on the team and him needing to run to be at his best the Bobcats can't afford a no-show from any of their other offensive players. You don't have to give them 20 points but you better be able to give them 12. Chandler's around 6.8 right now.
For the most part the bench players mirror the rest of the team: experienced but two-dimensional. You know the names Flip Murray (slasher), Vladimir Radmanovic (shooter), Nazr Mohammed (rebounder), Stephen Graham (energy guy), and DeSagana Diop (requisite out-of-shape player in Larry Brown's doghouse). All of these guys have been elsewhere. All have been passed on. It's like you tried to build a bench that would neither fail nor succeed. That's great if you have a starting lineup like Boston's. It's not so good when your first five give you maybe 55 points combined. You need a spark off the bench. It's just not here.
The best hope for that spark comes from second-year point guard D.J. Augustin. He started the year like gangbusters but lately has just looked like a buster, posting 7 points and 5 assists in his last three games combined. He's speedy but he has trouble defending. He's also a point guard without a lot of clear options to pass to.
The Bobcats hold their opponents to 89.6 points per game, which looks pretty good until you realize that they only score 83.5 points themselves. The Golden State Warriors score that many by accident. They play at a glacial pace and are the only team scoring fewer fast-break points per game than the Blazers. Even so they turn the ball over enough to make the vein in Larry Brown's forehead bulge. Slow pace and high turnovers is a toxic combination. They are good rebounders, especially at the offensive end. This helps make up for their poor shooting. And by "poor" we mean "unacceptable". Their main offensive advantage comes at the free throw line, where they gain around 4 points on the opposition. It's not enough.
Pivotal Points of the Game
1. For the most part if you keep Wallace down you keep the Bobcats down. He's had 15 or more rebounds every time they've won this season. They've also won both times he's scored 18 or more. Most of that offensive damage was from the foul line. He's shooting in putrid fashion this year. So...keep crash off of the boards and off of the foul line and you'll probably win.
2. The Blazers have made good rebounding teams look inferior this year and they need to do so tonight.
3. Pack the middle. Every once in a while Diaw or Felton will get hot but for the most part the Bobcats aren't distance shooters. The only significant exception is Bell, whom you don't leave open.
4. Somebody other than Brandon is going to have to score tonight. It's time for the Websters, Outlaws, and Fernandezeses of the world to step up.
5. They like to generate extra offense by turning you over. Take care of the ball.
Be sure to visit one of my favorite blogs, RufusonFire.
Here's ye old Jersey Contest form for tonight's game: Jersey Contest form