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Media Row Report: Blazers 98 Bobcats 79

It's hard to imagine an NBA team playing a more aesthetically-pleasing, entertaining brand of basketball and still failing to score 100 points.  But when you're the tortoise-slow Portland Trail Blazers and you finally decide to lace up the cross trainers against your fellow turtles, the Charlotte Bobcats, a 98-79 victory feels a little bit like Showtime.

The Bobcats, not considered road warriors, came out stereotypically flat. They did all the things flat teams do: settled for jumpers, failed to get back in transition, committed silly turnovers, and, more than anything, missed shots.  A lot of shots.  The Blazers went for the jugular early thanks to slashing drives by Jerryd Bayless and an in-rhythm LaMarcus Aldridge, who was hitting everything he tossed up.  The two combined for 23 first half points on 10-15 shooting.  They made it look easy early on and, to a large degree, it was.

Charlotte did make a run, thanks in part to the foul-drawing abilities of Gerald Wallace and Flip Murray (combined 13 for 15 from the stripe) and in part to some sloppy Blazers play (18 turnovers).  When they needed to, though, the Blazers clamped down in a big way, winning the fourth quarter 26-14 and holding the Bobcats to just 4 made field goals in those 12 minutes.  

The defensive intensity level down the stretch was set by the lightly-used combination of forwards Nicolas Batum and Dante Cunningham.  As long, intelligent, athletic and versatile forwards capable of defending multiple positions, Batum and Cunningham were downright terrorizing the Bobcats playing alongside each other. Their constant activity on the boards produced a combined 6 offensive rebounds and, it felt like, at least as many tips or deflections to keep possessions alive. Their length on defense made the paint seem impenetrable, especially since the Blazers could just about ignore Charlotte's 3 point guards, who combined to shoot 5 of 22 from the field.  Their combined IQ made their team's zone, used only occasionally tonight, a truly confounding problem for the outside-in Bobcats, who were missing their starting center Tyson Chandler.  

If you were to boil it all down to one play, it would be Batum drawing a second-half charge against Stephen Jackson, who got so tired of Batum's constant pestering that he simply pushed him away in frustration while running down the court. For no real reason other than he was sick of the effort.  Upon hearing the whistle, Jackson raced back down on defense to plead his case to an official.  There was nothing that the stripes, nor anyone else, could do to help Stack Jack. 

After the game it was nice to hear mutual admiration from two players who, thanks to Batum's injury and Cunningham's limited role, haven't played a ton alongside each other.

"It's great playing with him," Cunningham told me about Batum. "Any time that we can both come together, we can switch everything [on defense]. If I don't get a loose ball, he can get a loose ball. We're both pretty much taking up the whole paint when we open our arms up. It's a good feeling having him out there."

Batum agreed. "Dante did a great job of bringing energy. He can guard my guy, I can guard his, we can switch on defense. We're very similar players. He did a great job. He has a great shot, great rebounds, great defense. He played great for us. I think he's very smart. He understands the game very well. He's going to have a great career in the NBA."

Both Batum and Cunningham were able to turn their defense and energy into career offensive nights. Batum finished with 15 points (7 of 10 shooting... it felt like mostly transition layups or dunks, including one spectacular alley oop) and tied a career-high with 9 rebounds.  For Cunningham, it was a career-high 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting to go along with 4 boards and two blocks (including this monster that had the crowd going crazy). 

And that's exactly how it should go: effort and activity on defense are infectious and generally lead to good things.  Good things like 12 fast break points (It's a start!), winning the points in the paint by 16 points and causing 21 turnovers.  Good things like 6 players in double figures, Rudy Fernandez getting his swagger back and end-of-the-bencher Patty Mills getting the call for mop up duty.  Good things like coasting to the easiest win against a playoff-caliber team the Blazers are likely to enjoy while playing without the injured Brandon Roy.

Random Game Notes
  • I'm still tired from writing this post about Nic Batum earlier Monday.  Read it if you haven't already. 
  • The latest on Brandon Roy: he will miss Wednesday's game at Utah and will be re-evaluated Thursday.  It's possible, but not likely, that the doctors would let him play Thursday night against San Antonio, as that's the same day as the evaluation.  The Blazers will have at least a light practice or a shootaround on Friday or Saturday before the weekend's big showdown against the Lakers on Saturday night.  So if the evaluation goes well Thursday he could definitely get a practice in before playing on Saturday night.  It there's a hiccup and he's not able to play Saturday, he would have two more off days after the Saturday game before the team played again.  At this point, it almost feels like the extra time off would be better for everyone, however we're talking about Brandon Roy here and it would obviously kill him to miss the Lakers game.  Obviously the decision won't come until Thursday so everything else here was speculation based on how they've handled him in the past. 
  • Before the game, Travis Outlaw was shooting pull-up jumpers and going through some dribbling exercises under the watchful eyes of assistant coach Monty Williams.  That's a big step.  The team still hasn't pinned down a concrete recovery timeline (to my knowledge). If he's already back on the court in sneakers a timeline should be right around the corner.
  • Before the game, the Bobcats made a big, funny scene of paying tribute to their former teammate Juwan Howard.  In Art Garcia's piece recently it was noted that Howard is one of the most universally respected players in the league.  The Bobcats certainly hold him in the highest regard.  "What's up, old school?" point guard DJ Augustin shouted at Howard from across the court.  "What's up, Pretty Boy?"  Howard shouted back as the two came together for a pre-game hug.  Howard also had some cracks for Augustin regarding his bright orange Jordans, as both players are Jordan Brand athletes.  The icing on the cake came when Augustin imitated the screwball release on Howard's jumper, drawing laughter from at least 5 of his teammates, assembled media members and Howard himself.  It was a spot-on rendition of Howard's over-the-head, herky-jerky flip release that has proven so accurate this season.  The Blazers don't usually do a ton of pre-game fraternizing but, then again, many of them have been Blazers their entire careers.  Not so for Howard obviously.
  • During halftime warmups, Bobcats coach Larry Brown sought out Nicolas Batum for a handshake.  Seeing this, Jerryd Bayless then sought out Brown for a handshake. I was told that Brown singled out Batum for some steep praise during his post game conference.  Nazr Mohammed agrees with his coach about Batum.
  • I was a little disappointed by the Gerald Wallace Experience as he didn't play in Portland last season due to injury.  My expectations were likely too high.  He did come away with 17 and 10 and 2 steals after all.  He really trusts his feet on defense no matter where he is on the court.  I wonder how many coaches have gone crazy trying to teach players how to trust their feet?  You either have it or you don't, it seems.
  • One major difference between Martell Webster and a lot of other NBA players is that he still stays late to sign autographs for fans after games in which he is totally overshadowed by his backup, Nicolas Batum, and people are openly calling for him to be replaced in the starting lineup. 
  • Nate McMillan laughed off the idea of starting Batum during his post game comments (see below).  I don't get what's so funny.
  • Huge congratulations to the BE reader sitting in the "Rip City Row" who got the following sign on the jumbotron: "B-Rex eats Bobcats for Breakfast."  That is incredible work. I salute you.
  • At halftime, an ultimate frisbee club performed (played? scrimmaged?) on the court.  To start the performance off, they flung a frisbee hard into the stands.  As it turned out, the frisbee's flight path took it directly into media row.  Casey Holdahl, aside from co-hosting a fabulous podcast, producing video content on a nightly basis and churning out blog posts from the road, is now officially in the frisbee-dodging business.  The disc just barely missed his head as he ducked out of the way just in time.  Must have been all that time interviewing Batum last summer in France - some of that agility rubbed off. 

Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments

A nice, easier win

All wins are good. All wins are great. I thought the guys tonight did a nice job of establishing solid play at both ends of the floor. Charlotte was hot in their last 10 games and from start to finish the defense was good, the offense was good, we had 18 turnovers but I just liked the way we played tonight. It was a great win. We enjoyed this.

Scoring from both units

Andre kind of cooled off a little bit and we had some other guys step up a little bit tonight. I thought Bayless got his game going in that first group and then Rudy, Nic, Dante, that group kept coming off the bench. We knew they would play small basketball and we could match up with them. They did a nice job of getting stops and then running out and making shots.

New energy from Nicolas and Rudy

I think we're making an effort to get the ball up the floor. We've been talking about that forever it seems like. I thought tonight we got a few in the Dallas game where we started to advance the ball and Bayless was attacking. We had LaMarcus deep post position. Trying to get that basketball up the floor and getting it to the basket or getting it to LaMarcus with about 18 seconds as opposed to 10 or 11 seconds. And then we can get into our spacing. I thought tonight we did that, we got some easy baskets and Charlotte is coming off their 5th so they had heavy legs. We wanted to try to get into their legs.

How long will you keep Nicolas on the bench?

Hahaha. He's doing ok right there. He's doing a nice job.

Big win given the upcoming schedule?

You guys know the schedule. Of course it's a good win for us with our upcoming schedule and the schedule we've played. But Charlotte was playing good basketball and we needed to play good basketball tonight to beat this team, from start to finish, we were pretty consistent, pretty efficient with our offense, our defense. I thought the gameplan was a good gameplan, where the guys followed it. We wanted to make them shoot the ball from the outside. Two areas where we really need to get better is taking care of the ball and rebounding the ball. They had a ton of offensive rebounds the first half and we were turning the ball over. Once we did that, we did a good job of executing.

Were you kind of glad Patty didn't get the shot off with you up by so much?

You don't want to, you're not trying to embarrass a team but I was letting him play. But you know he was so far off the floor, I've never seen a guy that far off the floor looking for the ball. It was almost like he was taking the ball out of bounds.

You were back on your feet on the sidelines

The doctors have given me the ok to move around. I've been moving around, going up and down stairs on the airplane and just really being active the last few weeks. I figure tonight was the night that I was going to stand on the sideline.

Yeah, it worked out. Monty, my coaches did a good job of making that adjustment and sitting down is not bad. I want to do that more. 

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter