Starting Five: Trail Blazers at Charlotte Bobcats, 4 p.m.
It didn’t take long, but I’ve had to retire my phrase “Bobcat bad.” Last year, the Charlotte Bobcats were bad – if not plumb awful by winning just seven games after the lockout. But now, they’ve already reached the seven-win mark and currently rank third in the five-team Southeast Division. So no more Bobcat jokes, the NBA needs a new laughing stock … and veteran Jared Jeffries didn’t want his locker room to become the latest punch line. Which leads us directly into our Starting Five…
1. Consistency or else
It was early, but it had to be said. After the Washington Wizards celebrated their first win of the season, courtesy of the Blazers (now 7-10), Jeffries publicly expressed some profund thoughts about the meaning of the loss – as told to Joe Freeman of the Oregonian.
“Games like this define your season,” Jeffries said. “Because after this game, either you bounce back and you say, ‘This is who we are, this is who we’re going to be.’ Or you let this loss linger and you look up and you are one of these teams that can lose 11 in a row, 12 in a row. I don’t think we have that kind of character. I think we’re better than that.”
In other words, he was warning the Blazers against becoming “Bobcat bad.” Something broke within the young Bobcats last year when they lost an overtime game at the Pistons. They had competed hard in the effort to snap a six-game losing streak, but after that 110-107 loss, the Bobcats fell apart for the remainder of the year. Sixteen more losses to end the season (the entire streak spanned 23 straight Ls) and the team never again reached the 100-point mark.
As Jeffries said, the Blazers were (… are?) in danger of watching the season turn for the worse. That’s why the Cleveland double OT win on Saturday night meant so much. The Blazers temporarily plugged the dam that nearly bust for a wave of losses and flew to Charlotte with some relief. As rookie PF/C Joel Freeland told me on Sunday: “Now all we have to do is build on that and start to get some (consistency.)”
Easier said than done, but if the Blazers are to dodge becoming the new “Bobcats,” it must be done to wrap up this long road trip.
2. Blazers responding to pick-and-roll defense
Although the Bobcats may not be one of the elite shut-down teams in the league – the team ranks 20 out of 30 in Defensive Rating, points allowed per 100 possessions – they certainly have a scheme in slowing down pick-and-rolls.
The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell wrote a nice explanatory story today about Charlotte’s overloading “strong” side defense, that creates turnovers and confounds an offense as the shot clock wastes away.
The Blazers have taken care of the ball, for the most part, during this road trip but did slip with 21 turnovers in the Boston loss. However, the consistent theme on this road trip has been the disappearing offense from the first five. Before the Cleveland win, the Blazers patched together a couple of stinkers – shooting under 35% from the floor in Boston and Washington.
With its gambling style, Charlotte averages about nine steals per game (4th in the NBA) and despite its DefR, the Bobcats hold opponents to 44.3 percent field-goal shooting. This will be a significant challenge for point guard Damian Lillard, who has already seen his fair share of attention to get the ball out of his hands which limits his effectiveness in the pick-and-roll.
3. Another Hickson Homecoming
J.J. Hickson spent the 2008-2011 seasons in Cleveland; his firsts in the NBA. On Saturday night, he played OK in his return and made four of five shots for 11 points with five rebounds, two steals and a block. Hickson had the challenge in boxing out Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, so that’s why his rebounding total was so low.
But maybe a trip back near his college stomping grounds will bring out the beast. Hickson played at North Carolina State and was regarded during the 2007-2008 season for his low-post offense (14.8 ppg) and work under the rim (8.5 rebounds per game). Hickson entered the draft after freshman year, and now averages a double-double (11 and 10) in his fifth year in the league.
4. “Somebody done told you wrong! Punk!!!”
Valuable lesson learned during the Blazers’ off day on Sunday: Lillard loves the television show, “Martin.” So while the players had some free time, Lillard spent many hours in his hotel room watching a “Martin” marathon.
This is one of his favorite scenes. Okay, this isn’t related to tonight’s game – just an excuse for me to post one of my favorite shows of all time. So, you see, the kid Lillard has good taste.
5. That’s What He Said
As improved as the Bobcats might be this season, they’re still a young team trying to define the word “consistency.” After the team’s third straight loss on Nov. 30 against the Philadelphia 76ers, guard Ben Gordon sounded the alarm. (From the Charlotte Observer)
“They hurt us inside,’’ Gordon said. “The schedule is picking up. We’re playing better teams. So we’ve got to pick it up defensively.’’
Prediction: The Bobcats have been stuck on seven wins since Nov. 24, having failed in the last three games to surpass the win total from last season. Although Charlotte has lost three straight, the team should also be rested – unlike the Blazers who will play No. 6 out of his seven-game road trip. The Bobcats’ firepower is in the backcourt (Gordon, Ramon Sessions, Kemba Walker), but their perimeter defense should be the difference. Still, the Blazers have a chance in salvaging this road trip with a win tonight and in Indianapolis. I go back to Jeffries’ words. If the Blazers are indeed “better than that,” then they should win this game.
Blazers 98, Bobcats 92
Tipoff: 4 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, 1190 AM/102.3 KEX
Officials of the night: Tony Brothers, Tre Maddox, Michael Smith