A lot of things have been amazing about the Blazers lately, but how about this: Their 19-point win over the Charlotte Bobcats was the first win by an equal or greater margin since November 23rd, the night when Greg Oden sliced and diced the Chicago Bulls. They’ve been in control of some games for 48 minutes, with a couple 14-16 point wins scattered throughout, but not much in the stylings of a true NBA blowout.
Not sure you can quite classify this win as a blowout as the Cats looked every bit the team playing its fifth game of a six game road trip, missing 17 threes, many of which were of the “lick your finger, test the wind, and shoot” variety. But the Blazers dictated the tempo all night with a balanced offense and a defense surprisingly capable of help rotations, limiting Charlotte to 32 points in the paint. It wasn’t anything amazing, but every piece was cooked to satisfaction.
The aforementioned defensive rotations were as good as we’ve seen since Joel Pzybilla’s knee turned in its timecard for the season. Other than a standout Dante Cunningham block, you didn’t even see a ton of highlight reel plays because the Blazers were mostly so well positioned that they never had to do anything flashy to catch up. When Charlotte players made their intentions known to delve into the paint, they met defenders with their feet set and arms vertical. It was pretty clear the plan was to make the Bobcats shoot because of their 28th worst percentage beyond the arc — confirmed later on Twitter by @blazersblog — and they executed that plan in the same fashion the Utah Jazz did a few days ago.
Ball movement was en vouge and you can thank more than just Andre Miller’s 10 assists for that. The Blazers pushed the break (12 transition points) and made aggressive passes that led to chippies underneath (48! points in the paint). Those passes led to some turnovers (18 in total), but you can live with that when the team is so infected with passitis that Steve Blake is driving and trying to thread the needle.
The game was decided with two key stretches in the fourth quarter. The first and most important was the opening minutes of the third quarter, when the Blazers ran every play through LaMarcus Aldridge, who responded with six consecutive points off post-ups. In the past the third quarter is when they have started gunning and in turn letting teams make a run. Tonight, even after Aldridge made that initial flurry, they kept going to him, establishing the offense in each of the three primary sectors. One of my biggest pet peeves is when teams stray away from a hot player so it’s nice to see that the Blazers, even if it’s by necessity, have been feeding those who deserve it.
The second burst began with 3:39 remaining and the Blazers up 13. The Bobcats at that point hardly looked like a threat to get their horses in line, but Nic Batum made the killing blow with a number of stops under the hoop and three straight finishes as the rim. The Bobcats block a ton of shots, making Portland’s ability to cut off life lines in the paint all the sweeter.
Of course you’d like LaMarcus Aldridge to get to the line more than twice, especially when getting so many touches on the blocks, but the Bobcats aren’t ones to put people at the line a ton. What you like even more is that Aldridge basically forced the Blazers to run play after play for him in the third quarter as he commanded double teams on a couple possessions until turnovers on entry passes moved Portland’s offense back outside.
Who is that man? He looks like Nic Batum, the moves like Nic Batum, but no Nic Batum I knew was this good of a passer or this aggressive off the dribble. The immediate improvements we’ve seen in Batum’s game have been everything I expected from Rudy this season and more. In the words of Bill Parcells, lets hold off on the anointing oil for now, but seeing Nic affecting every inch of the floor and grabbing nine rebounds has me scratching my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time. I also enjoyed imagining Nic going up to Gerald Wallace after one of those dunks and saying, “You know, my team wouldn’t trade me for you.”
Call Andre Miller the catalyst if you want, but he did everything Portland wants a point guard to do other than snipe. As it was nice to see the Blazers stay with the hot hand in Aldridge early in the third, it was also good to see them sustain the level of ball movement throughout the game.
Jerryd Bayless had some bright moments and yet his 15 points were relatively quiet by his standards. Just 21 minutes, in part because of a couple bad turnovers, but his drives were on point and he played a large part in building the early double-digit lead.
A career-high 10 points in 30 minutes for Dante Cunningham, who got caught up in the frantic energy of Batum and Rudy Fernandez and made some very nice defensive plays. I’d like to see a little more of that post game as well to see if he has anything else to compliment that hook shot. After a rough patch earlier in the month he looks like he’s getting his legs back under him.
Rudy’s largest contributions were five assists and three steals combined with his efforts to keep the ball moving up the court.
A couple early shots made it look like Martell Webster was going to have a better night, but he again wound up on the bench with Batum siphoning minutes away. He got beat on defensive plays that he would have stopped in other games. His offense will come, as it tends to do with good shooters, but I’m just hoping right now that his defensive energy comes back, and soon.
No complaints about Steve Blake or Juwan Howard, both of whom kept the offense churning along despite one or two misguided shot attempts from Blake.