Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected Charlotte Starting Lineup: PG D.J. Augustin (#14, 6’0″, Texas), SG Gerald Henderson (#15, 6’4″, Duke), SF Dominic McGuire (#5, 6’9″, Fresno State), PF Boris Diaw (#32, 6’8″, France), C Kwame Brown (#54, 6’11″, Glynn Academy)
With the disparity in talent level between the Blazers and Bobcats, the primary reason this game will be compelling is the reunions on both sides. Tonight’s game will mark the first time new Blazer Gerald Wallace plays Charlotte, the franchise for whom he was the face for seven years and remains the only All-Star in its history. But more importantly, tonight will be perhaps Blazers fans’ last opportunity to show Joel Przybilla proper appreciation for his seven years here. Don’t be surprised if he gets the biggest standing ovation an opposing player has ever received at the Rose Garden. Mike had a nice tribute to the Vanilla Gorilla last night that’s worth reading. Dante Cunningham will also make his return to Portland for the first time as a Bobcat tonight, and should get a nice reception as well.
The Bobcats already took a huge hit when they lost their best player at the trade deadline, but things got worse last night when leading scorer Stephen Jackson, always tough to guard, went down with a strained hamstring during a loss to the Lakers. Without Jackson, the Bobcats are left to rely on the likes of D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw, and Gerald Henderson to to beat the Blazers, who are seemingly re-energized after a road win in Sacramento Wednesday night. To put it kindly, I kind of like Portland’s chances tonight.
The victory over the Kings was a much-needed change of pace after a pair of embarrassing blowout losses last week to Atlanta and Houston, but Portland is even more well-equipped to win tonight. Brandon Roy, who was held out of the game in Sacramento as a precaution (it was on the second half of a back-to-back), will not only be available tonight, but will have his minutes-limit increased from 15 to 25. In addition, Rudy Fernandez, who missed the last two games with a chest virus, is back in action tonight. The returns of Roy and Fernandez give the Blazers even more bench depth. To be honest, on paper Portland’s starting lineup could probably beat Charlotte’s current depth chart on its own, but having more rotation options could be crucial tonight to rest the Blazers’ key players—the next two games are a road back-to-back in Orlando and Miami.
The rest of the season isn’t going to get any easier for Portland: in addition to the aforementioned Orlando/Miami trip, they have matchups coming up with Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, with only a few lower-tier teams thrown in. Those games will be much more telling as far as Portland’s playoff-run hopes are concerned, but in the meantime, we’re at the point in the season where the Blazers really have no excuse not to take care of the Charlottes of the league, especially at home.