The Oregonian‘s Mike Tokito dropped a little bit of historical knowledge on Blazer land this morning when he reminded everybody that Portland’s historic 13-game winning streak started after a game-winner from an up-and-coming Blazer forward snapped a four-game losing streak.
My favorite part of Tokito’s article was his reminder that it was this winning streak in 2007 that led the city of Portland back to the Rose Garden to see just what was happening with this group of upstart Blazers. Portland finished 07-08 at .500. But 08-09 was the best Blazer season in nearly a decade. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to turn everything around.
Prior to the start of this season, I looked at Portland’s roster and thought there was a chance that although this team wasn’t going to be good they probably had an extended win-streak in them. Winning in the NBA can be contagious, especially for young teams. When a group of NBA newbies get a little confidence, they have the potential to throw together stretches of wins. The 2012-13 Blazers have that type of roster.
Joel Freeland and Will Barton are the kinds of players who need only one or two strong shifts to turn from disappointing to contributing. Nolan Smith is in the NBA for a reason, getting some quality minutes might help to remind him of that. Same goes for Luke Babbitt. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. If the bench starts to play well, the motivation is there for the starters to play well.
If Portland’s bench comes to play at the same time their starting five gets their groove back, this Blazer team could win a handful of games before they realize the best they can probably do is 10th in the West.
So do I think that one win in double overtime against a not-great Cavaliers team on a desperation three that was probably a 50% shot at its very best will erase four poor showings (or three poor showings and a decent loss in Brooklyn) and all the obvious short-comings of the Blazers’ bench? No. Is it absurd and deluded to think Portland is on the brink of a double-digit run of wins? Yes. But is anything possible? Also yes.
The Blazers have a chance to make amends for a terrible close to November. They have a chance to build on the clear momentum swing that comes from winning a tough game on the road. Monday evening in Charlotte is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.
Blazers Start 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Bobcats Starting 5: PG Kemba Walker, SG Jeffery Taylor, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PF Byron Mullens, C Brandon Haywood
The match-ups in Monday’s game favor Portland across the board. Charlotte’s best young players are second-year guard Kemba Walker and rookie forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Damian Lillard might have his hands full on defense with Kemba, but overall I’ll take Dame in the head-to-head. MKG has been pretty great so far, but Nicolas Batum is going to be a tough cover meaning that Kidd-Gilchrist could be taking out of his offensive game due to his defensive assignment. After Kemba and MKG, though, it gets a little dark for the Bobcats. Byron Mullens will have his hands full with LaMarcus. Brandon Haywood is basically a non-entity.
The hope for Charlotte here is to take advantage of their relative advantages coming off the bench. Ben Gordon and Bismack Biyombo each reach double-digits in scoring in Charlotte’s loss to the 76ers on Friday. Toss Ramon Sessions in there, and the Bobcat’s bench has a significant advantage over Portland’s.
That is, if Portland’s bench plays like they did in the first 16 games of the season and not in the 17th.
What to Watch For
- Can Portland take advantage of their situation: The Bobcats are not a good team. They’re playing way better in 2012-13 than they were in 11-12, but they’re still at or around the bottom tier of the league. Don’t get me wrong, Portland’s there too, but just as winning a big game can lead to more wins for a young/bad/inexperienced team, losing begets losing for young/bad/inexperienced teams. Charlotte is on a three-game slide. These Bobcats know how hard it is to stop the bleeding. Portland is looking to get right and start climbing out of the basement. If the Blazers can take advantage of the difference between being at the beginning of a winning streak and being in the middle of a losing streak, they have a very good chance of extending their winning ways beyond just a single game.
- LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Byron Mullens. LA has been up and down through the first month of the season. Recently he’s shown that his inside game is solid when he goes to it while at the same time showing that he’d rather not go to it that often. Mullens won’t be able to stop LaMarcus in the paint. He needs to go inside all night. On the other end, Mullens will probably try and spread the floor. I don’t know much about the Bobcats, to be honest, but Twitter tells me that Byron Mullens likes to shoot threes. Basketball-Reference tells me that this season he has a game with six made threes (a home loss against Phoenix) and a game with five made threes (in a win at Washington). Furthermore, Mullens has attempted at least two threes in each of Charlotte’s games, and is currently at 5.2 threes attempted per game this season, 4.6 attempted per game at home. LA isn’t a rim protector, but dragging him out to defend Mullens will open up the middle for Kemba Walker. Mullens won’t beat LA one-on-one, but his play could be a major difference maker Monday night.
- Will Portland make shots: Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard had big bounce-back games in Cleveland. Wesley Matthews, though, is still struggling. Part of Wesley’s struggles can be chalked up to injury. I’m fine with that, but if he’s going to play I would like to see him contribute. If the Blazers can get hot from the field, they can put Charlotte away early. I’ve said that a lot on this trip, and it’s yet to happen. Which obviously means it’s going to happen this time.
- The bench. Apparently it was the mop-up minutes in Boston that gave the bench the confidence needed to have their biggest showing of the year. So does that mean playing a good game in meaningful minutes and contributing to a win will turn Freeland, Barton, Babbitt, and Smith into All-Stars? Probably not. But hopefully they’ll have another good night in Charlotte.