There is almost no way that Monday’s game between the Blazers and the Charlotte Bobcats WON’T be a let down.
The Bobcats are bad, very very bad. Blowing out Charlotte would be the preferable outcome for Portland, so if the Blazers don’t win on Monday, that is certainly a major let down. However, unless somebody like Meyers Leonard scores 40 points or Portland as a team puts up 200 points, even a blow out win could be a let down.
Beyond that too, Monday’s game does not have the narrative weight attached to it that made Saturday’s game (a contest against another not great team that was a bit of a letdown even though the Blazers came out on top and it wasn’t that close) an important thing to be on hand for and be a part of. Nobody cares about the Bobcats. Nobody cares about the Blazers (not in regards to how the NBA season is actually going to shake out). And sadly there isn’t anybody on Charlotte’s roster that will elicit a standing ovation from the Rose Garden crowd.
Monday’s is an inconsequential game of the highest order. That it has to be played at all, is a letdown.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Bobcats Starting 5: PG Kemba Walker, SG Gerald Henderson, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PF Bismack Biyombo, C Byron Mullens
Matching up with the Charlotte Bobcats is not the tallest order in the NBA. The Cats aren’t a deep team and they’ve got very little in the way of fire power coming from their starting five. On Monday, it will be important for the Blazers to do everything within their collective powers to maximize the biggest of the many many advantages they’ll have.
And that very biggest advantage is of course at the power forward position. LaMarcus Aldridge has been on a pretty ridiculous hot streak lately. He’s shot over 40% in three straight games, and he’s coming off a night in which he scored 17 points while playing just under 30 minutes, only his fourth evening with fewer than 30 minutes of PT. LA should certainly be very well rested for Monday night. Not that he’ll really need to be rested to get the better of Bismack Biyombo. Nothing against Charlotte’s popular young rim protector, it’s just that what Biyombo does very well won’t have much of an impact on what LaMarcus does very well.
If LA is the biggest advantage Portland has over Charlotte, the back court positions might be the best match-ups for the Bobcats. And just as the Blazers need to maximize LaMarcus, they need to minimize the damage that could be done by the combination of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.
Walker and Henderson are far from All-Star caliber guards, but they’re both athletic, can attack the rim, and can make life difficult for Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. It’s possible that hot shooting from Portland’s back court tandem will neutralize what the Bobcats can do with their guards. However, my feeling is that if Damian and Wesley attack the rim, instead of settling only for jumpers, they might be able to get Walker and Henderson into foul trouble, thus forcing Charlotte to try and get something from an inferior bench.
Probably the most interesting match-up of the evening will be at small forward. Nicolas Batum was hot to start the season, slowed down a little bit with a wrist injury, and has worked his way back into being basically Portland’s second-best all around player (LA is number one, Damian Lillard is number three, but it’s all pretty close at the top). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the number two overall pick in last year’s draft, is a very talented up and coming rookie. Certainly MKG is just another potentially great rookie to come out of a franchise that chews up and destroys potentially great rookies, but so far he’s been one of the real highlights of the worst team in the NBA. Batum versus MKG is probably worth the price of admission.
What to Watch For
- Portland’s bench. Eric Maynor had his best night as a Blazer in Portland’s win over the Timberwovles on Saturday night. Meyers Leonard was also great in his longest on-court stint since November. Joel Freeland and Will Barton, though, didn’t do quite so well. Odds are, there will be plenty of minutes available for the Blazers’ second unit Monday night. Getting Maynor used to his role in Portland is just about the most important thing for the Blazers to focus on going forward. I expect him to get big minutes, and I expect him to put up some decent numbers. The same can be said about Meyers Leonard. In his post-game remarks Saturday, Meyers Leonard said he was disappointed in himself for missing two straight free throws. He was also upset about not coming up with the two rebounds he needed to get his first professional double-double. Monday he can stretch his run of games with at least 10 points to three, he can get that double-double, and he can continue to show that his professional development isn’t just a dream.
- Will the Blazers overlook the Bobcats. Although everything I’ve said about the Bobcats being bad and the likelihood of a Portland blow out, it is altogether possible that the Blazers will overlook the Bobcats. After all, they’ve got a three-game roadie coming up and nine of their next 14 games away from the Rose Garden. There are pressing issues to take care of, and getting up for a Charlotte team that has won only four times in their last 20 games just isn’t one of them. Portland very nearly got blown out in Charlotte when these two teams faced off for the first time. It will be hard for the Bobcats to get a 20-point lead to then blow in Portland, but anything is possible. The first quarter of Monday’s game is going to be very important for the Blazers. If they can come out of the gate in a hurry, this game could be over in a hurry. Otherwise (going five minutes without a score for instance) Charlotte has a chance.
- What will the atmosphere in the Rose Garden be like. Almost all of March is on the road, which is a shame because there are a lot of good home games in April that Blazer fans might skip out on because the season will certainly be over with regards to the Playoffs. As I said at the beginning of this preview, there’s nobody on the Bobcats’ roster to bring Portlanders out on a Monday night. Add to that that the MLS season is officially on us and a lot of Timbers’ supporters who also support the Blazers might be too hung over from Sunday’s Timbers’ game to make it out to Monday’s Blazer game. An empty arena favors Charlotte. They’re much more used to playing in that atmosphere. There is a creeping sense that Portland is playing out the string on 2012-13. Over the course of the next month and a half, there are going to be a few games where opposition fans will outnumber the local fans. Monday could be a good barometer for how this city is feeling about this team. If the seats of the Rose Garden are empty, it’s probably a sign that Blazer fans are getting ready for next season by saving their money.