The Blazers (28-31) came into tonight's game with their ever-fleeting playoffs hopes on the line, a feeling they've grown accustomed to at this point. Unfortunately for them, they're still 3.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Utah Jazz, and any missteps by the West's fringe playoff teams will probably be capitalized on by the ninth-seeded Lakers. Nevertheless, Portland started off strong tonight as the Bobcats (13-47) did much of the opposite in their seventh straight loss.
Following an 11-6 run to open the game, the Bobcats looked rather lifeless until five straight second-chance opportunities in one possession led to a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist jumper. The sequence included a missed dunk by Bismack Biyombo that I'd like to say fell way short. How a missed dunk can fall "way short," I'll never know, but Biyombo managed to make it happen. The offensive glass provided Charlotte with a minor boost early, but Portland would make up for it by scoring a total of 21 second chance points to Charlotte's 22 by the game's end.
It seemed Portland's tantalizingly exciting youngster, and probably Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard had read the scouting report before tonight's game. In the following possession, he set Wesley Matthews up from beyond the arc three times, a defensive category in which the Bobcats are especially bad. He'd nail his last attempt, scoring a total of seventeen points and increasing the Blazer's lead to six. The Blazers as a team shot a sizzling 12-for-24 from three-point range.
With two minutes left in the first quarter, Nicolas Batum threw a pass off the backboard to rookie Meyers Leonard who finished with a dunk. While most of the players were thinking something along the lines of "lol", head coach Terry Stotts portrayed more of a literal "smh."
Showtime in Rip City (via NBA)
Anyway, the second quarter consisted primarily of the Trail Blazers taking and making relatively tough shots, including five treys. Late in the first half, Damian Lillard went off, scoring seven straight points. He did most of his work early as he scored 10 points and dished three assists in the second quarter, for a total of 15 points and six assists in the first half. A 4-for-5 shooting clip from Ramon Sessions would give the Bobcats 30 second quarter points, but with the Blazers shooting 68 percent, Charlotte would be outscored by seven. They headed into the half down by 13 points despite a 14-8 edge in offensive rebounding.
MKG drained another mid-range jumper to begin the half, mirroring a trend that manifested itself after the All-Star break. In the second half of the season, he's been shooting 43.5 percent from 16-24 feet -- a hope-filled addition to today's small sample size gallery.
Batum had a wonderful shooting night, not missing a shot until the final minutes of the third quarter. He finished the game with 13 points and five assists.
Kemba Walker has been under a bit of rough scoring spell for the past three games, despite leading the team with 11 assists tonight. Combined with his 5-20 showing from the field tonight, he's been shooting 27.5 percent from the field with 11 made shots and 40 attempts. Aside from that, he's had a net +/- rating of -51. In the five games following the All-Star break, he was shooting a sizzling hot 53 percent from beyond the arc to supplement his 49 percent shooting from the field. Hopefully, we'll see more of that Kemba in the coming games.
Despite losing tonight's game, Bobcats fans should feel good about their night. Why? Because the more games they win this season, the more likely it is that Portland is forced to give their 2013 draft pick, which is top-12 protected, to Charlotte. The pick is top 12 protected again in 2014, but it's unlikely that the Blazers will find themselves in the lottery three years in a row, especially with Lillard on their side.