A couple weeks ago Portland shot 51 percent from the free throw line and gave up a game to Charlotte they should have won easily. Now Charlotte came into Portland fresh off a double-overtime win over the Lakers.
The Bobcats should be tired, the Blazers rested, and the Bobcats were missing key components in Gerald Wallace and D.J. Augustin. All signs point to an easy Blazer victory.
Early on it looked like it would be an easy win. Portland built a 32-18 lead after one quarter, largely behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Jerryd Bayless.
It started with Aldridge. He got out and ran, he scored from inside, and he scored from outside. Actually, scratch that...inside was the location where the first 22 Blazer points were scored. They established early on that the Bobcats simply could not stop Aldridge on the blocks, Brandon Roy was scoring on his nemesis Raja Bell, and Greg Oden was cleaning up every rebound in sight that Nicolas Batum did not get to.
The paint belonged to Portland and it was in no small part due to the hot start of Aldridge. Then, when Portland needed a second scorer, in came fireplug Jerryd Bayless.
Bayless had a particularly impressive stretch where he seemed to be in the middle of every big play on both ends of the floor. He scored, he dished for easy buckets, he tipped balls, he defended, and just generally controlled the game. During that section Portland beat a lead that went as high as 18 points at 36-18 that was never threatened.
A look at the numbers shows how easily Portland dominated an outgunned Bobcat team. Portland out shot the Bobcats 45% to 41%, made more free throws than Charlotte attempted, crushed the rebounding battle 45-26, and won the game 88-74.
It was such a convincing win that forgotten man Channing Frye made an appearance (to a nice ovation) and moments later Shavlik "the Human Victory Cigar" Randolph made it to the floor, too. Unfortunately, Frye ended up with a suck differential of -1 and Randolph ended up with a Mario but at least they made the floor. But they were also indicative of a problem; they were not the only Blazers who struggled to score.
Think about it for a second. After a 32 point first quarter the Blazers could only drop in 56 points in the next three quarters against a Bobcat team playing without two starters. That is not even 19 points per quarter.
There are a lot of reasons that could be given for the poor offensive showing. The game became extremely slow-paced; the Blazers shot just 73 times and the Bobcats were even more anemic, just jacking up 70 shots.
But the upshot is, Portland stopped imposing their will on the Bobcats and allowed that slow, methodical, dare I say plodding pace to gain dominance in the game.
They can get away with that against a tired, short-handed team. They can't get away with that against the better teams in the league.
They are entering a key stretch of the season. They have an opportunity in the next couple weeks while the Nuggets
are entering a tough stretch that sees them play 16 of 20 games on the road. Portland needs to not just catch the Nuggets in the standings but actually pass them and put some distance between the two teams.
This is a Blazer team that is more than good enough to win a playoff series or two, particularly with the continued improvement being shown by Bayless and Oden. However, to do that they will need the benefit of the home floor. The best chance to do that is to win the Northwest Division.
They currently trail the Nuggets by a game and a half. Over the next couple of weeks they need to make a move, take over first place, and never look back.
That is easier said than done; Portland is home against the always-dangerous Jazz
, then goes on the road to face the Hornets
; after that, the schedule gets easier with a home game against the Knicks
, a road game against the Warriors
, and then home games against the Grizzlies
, and Clippers
A 7-1 or 6-2 record over that stretch is not too much to ask and would go a long way towards establishing Portland as a real playoff threat.
However, if they are going to have that sort of success, they must learn to impose their will on the opponent. If they build a big lead against the Jazz, Hornets, Mavericks or Hawks and relax as they did against the Bobcats, they will not make their move and that will perhaps be disastrous.
Meanwhile, any double digit win is something to enjoy. Speaking of which...