Trail Blazers-Bobcats Preview
Without star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers have gotten back on track thanks in part to the strong play of their backcourt.
Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews certainly proved unstoppable the last time they met the Charlotte Bobcats.
With Aldridge likely to be a game-time decision, the Blazers seek their third straight victory as the Bobcats try for their ninth win in 10 home games Saturday night.
Portland (45-24) was on its way to a season-high fourth straight loss when Aldridge suffered a lower back contusion at San Antonio on March 12.
Since averaging 100.0 points and shooting 41.4 percent during that skid, the Blazers have scored 114.8 per game on 45.9 percent shooting while going 3-1 without the All-Star big man.
Lillard has played a key role with 25.2 points per game despite shooting 29.2 percent from 3-point range in his last six. Matthews has stepped up with 54 points and 9-of-16 shooting from beyond the arc in his last two.
Matthews matched a season high with 28 points and sank four 3-pointers Thursday, while Lillard added 23 points and 10 of Portland’s 32 assists on 41 field goals in a 116-103 home win over Washington.
"The ball was moving. It was a lot of fun to be out there," Matthews said after the Blazers made at least 12 3s in a franchise-record fourth straight game. "That’s how we play."
With Aldridge limited to 10 points on Jan. 2, the high-scoring guards combined for 49 points and hit 11 of 12 from long range as the Blazers tied a franchise record with 21 3s in a 134-104 victory over the visiting Bobcats (33-36).
Aldridge, averaging team highs of 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds, is uncertain for the rematch as Portland embarks on a five-game trip. Nicolas Batum also has played well in his absence, averaging 19.5 points and 13.8 rebounds in the four games.
The Blazers trail fourth-place Houston by a 1 1/2 games for home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, are trying to hold off surging Atlanta for seventh place in the East as they look to avoid a third consecutive defeat.
After its eight-game home winning streak ended in a 97-83 loss to the Hawks on Monday, Charlotte dropped its second straight Wednesday, falling 104-99 at Brooklyn.
"Turnovers were the biggest difference," coach Steve Clifford said after his team committed five of its 15 against the Nets in the final quarter. "We had a couple of unforced ones late that were at key times."
The Bobcats had averaged 105.0 points – 9.3 above their season average – and shot 48.0 percent in their previous four home games before making only 35.3 percent against Atlanta. It was their worst shooting performance since posting a season-low 31.3 mark in a 99-74 loss to Indiana on Nov. 27.
Al Jefferson has been a bright spot, ranking among the league’s top 10 with 24.8 points per game this month.
After being held to seven points against the Nets, Kemba Walker may have a difficult time bouncing back since he’s averaged just 11.8 points on 28.3 percent shooting in four career meetings with Portland.
The Blazers have scored 121.5 per game while winning the last four meetings with Charlotte by an average of 24.2 points.