CHARLOTTE – The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 45-25 on the season and 19-16 on the road with a 124-94 blowout loss to the Bobcats Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.
The loss breaks a four-game winning streak versus the Bobcats and drops the Trail Blazers to one game ahead of the Warriors for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
“Charlotte played a terrific game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They shot the ball well, they rebounded the ball well, they passed the ball well, they defended well. They basically outplayed us … We certainly could have played better. They were kind of clicking on all cylinders.”
After getting their first five-game road trip of March off to a terrible start in Dallas, the Trail Blazers had to be hopefully they’d get their second five-game trip this month off on a better foot. Unfortunately, that would not be the case Saturday night in Charlotte.
It’s hard to imagine the Bobcats, a team that had lost their previous two games, getting off to a better start than they did Saturday night. They started the game outscoring the Trail Blazers 12-2 in the first four minutes and hit 11-straight shots on the way to leading by as many as 14 in the first quarter.
“I thought we let them play pretty freely on the offensive end at the beginning of the game,” said Robin Lopez. “I don’t think anybody will really disagree with that. That will build a team’s confidence. I do think, early on, we missed some shots and all game long they hit a lot of shots. You can attribute that to their level of confidence.”
While no Charlotte player had a particularly difficult time scoring, center Al Jefferson had an absolute field day against Portland’s interior defense, scoring 16 points in the first quarter on 8 of 12 shooting. To make matters worse, Jefferson grabbed four rebounds and three assists in the first 12 minutes, which was one more assist than the Trail Blazers handed out as a team in the first quarter.
“Big Al is going to have nights like that,” said Lopez, who ended the game with eight points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. “I think there were some things I could have done better (defensively) but he’s a ridiculously talented offensive player, possibly one of the most skilled scorers at the center position right now. I think there were a lot of things I could have done better but I think that applies across the board.”
That it did. Portland would cut the lead to 11 by the start of the second, but they wouldn’t get any closer than that thanks in large part to the Bobcats shooting 55 percent in the quarter. Charlotte started the quarter on a 17-6 run to officially start the rout in front of an announced crowd of 18,706. But instead of Jefferson, it was guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson who did the damage before the half, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the second quarter to help the home team take a 26-point lead.
By time the first half mercifully came to a close, Portland trailed by 23, had given up 38 points in the paint and had just four assists to 16 for the Bobcats.
“We got into a motion offense and we were just trying to make plays,” said Damian Lillard. “We set a lot of ball screens and guys started to attack. I’m pretty sure if you go back and looked at the film you’ll see a lot of shots were missed off of the pass. So it looked like we didn’t move to the ball, but a lot of times we did. I know I came off the ball screen a couple times and attacked, same thing for other guys, but we missed a lot of shots that came off the pass that could have easily bee 11 assists in the first half, 12 assists. I can remember a lot of shots that got missed that were passed to me that I missed, passes that I made that guys missed. It was more defense than offense.”
The Trail Blazers did what they could to get back into the game in the third quarter, cutting Charlotte’s lead to 17 with 6:22 to play in the third after a Wesley Matthews layup. But there would be no great comeback like they had in Dallas on to start the first five-game trip at the beginning of the month. Instead, the Bobcats would push the lead up to 25 before the end of the quarter, making the final 12 minutes as Charlotte cruised to a 30-point victory, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was how much the Trail Blazers beat the Bobcats by in their meeting at the Moda Center back on Jan. 2.
“I don’t know if there was one big issue,” said Stotts. “Jefferson shot the ball well, he had good post moves. Henderson was making shots off the dribble, so was Kemba Walker. First half, we’re down 20-something at halftime and it wasn’t about offensive rebounds, it wasn’t about transition. When we changed coverages they were able to take advantage of it.”
Portland was led by Lillard, who finished with 20 points on 7 of 19 shooting, four assists and two rebounds. Dorell Wright, starting in place of LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion), had 17 points and six rebounds. Wesley Matthews scored 15 and CJ McCollum added 12 points off the bench.
Charlotte had three players (Jefferson, Henderson and Walker) score at least 23 points. Chris Douglas-Roberts was the only other Bobcat who got into double-figure scoring with 11.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head south for a back-to-back series with the Florida team starting with the Miami Heat on Monday.
“We’ve got a tough team in Miami and we’ve got to bring it,” said Lillard. “That’s a game that we’ve got to go compete and try to win.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM.