Portland is coming to Charlotte on Monday November 19th, for a showdown with the Bobcats. They bring a 4-6 record into the game, as well as a 3 game losing streak…which follows a 4 game winning streak…which itself followed another 3 game losing skid. Hey, at least they are consistent (for a few games at a time). The question is, which team are they? The world-beaters who have already knocked off New Orleans, Dallas, and Detroit? Or the high-lotto team who has already been blown out by those same Hornets, Denver, and Washington (plus a loss to expected cellar-dweller Philly)?
Prior to the start of the season, everyone would have said the second. Portland had traded away Zach Randolph, for no other reason than so he could not corrupt the young (or not) Greg Oden…only to see Greg undergo micro-fracture surgery and be forced to miss the season. People looked at the team and said they were too young to contend, but to look out for them going forward. But, they put together a nice winning streak, and people wondered if the future got here early. Now, those questions are being aside again, because of the recent losses. As a Bobcats fan, I want to know what to expect for the game: Are the Bobcats going to have a walk-over, on their way back to 2 games above the mediocre mark, or will they slide back to .500 basketball?
The numbers seem to indicate the former. In 3 of Portland's 4 wins, they shot 50% or better from the floor – including against the strong defensive squads of Dallas and Detroit. How did they manage such hot shooting nights? Hitting more jumpers than normal. Overall, 30.7% of made field goals in the league this year are layups or dunks. In those 3 games, layups and dunks accounts for only 24.1% of Portland's total made baskets, so they were doing unusally well from further from the cup – and that is a trend that is unlikely to continue.
On defense, Portland gives up more points per possession (ppp) than all but 6 teams in the league, at 1.05 ppp. A big factor in this high rate is the fact that Portland hardly ever takes the ball away from their opponents. They create turnovers on only 13.5% of their opponents' possessions, a mark only Memphis exceeds (in a bad way). They also do a poor job on the defensive boards, grabbing 69.5% of available defensive rebounds (8th worst in the NBA). Giving your opponents more initial shots (few turnovers) and more second shots (few defensive rebounds) is not a formula for success.
For comparison, the Bobcats surrender 1.01 ppp, force turnovers on 15.5% of their opponents' possessions, and grab 69.1% of available defensive rebounds. While the first two numbers are solid, the third is far from it – and made all the more unusual by the fact that the Bobcats are the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA (or second best, according to ESPN). They pull down 33.2% of their own missed shots, nearly 8% better than Portland's mark. How they can be so effective on one end and not the other is a bit strange, but not the focus of this post – all that matters is that the Bobcats look ready to expose a weakness of their opponent.
After looking at the numbers behind Portland's wins, I feel better. In fact, I will make a couple of predictions – the Bobcats win tonight, as long as they hold the Blazers under 50% from the floor. And second, the Trailblazers are going to start giving up more points if they keep letting the opposition keep the ball so much (hopefully the Bobcats will start on that tonight).
(Most of these numbers can be seen at the Queen City Hoops Stats Page – and the ones that can't yet are going to be added soon).