Trail Blazers-Bobcats Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 02, 2012
The Charlotte Bobcats appear significantly improved from last season but need to fortify their defense to right their current slump. In their fourth attempt to surpass their win total from all of last season, the Bobcats look to avenge the worst loss in franchise history as they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night. Charlotte (7-8) had won six of eight before dropping its last three games, including a 104-98 home loss to Philadelphia on Friday. Still, the Bobcats' next victory will give them one more than they had in 2011-12, when they posted the worst winning percentage in NBA history. They finished 7-59 while being outscored by an average of 13.9 points per game. This season, with a starting lineup that includes four players age 23 or younger, Charlotte is averaging 94.9 points to opponents' 100.5. "I see the improvement within the losing," said first-year coach Mike Dunlap, whose Bobcats trailed by as many as 10 in the third quarter Friday but tied the game early in the fourth. "Maybe some don't and maybe they want to rush us. I'd certainly like to win a game like tonight, but I thought we did a marvelous job of coming back into this game. But this is a playoff team we played, so I think we ultimately have to raise our eye and understand where we're at on the continuum of improvement." Charlotte's offense wasn't the problem after being held to a combined 34.2 percent from the field in the previous two losses. The Bobcats shot 47.0 percent, including 8 of 17 from 3-point range, with Ben Gordon scoring 19 and rookie Jeffery Taylor a season-high 16. But they allowed the 76ers to shoot 51.2 percent, the third time in five games Charlotte's opponent made more than half of its shots. The Bobcats have given up more than 100 points in four of five games after going six straight without doing so. "Anytime we trade baskets with a good team, a quality team, like that, you know it's going to bite you," said Gordon, 15 of 24 from 3-point range over the past four games. "... We've just got to clean up our defensive intensity." They certainly lacked intensity the last time they faced Portland. In the teams' only meeting last season, Charlotte was handed the largest margin of defeat in team history with a 112-68 loss in Portland on Feb. 1. All of the Blazers' starters sat out the fourth quarter. They rolled to that win playing without an injured Nicolas Batum, who helped Portland (7-10) end a four-game losing streak in dramatic fashion Saturday. Batum hit a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining in double overtime for a 118-117 victory over Cleveland. The game appeared to end on Batum's buzzer-beater in the first overtime, but a video review showed that the shot came after time expired. "After the one in the first overtime was too late, I had to make sure this one counted," said Batum, who scored 22 on 7-of-15 shooting. He shot 10 for 35 over the previous three games. Rookie Damian Lillard had a team-best 24 points and a season-high 11 assists for the Blazers, whose 1-4 record on a seven-game road trip includes a defeat to previously winless Washington. "Breaking the losing streak was really important, because losing can take its toll mentally, and I liked the way we played all night," coach Terry Stotts said. The Blazers have won five of six in this series, holding Charlotte to 76.8 points per game.
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