Bobcats-Trail Blazers Preview
By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) -- While the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the league's worst rebounding teams during February, they opened this month with a season-best effort on the boards.
Portland shouldn't have much trouble building off that performance on Monday night when they host the NBA-worst Charlotte Bobcats, who have been historically bad on the glass lately.
After a season-worst four-game home skid in January, the Trail Blazers (27-31) have won six of eight at the Rose Garden following a 109-94 victory over Minnesota on Saturday. It was just their second win in 10 games overall, and they are still 4 1/2 games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"We know what we need to do. We need to win games, especially on our home floor," said guard Damian Lillard, who had a game-high 24 points against the Timberwolves.
Portland ranked near the bottom of the NBA with 39.4 rebounds per game last month, but pulled down a season-high 55 against a Timberwolves team missing its entire starting frontcourt of Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic due to injuries.
J.J. Hickson, the team's leading rebounder (10.5 rpg), finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard combined for 23 boards.
Hickson enters this contest on a tear, averaging 18.8 points on 68.5 percent shooting and 13.6 rebounds while recording five straight double-doubles. He'll try to keep it going against a Charlotte team that ranks near the bottom of the league in rebound differential (minus-4.7).
The Bobcats (13-46) were outrebounded 62-24 in a 30-point loss at Utah on Friday and 60-31 in a 119-83 defeat at Sacramento on Sunday. Their minus-67 rebounding differential is the NBA's worst over a two-game span dating back to at least the 1985-86 season.
"You have to stay with it. You have to have a little bit of pride individually as a team," forward Josh McRoberts said of the team's overall struggles.
Byron Mullens (7.8 per game) and Bismack Biyombo (7.1) lead the team in rebounding, but have 12 combined over the last two contests. Mullens had 12 points and 12 rebounds, and the Bobcats were outrebounded 48-41 in a 118-112 overtime loss to Portland on Dec. 3.
Ben Gordon led the way with 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting from 3-point range and Kemba Walker added 22 in that game, but both guards are mired in slumps. Gordon has averaged 5.8 points on 27.3 percent shooting in his last 10 games, while Walker has averaged 11.3 on 31.4 percent shooting in his last three.
The Bobcats, who have lost 41 of 47 overall, have averaged 78.3 points on 37.2 percent shooting on their road trip that wraps up at Portland.
Aldridge and Batum combined for 42 points and 26 rebounds for the Trail Blazers in the first meeting, but Hickson had only two points.
Portland has averaged 102.5 points - 5.3 above its season average - in its last eight at home. The Trail Blazers should be able to continue that trend against the Bobcats, who have given up 107.7 points per game during their six-game losing streak.
The Trail Blazers have won four in a row at home over Charlotte and six of seven overall between the teams.
Updated March 4, 2013