PORTLAND — Hunting down teams like the playoff-seeded Houston Rockets may still be a difficult task but that doesn’t mean that the Trail Blazers can’t mimic them.
On Monday night, the offensive production surpassed anything the team has done within regulation. The Blazers not only filled up the hoop but also played a careful brand of basketball — excluding one daredevil play that made Nicolas Batum blush afterward — and tranquilized the Charlotte Bobcats 122-105.
The Blazers looked more like the highest-scoring team in the NBA, the Rockets, posting their most points in any regulation game this season. The 59.8-percent shooting clip (49 of 82) also set a season high.
It helped by having Batum (20 points) make his first six shots of the game, including a 4-for-4 start from beyond the arc, and J.J. Hickson continuing his low-post proficiency by making seven of nine shots for 15 points. Hickson now has shot 50 percent or better in 22 straight games. Balance and ball movement led to every starter scoring in double figures and rookie center Meyers Leonard also dropped 15 points, the second time in three games in which he has set a career-high scoring mark.
So yeah, now after this two-game upswing, one could say the Blazers (28-31) have played as efficient as they have all season. Just please remember that the back-to-back wins came against a pair of teams with a combined 33 wins.
“We’ve beaten two teams that have been struggling,” coach Terry Stotts said, “so I don’t want to go overboard on that. But I’m pleased with how we’re playing.”
The players must have felt the same delight because in the midst of a 31-point first quarter, Batum threw caution, and basketball IQ, out the window. Or better yet, off the backboard.
Under a minute to go in the quarter, Batum led a fastbreak and had the open lane to the rim but knew Leonard was running behind the play and tossed a loopy lob off the glass. Leonard had to pick up his pace just to catch it but completed the slam. Still, the play prompted Stotts to walk the sideline shaking his head.
“When I threw it, I was like ‘why did you do that?’ ” a sheepish Batum said later. “I don’t know what I (was thinking) when I did that but we do it all the time in practice.”
It was one of those nights — when the Blazers could get away with stuff they normally only pull off inside the Tualatin practice facility.
Even when Portland rotated in three, then four rookies on the floor at the same time through the second quarter, the offensive aptitude remained high. By the 6:46 mark, Leonard reached 11 points — off an alley-oop dunk, of course — and when Damian Lillard pulled up from long distance, the Blazers were on their way to 68 first-half points.
“We’re an unselfish team,” Leonard said. “For the most part, we come out, we play together, we play hard and we just play as a team. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen in practice. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen throughout stretches of the season and tonight we were just making shots.”
The Blazers never let the Bobcats closer than nine points through the second half and eclipsed the 100-point mark way before Stotts decided to send in four fresh guys to replace his starters.
With the win, they have built a nice streak but still would be considered a long shot from the playoff picture. Now, the Blazers head east for visits to Memphis and San Antonio — two of the top four Western Conference teams — before ending the three-game road trip in New Orleans. And Portland fans all know what happened the last time the Blazers dragged into The Big Easy — Wesley Matthews got knocked out of the game and the Blazers played disinterested in a 36-point blowout by the Hornets.
“We got our work cut out for us,” Stotts said of the trip. “I’m glad we’ve won three out of four and that’s nice to have, but basically all we did was what we were supposed to do at home.”