By Caroline Sikes
March 1, 2013
KEY MATCHUP vs. JAZZ
Ramon Sessions vs. Gordon Hayward
Without starting a single contest this season, Ramon Sessions has finished in double-figure scoring in 47 of 57 games. Sessions has been consistent for the Bobcats and is the second-leading scorer with 14.6 points while also contributing 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds. He continues to thrive by attacking the paint and living at the charity stripe, where he averages 83.8 percent. On the season, Sessions has made 280 free throws, landing him at seventh in the league. As Head Coach Mike Dunlap likes to play Sessions and Kemba Walker alongside each other, Sessions will likely draw the defensive assignment of Gordon Hayward… Hayward missed 10 games at the end of January and beginning of February due to a shoulder injury but has returned for the last four games and averaged 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steal. Hayward’s 6-8 frame could cause matchup problems with the 6-3 Sessions, which may be something to keep your eye on.
KEY MATCHUP vs. KINGS
Bismack Biyombo vs. DeMarcus Cousins
In his sophomore season, Bismack Biyombo continues to improve and has posted several impressive performances recently, which may foreshadow the impact he is likely to have in the future. In the last six games, Biyombo averages 5.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.00 blocks, including 16- and 12-rebound performances. He has proven how useful he can be on the defensive end as his offensive game materializes. On the season, Biyombo ranks 10th in the league in blocks with 1.78 and will need to bring all of his energy on defense as he takes on DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings… In his third season in the NBA, Cousins leads the Kings in scoring and rebounding with 17.4 points and 10.0 rebounds while adding 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals. This will be a tough matchup for Biyombo, as Cousins has managed a double-double in three of his last four outings.
KEY MATCHUP vs. TRAIL BLAZERS
Byron Mullens vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
Byron Mullens struggled offensively during a couple of games last week, but quickly put those behind him and finished with 13 points on 6-for-13 shooting against the Clippers on February 26. Mullens’ off-shooting nights seem to be more of the exception than the rule for him lately, as he averages 14.6 points in the past 11 games since returning from an ankle injury. He also leads the Bobcats in rebounding, pulling down 7.9 boards during that same stretch of games. Mullens will be facing off against another offensive threat in LaMarcus Aldridge… Aldridge leads the Blazers in scoring and blocks with 20.8 points (11th in NBA) and 1.20 blocks while pulling down 8.6 boards and handing out 2.5 assists. The two-time All Star has reached the 20-point plateau in seven of his last 10 games, so it will be Mullens’ duty to make sure Aldridge doesn’t get easy looks at the basket.
SCOUTING THE BOBCATS (13-44)
The Bobcats look to end a four-game slide while they continue on the road. Charlotte’s backcourt play will be essential during this run as they are ranked first in the league with 50.2 points. On a team that likes to get out and run, Kemba Walker leads the way with 17.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals. Gerald Henderson is another key factor for the Cats, as his numbers have continued to improve during February, where he scored in double figures in 11 of the 12 games. This stretch of games included two season-high 24-point performances and two 20-point and 10-rebound outings for Henderson… Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has shown his potential throughout the season and continues to improve on both ends of the court. Recently, he posted three games in a row of double figure scoring before being held scoreless for the first time this season in a tough contest against the Clippers. Look for MKG to rebound quickly from his off night and generate some offense for the Bobcats.
SCOUTING THE JAZZ (31-27)
The Jazz are currently ranked seventh in the Western Conference as they hope to earn a spot in the playoffs. They have dropped their last three games, including the last two at home. Utah could be without a few of their key players when the Bobcats come to town… The Jazz’s leading scorer and rebounder, Al Jefferson (17.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks), suffered a sprained ankle in their last game and is considered questionable for Friday. The team’s second-leading scorer, Paul Millsap (15.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks), missed their last game (ankle) and didn’t practice on Thursday while Randy Foye (11.5 points, 2.1 assists and 1.5 rebounds) also missed practice due to personal reasons. With Utah’s two leading scorers potentially out, it could be perfect timing for the Bobcats frontcourt to step up… Derrick Favors, who got the starting nod in place of the injured Millsap, posted a double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds with three assists and three blocks in his last outing and will likely get plenty of run against the Bobcats.
SCOUTING THE KINGS (20-39 as of 3/1)
Before hosting the Bobcats, the Kings will take on the San Antonio Spurs on the road… Sacramento is currently in a three-way tie for last place in the Western Conference and the franchise hasn’t posted a winning record since the 2005-06 season. With the news of the Kings moving to Seattle and recent additions of Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas from the Rockets before the trade deadline, there is a sense of uncertainty as the Cats head to Sacramento. The Kings have lost six of their last seven and the Bobcats are looking to pay them back for a close game the Kings took in Charlotte in January… Similar to the Bobcats, the Kings rely heavily on their guards for offensive production. The top three scorers, behind DeMarcus Cousins, are Tyreke Evans (15.6 points), Isaiah Thomas (12.5) and Marcus Thornton (12.2).
SCOUTING THE TRAIL BLAZERS (26-31 as of 3/1)
Portland will host the Timberwolves before tipping off against the Bobcats… After posting a 25-23 record at the beginning of February, the Blazers have gone on to drop eight of their last nine, including seven in a row. Portland has some young talent, like Aldridge and the rookie Damian Lillard, who averages 18.4 points, 6.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds. The rest of their starting five also put up big numbers, including Nicolas Batum (15.4 points), Wesley Matthews (15.1) and J.J. Hickson (13.1). However, Portland does not receive substantial contributions from their bench. After Hickson, their next leading scorer is Meyers Leonard with 4.3 points. This could play a major factor when taking on the Bobcats who rank third in the league with 39.6 points off the bench, compared to Portland, who is last in the league with 16.5.
The Bobcats continue on a West Coast swing when they tip off against the Jazz on March 1 at 9:00 p.m. before heading to Sacramento to take on the Kings on March 3 at 6:00 p.m. and close things out against the Trail Blazers on March 4 at 10:00 p.m. in Portland. You can watch all three games on SportSouth or listen on WFNZ. Make sure you join the live in-game chat by going to bobcats.com or download the Bobcats app on your smartphone.