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A Blazer victory, with some mustard provided by Batum, Leonard


Had the Trail Blazers gone into Monday’s Rose Garden matchup with Charlotte a trifle overconfident, it’s understandable.

The Bobcats entered the evening with the NBA’s worst record and in the throes of a six-game losing streak, including a 116-83 beatdown by Sacramento Saturday night in which the Kings led by 43 points in the fourth quarter.

“It was a trap game,” rookie center Meyers Leonard said of the Blazers’ predicament.

So Portland coach Terry Stotts felt a mixture of relief and satisfaction after his team’s 122-105 victory over the hapless Bobcats (13-47).

“I was disappointed with our defense in the first half,” Stotts said. “We gave up way too many things — energy plays, hustle plays, rebounds.

“I don’t know if it was a good defensive night, but it was a good win. We played well, particularly offensively.”

That’s a fact. Portland (28-31) shot a season-best .598 from the field, knocked down 12 of its 24 3-point shots and scored more points than in any regulation game this season.

The Blazers shot a sizzling .651, including 8 for 13 from 3-point range, in racing to a 68-55 halftime lead — the most points they’ve scored in any half this season.

“We shot the 3 well and passed the ball well” in the first half, Stotts said. “We had good rhythm shots and were active on the offensive glass. Our production came from a lot of different areas.”

The Blazers didn’t quite keep the pace up through the second half, but never let the Bobcats get closer than nine the rest of the way.

Stotts had reminded his players at shootaround that the Bobcats had taken Portland to the wire before falling 118-112 in overtime in the first meeting at Charlotte on Dec. 3.

“We shouldn’t have beat them the last time we played them,” said Damian Lillard, who had 20 points and seven assists. “Our antennas were up. Everybody was prepared to play.

“We knew we were capable of losing this game because of the type of team they are. They play hard, they have guys who can score — it’s the NBA. You can get beat any game. We were ready to play. We needed to win the game.”

LaMarcus Aldridge contributed a game-high 23 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots for the Trail Blazers, who got double-figure scoring from seven players.

Nicolas Batum collected 20 points, five assists and four rebounds and the rookie Leonard came off the bench for a season-high 15 points to go with six rebounds.

“We just couldn’t stop them from scoring,” Charlotte guard Gerald Henderson said. “I felt like we scored enough points to win, but we couldn’t match them with their 3s. That’s a lot of points to score.”

The major topics of conversation as the media interviewed players in the Portland locker room afterward were the progress of Leonard and the first-quarter schoolyard play featuring Batum and Leonard.

After coming through with little production most of the season, the 7-1 Leonard has averaged 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 19 minutes the last three games.

“I just have confidence right now,” said Leonard, 21, who played two years at Illinois before departing for the NBA. “It’s always been there, but earlier in the season, I wasn’t as comfortable on the court. I wasn’t as alert, didn’t have as good reactions.

“Now I’m playing my game, finding open gaps, running in transition, defending the paint the best I can and playing hard.”

Said Lillard: “Meyers is making great progress. He has been working really hard before practice. I told him he was playing better in practice. He’s been playing a lot stronger, dunking, blocking guys’ shots. He’s been aggressive. He seems more comfortable, and it’s showing on the court.”

Leonard was the recipient of two Batum assists for fast-break dunks. One was textbook basketball. The other was lathered with mustard.

In the fourth quarter, Lillard took off on a three-on-one break, Batum to his right, Leonard trailing. Lillard dropped a behind-the-back bounce pass to Batum, who drew the defender, then tossed back to a streaking Leonard for the slam. Dr. Jack Ramsay would have approved.

Not so much late in the first quarter when, with Portland ahead 28-21, Eric Maynor tossed the ball up to Batum in transition for a one-on-none opportunity. With Charlotte’s Ramon Sessions in chase, Batum threw the ball up off the glass to Leonard, who artfully completed the jam play to the delight of the Garden throng.

Stotts, as you might guess, was not so pleased. Not only was the game still very much in doubt, it was a showboat play that would have worked better on NBA All-Star Weekend than in a counting game.

“I didn’t care for it in that it was kind of messing with the game a little bit,” Stotts said. “I understand doing those things sometimes, but it wasn’t the play to make at that time.”

Batum got the message after Stotts addressed the issue at halftime.

“He goes, ‘Don’t,’ “ Batum said. “He told me, ‘You’re lucky on this one. Good thing it worked. Next time I’ll kill you.’ ”

Leonard was glad he anticipated the opportunity.

“I saw Nic take off and I was thinking, run behind him, and go off the glass, Nic,” Leonard said. “Then I thought he was just going to dunk it. For whatever reason, I was going to make sure he didn’t miss. Then he did (throw up the pass). He makes plays. Probably a little risky.”

All Batum was doing, the small forward explained sheepishly, was reacting instinctively to a situation that happens often in practice.

“We do like five in a row,” he said. “I throw the ball to J.J. (Hickson) and Meyers, they go get it, so we’re used to doing that. I don’t know why I did it in a game. It just felt like it did in practice.”

Would he do it again in a game?

“Not in the first quarter,” he said with a smile. “Maybe if we’re up 40 in the fourth quarter.”

NOTES — Portland starts a three-game road trip Wednesday night at Memphis. The Blazers are on a two-game win streak after taking care of Minnesota and Charlotte, two lottery teams. “I don’t think we can get too high on this,” Stotts said. “Basically, what we did is what we’re supposed to do at home.” ... Charlotte was 1 for 10 from the 3-point line. ... Batum started the game 6 for 6, including 4 for 4 from 3-point range. He finished with 8-for-11 shooting in his 37 minutes. ... Charlotte’s Kemba Walker was 5 for 20 from the field, but he was 2 for 16 until late in the game. He finished with 15 points and 11 assists. ... In its series with Charlotte, Portland has won five in a row at home and seven of its last eight meetings overall. ... Portland’s highest scoring total this season came in a 125-119 overtime win over Orlando on Jan. 7 ... Portland’s J.J. Hickson had 15 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Hickson, who was 7 for 9 from the field, has shot 50 percent or better in a franchise-record 22 straight games.

Charlotte is 2-15 in its last 17 games. ... It was only the second time in 17 games the Bobcats have hit the century mark and the most points they’ve compiled since a 106-100 win over Orlando on Jan. 18. ... The Bobcats, outrebounded 60-31 in a 119-83 loss at Sacramento Saturday night, won the battle of the boards against Portland 44-41, grabbing 21 off the offensive glass ... Wesley Matthews, who made four 3-pointers, passed Martell Webster to move into seventh place on the franchise career list with 404 treys. ... Lillard now ranks fifth on Portland’s single-season rookie scoring list with 1,094 points.