Friday, November 27, 2009

Trail Blazers at Jazz: Game 19

After coming off, arguably, the worst loss in the Brandon Roy era, Portland must immediately forget about it and head to Salt Lake City to take on a Jazz team that is uncharacteristically 5-3 at home. Portland has lost their last 3 games in the Salt Palace and it is usually the same formula used by Utah to do the trick every team. The game stays close through 1 period, then the bench comes in and theirs energizes the team and crowd while ours usually goes into offensive droughts. Usualy, it is Millsap who just out physicals our bigs and gets the easy second chance buckets. Once the starters check back in for Utah, its as if they are running downhill by taking the momentum from the bench and end up pulling away by 9-13 points.
We will see the true character of the Blazers tonight. If they come out with lackluster energy on defense and their body language looks like they are still hung over from last night, then they aren't as strong mentally as they need to be if they want to take the next step. But, if the boys come out, play with their hair on fire, and attack Utah, then we know Coach Nate got through to them and they have put the Memphis loss behind them. Tonight's game really is not about a win or a loss. It is about the body language and intensity the team plays with tonight. Utah may just be the better team on the night, which happens all the time in the NBA, but we, as fans, need to see the Blazers fight, because through 2 quarters last night, they weren't fighting.
The key to the game will be rebounding. Whenever the Blazers get out-rebounded, it seems like they almost always come up on the short end of the stick. Millsap and Boozer have been loads for us to handle down in Salt Lake in the past, which is why we really need Oden to stay out of foul trouble, because, when he is in the game, no one will out battle him for a rebound. LaMarcus is also key, because he will most likely draw the matchup against those two bruising forwards. LMA is more of a finesse forward, but he will need to just forget everything and box out every time down the floor.
Finally, the Jazz will let you score the ball on them as they give up nearly 99 points per game, so Portland will need to abandon the jump shot and just attack the basket. The Blazers didn't even attempt a free throw until mid-way through the 2nd quarter last night against Memphis. Although Millsap and Boozer are true "power" forwards, they leave a lot to be desired on the defensive end and Okur is one of the softer big men in the league, so there are no excuses to not go to the goal. Hopefully the game plan will be to go inside to LMA and Oden early to get them rolling, because it is known it is much harder for a big man to get it going later on in the game if they start off slow. Brandon, on the other hand, is like a light switch; he can turn it on whenever and wherever, so he needs to look to be a distributor early on the first quarter, similar to how Kobe and LeBron start off games.
Right now this team is truly an enigma and any outcome of the game tonight would not surprise me. Unfortunately, I think the team has too many kinks to work out offensively, because only averaging 96 points per game, with all of that talent, is pretty underwhelming. For whatever reason, they still haven't gelled 100% and until they do, Blazer fans should get used to the roller coaster. Portland will play tough and show much more effort than they did against Memphis in the 1st half, but the Blazers playing at Utah just doesn't mix and I see a late Utah push putting this one away in favor of the Jazz.
Game 19 Prediction: Trail Blazers 88 Jazz 97 Post-Game Thoughts
Where to even start? When you let Utah shoot 60.6% percent from the field, especially on their home floor, you have absolutely no chance. Unfortunately, this game was over before the game was 5 minutes in. The Blazers had no pep in their step and decided it would be a good idea to not put a hand in Carlos Boozer's face, in which he took advantage of wide-open jumpers by hitting 11-16 shots for 26 points.
Once again the Blazers fell in love with the 3 point shot by attempting 18 from distance, only making 3. Utah, on the other hand, went an efficient 7-12 from the land of 3. Portland simply did not attack the basket, even though they attempted 2 more free throws than Utah. If you take out Bayless' 11 attempts off of the total, it comes out to a pedestrian 18 trips to the line. I do realize the team has played 19 games in 31 days, more than any other team in the NBA, but outside of Bayless and Dante, I didn't see a whole lot of intensity or fire from the team.
Even when the offense was not flowing early on in the season, Portland was able to hang their hat on their league leading defense at holding opponents to a low field goal percentage, now the defense has looked shaky at best. In just 2 games, Portland's opposition field goal percentage went up from 40% to 43.3% and now dropped from 1st to 3rd best. Hopefully the team is just in a funk and they will be able to get their legs back underneath them and come out hard on Tuesday against a good Miami team. Box Score

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies: Game 18

The Memphis Grizzlies roll into town with a 5-10 record, including a pitiful 1-7 on the road to face a team, in the Portland Trail Blazers, they have not defeated in their last 8 tries. Portland is looking to extend their winning streak to 9 games overall against Memphis, 7 games at the Rose Garden, and 4 overall. The boys flirted with disaster on Wednesday night, letting the Nets hang close through the 3rd quarter, even tying the game at once point, before the Blazers and the hot hand of Rudy Fernandez helped them pull away 93-83. Hopefully the Blazers can make a statement early and leave no doubt, because they have a game the next night in Salt Lake city, a traditional "House of Horrors" for the team, so the more rest the team has, the better.
Outside of removing themselves from the dead-weight that Allen Iverson is, the Grizz don't have much going on for them. They are dead last in the league at opposition field goal percentage as they allow other teams to shoot an astounding 50% from the field and give up the 4th most points per game at nearly 108 a night, which makes this contest eerily similar to the Warrior's game last week. The Blazers better be ready to play some defense, because Mayo, Gasol, Gay, and Randolph can put points on the board in bunches. The addition of Z-Bo has brought the Grizz some positive ramifications, as they are tops in the league in rebounding differential at +7.33. But guess who is number two? You guessed it, the Blazers at +6.35. Both teams are head and shoulders above the rest of the league in rebounding differential, as the 3rd closest team is +3 rebounds away, so it is pretty apparent the game will come down to the battle on the boards.
Just like the New Jersey game, this game features another bout between two, young centers in G.O. and Marc Gasol. The once hefty an slow-footed Gasol left me with no other choice than to compare him to the Jamaal Magloire circa 2007, but he put in some cardio work over the summer and is extremely agile and the numbers he has put up so far this year have proven the hard work in the off-season has paid off. Marc is averaging an impressive 15 and 10 with 62% shooting. Although the Blazers held Zach in check (11 points, 12 rebounds), normally a Blazer killer, during the last meeting back on the 10th of November, it was Gasol's 20 point, 8 rebound performance that kept Memphis always in striking distance and his newly found quickness was on display as he attacked the hoop with a quick first step to the tune of 13 attempts at the foul line. It will be very imperative for Greg to move his feet when guarding Gasol, because it will be his first priority to attack Oden to see if he can get him into early foul trouble. Greg had 5 fouls last meeting, but if I remember correctly, it was his burst in the 3rd quarter that enabled the team to pull away from Memphis en route to a 93-79 victory.
You really never know what type of game you'll get with Memphis. We either seem to blow them out of the water or have it be too close for comfort at the RG. I think this game will be close for a quarter or so, but then Andre will come in with the 2nd unit, run wild with Rudy, Dante, and Jerryd and use a big run to keep the Grizzlies at bay for the rest of the game. By no means will this one be easy or in the bag before tip off, because of how good of a rebounding team Memphis is. Rebounding is not a skill, it is a desire, a want, and takes motivation to bang and fight for those boards. If the Blazers don't feel like rebounding or don't want it more than the Grizzlies, it could be a long night as garbage points are one way for an inferior opponent to stay in the game. Fortunately, Coach Nate will have the guys ready to close out the 4 game home-stand as he knows games like these, you must win if you want the best possible playoff position.
Game 18 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Grizzles 89
In my 3 years, this being my 3rd, as a season ticket holder, I do not think I have ever been more at a loss for words and disappointed in this team than I was after last night's debacle. All signs pointed to a good, early start as Portland hit their first 3, 3 point attempts and went up by a score of 15-11, then "The Run" happened. A combination of poor shot selection, turnovers, and lackluster interior defense lead Memphis to an incredible 31-2 run. I hope someone does some research on this, because I don't think I've ever seen a run that devastating, ever, in a professional basketball game.
For the second straight game Portland gave up over 50 points in the paint. For such a great defensive team statistically, there is no excuse for this to happen, especially against bottom-dwellers New Jersey and Memphis. Greg and Joel can only do so much to protect the paint, but when the guards are consistently getting beat off of the dribble, it forces the big men to come over and help out and all it takes is the extra pass and there is a wide open lay-up. Not only was the perimeter defense horrid but the pick and roll defense reared it's ugly head again. It would have been nice to force Conley an Tinsley to beat them from the outside by shooting contested jumpers instead of going over the top of the screen.
There were only two positives about the game last night. The first was Martell who looked like the Martell who scored 24 in the 3rd quarter against Utah two years ago. He was a scorching 6-11 from 3, 9-14 overall, en route to a team-high 24 points. He was really the only player keeping the game somewhat respectable and, in my opinion, the only player giving me hope we could come back and steal the victory. My only question is why did Nate sit him down for 6 minutes to start the 4th? I understand he needed rest after playing the entire 3rd quarter, but curious to hear why it was a 6 minute rest and not 2-3.
Finally, as I rode the MAX train home after the game, it was so hilarious to hear people on the train say things of this nature, "Man, I really undervalued Travis. I thought we would be just fine without him, but we really missed him tonight." The only thing I have to say about that is, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone!" Hopefully, this will silence the Trav haters.
Box Score
Post-Game Thoughts

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Nets: Game 17

The 0-14 Nets stroll into the Rose City and for the 3rd time in 4 seasons, they are playing Portland on Thanksgiving Eve. (thanks to @CRomerDome for that knowledge) Obviously Portland should win this game running away, but they could come out tense, because no one wants to be the first team to give the Nets their first win of the season. These types of games are always trap games but this one even more so. First, this is the last game before the players get to take off for Thanksgiving and be with family and friends which could drop their focus down a bit. Second, there are always tendencies to overlook squads on major losing streaks. Finally, the Nets, if they have any spine, will be hungrier than ever to get this massive monkey off of their back.
Strangely enough, this is the most excited I have been for a game since Opening Night against Houston. G.O. has been playing incredible lately ( 18.67 ppg, 7.67 rpg, 2 bpg, and shooting a ridiculous 80% from the field) over his last 3 games. Yes, I know it is a small sample size, but he is giving Blazer fans reason to be optimistic about his progression into an elite center. So what does Oden's play of late have to do with being juiced to play New Jersey? Brook Lopez. Much like many of you, I am over and done with the Oden v. Durant debate. Two different players for two different teams. On the other hand, Lopez and Oden are the two challengers to Dwight Howard's throne as the best, young NBA center. Lopez was much more NBA-ready offensively coming out of Stanford in 2008, but no one could have expected how polished his post moves were. If they only knew what they know now, he would have been a top 3 pick in that draft. Not only is his dropping nearly 17 a night, but the defense is picking up, which some considered a weakness in his arsenal, as he is contending with Oden for the league lead in blocks. We all knew Oden would take a while to get going on the post moves and most of his points would come off of put backs, but like Lopez, he is surprising a lot of people with his baby hook. I just really pray the officials let both of these guys play tonight and battle 100% straight up. I don't want to see cheap fouls ruin this matchup.
New Jersey does a fairly good job holding opponents to a low total at 95 ppg. Their problem is they are dead last at creating offense at a pitiful 85 a night to go along with their NBA worst 40% field goal shooting, which plays perfectly into the hands of the Blazers who are still tops in the league at opponents points per game at 88. There are no X's and O's to get the job done. Portland doesn't have to exploit any matchup. The Trail Blazers just need to show up with focus, intensity, and a drive to play at their level, not down to the Nets' level. If this game were on the road, I might be a little worried about the energy of the team, as it is so close to the Holiday's, but I know the Rose Garden will be rocking in full force tonight, propelling our boys to another big time win!
Game 17 Prediction: Trail Blazers 106 Nets 84
Post-Game Thoughts
That one was a little bit too close for comfort, huh? If only the Blazers would have been their normally efficient self at the foul line, 79%, instead of shooting an atrocious 14-24, the contest wouldn't have been so close throughout 3 quarters. I give the Nets all the credit though for their effort during the entire game. You can really tell they want that gigantic monkey off of their back. It looked like our boys were going to put it away in the 2nd quarter as a nice run put the lead up to 12 only to see the Nets close within 5 at the half. Again, the Blazers had the game locked away with some 4th quarter magic from Rudy's big-time 3's, but they still fought, tooth and nail, to scare Coach Nate enough to substitute LaMarcus back into the game with about 4 minutes left.
Unfortunately, a bunch of ticky-tack fouls were called early against Oden and Lopez which put a damper on the head to head portion of that matchup. Once those fouls were called, Aldridge went on Lopez for a stretch and Sean Williams and Josh Boone shared some of the defensive responsibilities against Greg. Fouls aside, both players put on a show. Lopez is an absolute beast, 32 points and 14 rebounds, and it looks like he still has some untapped potential in his game. I do think his stats are a bit inflated, kind of like how it was when Zach Randolph was our only option here in the mid 2000's, but unlike Zach, he plays defense. Hopefully the Nets can surround Lopez with some talent, otherwise he is just going to be the next Al Jefferson and won't get the respect his game deserves. Although he only got 25 minutes of action, Greg's performance was nothing to slight at either. It was just another day at the office for the suddenly consistent Oden who put together 18 points, 8 boards, and denied 4 shots to up his total to an NBA best 41 on the season. Needless to say, I can't wait for the rematch on February 23rd.
I wouldn't say the Blazers put on an uninspiring performance or overlooked New Jersey, but little things like 17 turnovers and missing 10 free throws will make games closer than they should be. One thing that needs to be corrected and fast is the interior defense. Portland gave up over 50 points in the paint to New Jersey, who really only has one inside threat in Lopez, which let them stay within striking distance all night long. On the other hand, I felt we relied in the jumper too frequent and it showed with under 25 points in the paint, which should never happen when you have the big men we have and an attacking 2 guard like Brandon. Finally, the unsung hero of the night had to be Rudy Fernandez. He only managed to drop 12 points, but they were all on 3 points, and ever single one of them felt like a back breaking 3 to the Nets. The degree of difficulty of 3 of those 4 shots were through the roof and seemed to spark the team to get over the hump.
Box Score

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Bulls: Game 16

Although the Bulls are a mediocre 6-6 and 2-5 on the road, don't let it fool you, as they have played the toughest schedule to date. Also, as we have seen in recent games against the Pistons and Warriors, no game is a sure thing when it comes to this Blazer squad. I'd be very surprised if this game turns into a shootout or one team blows out the other, because Chicago only musters up 90 ppg compared to Portland's 95 ppg which makes me think we have a grind it out type of slug fest on our hands tonight. Portland definitely has the talent to blow them out of the water, like last year's 116-74 Blazer blowout, as Chicago is on the 4th game of a 6 game western road trip which could already be wearing them down.
The major factor in tonight's match-up has to do with Derrick Rose and our guard's ability to keep him out of the paint and in check. A big reason the Blazers were able to jump out to a big lead and maintain it was the swarming defense they applied on the young Rose who was held to just 6 points, on 1-8 shooting, 3 turnovers, 0 rebounds, and only 1 assist. We all are aware that it'll be a nightmare night for Blake and the Blazer big men if we allow Rose to work one on one, so hopefully Coach Nate reviews the game film from the last time time the Bulls came to town and throws a half-court trap at Rose to fluster him.
For Portland its all about offensive rhythm and flow. We know the defense is there with the improvement to Greg's game and most likely will always be a strength of this team as long as the effort is put forth and their is a desire to play tough D, but, outside of playing the Wolves, Portland has not played a complete offensive game. Whether it is the multiple lineup changes, injuries to Batum or Outlaw, or just early season rust taking longer than expected to dust off, something is keeping this team from their potential. I've noticed that Brandon really never has "off" nights as his value to the team is much more than just scoring. He can not score through 3 quarters but then turn it on and be our clutch performer we need down the stretch but also grab 7-8 rebounds and set up teammates for another 6-7 assists, which is why we need to get Aldridge and Oden involved early. Once they are dominating the paint, it opens it up for the shooters and make life easier on Roy so he doesn't have to go 1 on 5.
Don't be surprised if the game comes down to the small forward matchup between Luol Deng and Martell Webster. Chicago was without Deng's services in both matchups last year and he, like Derrick Rose, are the only players Chicago has in their arsenal able to single-handily carry their team to victory. Hopefully, Webster can make Deng work on defense and even if Luol is scoring, Marty is making him work for everything he gets. Both teams aren't high octane offenses and I believe we will see a game in the high 80's/low 90's. The Trail Blazers still won't figure out what they want to do on offense, but just posses too much talent and, along with the Rose Garden crowd behind them, will be able to squeak out another nail-biter.
Game 16 Prediction: Trail Blazers 93 Bulls 88
Post-Game Thoughts
Shows how much I know! The Trail Blazers were absolutely dynamic on offense last night, putting up a season-high 122 points on nearly 58% shooting from the floor. What was most impressive was the attacking style in which the points were accumulated. Portland shot 40 free throws and scored 48 points in the paint. Even when Portland built a 16 point lead in the 3rd quarter, only to see the Bulls wiggle it down to 6, the guys kept going to the hole and put pressure on the Bulls to either foul or concede a bucket. This past group normally would have just settled for jumpers in effort to extend the lead, but the guards, Andre in particular, made a conscious effort to force the ball down low to Greg and LaMarcus and it paid dividends as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson had no business trying to defend those two in the post.
Speaking of the bigs, I do believe this is the first time Oden and Aldridge both went for over 20 points and 10 rebounds in the same game. For the first time since the Blazers won the draft lottery back in May of 2007, Blazer fans finally got a glimpse of how good these two can be playing off of each other when they are both on the top of their game. Oden was a man-child on the glass against the NBA's top rebounder Joakim Noah, who pulls down 11.9 a night. He was held in check to only 8 rebounds, and more importantly was only able to corral 2 boards on the offensive end. Many times Oden was fending off Noah with only one hand. His combination of sheer force and quickness were too much for Noah to handle and it got him so frustrated at times in the 4th quarter, he picked up a technical foul by throwing the ball at the bottom of the standard.
Whether he is a starter or coming off the bench, Andre Miller needs to stay on the court. His +30 was by far the best on the team last night and he was always in control of the team. His craftiness never ceases to amaze me. As a fan, I am always at ease when the ball is in his hands as the shot clock winds down, because you can always count on a dribble drive to the hoop with a pump fake thrown in there to draw a foul on the defense. More importantly though is his influence on Greg:
"He's a big breath of fresh air for me," Oden said. "When he comes into the game, he's like, 'G.O., we are going to run a play for you so you can try to get the other big man in foul trouble.' That definitely puts a big smile on my face. I turned my head and had a big smile." (Courtesy of
I need to give a big "Thank You" to Coach McMillan for his willingness to change. They don't call him "sarge" for no reason as he can be stubborn, but adapting to Oden and realizing that he will eventually need to be able to learn how to play with 2 fouls in the first half is a big proponent of Greg's growth and development as well as the team's success. He saw what happened when he exited that Golden State game and now will let Greg play with 2 fouls, in the first half, on a case by case basis. Also, I am very excited to see him giving Dante Cunningham and Jerryd Bayless more time. Although the 10 man rotation is not as talented as it was pre-season when Batum and Travis were available, this team seems to play better when they go 10 deep. Dante came in last night and showed off his Joe Smith-esque jumper against Chicago and Bayless tallied 4 points and no turnovers in 10 energetic minutes of action.
Two closing thoughts. First, was that really the same Derrick Rose who scored 36 points in his playoff debut at Boston last April? He was invisible the entire first half, not being assertive at all. He showed his brilliance and athleticism with his dunk on Greg and had two insanely sick reverse lay-ins, but never once did he get into "take over" mode. 14 points and 5 assists just aren't going to cut it from your so-called "best player". I have been noticing his numbers are down all across the board from his rookie year so maybe it is a bit of a Sophomore slump or defenses are finding different ways to defend him, but mainly it looked like he was being way too passive out there tonight. With no Ben Gordon on the roster, there should be no excuses for him to not be the #1 option on offense.
Finally, is this what the offense looks like when everyone finally got clicking and into a rhythm? Because if it is, watch out NBA! Blazer fans dubbed Roy, LMA, and Oden the Big 3 the day we drafted Oden and the combined 66 points, 27 rebounds, and 11 assists was the first time those 3, together, lived up to the billing. People can call for a change at point guard (myself included) or better production from the small forward position (again, myself included), but the only way this team takes the proverbial next step is for the Big 3 to continue to put up those type of numbers on a nightly basis
Box Score

Friday, November 20, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. TimberWolves: Game 15

We've been here before. Portland is now playing the Wolves for the 3rd time in less than 3 weeks, with both meetings ending in 23 point blowouts for the Trail Blazers. There is no use rattling off statistics or analyzing potential matchups, because this game comes down to one thing and one thing only, heart. Golden State was severely undermanned last night, but they had the heart of a champion and simply wanted it more. The schedule makers have yet again offered up the Blazers another cupcake early on this year and it is up to our boys to go out and earn this win. Noting in the NBA is given and I want to see some fight in this team.
The Blazers will come away 10-5 after this game if they do these 3 simple things. First and foremost, take care of the ball! Turnovers take away chances to score and lead to easy fast break buckets for the opposition. When you are playing against teams that have a tough time scoring, the last thing you want to do is hand them points on a silver platter. Secondly, win the Hustle Board and do it convincingly. From attending nearly every single home game since the 07-08 season, I would guesstimate that Portland wins 75% of the games where they are the Hustle Board leaders. Greg and Joel need to man the paint, Rudy play the passing lanes, and we need a big rebounding night from Aldridge. Finally, attack the hoop. Quit bailing out the defenses with a plethora of 3 point shots, especially early in the shot clock. As we see night in and night out, officials give the benefit to the aggressors.
After such a bad loss, the Blazers need to toss the playbook out the door and just go out with there with some passion and energy and just have fun. I truly believe we aren't having fun out there and all of the aforementioned keys to the game will not happen if you aren't enjoying yourself out on the court.
Game 15 Prediction: Trail Blazers 106 TimberWolves 87
Post-Game Thoughts
Welcome back Martell! Webster bounced back from probably the worst funk he has been in since his rookie year to post his first career double double, scoring 21 points, on 4-7 from downtown, and pulling down an impressive 13 rebounds. It has become very clear that it all comes down to the mental aspect of Webster's game as to whether he will be in the NBA in 3 years or bouncing around Europe. When he just catches and shoots the ball with confidence, the shot drops in more times than not. It was a close game before Marty decided to take over. We all thought the Warriors loss was hideous, but losing to a team you have already waxed by a combined 56 points this year could have sent the Blazers into free fall. Game ball easily goes to Mr. Webster. Hopefully, he takes this momentum with him the rest of the season, because the one thing the team has lacked since Scottie was in town is a consistent scorer from the 3 position.
Its becoming just another day at the office for G.O., 16 points, 5 boards, and 3 blocks and more importantly, only 2 fouls. What I liked most about the game, outside of Webster coming back to form, was Brandon Roy actually looking for Greg off of dribble penetration. It was probably just a coincidence, but it always seemed like Roy never got the ball to Oden for some reason. Greg comes out and production is going to drop off from the center spot, right? Not even close. The Thrilla has been amazing since an early season slump. In just 20 minutes of action, Joel gets an impressive 14 points, hauls in the typical 11 rebounds, and finds the time to swat another 2 shots. There is no better center tandem in the league, bar none. If Portland can get consistent shooting from Blake and Webster, the sky's the limit.
The big storyline pre-game was the change to the starting lineup, which took out Andre Miller and put in Martell Webster. I would have preferred Andre stay and Blake lead the white unit, but that's another story for another day. Obviously, I love the starting lineup change, because Roy is not a small forward, not particularly effective against the bigger forwards, and not happy being taken out of his natural position. I just hope there aren't a whole lot more starting lineup changes as I think the one thing holding this team back is rhythm.
Finally, speaking of rhythm, it never seems like all of the guys can get on the same page. Tonight, Roy, Oden, and Webster were playing sensational ball, but Aldridge got into early foul trouble again and was a non-factor. If the Blazers could only get all of these guys rolling together, they can truly take the proverbial "next step".
Box Score

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trail Blazers at Warriors: Game 14

When Trail Blazer fans think of "House of Horrors", usually the Pepsi Center in Denver, Delta Center in Utah, and Toyota Center in Houston are all top of the mind, but Oracle Arena in Oakland, California deserves some recognition for its hex it has upon our boys. For some unforeseen reason, the Blazers have lost 8 straight games in the Bay Area and have no won there since opening night of the 2004-2005 season. Outside of the 2007 playoff run, the Warriors have been lottery bound every other season this decade, yet their small lineup gives us fits. The one thing you can say about playing away against the likes of Utah, Denver, and Houston is they are quality teams who are playoff contenders year in and year out.
This early season match-up is very similar to the meetings against Atlanta where it was one of the top offenses going against the top defense in the League. Not surprising, the Warriors lead the NBA in scoring per game at 111 a game and also not shocking, Golden State gives up the most points a game at a whopping 113. Through the first 13 games, Portland is still the head of the class when it comes to holding opponents to low scoring outputs at a little over 87 a game. Our offense has been sputtering this entire season to say the least, so if it gets into a shootout, Portland's chances of ending this losing streak in Oakland will be looking bleak. Also, consider the fact they not only put it in the bucket more than any other team, but they are efficient in doing so by shooting a scorching 49.2% from the floor, good enough for 2nd in the league. Portland's league leading opponent field goal percentage will have to be stout tonight to hold the shooters of Morrow, Curry, Maggette, and Ellis in check.
On paper, this game is a no-brainer. Golden State has about less talent suited up than the Wolves, which Portland has already demolished twice this year, but there is something about their small lineup that bothers our big men. A lot of it has to do with Corey "The Fish" Maggette, because he flops like a fish out of water whenever LaMarcus goes to make a move on him. Aldridge, in particular, needs to play it very conservative when he is matched up with Corey on the blocks. Make an aggressive move early and see how Corey reacts and more importantly how the officials are going to call this game. If they let it go, keep attacking and if not, work the fade away and mid-range jumper. Also, with Andris Biendris out of action due to injury, dumping it in to G.O. might not be a bad idea as he should be able to get his baby hook off at will against Mikki Moore.
Against better judgment, I believe the Blazers will break the losing streak tonight in Oakland. The biggest key to victory is for the forwards and centers to stay out of foul trouble! There is no use in having a huge size and talent advantage at those positions if they are on the bench with multiple fouls. Outside of the obvious, keeping Maggette off of the foul line is a must. For a small forward, he gets to the line about as good as anybody in the league at drawing fouls. At times he is reckless in his path to the hole, but officials will reward aggressiveness. He averaged 23 and 8 foul shots in the 3 meetings against Portland last year. Finally, Thank God, Stephen Jackson has left Golden State! He never really ever "went off" on us, but he would seemingly always hit a backbreaking three.
Game 14 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Warriors 97
Post-Game Thoughts
This is probably the worst loss I have watched since the Trail Blazers blew a 20 point first half lead at Philadelphia in the 2007-2008 season. Coming into the game, Golden State's 3 wins consisted of beating perennial bottom-feeders New York, Memphis, and Minnesota. They had only 8 players suited up for action, including D-League call-up Chris Hunter only because the League mandates a team must have 8 bodies available to play. How on earth do you lose this game if you are Portland?
Well, the Blazers sure did make it look easy in falling to the Warriors. They put the blueprint on display about how to play down to your competition and lose to a team that had no business even being in the game. Step one commit turnovers in bunches. During the second quarter, Portland did possess a lead as large as 11 points, but turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter which lead to massive amounts of fast break points for the Warriors, essentially playing right into their hands. For the game, the Blazers had 23 turnovers, mostly from lazy passes and an inability to catch the ball.
Step two, play right into the Warrior's hands. Portland shot a pitiful 4-19 from 3, while Golden State was a much more efficient 7-13. You know you are jacking up way too many from distance when you take 6 more attempts than the Warriors who naturally chuck it up at will. Again, Blake and Webster were M.I.A, each combining to shoot 0-6 from 3. They weren't alone in the M.I.A department, as Brandon Roy let some spotty officiating rustle his feathers and it showed. He started to settle for the 3 and shot a horrid 1-5 from the land of 3. I don't know if the 3 guard lineup is taking Roy out of rhythm or he is in a funk, but whatever the case, he really needs to start being more aggressive and asserting himself. With Blake and Webster playing so poorly, we need the scoring to pick up somewhere and the team leader needs to be that answer on the offensive end.
Step 3, get out-coached. I can understand Coach keeping Greg out the entire 2nd quarter once he got those two quick, cheap fouls to start the 2nd, but the complete lack of trust in LaMarcus Aldridge really got to me. When has L-Train ever shown the inability to stay in games due to foul trouble? Great coaches trust their guys to not pick up that extra foul. The Warriors won that game in the 2nd quarter. We had no offense down low, with LMA and GO both out, and the Warriors were able to chip away. The big advantage when playing the Warriors is to get it inside at will and when you sit your only players whom are able to do so, where's the advantage then? Also, I just don't understand letting Monta Ellis run wild on our defense. Andre and Steve have never been known for their defensive prowess, so why not give Bayless more of a shot to show what he has got in the 1st half. He got some late burn in the 3rd quarter, but by that time he was cold while the rest of the guys had their bodies in the flow of the game. Steve and Martell are simply not performing well enough to warrant playing time and I hope Nate will just give Dante and Jerryd a chance to get early minutes in the rotation.
Box Score

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Pistons: Game 13

Ah, home sweet home. Apparently being on the road isn't bad either, as the Blazers return from their road trip 4-1. Despite the record, though, it's still remarkably tough to get a read on where this team is at at the moment. Any time you can get wins on the road it's a plus, and certainly the Blazers played a tough Atlanta Hawks team to the wire, but more shifts in the lineup are immanent as the team attempts to adjust to not having Travis Outlaw who was lost due to a stress fracture suffered against Charlotte. The revamped Pistons come in having lost their last two games to Dallas, and again just last night to the Lakers and sporting a record of 5-6. They are also battling injury issues of their own as Piston mainstays Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton are both nursing injuries, leaving Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, and Will Bynum to pick up the slack. Charlie Villanueva has been solid on offense down low, and Ben Wallace his normal (though somewhat more limited) undersized, rebounding, defensive force down low. The Pistons are near the bottom of the league in scoring at just 93.3 points per game, but what they lack in offense they get done with scrappy defensive play, holding their opponents to just 92.8 points; good for 7th best in the league. The good news for the Blazers? Portland is #1, limiting opponents scoring to just 88.1 while averaging a slightly more respectable 95.3 for themselves. What does this tell us? Well, strap in because it's probably going to be another grind em up night. Two teams that play a slow pace collide and the Blazers have had just one day to rest after a long road trip, while Detroit is playing the second of a back to back. Look for the Blazer offense to try to take advantage of a smaller defensive front line and go to Aldridge against one of the softer defenders in Charlie Villanueva. Hopefully the Blazers have gelled a bit and come out a bit reinvigorated playing back at home. Game 13 Prediction: Blazers 98, Pistons 89
Post-Game Thoughts
For the 4th straight game Portland came close to blowing another double digit lead in the 2nd half. This time it was a 70-50 lead at the end of 3 quarters when the team fell flat. The intensity and focus were reduced for whatever reason which resulted in turnover after turnover. While in the stands, it is hard to gauge statistics as the game is flowing in real time, but when the Blazers made their push in the 3rd quarter to extend their lead from 10 to 20, the hustle board showed a significant advantage in the Trail Blazers' corner. For those of you who don't know, the Hustle Board is comprised of total rebounds, blocks, and steals. Sure enough, once Detroit cut into the lead, the Hustle Board showed the Pistons with the slight advantage as the game ended and it was mainly due to steals and putting forth the extra effort on the glass.
Through 3 quarters it was just another day at the office for the Trail Blazers defense, holding Detroit to only 50 points and under 40% shooting. Our guards did a phenomenal job switching and trapping the dynamic Piston guards which threw them out of their shooting rhythm to the tune of 10-33 from the field from Stuckey and Gordon. It looked as if Portland would even best their 7 game stretch, starting with the San Antonio game, of holding opponents to an average of 84 points a night, and they did as the Pistons were held to only 81. So, what exactly went wrong? For one, there is no way a depleted Pistons team, missing Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince to injury, should be able to put up 31 in the 4th quarter on the 2nd half of a back to back. It boils down to laziness on offense and the trapping pressure of the Detroit defense. Why teams don't double team our guards out top more often is beyond me. We always struggle handling the double team for whatever reason, we panic, and eventually take a forced shot or turn the ball over. I give all the credit in the world to the Pistons staff for implementing this strategy and never giving up, even when it seemed the game was over mid-way through the 3rd.
I can't be the only fan who believes that if the team were to be playing tougher competition, the sterling record would begin to slip up a bit. I understand it is difficult to bring the level of intensity and focus it takes to win at the professional level for 82+ games and keep it up consistently throughout the game, but these lapses are going to catch up to us. One of the main reasons I believe this is occurring is due to the lack of depth. Right now, with the absences of Batum and Outlaw, the Blazers are being forced into a 7 man rotation due to Webster's lackluster performances. This is his 2nd game in a row where he has only played 11 minutes. He had only 3 points against Atlanta and was held scoreless with 3 fouls in his short stint out on the court tonight. I really think it is time to give Dante Cunningham a shot at getting some of those backup small forward/power forward minutes. Along with possessing a high basketball IQ, he plays solid defense and has a sweet mid-range jumper, something that has failed Marty during the early portion of the season. Also, what does Jerryd Bayless have to do to get some run? Especially since the team just lost Outlaw's offensive firepower off of the bench, doesn't that seem like the perfect role for Bayless? No matter the situation, he always seems to give the team the shot in the arm they need to get going.
A few closing thoughts. With another 3 block performance, Greg has now tied Brook Lopez for the NBA lead in total blocks. Oh yea, he does it in about 2 quarters of action. Oden's defense just isn't getting noticed around here in the Pacific NorthWest either,'s Maurice Brooks has Oden 5th for Defensive Player of the Year. Greg's overall improvement has been the main factor in Portland being one of the elite defensive teams in the NBA. Also, although not shown on the box score and stat sheets, LaMarcus has been much more aggressive lately with his moves to the post. Earlier on in the season it was fade away left and fade away right, now he is facing up, lowering the shoulder, and putting the defense on their heels. Finally, it looks like Rudy is comfortable playing on the court now that he knows what his role is. Yes, he shot 0-4 from 3, but his defense is getting scrappier and, as not the hugest Rudy fan, I really felt at ease when he was playing tonight and frankly, a little upset when he wasn't playing more down the stretch. More importantly, I am absolutely loving his mid-range jump shot off of curl. It is vintage Rip Hamilton/Reggie Miller and we need to be running Rudy's defender ragged every time he's playing to take advantage of Rudy's best asset (shooting). He is simply too talented a basketball player to be parked in the corner waiting for a kick out three.
Box Score

Monday, November 16, 2009

Trail Blazers at Hawks: Game 12

The two hottest teams in the NBA collide for the 2nd time in 2 weeks. The Blazers are owners of the NBA's longest winning streak at 6 and the Hawks, surprisingly, sit atop the Eastern Conference at 8-2 and unblemished at Phillips Arena. Atlanta is 3rd in the league in scoring average by netting 108 ppg while Portland has the stingiest defense based on points allowed by giving up only 87.9 a game. Not only do the Hawks put up huge offensive numbers, but they do it efficiently by shooting an insane 48.6% clip from the field which is good enough for 4th in the NBA. Right on cue, Portland is tops in the league at stymieing defenses by holding opponents to only 41% shooting. It is obvious that whichever team can exert their strength (Atlanta on offense and Portland on defense) will come away victorious.
During the November 3rd match-up, there was one player and one player only who was the x-factor, and it was Jamal Crawford and his 27 points, on 50% shooting and he found time to hand out 7 assists. Outside of Crawford, the game was also lost on the glass. Atlanta was able to out rebound the Trail Blazers by 10, 46-36. I realize Horford has a knack for the ball and Josh Smith has the ability to grab anything in his vicinity, but our Blazers are 2nd in the NBA in rebound differential at +6.9. There is no way we should be out hustled that badly, especially at home with all of the BlazerManiacs cheering them on. Fortunately for the Blazers, since the 3 guard lineup has been implemented, the team looks like they knew what to expect when it comes to roles and the overall play has improved.
It would be a daunting task to completely shut down all of the Hawks' offensive weapons, so as good as the defense has been for the Trail Blazers, someone has got to step up and make some shots. In the last two road games, the Blazers have shot 37.9% and 42.2%. Those abysmal numbers will not cut it against a quality opponent like Atlanta. Defense does win championships, but you still need to put the ball in the bucket and if Portland starts out slow or hits a drought, even more likely without the offensive firepower of Outlaw for 6-8 weeks, it could get ugly and fast.
Unfortunately, I see it getting pretty out of hand tonight. Portland is on game 5 of a 5 game road trip, playing the hottest team in the league, and now doing so without Travis Outlaw. Blake, Webster, and Rudy have had tough starts to the season, so them picking up Outlaw's extra minutes tonight, we could see them either shoot us in or out of the game tonight. I also think this is the game to switch up the 3 guard lineup. Do we really want Blake guarding Joe Johnson and Roy guarding the 6'10" Marvin Williams? As mentioned, Martell is struggling mightily with his shot, but at least he is a bigger body to throw on Marvin. Portland could easily win this game tonight by cutting down the turnovers, winning the rebound battle, and establishing Oden or Aldridge in the post, but going undefeated on road trips is so difficult and rare, something has got to give tonight and sadly, it will be our winning streak.
Game 12 Prediction: Trail Blazers 92 Hawks 104
Post-Game Thoughts
Wow, what a heart breaker! For the second time in two weeks, I came way feeling Portland was the better team although the scoreboard would dispute that sentiment. The most frustrating aspect of losing is knowing you were the better team, but I tip my hat to the Hawks for their continuous hustle on the glass and resiliency which paid off for them as the game wound down. A big kudos goes to Joe Johnson who made the tough shots when they counted. Although he took 31 shots, they fell when they needed. I will not put 100% of the blame on the officials, as there were countless travels ATL got away with which lead to buckets and numerous botched calls in overtime, because Portland could have wrapped his game up and put it in the fridge if they would have just taken care of the ball! 19 turnovers, including what seemed like a 5 minute stretch of the 3rd where every possession felt like a miscue, kept the Hawks in the game long enough to start hitting those triples.
Once again, the Blazers let the Hawks out rebound them by 10, which is simply unacceptable with the amount of length and bulk we have on the squad this year. The Hawks nearly doubled us up in the offensive rebounding category, 15 to 8, and it was like watching the 2009 playoffs against Houston all over again. In the first half, those offensive rebounds weren't too harmful as they were ice cold from the perimeter, but once they heated up, those extra possessions were straight daggers.
Outside of everything that went wrong, Portland yet again on this road trip possessed a lead of over 10 and failed to put the nail in the coffin. They got away unscathed through the first 4 games of this trip but tonight got bit in the butt. I don't know if it was fatigue or what, but this team needs to find a killer instinct and find one quick, because the schedule is going to pick up in difficulty real soon.
Finally, I think KP needs to start finding suitors for Blake and Webster. I was excited to see Blake make me eat crow in that first half, as he was dropping in perfect lobs and hitting his jumper, but then he completely disappeared in the second half. When your sole purpose for being on the court is to shoot the ball efficiently, another 3-11 performance is not going to cut it. He had two big chances to ice the game late with big corner threes, which he is normally automatic with, but both fell off line. But I don't blame Nate, because Webster isn't asserting himself and without Travis and Batum, coach has very limited options and chances are Blake will hit that shot more times than not. Back to Webster though, where has he gone? 2 points on 3 shots? 11 minutes in a shortened rotation? I, for one, have long ago given up hope he would live up to the hype of a top 6 pick, but I thought he would at least be a 3 point specialist ala Dennis Scott, but even that is looking like a stretch. I absolutely love watching him play when he gets fired up and intensified, but even now, it looks like some of the emotion is gone from his game.
All in all, I am very pleased with the effort tonight. I fully expected the Hawks to come out and run us out of the gym seeing as this is the last game of our road trip and they have been resting for a while, but we came out on fire and took it to them early on in the game. We just couldn't push that lead into comfort territory and the 3rd quarter mistakes came back to haunt us. The Hawks are 9-2 and leading the East for a reason, so there is no shame is losing to them in overtime on the road, and no one should be complaining or hanging their heads after a 4-1 road trip. Undefeated road trips just don't happen. It has been 19 years since Portland has accomplished that feat of going 5-0 on a road trip and that team only recorded the most regular season wins in franchise history. Time to head home to the Rose Garden and start another winning streak!
Box Score

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trail Blazers at Bobcats: Game 11

The Trail Blazers are riding high into Charlotte, carriers of a 5 game overall win streak and winners of their last 4 away from the friendly confines of the Rose Garden. As bad as the Bobcats have been since their expansion into the league back in 2004, Portland has had their fair share of troubles in Charlotte, as they are losers of their last two down in North Carolina. The Bobcats have never really had one superstar to carry them, rather have out-hustled Portland by following the lead of Gerald "Crash" Wallace, who was everywhere in last year's meeting. Wallace had a beastly game of 31 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal.
For Portland to come away with a victory tonight, they must contain Crash, because when he gets going, the team follows his lead and whatever fans do show up there, get raucous. Marty and Travis need to play off of him and give him any jump shot he wants; he won't hurt you 15 feet and beyond. The main focus needs to be to box his butt out! Charlotte is dead last in the NBA in points per game at a woeful 83.5 and field goal percentage at 39.8%. Do not let them get into a rhythm by getting garbage points. With our 10 man rotation and Gregzilla working down low, there is no excuse to allow more than 90 against these guys.
Outside of Tyson Chandler, Charlotte isn't a real big team, which plays right into the Trail Blazers' hands. Hopefully LaMarcus has enough of last night's mojo left over and can carry the team to their 6 straight win overall. Boris Diaw is lengthy, but very thin and if the L-Train decides to face him up, he should draw fouls on him at an alarming rate. LMA needs to be the first option on offense tonight, so if he starts scoring in the paint it will force Larry Brown to start sending the double teams, which wold lead to open 3's.
As bad as it all sounds for the Bobcats, they are still 3-1 at home. Portland needs to not take them lightly and let them know who the dominant team is. The longer you let the Cats hang around, the more their confidence will grow, and the harder it will be to come out victorious. I expect it to be close throughout halftime, like all previous 3 games on this road trip have gone, but the depth and talent gap should take over in the 3rd quarter. LMA and Greg are too big and physical down low and along with Joel, should keep Charlotte out of the paint, forcing them to become a jump shooting team. If Portland can defensive rebound, it should lead to a lot of fast-breaking opportunities.
Game 11 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Bobcats 86
Post-Game Thoughts
Yikes! For those of us who didn't think it couldn't get any uglier than the previous victory over New Orleans, we were gravely mistaken. It is pretty sad when the scuffle at the end of the game was the most entertaining facet of the game. More frustrating than cheap fouls on Oden or shooting 5 of 20 from 3 was seeing Portland acquire a 15+ point lead only to allow the opposing team back within striking distance for the second night in a row. Honestly, the Blazers are lucky they have played scrub teams this entire trip so far, because if any of them could shoot, we would have been in for a fight. I'm not sure if it is fatigue or just off nights, but we really need to get into a groove shooting the ball as we head into a tougher stretch of our schedule.
The major key to victory was shutting down Crash and not letting him create chaos on the defensive end or by crashing the offensive glass. Everyone on Portland's end who had to check Wallace did a phenomenal job defending him and the post players did a fantastic job keeping him quiet on the glass. Not many people out there knew he was the NBA's leading rebounder heading into this bout with a little under 14 boards a night. He was held in check with only 8 rebounds, 12 points, 0 blocks, only 1 steal, and forced him to turn it over 3 times. Diaw did his best to keep the Bobcats within shouting distance, but Wallace is truly the only Bobcat who has the ability to win a game single handily.
I hate to call out players, but Steve Blake needs to wake up! How many more open 3's is he going to miss? We all know he is a shooting guard in a point guard's body, so if he isn't hitting the 3, 2-10, what positives is he bringing to the table? I still believe he will break out of this early season shooting slump, but really you can't blame Nate because Rudy is a turnover machine at this point and has Martell made a shot all season long? The options are very slim for him to go to. I do think the change needs to be made in the lineup as I hated seeing Roy having to guard Wallace on defense. He is going to wear down quicker by playing guys on defense that are consistently bigger than he is. At least Marty is a bigger body to deal with those small forwards on the defensive end of the court.
Finally, what a bittersweet game for the Blazers. On one hand we win our 5th straight game on the road, 6th overall, but we lose Travis Outlaw to the same foot injury (stress fracture to the 5th metatarsal) that we saw sideline Webster the entire season last year. Early reports have Outlaw missing 6-8 weeks, which would put him back in the lineup around mid-January. Am I the only one wishing we had Ime right about now? I know there are a ton of Travis doubters out there, but I truly think we will see his absence missed. There are a ton of games when the offense is stagnant, but Trav comes in and heats it up like a microwave. Howard will probably get the first call as the backup to LMA due to his veteran status, but I am really curious to see how Dante Cunningham would fare, as he does have a mid-range jump shot that would keep the defense's honest.
Box Score

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trail Blazers @ Hornets: Game 10

As lucky as it was to play the Wolves three times in the first three weeks, the Blazers got the unlucky fortune of playing the Hornets the game after head coach Byron Scott was given the axe. We've all seen it a hundred times. Teams that fire head coaches always seem to give extra effort the next few games for their new coach, whether the firing was justified or not. It was already going to be a tough enough task to get a win in the Big Easy, as it seems that place has a voodoo curse on our boys. Honestly, I can't recall the last time we legitimately beat them in NOLA. (CP3 getting hurt in the 4th was nice, but doesn't count) The two keys to the game are Andre Miller and Greg Oden. Ever since Paul has came into the league and played the Trail Blazers, we have not made him work on the defensive end of the floor. All he had to do in the past was to play within arm's distance of Blake or back off of Sergio. It most likely will not be in Portland's best interest to have Andre be the focal point of the offense, but Dre needs to pick and choose his spots to attack Paul and be seen as a threat to score. For the Blazers to take the next step into elite status, they need more performances out of Greg Oden like they have received over this past week. Like when LaMarcus gets it going in the post, Portland is unbeatable when Oden stays on the floor, is a defensive presence in the paint, and is getting the team easy points in the paint. The one thing Charles Barkley knocks us on, is our inability to score easy buckets and our dependence on the jump shot. G.O. fixes both of those. Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling about tonight's game as I already was uneasy about playing at New Orleans, but the firing of Scott could propel the Hornets to victory tonight. Portland has played better in NOLA lately, but David West always seems to go off on us lately with back to back 25 point performances in the last two meetings and has been able to keep the Hornets afloat long enough to get the rest of the players going. Finally, the Trail Blazers must keep role players, such as James Posey and Peja Stojakovic, quiet and not hit back breaking 3's as Posey did in the first match-up last year down in Louisiana. It will be close, but I see those role players giving us fits tonight. Game 10 Prediction: Trail Blazers 92 Hornets 95 Post-Game Thoughts Man, I love it when I am wrong! Although West did keep the Hornets afloat and unsuspecting role players, like Darren Collision and Marcus Thornton, had career nights with 18 and 20 points respectively, Portland always had an answer and was able to be the first team to heat up from the field. It was also very surprising to see the lack of intensity and desire the Hornets put forth for their new coach; things must be getting really ugly down in the Big Easy. You could even see in timeouts that CP3 was doing all of the talking. If there was such a thing as a modern player-coach, it will be Paul from here on out. I hope the team treated LMA to dinner last night, not like he couldn't afford it, because he was their horse and they road him to victory last night. It was the kind of game I have been waiting to see him play and usually the type of game that doesn't show up until post-All-Star break. The repertoire of moves he has on offense are matched by only a handful of forwards in this league. He took West into the post and hit him with the turn-around fadeaway. Once he got a few of those to go, Coach Nate called for some pick and pops and when LaMarcus has is in rhythm, those shots are locked in. Finally, you know Aldridge is dominating when you see him face-up his man, dribble towards the hoop, and attack the basket with a running hook for an And-1. We are pretty unstoppable once Greg gets even a little bit going on in the post and the same goes when LaMarcus gets into beast mode, like he did last night, but if those two can ever get on the same page offensively, the opposing team might as well wave the white flag. Could Portland trade Joel, along with a couple others, in an attempt to consolidate? Yes, but it would be a grave mistake. Many teams would kill to have a center of either Joel or Greg's caliber, and yet, we have both. I could tell how disheartening it was for the Hornets last night to see Greg grab every single rebound within sight, then to only have a fresh Przybilla sub in and do the exact same thing. There is no drop-off in interior defense as well, as both accounted for 3 blocks. when the dust settles, Gregzilla combined for 18 points, 20 rebounds, 6 blocks, and only a combined 6 fouls. Those numbers are like having Dwight Howard on the Blazers but with fresh legs throughout 48 minutes. Box Score

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trail Blazers at TimberWolves: Game 9

As Portland just got done playing the Wolves 3 days ago, the blueprint to get the job done against this team should be fresh on their minds: attack the rim, get easy points on the break, and limit Al Jefferson. Portland usually fares well against the Wolves anyway, but with Big Al Jeff coming off of a torn ACL last season and Kevin Love still hampered by his hand injury, the Trail Blazers lucked out by playing Minnesota 3 times before the calendar turned to December. Obviously, there are no such things as "sure wins", just ask Joel Przybilla, but if the Blazers can find a way to keep their focus on a one game at a time approach and generate their own energy in an otherwise church-like arena in terms of noise, they will succeed in starting off their road-trip with two straight wins.
The main key to victory tonight is to absolutely feed whomever the Wolves put Oleksiy Pecherov and Sasha Pavlovic on to defend the Blazers and exploit that match-up to the fullest extent. After watching the game on Sunday, these two make Sergio Rodriguez look like Gary Payton out there defensively. Outside of Corey Brewer, where is the defense going to come from, from Minnesota? As devastating as Big Al can be on offense when he is rolling, the comparisons to Zach Randolph have always been there, because of his lack of quality defense. The Wolves rank 25th in the NBA in opposition scoring by giving up 106 ppg on a nightly basis. If that wasn't brutal enough, they are also in the bottom 10 in opposing field goal percentage by allowing teams to shoot at a 47% clip.
Any win in the NBA is hard to come by, especially those on the road because anything can happen on a given night, but I would really like to see Portland erase all doubt as to who is the premier team on the floor tonight and do it quickly. As this is the first road trip of the season, the travel time will take its toll on the players, so the less playing time our starters can get, while winning games, is imperative to keeping our players fresh for the tail end of trips and frankly, throughout the season. Honestly, its not all about fresh legs though. Truly great teams will go for the jugular early and never let up off of the gas pedal. They have a killer instinct and don't toy around with inferior opponents, giving them hope and confidence that they can indeed play on the same floor as you. Once again though, this game will be tight at the half, but I believe Greg and Brandon will lead a tough Blazers charge in the 3rd period to ice the game.
Game 9 Prediction: Trail Blazers 104 TimberWolves 90
Post-Game Thoughts
Where to even begin? First and foremost, Greg Oden is a man-child. 18 points, 11 rebounds, 8-10 from the field, zero fouls, and this was all accomplished in only23 minutes due to the nature of the blowout. If the game warranted him needing to be out there, this could have easily been a 30-20 game for G.O. Not to take anything away from Mr. Oden, but how nice is it to have Andre running the show? This is no slight on Blake, but the team is just running so smoothly and efficiently with Dre calling the shots. 10 assists to only2 turnovers and it really seems like Roy and others are starting to get the feel for Andre's style of play and it is showing with all of these amazing lob passes.
Even though it was against the lowly Wolves, we all saw tonight how lethal this team can be when clicking. Portland only shot 10-25 from distance, but many of those looks came off of multiple passes and were wide open shots that are going to go in more times than not. The ball movement was sensational and it is such a joy to watch so many talented scorers play unselfishly for the greater good of the team and Coach Nate and KP need to be given a ton of credit for assembling this roster and managing them as well.
Flying in under the radar behind Greg's breakthrough season so far and the impact of starting Andre Miller has been the play of Rudy Fernandez these past few games. He looks much more confident and comfortable out there. Not only is it nice to see his jumper come back to form, but he leads the league in steals off of the bench and he has just been mixing it up down low much more. I have noticed a lot more effort on the defensive glass and these aren't rebounds simply landing in his lap, he is outworking bigger players for them.
Finally, the Trail Blazers are looking like an elite team once again. (I know, the Wolves) Whatever, great teams put away the patsy's of the league and do it in convincing fashion. I'm not ready to crown the Blazers 2nd in line, in the West, behind the Lakers just yet, as that will have to be proven with more road wins, in particular the next 3 against teams that could go either way, but these last four games have been a comforting sign after that rocky start. We will see on Friday just how far this team has come.
Box Score

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trail Blazers @ Grizzlies: Game 8

The most critical game during a long road trip? The first one. Portland can come out tonight and set the tone for the remaining four games on the road by putting Memphis away early and often. On paper this looks like a no-brainer. The Blazers should run circles around the Iverson-less Grizz, but as history shows us, Portland never has an easy night in Memphis. In fact, it has taken two huge clutch shots from Travis in the past two years to walk out victorious. Although, if the Trail Blazers can get off to a quick lead and just weather the storm against a couple Grizzlies' runs, Memphis will quit midway through the 3rd quarter, because that is the mental makeup of this franchise.
There are two major keys to getting a win tonight. First and foremost is to contain Zach Randolph. Ever since we sent him packing him out of town in 2007, he always seems to haunt us. We all remember the Clipper game last December as the game where Steve Blake missed all those free throws down the stretch, but what many forget is that Zach had 38 points and 11 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field. We all know Z-Bo can shoot you out of games and he doesn't always bring the best intensity on defense, but when he is on, he is a load to control down low. Sometimes Aldridge doesn't get down and dirty in the paint, but he will definitely have to mix it up tonight battling Zach on the glass, especially fighting to keep him from grabbing those offensive boards.
The second key is intensity and focus. It can be very tempting to walk into a half empty arena and think the other team is just going to roll over and wave the white flag, because you are the Trail Blazers. The times Portland has struggled on the road against inferior teams have came when they weren't sharp mentally. When this happens and Memphis starts to play well, they gain confidence, and think they can play with you the rest of the game. Attack the hoop at will, get the Grizz bigs in early foul trouble, and push tempo are all ways the Blazers can negate a slow start and inflict early doubt upon the Grizz.
I believe these last two wins at home will roll over to the road tonight. Memphis is already in early turmoil, mainly due to the Allen Iverson fiasco, and this is where the added leadership and experience of Andre Miller and Juwan Howard will start to appear on the box score. Memphis will keep it close for the first half, but Portland will start to pull away with the depth of their bench. I am expecting another hot shooting night for Travis as he always loves to play well in front of family and Andre Miller will continue to run the show with the brilliance we all envisioned when he was inked in July.
Game 8 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Grizzlies 91
Post-Game Thoughts
Although it looked sloppy at times and the Grizzlies weren't put away until mid-way through the 4th quarter, the Trail Blazers played just good enough to walk out of Memphis for their 8th straight victory over the Grizzlies. The two keys to the game were to contain Zach Randolph and bring the intensity and focus. The Blazer bigs most definitely did a commendable job battling with Zach all night. He did bring in 12 boards, but he wasn't constantly keeping possessions alive for Memphis and he was forced into a 5-14 shooting performance. I don't totally think the intensity or focus was there 100% completely in the 1st half as we saw numerous turnovers, but the tomahawk throwdown over Rudy Gay by Travis Outlaw toward the end of the 2nd quarter really seemed to spark the fire.
Lets not kid ourselves though, Greg Oden was the main reason we were able to not only pull away from Memphis with a 14-1 run in the 3rd, but the reason we won the game. After only playing 4 minutes in the first half due to 2 quick fouls, G.O. was again a presence in the paint on both ends of the court. If he wasn't turning and dunking over Zach, he was dropping dimes out of the post like he was channeling his inner Arvydas Sabonis. It has become very apparent that playing with Andre Miller is doing wonders for Oden's game. Anyone else love that lob on the fast break? When we get the big fella involved on offense, he brings it that much harder on the defensive end, and added another 2 blocks to his top 5 average last night.
As great as it always is watching the evolution of Greg Oden, it was almost more satisfying seeing LaMarcus get involved early and often and they weren't all courtesy of the jump shot. He worked hard to get solid post position and was hitting the turn around at will, shooting a staggering 7-12 from the field and being the early offense any team desperately needs to survive out on the road. Most impressive of all was his willingness to bang inside with the likes of Gasol and Randolph. En route to 12 boards, he was the guy boxing out Zach, making sure he didn't get his paws on offensive boards and opening up the paint for Joel, Greg, Travis, and Martell to go get it and start the break.
Box Score

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trailblazers vs. Timberwolves: Game 7

After the first 5 games yielded an up and down ride, the Blazers come into this game seemingly with some momentum after handling the Spurs on Friday. It's good any time you can get a win against one of the upper echelon teams in the West, but you get the feeling that the win on Friday night in particular might have been very timely. Now Portland has the chance to continue building momentum heading into a Eastern road trip with the predictably struggling Timberwolves in town. Many fans are happy to hear that Andre Miller has apparently been given the reigns to the team and are hoping this means the Blazers will be off and running. With a fair amount of success against the Spurs, the Blazers ran a 3 guard lineup much of the game, using Roy more as a 3. As for tonight, look for the Blazers to struggle a bit early and then get it together for a comfortable win. Containing Jefferson is key, but also slowing down the bevy of point guards on the Minnesota roster. Flynn looks like a nice player so far, but without Kevin Love, Minnesota lacks front court depth. Look for Greg Oden to continue to build on a solid performance against San Antonio as well as his strong rebounding and defense throughout the season and be a factor. If Greg can stay out of foul trouble against Jefferson, he'll be key to shutting him down and making the young backcourt beat us. The contributions of each player on the roster has been sporadic throughout the season, but a more solid all around effort on Friday may be another sign that maybe the Blazers can put a shaky first few games behind them and begin to build on what was done last year. Game 6 Prediction: Blazers 108, T-Wolves 92
Post-Game Thoughts
First off, a ton of credit needs to be handed out to the entire team tonight for a total team effort in demolishing an severely inferior opponent. A mark of a truly legitimate team is putting bad teams away early and keeping the foot on the gas pedal. Every player who stepped foot on the court last night scored. Roy scores only 2 points, yet the game was never in jeopardy. Unlike earlier in the season, when the shot wasn't falling, Brandon did other things to help benefit his team, such as dropping 6 dimes and grabbing 7 boards.
Once again, the 3 guard lineup really got the offense off to another good start. The team just looks more comfortable out there, like they actually know what they want to do and are executing that plan. It was so refreshing to see us dump it inside at will on the Wolves, send cutters to the paint, and watch Oden and Aldridge hit the their open teammates for easy buckets. Was it me or did GO look like a mini-Sabonis out there tonight? Not only was there ball-player movement, but the team made a concerted effort to run and it showed with 18 fast break points. How beautiful was that Miller 3/4 quarter pass to Aldridge on a dime for the dunk?
I forgot to mention this after the San Antonio game, but I am in love with the 2nd unit of Bayless, Rudy, Travis, Martell, and Joel. Joel brings the rebounding and toughness to the unit, Rudy can handle the ball and make plays in the open court, and the other 3 can score at will. Travis was an absolute monster. In my opinion, he is now the most reliable shooter we have from distance and he seems to be making the right plays more often than not. If only Martell would just shoot it with the same confidence and lack of hesitation that Travis does, we would be really lethal from the perimeter. Outside of Oden's passes out of the post, the most enjoyable aspect of the game last night was to see Jerryd finally get his jumper to hit. It looked text book, had the proper arc and elevation, but more importantly, it was shot with confidence. If Bayless continues to play at this level, he will force Coach Nate to carve out a role for him and find him consistent minutes on a nightly basis.
Box Score

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 6

This Trail Blazers team is one of the hardest to get a read on in recent memory as either we have been excellent (99,00,09) or down right horrendous (04,05). I believe the sporadic play comes from the personality of this squad especially when you factor in adding a big piece such as Andre Miller and the last-minute shoulder surgery to Batum directly before the start of the season. LaMarcus has been notoriously known for starting off slow, Rudy is still getting into the rhythm of playing games more frequently in the NBA after hoopin' it up for Spain this summer, Joel now has to adjust to coming in off the bench with a different cast around him, and the team has to re-educate themselves as to when and where Martell likes to catch the ball and where he will be on the floor.
Will the Blazers be able to take advantage of an aging Spurs team, coming in to play on the second half of a back to back, unlike against the Nuggets? Will Greg's practice speech about defensive intensity get through the players? Does Andre finally get the start he has deserved all along in hopes of creating that chemistry between he and Roy? When do we being in Bayless for some scrappy play, defense, and intensity this team has been severely lacking? I highly doubt all the aforementioned questions get answered tonight, but at least one of them better, or else our team will be sitting at 2-4.
My biggest concern about tonight's game has to be the absence of Nic Batum. Tony Parker goes absolutely nuts on our defense, dribbling, weaving, and slicing through the perimeter only to score at will in the paint or drop it off to Tim for an easy duece, but he was somewhat slowed down whenever Batum was assigned to him, including that home opener when we all saw the potential Nic had. Martell has been doing an admirable job guarding the premier wings in the league, but he simply doesn't possess Batum's defensive prowess, length, and overall instincts to cause players like Parker havoc. There's no need to worry about Duncan either, as Joel does one of the best jobs frustrating Duncan I have seen in the league. Outside of Parker, the game will hinge on our ability to slow down Manu Ginobili. Sure, we took 3 of 4 from the Spurs last season, but I don't believe Manu played in any of those games, maybe one; he is their difference maker. Whomever gets the defensive assignment on Manu, whether it be Roy, Webster, or Rudy, they must force him to beat us from the outside. If he is hitting from deep, so be it. It is much better than him blowing by our wings only to get points in the paint or draw more fouls on our centers.
I don't believe this is a "must win" game, but it could be a big setback in the grand scheme of the NorthWest division as it would already put us 4 games behind Denver in the loss column, not even 1 week into November. More importantly, Portland has a very favorable rest of November schedule and if they could just find a way to gut out a victory tonight, it could spark them the rest of the month. Otherwise, we could play 50-50 ball against teams we should destroy (see ATL game) and could put us behind the 8 ball even more. Its going to be close, but I just don't see Pop letting his boys play that bad, as they did last night, in back to back nights. I pray I am wrong, but Portland will take a few more lumps before righting the ship.
Game 6 Prediction: Trail Blazers 93 Spurs 95
Post-Game Thoughts
After watching a recorded version of the game for the first time this morning after only hearing the 2nd quarter via Wheels and phone updates from Olga, it was clear that Oden is the key to our success. Not only was he efficient from the floor, but he was an offensive post threat. The baby hooks and drop step on Duncan were flashes of brilliance all Blazer fans have yearned to see from Greg. More importantly, he was able to come back in from his second shift on and play well. Although the post moves will draw the most attention, how about another multi-block performance? With 4 more blocks, Greg now has 15 blocks through 6 games, giving him 2.5 bpg which is good enough for 3rd in the league. What could be even more amazing is how he is doing this in less than 24 minutes a night. If he could just find a way to stay out of early foul trouble, we could start to see those Per 48 stats become a reality.
Although I'm not thrilled with a 2 point guard starting lineup, as I don't think it is a sustainable lineup for creating long-term success, I do commend Nate for making some sort of change. It is clearly evident that Andre is just like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, in the sense that he is a player who just performs at a much higher level when he starts. I can see this type of lineup work against teams that start a weak shooting guard, such as the Spurs did with Keith Bogans, but I just can't see it working against the likes of the Lakers or Heat. I have been critical of Blake, but if you can take the ball out of his hands and just let him be a spot up jump shooter, he will be effective in that role. But what does this type of move say about Webster? His defense has been pretty solid, downright nasty during stretches, but he is essentially being replaced in the starting lineup so we can spread the floor with another jump shooter. For whatever reason, Martell just is not a consistent shooter. His form is beautiful, but his 40% shooting simply won't cut up, especially for a player drafted solely on his ability to shoot the rock.
Hopefully this will be that signature early season win (see Memphis in 2007)that gives us a boost and jump starts our season. The one thing I would like to see Portland do is go inside to Aldridge early and often and maybe work in some high-low action with he and Oden. This team truly looks unbeatable once LMA gets rolling and so far, his 13 ppg and 7 rpg is looking awfully mediocre compared to what he is capable of producing. I do think once Andre gets the feel for starting and playing extended minutes, his leadership will show on the court. He'll tell Aldridge to get his but on the blocks and he'll make sure Greg gets his touches as well on the blocks. I've been harping on this all season long, but we have the advantage down low on a night in and night out basis. Use it!
Box Score

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Hawks: Game 5

With Aldridge's status up in the air, most likely until tip off, Greg Oden is going to have to be our post presence down low. Atlanta has a lot of talented athletes who can play multiple positions, but please, Al Horford couldn't hang with Oden in the Final Four and he won't be able to now. Hopefully Nate's pulling of Blake out of the OKC game, after he failed to feed Oden the rock when he flashed across the paint, sent a message to the team, "Get Greg the damn ball!" Oden is already becoming more vocal on defense as reported by Jason Quick which is one of the best signs Blazer fans have seen from him.
Atlanta is one of those teams, like Toronto, that has the capabilities to win games strictly from the perimeter if they are feeling it and with players like Bibby, Johnson, and Crawford, chances are a couple of them will be firing on all cylinders. We need to see the Martell from the Thunder game, fighting through screens, chasing after Crawford and battling Johnson for position on the blocks. Without Nic, the Blazers are relying heavily on Webster to be catalyst defensively on the wing. Even if Aldridge is a no-go, Atlanta should not be able to have success in the paint as it is not to their player's strength outside of Josh Smith.
One of the biggest keys to winning this game will be to keep Atlanta off of the offensive glass, rebound those long misses from distance, and push tempo. By doing this, it will lead to easy buckets, which will be imperative without LaMarcus' offensive repertoire down low. Outside of winning the battle on the boards, I want to see the Trail Blazers attack the teeth of the Hawks' defense and either rack up points in the paint or make a living at the foul line.
Game 5 Prediction: Trail Blazers 94 Hawks 89
Post-Game Thoughts
Where to even begin? As a fan, I am baffled and flabbergasted at so many facets of this team. There are times when I want to run down courtside and scream at Nate, "Quit playing both point guards together!," or "Don't be afraid to let the big men foul out!" Other times, I wonder what the heck is going on in the minds of the players. A couple examples come to mind. First off, Webster had just scored 8 straight points, made a huge block on defense, and had that look in his eye when he gets on a hot streak. The next time down the floor he ran baseline and was wide open in the corner for a three and Blake looked right at him and didn't feed him the ball and I don't think he touched the ball the rest of the game. Another awful decision came from Outlaw late in the 4th. We were down 3 and he gets the ball at the top of the key for a game tying jumper from distance, with the shot clock at 2 mind you, and he attacks the hoop, hangs in the air, and tries to pass it to Aldridge as time expires. Shoot the rock Trav!
Now the players don't deserve all of the blame, because Coach McMillan was off his rocker tonight. Every single time we got a lead, he would make a silly substitution to make our team weaker defensively and Atlanta would exploit it and get right back int the game. ATL scored 32 points in the 2nd quarter, after being held to 15 in the 1st, because he decided to play both point guards on the floor at the same time. Memo to Nate: Two small point guards are going to get us exploited defensively. Also, why is he so afraid of letting one of our big centers foul out? Again, we failed to get stops in the 4th because we had no intimidating force in the paint and when the Hawks did miss, Greg and Joel weren't there to grab the rebound. I understand where Nate is coming from in making all of these substitutions, just trying to do anything he could to find a group that could work, but I think like Roy last night, he was trying too hard.
I am not ready to hit the panic button yet, but I'm also not one who thinks it is going to be A-OK anytime soon. Why should I? This team has shown me nothing and no signs of continuity throughout the pre-season and the first 5 regular season games. I get the entitlement vibe out there from some of the team. Its as if they think they can show up and the other team will fall at their feet, because of the success the Blazers had last year; they think it'll be easy. That type of attitude showed up last night at times too, because I saw some sub-par effort from our team, with a prime example being getting out-hustled for loose balls. The 3 guys exempt from this rant due to their I saw hustle were Martell, Greg, and Joel.
Final thought: Free Bayless! We need a guard who can play efficiently in limited minutes, bring up the defensive intensity, and attacks the basket. This Andre Miller/Steve Blake duo at point guard is not working, at all. Choose one and package the other in a consolidation trade. It is painfully obvious a few of these players can't get into a rhythm, because roles are undefined and we have too many players.
Box Score