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

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