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

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