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

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