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

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