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

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