Friday, December 11, 2009

Trail Blazers at Cavaliers: Game 24

The 14-9 Portland Trail Blazers head to the "Q" to take on the 15-7 Cleveland Cavaliers as their 3rd game of this 4 game road trip. Normally, a 15-7 record is considered to be pretty good, but for a team with as much expectations as the Cavaliers had going into this season, so far, they have been a major disappointment. Already, they have lost as many games at home as they had the previous season and have been getting shellacked the past two games against Memphis and Houston on the road. What does this all mean for the Trail Blazers? It could mean one of two things. First, Cleveland could still come out in a funk and continue their sloppy, erratic play. The other side of the coin could see Cleveland come out like gangbusters, trying to halt their two game losing streak and get out of their funk.
The pessimist inside of me wants to believe that Cleveland will run their offense right through Shaq to start the game, get Joel in foul trouble and then let Shaq feast on Aldridge or Howard. Once we make the adjustment to double Shaq, then that is where either Mo Williams gets loose from downtown or LeBron takes over on the national stage. On the other hand, the optimist reminds me how well we played in Cleveland last year, without LaMarcus Aldridge, and against a Cavs team that was playing much better than they are now. Hopefully Cleveland overlooks our team because they can see we only have 9 players, no head coach, and have been decimated by injuries and we can sneak up on them and steal a victory in a hostile environment.
With Batum out, these were the exact matchups I feared. I know not one single player can stop LeBron, let alone contain him, but Nic has the length and athleticism to at least bother him. If Portland wants any chance to win this game, it will take a little bit of strategy and a little bit of luck. I've noticed that when we give up 50+ points in the paint, we almost always come out on the short end of the stick, and any team that features Shaq and LeBron is a threat to score at will in the paint. What I suggest is to play off the Cavs and force them to beat us from the perimeter. It is a bit of a gamble as they are 2nd in the NBA in 3 point percentage at 42.3%, which is why I say it could take a little luck to get it done tonight. Obviously, the team should stay up on Daniel Gibson, Mo Williams, and Anthony Parker as they aren't threats to do much else than rain threes. The key to the game is to make LeBron beat us by shooting jump shots. He can do it and he has done it against us in the past, but you have to live with jump shots instead of free throw attempts and dunks.
I think Portland will play better than most expect. Just as we have no answer for Shaq and James, they have no answer for Roy and Aldridge. This time, if we get LMA rolling early again, we need to continue to go back to him and not shy away from giving him the ball in the post like we did against Indiana. Roy is also going to have to have another All-Star performance as he may have to match LeBron bucket for bucket. In the end, I think Cleveland just has too much talent and will wear us out in the 4th quarter. James is nearly impossible to stop and can get to the foul line at will. My biggest fear is Shaq getting Joel out of the game early, and if that happens, watch out, because the floodgates will be open. Outside of Roy and Aldridge, keeping Przybilla in the game is the mot important facet of the game.
Game 24 Prediction: Trail Blazers 92 Cavaliers 103
Post-Game Thoughts
Portland played about as good of a game as I thought they could have last night. With my new revised expectations, all I want to see is heart, hustle, and keeping the game competitive. I truly thought this one could have got ugly, but in the first half, we dictated the tempo and behind 13 1st half points from Webster an over 10 points from Howard, the Trail Blazers held a 9 point lead at the half. The game really turned around as soon as Andre Miller checked in. He found crafty ways to score and his ball movement was amazing, which lead to a bunch of Howard's buckets down low. His 20 point, 6 rebound, and 3 assist performance off of the bench is just another reason why I think he should get a chance to start.
One of the main keys to the game was forcing Cleveland to be a perimeter oriented team. The Trail Blazers did a nice job of not allowing wide open 3's and held the NBA's 2nd best 3 point shooting team to only 3-12 from downtown. We also did about as good a job as you can on James, as he had to shoot jumpers for nearly every basket he got and rarely got to the foul line (6 times in 38 minutes), which is always a plus when you are playing a player of his caliber. The main reason we lost was our inability to defend the pick and roll. Anderson Varejao has no business getting 22 points on any night, yet he was their go to guy in the 4th quarter off of the slip pick and rolls. The Knicks abused us with his last year with David Lee and it looks like the Cavs found that game tape, because it was the same play over and over and over.
With the game tied going into the 4th quarter, and LeBron sitting on the bench, Portland had their chance to strike quickly out of the gate and take an early lead in the quarter. Instead, we got extremely stagnant on offense, draining down the shot clock on nearly every possession within the first 4 minutes of the quarter and not scoring. The Cavs on the other hand showed excellent ball movement/player movement and got easy buckets in the paint. They got the lead up to 8 and Portland could never respond. When you are under manned on the road and playing against one of the elite teams in the NBA, even the smallest drought or drop off in play can be the difference.
Brandon had 23 points, but on a very inefficient 9-25 shooting and never really could match James bucket for bucket down the stretch. As soon as Cleveland made the switch and put James on Roy, we should have looked to run some pick and roll to get the upper hand on the matchup, instead our play was to let Roy drain the clock and force a jumper over his hand. By no means am I blaming Roy, he played his heart out and found time to hand out 6 assists, but Aldridge had it clicking (22 points on 8-13 shooting) and we rarely fed him the ball down low. I know Varejao is a tough defender on the blocks, but our players must become better at throwing entry passes. He was the one player they had no answer for and he only gets 13 shots?
In a game that really impressed me and gave me hope for the rest of the season, I came away very upset with two aspects of the game. First and foremost, what does Jerryd Bayless have to do to get playing time? His minutes have decreased the last 4 games from 17 to 14 to 11 and now 8. In his short stint, he was one of only two Blazers with a positive +/- rating at +6(Cunningham +9) and again, showed a willingness to attack the hoop, which we lacked during the 2nd half. You could tell by the look on his face, in the 4th quarter, that he was beyond ticked off and I really can't blame him. We have 9 healthy bodies and we are only playing 7. In the NBA, it is extremely difficult to only play 7 guys on a night in and night out basis, because their bodies are going to wear down and I saw it during the 3rd when Cleveland upped the tempo and pressured us and we really didn't have the energy to attack it. Secondly, we need Martell Webster to shoot the ball well. The team looked amazing in the first half, and it was mainly due to Webster's 13 points and three 3 pointers. In the 2nd half, there were a few 3 point looks that would have been more than huge, but they didn't drop as he went 0-4 in the half from downtown. On the positive side, he looked fantastic in the 1st half and is having the courage to take the big shots down the stretch. It really is only a matter of time before he is dialed in from downtown. All in all, a great game and effort by the Trail Blazers. If they play like they did last night against the Bucks, I have no doubt in my mind that we will get a win.
Box Score

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