Monday, December 7, 2009

Trail Blazers at Knicks: Game 22

After losing Greg Oden for the remainder of the season, only suiting up 9 healthy bodies, and without the services of their head coach, who is undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles, the Trail Blazers face arguably their most important 4 game stretch of the season. The 13-8 Blazers head into the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden, to take on the 6-15 Knicks. The Trail Blazers have won 5 straight in this series, with amny of the games going down to the wire or overtime. With only 9 players dressed down for the game, Portland better grab their track shoes, because the Knicks score over 102 a night and give up a staggering 108.
There really is no need to throw stats out there, because Portland is without a major contributor to those statistics in Greg Oden and to a lesser extent Rudy Fernandez. This game will be won on the defensive end or whomever gets cold from the field. All hoops fans know Mike D'Antoni coached teams do not have an emphasis on defense, so the Blazers should be able to score at will if they attack the basket and take open shots. The way Portland loses this game is if they get into a track meet with the Knicks. I'm not saying the Blazers should refuse to run at all, because you could lose a lot of cheap, fast break points out of it, but they need to pick and choose their spots to run. Also, quick jumpers play right into New York's hands so if Portland wants to come away with a win, they should work the shot clock and make New York use some energy on defense.
If the Trail Blazers want to have any chance at getting win #14, they must contain Nate Robinson, who, by definition, is a Blazer killer. Whenever the Blazers show up on the schedule, his game turns into overdrive. His numbers of 21.5 ppg, on 51.5% shooting, and 4.8 rpg against the Trail Blazers are career highs vs. any opponent in the league. To stop him, you must put a hand in his face and force him to take difficult, off-balanced jump shots. Oddly enough, he is not a player who gets going after a few inside buckets start to drop, because he is so short in stature, he makes his bread on the perimeter, so if there is a fast break, someone needs to pick him up.
On paper, this is a game the Blazers should win, with or without a healthy lineup. Roy and Aldridge are much better than anything the Knicks can throw out there and Andre Miller isn't close behind, especially if he can carry us like he did against Houston. The million dollar question is how will the team's mental makeup be right now. Do they come out and play as one and still see the playoffs as a makeable goal or do they have a bit of a pity party for a few games? Personally, I have a feeling they will fight through the injuries and rally together in a "us against the world" mentality.
Game 22 Prediction: Trail Blazers 102 Knicks 100
Post-Game Thoughts
Well, Nate Robinson is still in the doghouse and didn't play and Portland held the Knicks to 15 points under their seasonal average, yet the game was over in the 3rd quarter. The final 9 point differential was not indicative of how badly the Knicks took it to us. Roy had 27 and Aldridge had 19, but neither player had a stretch where they were able to keep us afloat or push us for ahead for the lead. Aldridge especially had a rough not on the blocks. Numerous jump hooks and turn arounds rimmed out and he never really got into a flow.
Regardless of how our dynamic duo played, this game was won at the 3 point line, which is no surprise when you're facing the Knicks. They shot a staggering 26 3's, but nailed 13 of them, giving them a +36 from distance. Every single time it looked like our boys were going to come back and make a run, the Knicks had an answer from long range. Although Danilo hit a few with a hand in his face, it was pretty lackluster perimeter defense which allowed for wide open 3's.
One bright spot was the play of Jerryd Bayless, who had 14 points and 2 assists in only 17 minutes of action. It was actually his spark that brought Portland back from 23 to 9 with 6 minutes left, but was curiously taken out of the game for a cold Steve Blake.
As a lifelong, die-hard, Trail Blazers fan, I know when the writing is on the wall. With news coming out today that Rudy Fernandez will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks, odds of staying afloat in the tough Western Conference are getting dimmer by the day. This season does not have to be a total wash though. We still have two, promising young talents in Bayless and Cunningham, and it would be a shame to not take this time to give them more minutes than they would have if everyone was healthy to see what we have in them as players. From now on, I will go into games not with wins and losses being the only tangible outcome that matters, but to see how those two develop and viewing the progression in Roy and LMA's game.
Box Score

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