Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Trail Blazers at Spurs: Game 31

The most devastating four-game road trip of the season comes to an end tonight as the Portland Trail Blazers (18-12) head to San Antonio to take on the Spurs (15-10) in a game that has serious playoff position implications. Currently, the Blazers and Spurs are 6th and 7th respectively in the West, both with .600 winning percentages, but after their early season 96-84 win in Portland, the Blazers hold the tie-breaker early on. Prior to last April's 95-83 win over the Spurs, the Blazers had lost their previous 11 in the Alamo City. Doesn't that sound kind of familiar?
Although Roy's shoulder is hurting and he is scheduled to have an MRI on it once he returns to Portland, it is sounding more and more like he will give it a go tonight. The question though becomes, how well can he play on it? As much heart, fight, and desire this team has shown to over come the adversity of so many lost players, the absence of Roy, for any prolonged period of time would be too much. If he can't play at least 80% tonight, the Blazers just don't have a good shot at pulling out another upset. If there is one player you can not afford to lose to injury or not have 100%, it is Brandon Roy.
With Joel Przybilla out, the prime-time matchup now shifts to Aldridge v. Duncan. Przybilla always played Duncan straight up and disrupted his rhythm and it showed as Duncan has only averaged 10.67 points and 4.3 rebounds a game during the past three Blazer wins, dating back to last season. If there is one attribute that does bother Duncan it is length, and Aldridge possess one of the largest wingspans in the NBA at 89 inches, 2nd longest in Trail Blazer history. It is imperative that LaMarcus doesn't fall for any of Duncan's vet moves, such as throwing his shot into the defender's arms to draw the foul, because with Joel gone, Aldridge is our lone post defender.
I fully expect another game similar to Orlando and Dallas, where Portland "uglies" up the game a bit, which shouldn't be too hard with two top defenses, Portland #3 (allowing 92.3 ppg) and San Antonio #11 (allowing 96.84 ppg) asserting their game plans. Usually the last game of a road trip is the most difficult to win and Portland now has to see if they can get up once again emotionally after losing a fallen teammate to injury so they are already emotionally exhausted. B-Roy doesn't seem like he is 100% and the Spurs have won 3 in a row and look to finally be clicking like everyone predicted they would back in September. I think it will be too tall a task for our boys to get a W tonight. After last night, nothing will surprise me, but I'll take a 2-2 road trip any day of the week. Let's just return home healthy and safely for the Holidays.
Game 30 Prediction: Trail Blazers 87 Spurs 98
Post-Game Thoughts
I'm speechless. I thought there would be no way to be any more prouder of this team after the win in Dallas, but boy, they proved me wrong! Portland was without six rotation players from last year's 54 win team, including Brandon Roy, yet someone is always there to step up in the absence of others. Juwan Howard chips in 12 points,grabs 12 rebounds, and his +22 was the highest +/- of any player on the court. After committing 3 fouls and playing only 8 minutes in the 1st half, LaMarcus Aldridge ends up with 22 points and his 8 rebounds were not indicative on how active was was on the glass as he tipped numerous balls to his teammates. Martell hit two huge 3's in the 2nd quarter to stop the bleeding of a Spurs run. Finally, Jerryd Bayless rose to the occasion and finished with a career-high 31 points, handed out a season-high 7 dimes, and didn't commit a single turnover.
What I love most about having an offensive minded point guard, is his ability to make the opposing point guard actually play defense. Parker ended up with a mere 16 points and 4 assists, but also committed 5 fouls in the process of trying to keep up with Jerryd. Bayless looked like the real deal last night. He was setting himself up by shooting the mid-range jumper or slashing to the hoop, but he was definitely looking for the open teammate. He showed just how difficult it can be to guard him as he took the ball into the paint, dribbled around and under the hoop, only to find Juwan for a nice little shot. He got the defense to fully commit to him, which means wide open shots for the rest. Another thing that was amazing to watch was how this 2nd year player was more comfortable handling the ball at the end of the game than Andre or Steve. He embraces the pressure and thrives upon it. All of these injuries are a blessing in disguise, because we have found ourselves the point guard of now.
Even though Joel may be out, I think we may have a mini-Thrilla on our hands in Pendergraph. Yes, he is only 6'9", but boy does he play much bigger than that. I'm not saying he is Przy in the terms of shot blocking, but it does look like Joel has taught him a few tricks and Jeff has paid attention. The way he stepped in for the charge was very Przybilla-esque and he does not let a rebound out of his grasp. As far as fundamentals goes, he boxes out perfectly. Finally, I love that he doesn't take any crap from anyone, just like Joel. He didn't back down last night and stood up for his teammates. If he continues to show this type of attitude and style of play, he will become a fan favorite in no time.
As long as Brandon is not out for a prolonged period of time, this team can still make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference because of their fight. I really wish we had this sense of urgency earlier on this season when we were healthy but better late than never, right? Although we didn't have this fight then, we have it now and that is what will have us playing basketball through May. The difficult part of December is over and now Portland has 9 of 10 back home in the friendly confines of the Rose Garden. As long as the boys don't get complacent, they may very well improve on their already impressive playoff seeding, currently 5th.
Box Score

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