Monday, December 28, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. 76ers: Game 33

The Portland Trail Blazers (20-12) look to continue their 4 game winning streak tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers (7-22). Portland was swept last year against Philly, but the main contributor to those losses for Portland is now wearing the red and black, Andre Miller. A lot of people knew the Sixers would struggle a bit this year, but 2nd worst in the East is a bigger fall than most expected. Obviously they are feeling the loss of Miller and Elton Brand, since the day he has arrived in the City of Brotherly Love, has fit like a square peg in a round hole. His averages over the past two seasons of 13 points and 8 rebounds are a far cry away from the days of consistent 20-10 nights.
Both teams have some of the lower scoring offenses in the league at about 92 a game, the difference is on the defensive end of the floor. Philadelphia is 10th worst in the NBA by giving up nearly 102 a night and while even without their 3 best defenders, Portland is still 3rd best in the L by stymieing opponents to a mere 92 a game. Maybe the Sixers just aren't clicking like the Blazers weren't earlier on this year, because they have a decent team on paper? Guys like Louis Williams, Thad Young, Willie Green, Elton Brand, Mareese Speights, Iguodala, and Jason Kapono are all offensively minded players, yet they can only muster 92? Coach Nate will let them know about their talent to ensure the Blazers do not overlook this team. Brandon Roy will have his hands full with the athletic Iguodala defending him, but with an injury to his ribs, causing them to bruise, it could slow down AI enough to let Roy operate.
Outside of Iguodala, the one player who has the physical ability to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor is big Samuel Dalembert. His shot blocking abilities could keep the paint on lock from Jerryd and Brandon and he has the size and length to keep possessions alive on the offensive glass. I would be a bit more worried if Philly actually had a true point guard able of getting him the ball down low, but Louis Williams is shoot first, ask questions later type of guards, who in 34 minutes of action can't even hand out 5 helpers a game. Portland can't afford to have the paint entirely closed so they might get a few shots sent back, but as long as a few of these drives end in a foul called on Dalembert, it will be worth it. We can not afford to be a strictly jump shooting team. You live by the 3, you die by the 3.
With Denver's most recent loss to Dallas last night and Billups' availability in question, the schedule could not have lined up any more perfectly for the Trail Blazers, as eight of the next nine games will be played in the Rose Garden. Shocking to everyone, including myself, the Blazers are only a half game out of 3rd place in the West and first place in the Northwest Division. Given all of the injuries, I doubt they take any opponent for granted and realize the time to make a playoff push is now. Roy is playing his best basketball, Bayless is arriving, Blake is getting his accuracy back, Juwan is a rebounding machine, and the team is giving the extra fight it takes to win games. I believe Philly will stay close through 3 quarters, but then the magic of Brandon will take over down the stretch and extend the winning streak to five games.
Game 33 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 76ers 93
Post-Game Thoughts
The Trail Blazers may have missed their only opportunity to grab a hold of the Northwest division lead last night, after falling and falling hard to the Sixers, 103-94. Denver lost at Sacramento, which would have meant a half-game lead for Portland in the standings if they could only get past the lowly Sixers. Portland had a 10 point lead early on the 3rd period, only to see themselves down by 4 to begin the 4th and as many as 16 towards to end of the game. The offense began to be nothing but one-on-one with the only pass being off of a pick and pop for a contested jumper. No one was attacking the rim even with Sam Dalembert out most of the game with foul trouble. Even if they went to the hoop to draw fouls, it's not like it would have mattered. The shooting eye deserted the Trail Blazers to the tune of 18-26 from the line, good enough for 69%.
Although Roy had 24 points, even he looked off tonight, just like the entire team. Aldridge could not buy a bucket (7-16), Bayless' shot was on target all night, but always came up short (0-7), and even Dante wasn't hitting that patented mid-range jumper (2-6). Really, the only bright spots were Andre Miller and Jeff Pendergraph. Out of a team total of 17 assists, Dre recorded 7 of them, many leading to the only easy buckets and fast break points we had all game. Along with his 7 dimes, he tallied 11 points (4-7 shooting) and 4 boards. While he was in the game, the offense had a purpose to it, but it seemed like whenever he wasn't in control, the train started to run off the tracks.
In a game that went from good to bad to ugly in a hurry, it was at least nice to see Pendergraph perform when given the chance to shine. As a Blazer fan, I'll take 11 points and 5 boards in 19 minutes of action all day long. Normally a very good rebounder, he was outclassed by one of the best in Elton Brand quite a few times. Also, you can tell he is still learning the NBA game as his head was caught looking away and his man beat him to the open spot. He'll learn where to be on defense, but I really like his hands around the hoop as he was fed a few times for dunks. A lot of people say he reminds them of Brian Grant, but he's got a ways to go on offense before I'll go there. In my opinion, he reminds me of a slighter larger Jerome "Junk Yard Dog" Williams.
It looked like the Blazers have finally come back down to earth after going 6-1 in the prior 7 games. Bayless' magic was out for the night. There were no dagger 3 pointers from Blake. Most importantly, there was no big game from anyone. Do not panic Trail Blazer fans! Until we get a little healthier (maybe as soon as the 18th of January), the team is going to win some games they have no business winning and they are going to lose some games that make you scratch your head. I think the past 2 weeks may have risen fan expectations when they had no reason to be, including myself. I caught myself yesterday getting caught up in the NW divisional race, when I know the realistic goal is just playoffs, not to win the division. Without Joel and Greg, if teams were smart they would do exactly what Philly did, which was go inside. The Sixers had 60 points in the paint. I really don't care who you play, if you give up 60 in the middle, your chances of winning are slim to none and slim just left town. I do think we can and still will make the playoffs, but if we want a decent seed, we may need to get a stop gap 7 footer to help out down low.
Box Score

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