Thursday, December 24, 2009

Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets: Game 32

For the third consecutive season, the Portland Trail Blazers (19-12) are hosting a Christmas Day game, this time against divisional foe, the Denver Nuggets (20-9). Denver defeated Portland earlier this season, in the second game of the season, at the Rose Garden 97-94 behind Carmelo Anthony's 41 points. This game is extremely difficult to gauge or predict, because each team could be with our without their most important player. Chauncey Billups has not played since December 16h as he is on the shelf with a strained groin and Brandon Roy tweaked his left shoulder Tuesday night in Dallas with each player's status listed as day to day.
This will be one game where I will not look at Webster to provide offense as every Blazer fan knows, he must make life miserable for Anthony. Melo is putting himself on the short list for MVP by averaging 30.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 3.3 apg as he is positioning the Nuggets for another #2 finish in the West. Portland certainly felt the impact of losing Batum during the 2nd game of the season, because there was no stopping Melo when he got squared up from about 15 feet out. As long as JR Smith is not on the court, the Trail Blazers should look to trap Anthony and make others beat us from the outside. Do not leave Smith open though as he is coming off of a 41 point outburst, including 10-17 from downtown. If trapping doesn't work, Webster should look to deny the ball from Melo as best as possible.
As they should do for nearly every game the rest of the season, the Trail blazers must ugly up the game a little and play to their tempo. This does not mean we should abandon the running game, because Miller, Bayless, Webster, and Aldridge all thrive in the open court, but pick and chose our opportunities. If we want to continue to win with a short handed squad, we must take care of the ball, limit offensive rebounds, and continue to simply want it more by playing stout defense. Portland held Dallas 21 points under their season average, San Antonio 7 points below, and they must keep Denver underneath their 2nd best 108 points per game to have a chance.
After predicting the team to go 0-2 against the Texas teams, I have learned my lesson. With or without Roy, I think this team can continue to play on this emotional high for one or two more nights if their leader needs a little extra time to heal. As long as Coach Nate gives Jerryd the green light to be the team's focal point, he definitely can cause havoc amongst the Denver guards. Billups is to slow to handle him and Bayless can shoot over the top of Lawson. Don't be surprised if Blake gets red hot this game, because his jumper is looking more and more fluid lately. Behind big games from Bayless and Aldridge, Portland will send their fans home with the best Christmas present of all. A win.
Game 32 Prediction: Trail Blazers 101 Nuggets 97
Post-Game Thoughts
Carmelo Anthony was good, 32 points (11-23) and 9 rebounds, but Brandon Roy was better, 41 points (16-26), 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Whenever the Blazers needed a big bucket, Roy would step back for a 3 or take his man off the dribble and get to the hoop. Due to the fact he was so dialed in, Denver had no other choice but to send the double team once he penetrated to the paint, which left Steve Blake open to hit some absolutely dagger 3 pointers. Blake is finally breaking out of his shooting slump and it showed in a big way tonight as he had 17 points (5-7 from distance) in only 21 minutes of action. I am really starting to like his performance off the bench. The more I watch him, the less I see point guard and more I see shooting guard. He needs to just hang around the 3 point line, let someone else create and hit those treys when called upon.
In football, explosion plays are defined as any play that accumulates more than 20 yards in one play. Although there is no yardage in hoops, Portland had two huge explosion plays that really kept the momentum in their favor in the 2nd half. The first happened after a turnover, where Martell Webster refused to give up on the play, chased down Anthony Carter, and sent his shot into the 3rd row. What could have been an easy deuce for Denver ended up turning the raucous Rose Garden crowd loose. The second play occurred in the early 4th with the shot clock winding down. Bayless split the defense and saw nothing but the goal as he exploded for a one-handed flush.
The two unsung heroes of the night were LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller. Although Aldridge only attempted 10 shots and scored 10 points, with no Oden or Przybilla, defenses are going to key on him, which they did, but he managed to make an impact elsewhere. His 13 rebounds were a team-high and only 1 shy of his season-high. Miller, on the other hand, kept the team afloat in the 1st half and is finally creating easy buckets for this team. He had two pin-point passes to LMA for easy dunks. Not only that, but his 14 points only came on 9 shots and he only committed one turnover while dishing out his team-high 8 assists. I really like how Nate is leaving Bayless out there regardless, but switching Andre and Steve depending on the style of game or who's hot. Dre kept us in the game while Blake dropped the hammer.
With 8 of the next 9 at home, if there was any time to solidify themselves as playoff contenders, it is now for the Trail Blazers. Currently, we sit 5th in the West, on the heels of the Nuggets and Suns for home court advantage. It is being speculated that Rudy Fernandez is aiming for a return starting in mid-January, and if Portland can keep fighting until then, the extra help that's on the way could really propel them to compete for home court advantage. I truly think this is when KP will make his move. There is no way a team as depleted as we are can have half our team be guards and no legit centers. Obviously Roy and Bayless are untouchable right now, but there aren't enough minutes to go around for a 5-guard rotation. Even though I would hate to see any of our guards go right now, due to their level of play, it is a numbers game and we need to give Juwan and LaMarcus another big man to help them out.
Box Score

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