Saturday, January 30, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Mavericks: Game 49

Portland (27-21) heads to Dallas (30-16) to finish their quick two-game road trip before heading back home to the Rose City. The Trail Blazers have spoiled us fans recently and this three-game losing streak is uncharted territory for both us and the players. Portland is in danger of losing their 4th in a row for the first time since April 2008. Even without Batum, Outlaw, Przybilla, and Oden, Portland bucked the recent trend by winning in Big D, 85-81, back on December 22nd. The Blazers do have Batum this time around, but one major piece of the puzzle is absent tonight, Brandon Roy. For Portland to have a shot at another win over Dallas, they must ugly the game up, just as they did prior and not allow Dallas to score over 100 points.
Porland's .133 winning percentage when the opponent score over 100 points is 4th worst in the NBA, and without Brandon Roy's offensive firepower, if Dallas his 100, its over. A major key to the December win in Dallas was holding Terry, Kid, Gooden, and Marion to 5-33 shooting from the field. Now, I doubt we hold them to that poor of a shooting night again, but with Batum back in the mix and Martell playing the best defense of his life, it's not out of the realm to quiet them again. Outside of Dirk, who you will not stop, Portland needs to stick to JJ Barea like glue. He had 22 points (9-16) and 5 assists last meeting and like Brooks, he is a little waterbug out there on the floor, changing directions every which way, which causes our defenses fits. I hope we decide to put Bayless on him as he is too quick for our other guards to stay with.
Portland could luck out tonight and have Erik Dampier miss the game. He is listed as day-to-day with a sore knee after injuring it in Thursday's loss in Phoenix. For whatever reason, Dampier always plays like its his last game against the Blazers and the last matchup was no different as he scored 8 and gobbled up 15 rebounds without Joel in the middle to disturb him. If Dampier can't go or isn't 100%, the Trail Blazers must take initiative and attack the hoop. Do not settle for jump shots. Be the aggressors and get to the foul line. Portland is 3rd in the NBA in free throw shooting at 78.8%, so there is an easy way to get points and get players into their rhythms. The team must be careful to not be overly aggressive on the defensive end, because if you get into the penalty on Dallas early, they will make you pay as they are #1 in the league at over 80% from the charity stripe.
The X-Factor tonight for Portland will be LaMarcus Aldridge as well as the player movement surrounding him. In Houston last night, he had it going early and often in the 1st half. Immediately after halftime, Rick Adleman made adjustments to double LaMarcus and Portland failed to re-adjust after that. There were multiple lanes down the middle of the hoop where Blazer players could have cut down the middle for two, such as the Hornets and Jazz did to us the prior two games. But the team decided to stand and watch LMA get double teamed. Coach Nate needs to draw up some back cuts or send players down the middle to attack the rim. If Aldridge can get it going and force a double, Portland must take advantage and move without the ball. Do not be content with simply shooting jump shots.
With the recent play of the Trail Blazers without Brandon Roy, they haven't gave me any reason to believe they can beat a plus .500 basketball team. There has been no 4th quarter offense and it seems like the guys get somewhat flustered out there at times without Roy's leadership. Again, this is not a knock on the current squad, more of a representation of just how important Roy is to this team. Along with Barea and Dirk, Jason Terry will rebound from a poor shooting game last time to lead Dallas to a double digit victory. Portland will keep it within 7-8 points throughout the game, but never able to break through to get the score any closer.
Game 49 Prediction: Trail Blazers 89 Mavericks 102
Post-Game Thoughts
There is no better feeling than having the Blazers prove me wrong. I fully expected them to get beat handily, lose their 4th straight, and head home with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance. If you would have told me the Mavericks would have scored 112 points, I would never have believed this team could have won a game on the road while giving up 100+ points. In fact, this was just Portland's third win while allowing 100+ points in 16 attempts.
A lot of players factored into this win, but make no mistakes about it, it was Dre day in Dallas. Andre had a career-high 52 points on 22-31 shooting and 7-8 from the charity stripe. The 52 points ties Brandon Roy for the 2nd most points in franchise history behind Damon Stoudamire's 54 against New Orleans back in the 04-05 season and the 22 made field goals is a new franchise record. Dallas tried anyone and everyone on him but to no avail. You knew it was just his night when the running hook shot hits the rim three or four times before bouncing in to send the game into overtime. It was a performance for the ages that soon won't be forgotten.
"I've had a few heated nights in my career, but I think this was one of those nights where I just didn't stop shooting," Miller said. "The other nights when I was hot, I stopped myself from shooting the ball. ...Tonight was the night where I just kept doing it. I just didn't settle."
"He got going early," Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. "We had some blown coverages that enabled him to get open. We tried a lot of different guys on him. We had Shawn Marion guard him for a lot of the fourth and overtime. He backed up and hit a three on him. He played a phenomenal game."
They are calling it one of the best 2 point, 3 rebound, and 1 assist games ever played. That stat line was from none other than Nicolas Batum and if you had just read the box score and not watched the game, you would have no clue what kind of impact he brought to the team tonight. Prior to the last shot of regulation, Dirk had it flowing, stuck on automatic to say, as he was 9-15 from the floor and 10-10 from the foul line as he posted a team-high 28 points, before Batum took the challenge of defending him. From the last shot in regulation to the potential game tying shot in overtime, Dirk took four difficult shots, made so by Batum, who stuck to his every turn, hitch, pump fake, and fade like glue. The result was four consecutive misses in crunch time from one of the best clutch shooters in NBA history and arguably one of the toughest covers in league history. With our centers out, the interior could be tough to defend, but at least our perimeter defense got a huge boost with the arrival of Batum who has the makings of an All-NBA Defense team staple for years to come.
"I studied tapes and knew that he always dribbled left, left, pump fake, spin," Batum said. "Every time. So I just watched the ball -- not him at all, just the ball -- and when he shot I raised my hands, because there is no way you can block him."
With the imminent return of Roy either Wednesday or Thursday, Portland will have their full array of guards at Coach McMillan's disposal, which begs the question, which player gets their minutes cut? Only Nate knows that answer and likely won't know until we cross that bridge, but it should not be Jerryd Bayless. He quietly had the 2nd best Blazer performance of the night and his +/- rating of +20 was the highest of anyone on either side of the court. He had another incredibly efficient night, going for 17 points on 7-11 shooting, 3-4 from the line, and doing so while only committing one turnover. As the season progresses, the maturation of Bayless has also taken shape. The more time he gets, the less reckless he becomes. The decision making improves as he knows when to attack and when to pass. Outside of Miller's soaring hook shot to tie the game in the 4th, the biggest play of the game came right after Jerryd was subbed back into the game. Dallas secured all of the momentum with a four point lead with only two minutes left. Bayless had fresher legs than Andre and took the ball right to the hole off of a curl and got to the hoop which allowed momentum and the crowd to rile down while he nailed two free throws as the clock stopped. It allowed Portland's defense to settle in and make key stops.
Words can't express how huge this win was for the team. They failed to fall four straight times for the first time in nearly two years and kept themselves afloat in the playoff chase. Now, there are six teams with 21 losses, so every game is now like a playoff game, fighting and jockeying for position. Also, with this unexpected win, it gives Portland another chance to weather this 10-game storm and if they just handle business at home could end up going 5-5 in that stretch.
Box Score

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Rockets: Game 48

In a battle of two teams heading the same direction, the reeling Trail Blazers (27-20), losers of two straight and four of their last six, head down south to face off against the Rockets (24-21) who are on their own three-game losing skid. As you all know, guard Brandon Roy will not make the Texas Two Step road trip, which puts even more pressure on everyone else to step up and not allow the team's first three-game losing streak since December of 08. Fortunately for Portland's playoff hopes, only the Jazz have stepped up and taken advantage of our latest drought as the Blazers still find themselves sitting in 6th place in the Western Conference with hopes of welcoming back their All-Star as soon as Monday. Getting a split on this quick road trip would do wonders for our playoff chances and tonight puts the team in the best position to get a win as tomorrow will be a back to back against a much tough Maverick team.
One positive about tonight's matchup is the fact Portland isn't completely undersized as both teams have had to deal with their starting centers being injured for the season. When Houston beats us up, it usually starts on the glass. It is a must tonight for not only Aldridge and Howard, but small forwards Webster and Batum to get dirty in the paint and rebound. Portland is still #1 in holding the opposition in rebounds at 37.85 a game, but Houston averages an even 42 every game. The Rockets occupy three of the top scrappiest players in the league in regards to Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry, which means the Blazers can not come into this game with their heads down and lack energy, otherwise it will be a long night on the glass.
Although Trevor Ariza had a career-high 33 points on 5-8 from distance during the Halloween night victory for Houston over Portland, he has came back down to earth in the month of January. In 12 games this month, Ariza is netting only 14 a night on 38.8% shooting from the floor and a dismal 26.1% from behind the arc. The player Portland needs to keep their eye on is former Duck Aaron Brooks who had a coming out party in last season's playoff series and had contributed 28 points in the October 31st win as well. I hope we see little of Blake or Miller on Brooks as he is too lightning quick, and more Jeryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum trying to disrupt his rhythm. Bayless must be careful he doesn't get too aggressive and pick up touchy fouls on Brooks, but he definitely possesses the quickness to keep up. On the other hand, Batum has the length and just enough lateral quickness to bother Brooks as he has done to Deron Williams and Tony Parker before in the past.
For Portland to get a W tonight, they must ride the broad shoulders of LaMarcus Aldridge. Chuck hayes, albeit undersized, is really one of the best low-post defenders in the game. One way LMA can take him out of his rhythm is by doing something different every time down the floor. Also, be aggressive and force him into foul trouble. If LaMarcus can get easy points in the paint, look for that to really spread the floor for our shooters. Finally, without any shot blockers in there for the Rockets, Miller and Bayless need to take advantage and penetrate. The best way to get out of a team-wide shooting funk is to get to the charity stripe.
I really want to predict a Blazer victory, but after starting off 2-0 without Roy in the lineup, the team's record without him has drastically decreased to 3-4 and the Cinderella magic seems to be wearing off. I do think the Blazers will get off to much better starts than they have these past two home games and keep it close down the stretch, but Carl Landry has been playing at an All-Star level this year and is a prime candidate for 6th Man, Scola always gives us fits, and Aaron Brooks will deliver some huge daggers in the crunch.
Game 48 Prediction: Trail Blazers 92 Rockets 98
Post-Game Thoughts
You live by the jump shot and you die by the jump shot. Are the Trail Blazers ever going to learn this? In a game where they actually owned the size advantage inside, for likely the last time this season,the Trail Blazers were absolutely destroyed by points in the pant. Houston, with no player taller than about 6'8" (no David Anderson doesn't count), was able to get 52 inside, compared to Portland's 32. I don't chalk those numbers up to anymore than just a mentality. The Rocket players love to scrap and fight for loose balls and put it in around the hoop. They aren't satisfied with jump shots. Until Portland learns to play with a little but more of that mentality, there will be no championships in the Rose City. Jump shooting teams do not win.
In a game where both teams desperately needed the win, Houston definitely wanted it more. Their aggressive play was rewarded by the officials to the tune of 43 trips to the line, compared to Portland's 21. Were there some iffy/controversial calls? Sure, but what game doesn't have them? The bottom line in the NBA is the aggressors get the benefit of the doubt. Another deciding factor in the loss last night was the battle underneath the boards. Portland allowed Houston to match their seasonal average of 42 rebounds, while we could only grab 38. It was the offensive rebounds that killed us once more. Every time we needed a stop in the 2nd half, Houston would come up with an offensive rebound and put a sputter to our momentum. The play which summed up the entire Blazers/Rockets matchup these past two seasons occurred after Rudy just got done going all Reggie Miller on the Rockets, hitting three after three after three. When it was all said and done, Portland was down by two with Landry at the line. He made the first, but the 2nd hit back rim and got tipped out into the hands of a Houston player to close the game. All we needed was one rebound to have a shot and came up short
I can't believe we didn't shadow Aaron Brooks with Jerryd Bayless or Nic Batum all night long. We all saw how he destroyed Steve Blake in the playoffs, but we felt good letting Brooks isolate on Blake? By no means is this a knock on Blake. He just isn't quick enough, like the majority of NBA point guards, to stick with or disrupt Brooks' game. Aaron had 33 points (11-21) and 7 dimes, so there was no stopping him tonight, but when Batum and Bayless did get the defensive assignment on him, the points were a little fewer and far between.
"The point guards in the last few games have just blown by us," McMillan said. "The weak side is not helping, and we are not guarding anyone. We have to bend our knees and guard somebody."
On a night that saw Portland lose for the third time in a row, the first such losing streak in approximately 14 months, did provide some encouraging plays from two people. First, Nicolas Batum continues to "WOW" after every performance this year and tonight was no different. He filled up the stat sheet nicely, going for 12 points (4-7), a career-high 9 rebounds and 5 assists, and a steal in his 27 minutes of action. It's only a matter of time before he gets himself into game shape and plays 35 minutes a night. The other unsung hero for me tonight was Dante Cunningham. I know, I know, Rudy had 25 points and a barrage of threes to keep it close, but he had some costly turnovers and didn't play very good defense. Dante, on the other hand, is becoming the team's best ball-denial defender. He gets low to the ground and uses what his mama gave him to keep his man away from the ball. The effort and intensity in which he plays defense is admirable enough, but his 6 points (3-6), all in the 3rd, kept the game within striking distance during a major Houston run. In fact, his defense was so good that the turning point in the game was his 5th foul early in the 4th, forcing him to sub out and Howard check in. The longer the season goes, the more holes are starting to appear in Juwan's game, which is expected as he is 37 and wasn't supposed to play big minutes. He just doesn't have the energy to play the type of defense Dante was.
Box Score

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Jazz: Game 47

The quick two-game home-stand is over tonight after the Trail Blazers (27-19) go head to head with their bitter divisional rival Jazz (26-18). Utah was the last team to really dominate the Trail Blazers, 108-92, back in November. Just as they did after the Boston heartbreak, they must mentally move on to the next foe, which not only is a divisional contest but with 4th place in the West on the line tonight as well. Utah is 8-2 over their last 10 games, but their record can be skewed a bit. The Jazz have always been known to be a dominant home team but very lackluster on the road, as their 8-12 road record speaks for itself. Also, the Jazz can ask the Lakers how tough it is to get a W in the Rose Garden, as Portland has their own little hex over the Jazz when they meet up in the Rose City, winners of six straight over Utah in PDX.
Make no mistakes about it, for Portland to get back into 4th place in the West, LaMarcus Aldridge must start carrying this team. Lately it has been Andre Miller, which is fine, but when an organization has invested so much into this young power forward, it would be nice to see him take over games and put the team on his back for a few more wins. These types of situations are exactly why we have Aldridge. He defers to Roy when Roy is at full strength, but now that Roy is out, LMA moves up in rank and should be the one the offense runs through in crunch time. We've all seen Aldridge be the go-to guy before and when he does its a beautiful sight, but those sights are starting to become fewer and far between. I want to see him tonight, post up any of the Jazz big men and take it to their chest. Do not settle for the fade away, work the middle by lowering the shoulder and putting up the running hook or back then in and go up and under.
For the Jazz, it all starts and ends with Deron Williams. The 5th year guard continues to put up gaudy numbers of 18.9 points, 9.6 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. The Trail Blazers did a decent job on Paul, mainly when Bayless came in to match his quickness, but, in the end, it was falling behind by 16 early, all set up by CP3's slip pick and rolls to Okafor and West that sealed Portland's fate. The key to containing Williams is to keep him in front of you. If he is hitting jumpers, then so be it. What the Blazers can't afford for him to do is penetrate to the paint and either get our bigs in foul trouble or set up his own big men for easy buckets in the paint. Also, another advantage Williams possesses is his size. At 6'3" and 207 lbs, he is tall and bulky enough to hold his ground if Andre tries to back him down.
The X-Factor tonight is the Rose Garden crowd. The atmosphere was great for New Orleans, but with the despised Jazz being in town and it being 80's night on top of everything else, it needs to be rocking tonight! As mentioned previously, Utah struggles on the road, but to what extent? By taking a look here, the statistics show Utah as a much less aggressive team away from the Salt Palace. They score nearly 9 points less per game away from Salt Lake City, as well as getting to the free throw line four less times and forcing nearly 2.5 steals less per game on the road. The tipping point will once again be the 100 point mark. The Trail Blazers are still 2-11 when allowing the opponent to score over the century mark and the Jazz average over 101 per night, but only 96.7 on the road.
The Trail Blazers know they can ill afford to drop a second straight game, let alone another home game. This team also is not prone to lose more than one, maybe two in a row (only one three-game losing streak over the past two seasons), so bouncing back is something this team thrives on. With Bayless and Howard moving back into the starting lineup, it will give the first unit more stability, which should thwart any 16 point first quarter deficits. I have a feeling that a lot of the same things we have been seeing lately will continue to occur tonight. Martell will drain a few from I-5 tonight, Rudy will create more spectacular plays as he gets into his groove, and Jerryd will get to the rim at will. But, what pushes Portland over the top tonight will be LaMarcus playing like an All-Star. It won't be a monstrous night, but I'm guessing somewhere in the range of 20 and 12, including multiple clutch buckets from the L-Train tonight. Also, Batum is said to be receiving "extended" minutes tonight, which is a good sign on multiple fronts, mainly that his shoulder is holding up to game action. I would love to see him get out on the break with Dre running the show.
Game 47 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Jazz 95
Post-Game Thoughts
Okay Trail Blazers, make up your minds: Playoffs or NBA Draft Lottery? It has been an admirable month-long run, but, as a fan, I can't take the back and forth type of play. One week we'll win three of four on the most outstanding road trip in years and the next we are dropping home games like none other. I realize we have played the last few without Brandon, but the mindset in which we are coming out with is alarming. New Orleans jumped out on us by 16 in the 1st, scored well over 20 points in the paint during that quarter. Last night, Utah got up by as much as 26, shot 70% all the way up through the 3rd quarter and had nearly 30 points in the paint in the 1st period. I am at a loss for words on numerous subjects. First, do we not watch game film of these teams? Its not like either franchise has changed a whole lot over the past 3 seasons and why does it take so long to adjust to what they were doing? Utah ran lay-up drills the entire half. Secondly, where is the passion and fire from this squad that made us Blazer fans so proud at how valiant they were fighting in spite of these injuries. I realize we were bounded and determined to come back down to earth offensively, but defense should always be a constant. Defense is 90% effort, 10% athleticism.
"To dig a very deep hole and try to fight out of that is tough," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "There wasn't much defense by us that first half. [The Jazz] just attacked us, and we had no answer. We missed some shots, and that affected us defensively. The next three quarters we fought, but we ran out of gas."
Too little, too late. It was the slogan of the past two games and could be what fans will be saying come April if Portland misses out on the playoffs. This 10 game stretch is no joke and we are already 0-2, losing both at home. Right now 5-5 seems like a pipe dream and we'd be lucky to get 3 of these next 8. I'm afraid if we free fall too much right now, there won't be enough time for us to pick ourselves back up. With Roy's return still in doubt, the Trail Blazers will need to band together, much like they did once Oden and Joel went out with the "Us against the world" mentality and fight. The Draft Lottery is always exciting...for one day out of the calender year, but the playoffs would be just what the doctor ordered. What this young team needs most is more experience in playoff basketball. I really do not mind if the team loses, if they show fight, but I was pretty upset with the lack of urgency to start these past two home games.
As the season goes along, I try to temper my expectations so I can just enjoy the game and progress of some of our young, budding stars. Tonight saw Nicolas Batum show off the entire repertoire. He nailed three's, mid-range buckets off of the dribble, finish with authority, take charges, and do most of his damage while defending one of the best point guards in the game in Deron Williams. In the end, his stat line read, 16 points (7-9),including 2-2 from downtown, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. If Batum continues to mature and progress as I project him to, he will become an untouchable trade asset, part of the core of this Trail Blazer franchise along with Brandon Roy. Outside of a healthy Greg Oden, Nico possesses the greatest chance of becoming an All-Star.

Another player who really impressed me in the 2nd half was LaMarcus Aldridge. Although his defense left something to be desired in the 1st half, for the most part he didn't shy away from the ball. With Roy sidelined, we need LaMarcus to take the bulk of the shots. He put up 24 shots, and even though only 10 ripped cord, he was a little more aggressive than usual and finally got to the line more than twice a game, attempting 7 and making 5 and ending the night with 25 total points. Also, without Gregzilla, LMA has upped his rebounding efforts and his 9 tonight were not different, especially attacking the offensive glass for 4 boards. If LMA misses shots, so be it, but the only way LaMarcus will meet his potential is to get aggressive and as the saying goes, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Box Score

Monday, January 25, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Hornets: Game 46

After earning a 2-2 split on their previous four-game road trip, the Trail Blazers (27-18) head home to the Rose City for a short two-game home-stand, starting off tonight against the Hornets (23-20). Not unlike any other matchup this season to date, this one rides heavily on the availability of key players on both sides. For Portland, guard Jerryd Bayless has been upgraded to probable tonight with a sprained ankle and forward Nicolas Batum wants to play tonight, but the question remains whether or not he can convince Coach Nate to allow him to play. Batum is probable as well, but if he plays, he will not play more than 15 minutes. With Roy's latest re-aggravation of his hamstring, don't be surprised to see Portland be even more cautious in rushing back players from injury. On the New Orleans side, All-Star forward David West is questionable after missing last Saturday's loss in Denver, after he sprained his left ankle in their previous win over Minnesota. Also just reported, the Hornets have agreed to send guard Devin Brown to Chicago for Aaron Gray, which leaves them a little extra shorthanded for tonight's game.
For no reasonable explanation, Chris Paul does not perform well against the Trail Blazers. His career averages are 19.5 points, 10 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game while shooting 47.5% from the floor. On the other hand, his splits against the Trail Blazers are significantly lower at 13.7 points, 8.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.93 steals per game on only 42.7% shooting. As we all know, the Hornets go as CP3 goes, so slowing him down is obviously a key to victory. One way to minimize Paul's affect on the game is to try to keep him in front of you and not let him wreak havoc in the paint. If West can't go, this would be huge news for Portland, as he is the one who puts up gaudy numbers against us and is always the recipient of a CP3 dime drop. Since 2006-07, New Orleans is 1-5 playing in the Rose Garden, the only win coming last season with Brandon Roy out. Unfortunately, Roy will still be out for tonight's game, but unlike last year, the team is more accustomed to performing without its franchise player.
How amazing is it that the Trail Blazers still have the 8th best record in the entire NBA and would have home court advantage if the playoffs started today? Pretty damn amazing if you ask me. They still refuse to quit in the face of adversity and defy the odds nearly every night. Even myself, a pretty big optimist, have questioned whether this can last, yet they continue to prove me wrong. These next 10 games before the All-Star break will be crucial for playoff seeding as every team is either at or above .500 and with six of the four at home, the Trail Blazers must protect the home court. Outside of Charlotte coming to the RG on the 1st of February, this games looks like the most winnable, so the Blazers must find a way to get it done tonight. Although 2-2 on the road trip was admirable, the bottom line is they let two very winnable games slip away in the 4th quarter at Washington and Boston. For a team playing with their backs against the wall on a nightly basis, nearly every game close in the 4th must go our way to make the playoffs in the hotly contested Western Conference, where 4th place and 11th is separated by a mere 3 games.
Whether or not West goes, its a plus for Portland. If he plays, he's arguably not 100%, which could slow him down and if he can't go, take away about 16 and 8 from the Hornets statistics. This is a game where I think can be a little sloppy. The first home game back after a road trip usually have a high probability to be losses as the team is just now settling back home and taking care of personal matters. I don't think this will happen though. The team knows how tight the Western race is and will be up to meet the challenge. What I really like about this matchup is New Orleans' center Emeka Okafor is more of a power forward playing center as he is 6'10", which is comparable to Aldridge and Pendergraph. Also, he is not offensive minded, which should help keep the points in the paint down a bit and allow Portland to play him straight up. With Bayless' ankle probably a bit too tender, don't look for him to go crazy on New Orleans, rather Andre will continue his stellar player and the team will take a ride on the L-Train as he will be unstoppable in the post tonight. A close game early on, turns into a double-digit home team victory!
Game 46 Prediction: Trail Blazers 101 Hornets 90
Post-Game Thoughts
Another heartache in Portland. The Trail Blazers rallied from a 24-8 deficit in the 1st quarter to take the lead at the half by two, 49-47. Portland extended their lead all the way to 9 in the 2nd half and were in control by 8 with around 3 minutes to go. I know the team is undermanned and missing their closer, their MVP, but enough is enough. Just in this month I have seen a Trail Blazer team blow good-sized leads late in the 4th (Memphis and New Orleans) as well as fail to close out games in the closing minutes (Washington and Boston). Is the "magic" gone? In the previous two seasons, if you gave Portland a lead late in the game, it was over. We were the 4th quarter team of the NBA, now we can't close out a game to save our lives. What went wrong tonight?
First off, I think Coach Nate has done a tremendous job this year, by having the Blazers in position for home court advantage in the West even though the team has been decimated with injuries from top to bottom, but tonight I was a little baffled at some of the things done late in the game. Mainly, why did Jerryd Bayless only get 13 minutes of action? I realize he had to be pulled in the 1st half due to three fouls, but he was hot throughout the game, 12 points on 5-8 shooting and he found his teammates by connecting on five assists. Maybe most important of all, he was really playing tough defense on Chris Paul. I just didn't understand inserting Steve Blake for Bayless with 4 minutes to go. We had the lead, Bayless was a big contributor to that lead, and we had NO in the penalty. Blake is by far the better shooter, but wouldn't you want the slashing Bayless to play late in the game, when you've got free throws coming your way after every single foul? Here's a stat for you. In 1,202 minutes of game action this year, Blake has only attempted 28 free throws.In almost half the time, 687 minutes, Jerryd has got to the foul line a staggering 145 times.
Also, why do we get so conservative late in the game with leads? It was almost like a carbon copy of the Memphis game. We get a nice lead that should be insurmountable then we decide to go away from what is working for us. For whatever reason, we love playing iso-ball with 3 minutes and under left. Personally, I am not a fan of this strategy, because there is no ball/player movement. It gives the defense a chance to see exactly where you are going and put our players in bad rebounding position. I can understand using Roy late in games to work this strategy, but he is one of only a handful of players capable of making this a successful strategy. The Blazers went the last four minutes of the game without a field goal, because we got stagnant and wouldn't go away from Andre Miller isolations. Again, I have no problem trying to run Dre on the blocks one, maybe two times, because he does possess a size advantage over Paul and Collison and is comfortable down on the post, but he was cold all night long, 1-8 shooting, so why did we run the same play four times in a row? Bayless, Rudy, and Marty all shot above or near 50% for the game and with Miller ice cold from the floor, it may have been more beneficial to let Dre use his play-making skills to set them up for make-able shots as he did hand out 10 assists on the night.
Just like in any team sport, one person shouldn't get all the credit for the win, and one person shouldn't take the fall for the loss. Coach Nate just had an off night and he'll go back and dissect the film and learn from the game. No one is perfect 82 games a season. With that said, one has to wonder if we don't blow them out of the water if the starters even bothered to show up tonight. Every single starter had a +/- of -10 or worse, outside of Miller's -5. The defense was lackluster to say the least, allowing the Hornets to score 31 points in the 1st and gave up 16 of the team's 32 points in the paint. The Hornets took advantage of lazy rotations by hitting some three's as well as running the slip pick and roll to death, before our team learned how to control it. Out of all the starters, I give Marty a pass on his negative +/- rating, because he was scorching hot again tonight from downtown, hitting four of six, and started the Blazer rally by coming out of nowhere to swat a Hornets lay-up attempt, igniting the Blazer crowd.
We can't be Debbie Downer about everything, even as easy as it can be to do so. On the flip side, each member of the bench tonight had a +/- of at least +7. Rudy is looking more and more like the Rudy of early on last season as he tallied 12 points (4-7), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. It wasn't just the statistics he put up, it was the way in which he did so. For the first time this year, we saw the play-making Rudy show up. Bayless once again put together an efficient stat line together as previously mentioned. Even more uplifting is knowing his ankle shouldn't be too much of an issue the rest of the way, the way he was moving on the floor tonight. But the person who stole the show for me tonight was the season debut of Nicolas Batum. He only played 10 minutes due to him not being in game shape yet and only dropped 6 points, but it was how he looked on the court. One player in particular that stood out to me was him receiving the ball at half court, dribbling through the defense, and using a step-through move to finish at the cup with a pretty lay-up, which was very reminiscent of Clyde The Glide and Scottie Pippen. This kid is going to be special!
Box Score

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Pistons: Game 45

One night after dropping a heart-breaker in Boston, Portland (26-18), must find a way to quickly put it behind them and head up to Detroit and battle the Pistons (15-27) to end this short four-game road trip. Fortunately for Portland, they are not the only team who is in a back-to-back situation as Detroit took part in the rare home back-to-back last night, losing 105-93 to the Pacers. Portland has had recent success at the Palace of Auburn Hills, going 7-3 in their last 10 in that building. For Portland to continue their winning ways in Detroit, they may have to do it without guard Jerryd Bayless, who is listed as questionable for tonight's game, but looking at the signs, such as Patty Mills being recalled from the D-League's Idaho Stampede, it would seem as if Bayless may be sitting this one out.
This game is very reminiscent of the opening game of the road trip in Washington. Like the Wizards, the Pistons have great amounts of talent on paper, yet have not been able to put it together on the court. One night they will beat the Celtics, then come back the following game and get dominated by the Pacers. When I see teams play with that sort of trend, it tells me they only get up for the premier opponents and can be defeated quite easily if you come out and stick it to them early. Although Portland has made a name for themselves over the past few years, hopefully Detroit will notice we are without half of our roster and mentally check out for this match.
The key to the game tonight will be defense. I'm not sure the Blazers will have enough offensive firepower, if Bayless can't go, to win a game in the 100's, especially since LaMarcus and Andre played 47 minutes a piece last night. Detroit is 2nd to last in the NBA in scoring at only 92.19 per game, while the Trail Blazers have won well over 40 straight games when holding their opponent to under 90 points. Mark it down, if Detroit scores over 90, they will come away victorious, but if Portland can play stifling defense, control tempo, and keep the Piston offense from revving up over 90 points, they will win.
As badly as I want to see a Trail Blazer victory tonight, I just can't envision it. Miller is 33 years old and probably won't have too much in the tank for tonight and Rudy and Blake haven't proven this year they can relied upon to step up in the absence of others. If Bayless can go, Portland would win, but I just get the feeling the team will play this injury on the side of caution and hold him out until Monday. Detroit has Prince, Hamilton, Villanueva, Gordon, and Rodney Stuckey all at their disposal, and chances are one of them will be firing on all cylinders. I truly believe this Blazer team is mentally over the Boston loss, just not physically. With both teams playing on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, look for a very sluggish, sloppy game. I think this game will go down almost like a carbon copy of the Wizards game, close till the very end, but with no 4th quarter closers to turn to, Portland will end a disappointing road trip 1-3.
Game 45 Prediction: Trail Blazers 86 Pistons 92
Post-Game Thoughts
I was wrong. I didn't think Portland could win a game that went into the 90's without Brandon and Jerryd. Portland got huge contributions from Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez, whom each played their best game of the season, and Steve Blake who racked up his first double-double of the entire season with 11 points and 10 assists. With no one to attack the defense, the Blazers won the game on their shooting at the line and behind the arc. They shot less free throws than Detroit (26 to 34) but shot a higher percentage (80.8% compared to 73.5%). Martell Webster's career-high tying 6 three-pointers gave the Trail Blazers an 8 to 4 advantage from downtown, with each team attempting roughly the same amount of shots.
I'm running out of adjectives to describe this team's guts and heart they are continually showing on the court on a nightly basis. Portland raced out to a lead as big as 18 late in the 2nd quarter and took a 14 point lead into intermission. Just as any NBA team would do, the Pistons made a run and actually took a lead as big as 3 in the 2nd half. Portland quit moving without the basketball and frankly got passive. When you play the Pistons, be prepared for a street fight, because they grab, pull, and hassle you all game long. Well, at least in this instance, it backfired. After Rudy Fernandez went around Charlie Villanueva on a drive to the hoop, Villanueva wrapped him up, bear-hug style, and then added extra emphasis as he flung him to the floor. It was the wrong move at the wrong time. If Portland was sleepwalking before, that sure as hell woke them up. If there is one thing you do not do to a Nate McMillan-coached team, it is roughing up one of our guys, because they will get fired up and come to the rescue.
Howard said. "All it did was ignite us because they were making a true run. The swing was in their favor to blow us out. It made us come together as a group, not back down from anyone and play hard. We could have easily went south and said, 'Hey, let's tank the season with all the injuries we're dealing with.' That could be an easy excuse to throw in the towel but it's been the total opposite with this group."
For Portland to continue winning, they must score easy buckets as Barkley always likes to put it and contain the paint. Now, without Joel and Greg, we will be stopping no one from getting what they want inside, but giving up 60, like we did to Boston, is a recipe for disaster. Even a team like Detroit, with no low-post scorers, were able to drop 40 inside. 45 points is probably the tipping point in terms of a Blazers win versus a loss. On the positive, we got out on the break and made it happen, totaling 18 points. Outside of Roy, this team is tailor made to run, as nearly everyone of our players flourishes in the open court, mainly Andre Miller who racked up most of his 13 dimes tonight on the fly. I'm not saying we should go Phoenix Suns on the NBA, but there needs to be a compromise between Roy and the team.
Back to Webster's career night. 21 of his career-high 28 points came in the first half and he was the main reason the Blazers were able to blow the game wide open. As hard as it is to believe, Webster is only 23 years old and there is more untapped potential in his game. If Marty continues to knock down the trifecta in the way he has been, teams are going to start flying at him. If he can only make friends with a mid-range jump shot, he could end up becoming a lethal shooter, instead of three-point specialist. Not only is he shooting it well, but his is becoming a legit defender and is handling his own on the glass by averaging 5.7 boards per night during the month of January.
With Batum possibly returning Monday, Webster having his best season as a pro, Rudy seemingly breaking out of his funk last game (19 points on 4-8 shooting), Bayless staking his claim as point guard of the future, Andre putting up 19.5 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.3 boards a night in January, Blake playing solid off of the bench, and Brandon Roy being Brandon Roy, KP is going to have some decisions to make. Once Roy returns and if no one else gets injured during that time frame (*knock on wood*), Portland will have 7 players really fighting for 3 spots, when 5 is the maximum amount of bodies you would need to play the point, shooting guard, or small forward. As stated before, one of the main reasons why this Blazer team is always competitive lately is because players are playing hard and living up to their expectations. This is occurring because roles are defined and there are enough minutes to go around for the team we currently have healthy to get into a rhythm. I do not want a short-term solution, but the team can not go into next year being 15 deep, it just doesn't work. Great teams have a solid 8-man rotation with young backups (ie: Pendergraph and Cunningham) waiting to play if need be due to injury or foul trouble.
"If there has ever been a gut check for a team, then tonight was certainly one, coming off of an overtime game and an emotional game like last night," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "To be down another player tonight, our guys just stepped up. We were running on fumes and they made a run and we withstood it."
Box Score

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nicolas Batum: Sky's The Limit

With the return of Nicolas Batum targeted for Monday's game against the Hornets, the Trail Blazers will be the fortunate recipients of one of the brightest young stars in the league that no one is talking about. Batum's reestablishment back onto the Trail Blazers roster provides the team with much needed shot blocking, three-point shooting, and perimeter defense. As a 20 year-old rookie, who looked lost in summer league, he averaged 1.3 blocks, shot 36.4% from downtown, and scored 6.6 points in only a 18.7 minutes game. In fact, it's not just I who am so high on Batum, as it was GM Kevin Pritchard who refused to include Batum in a deal which would have brought back Gerald "Crash" Wallace, who is a top candidate for the 2009-10 NBA Defensive Player of the Year at the half-way point of the season. What is it about Nic that has him as one of the Blazers' toughest assets to acquire for opposing teams?
First off, he passes the eye test. At 6'8", he is ideal size for the small forward, but what sets him apart from most is his 7-4 wingspan, which was the longest of any other small forward in the 2008 NBA Draft. Not only does he possess the athleticism to bring the Rose Garden fans out of their seats with posterization dunks or from-behind blocks, but he has the instincts to know when and how far to jump. Outside of Greg, Batum is the team's best defender as he can use his length to disrupt any position from point guard to small forward. We saw numerous times last year Coach Nate put Nic on quick point guards such as Tony Parker to slow him down as well as shooting assassins like shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Bottom line, Batum drew the oppositions best offensive weapon on a nightly basis and more times than not, held his own.
As great as his potential is on defense, his offense is not too far behind. Most scouting sites noted he couldn't hit a lick from the outside and was only effective from mid-range off of the pull-up jumper. Well, he shot nearly 37% from distance last year, including a game winner at home against the New Jersey Nets last season. I'm not sure I expect his shooting to improve too much, if at all this year, because with the severity of his shoulder injury, he wasn't able to shoot, so it will take him a while to get back into his shooting rhythm. With his ability to finish around the hoop, mainly dunking on people, if he can master the mid-range jumper off of the dribble, he'll be impossible to stop. If they play him tight, he can blow by and get into the paint or if they lay off of him, he'll stop on a dime and nail the short jumper. I really only noticed his mid-range jump shot on a couple of occasions, usually when his confidence was high.
For all the reasons mentioned above, he is a great player, but why is he the perfect piece to the Trail Blazers small forward puzzle? With the emergence of Jerryd Bayless turning into a scoring machine, along with superstar Brandon Roy, and the low-post scoring ability of LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland has enough scoring for the foreseeable future. Batum doesn't need to the ball in his hands to score or to be effective. He can score off of the fast break or on catch and shoots from the perimeter. What the team does need is defense, which is his M.O. There is such a plethora of high-octane offensive scoring wings in the NBA, Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Durant, and Joe Johnson just to name a few and it is imperative to have a player such as Batum who can devote all of his energy on the defensive side of the ball to hassle the opposition's highest scoring option. The only thing preventing Batum from greatness is time. Give him time to progress and develop and KP will not regret not giving up Batum in any trade packages.
Finally, what is Nicolas Batum's potential? Personally, he reminds me the most of Scottie Pippen. He'll definitely have to work on his shooting to be on Pip's level, but defensively, there is no doubt that Batum will reach that level. The incredible thing about Nic is that he is still so young, 21, and so raw. I don't think he'll be as good as Scottie, because of Pip's ability to handle the ball, create, and play the point guard with such ease and fluidity, something I doubt Batum can do at his level. Nic is a decent ball handler, but court vision is an attribute not up to par on Pippen's level. When it is all said and done, Batum will be ranked somewhere below Scottie Pippen but above another player he is reminiscent of in Tayshaun Prince. He should have no problems being a multiple All-Star. You may be sitting there, reading this thinking this guy is crazy! But remember, Batum started in 76 games for a team that won 54 games, the 5th most in franchise history at only age 20. It takes an incredible basketball IQ to accomplish that, which is why, along with his freakish athletic gifts, I believe he'll achieve greatness. Portland definitely got a steal late in the 2008 Draft.

Trail Blazers @ Celtics: Game 44

Portland (26-17) heads into Boston (27-13) to take part in game three of the four-game road trip, a place the Trail Blazers have not won at since the 03-04 season. In fact, the Celtics have had recent dominance over the Blazers by winning seven of the past eight meetings. It looks like the win in Philadelphia proved to be a very costly one as Brandon Roy will be out for at least the team's next four games and has left the team to fly to Seattle to get a 2nd opinion on his hamstring. Portland is 2-1 in the three games without Roy, including wins over San Antonio, in their house, and against Orlando, but it took 31 from Jerryd Bayless to get that road win and although Boston has been struggling lately, 4-6 in their past 10 games, the Celtics are a much more talented team that doesn't match up well at all with the Blazers. To make matters worse, it appears that power forward, Kevin Garnett will try to make his return tonight from his nagging knee injury suffered last season. Garnett has not played since December 28th.
Without Brandon, Portland is going to need to win this game on the defensive end of the floor. Obviously without their superstar, buckets aren't going to come as easy or be so plentiful, so it is imperative to keep Boston's second-chance points below 10, grab the defensive rebounds and get out and push tempo. Roy doesn't really flourish in the open court the way Andre, LaMarcus, Rudy, and Jerryd do, so without Brandon, just run, run, run. Also, a big key to victory tonight is the 100 point mark. Boston is 18-2 when they hit the century mark and without our leading scorer, I doubt the Blazers can win a shootout.
When you play the Celtics, the one thing you must do in order to come away victorious is take care of the ball. Portland is 5th best in the NBA at taking care of the ball as they commit 12.97 turnovers a night. The C's will cough it up if pressured at around 15 a night, but their calling card is and has always been, with this current core, forcing turnovers. Boston is 4th in the league at forcing the opponent into a turnover at 16 per game. KG has made a name for himself on the defensive end by his countless 1st Team All-Defense honors, but who knows exactly how effective he'll be tonight, Rasheed Wallace is one of the best low-post defenders in the game, and Rajon Rondo leads the NBA in steals per game at 2.51 a night.
The X-Factor tonight is Bayless. Rasheed still has enough left in the tank to contain Aldridge, especially if LMA is content with just shoot turn around jumpers. Also, Rondo is the best defender at the point guard position, which really could hamper Andre Miller tonight. There will be no taking Rondo into the post, so the only way I see Andre making noise is on the break. Back to Bayless, he is the one player we have who can win this game for the Blazers at the foul line. He needs to pick and choose his spots when to attack, when to shoot the jump shot, and when to dish it off. He should have no problem getting a shot off on Ray Allen, but he'll have to knock down a few jumpers before the lane will open up for driving.
This game is a tough one to predict. Portland is in the thick of an Eastern road trip, without their franchise player, while Boston has looked absolutely awful lately. I do think this is a great time to be playing Boston, but there is always the thought that this will be the game to break out of their funk, especially if they get the emotional burst of energy from KG returning. Bottom line, if Roy were healthy, I know Portland would finally get a win in Boston, as he is the one player they have no answer for. Look for Rondo and Sheed to assert themselves on the defensive end and force the Blazers into some ugly possessions.
Game 44 Prediction: Trail Blazers 87 Celtics 95
Post-Game Thoughts
That loss stung. If you would have told any Blazer fan, even the most optimistic fan, that Portland would go into Boston without Roy, Batum, Outlaw, Oden, Przybilla, and lose Bayless at the half and still have a chance to win the game in overtime, they would call you delirious. I am continually baffled, amazed, and proud of my team and they way they just continue to fight no matter how much adversity gets thrown at them. Although I am proud of the effort they put forth, the turnovers are what I feared heading into the game and are what ended up biting us in the butt. In total, Portland committed 14 turnovers, but each one seemed like a monumental mistake when you are playing with such a depleted roster.
No turnover was bigger than Juwan Howard's fumbled rebound. Portland had the ball, up two, around a minute to go and missed the shot. Like always, Portland sent someone crashing the boards, 16 offensive rebounds in all, an Juwan came to the rescue in the midst of three Celtic trees. Unfortunately, he could never get a grip on the ball and was stripped. Boston immediately went down and nailed the go-ahead three.
"There's no moral victories, but we let another one slip away," Miller said. "We talked about our execution down the stretch, we had turnovers at the wrong time, and that's the game."
"We didn't come here to be close," LaMarcus Aldridge said. "We have to learn from it."
Not only did Portland suffer a loss in the standings, but a loss in player personnel. Jerryd Bayless rolled his ankle going up for a rebound near the end of the 2nd quarter and forced him to miss nearly all of the 2nd half. It's a shame he got bit by the injury bug as he was having himself a great first half. He had 12 points (4-7) and 4 assists and was getting to the foul line at will, with 4 trips to the charity stripe in 20 minutes of action. It was evident Bayless was one of the players the blazers could ill afford to lose as they became a much more perimeter shooting team.
Is anyone else noticing this team just is not getting blown out anymore? I believe the last time we lost by more than 12 points was the 16 point drubbing at Utah on November 28th. The main reason for this has to have been the acquisition of Andre Miller. Just when you think a possession is wasted, he'll dig into his veteran bag of tricks and pull something out. Last night was no different. Dre was simply sensational with a season-high 28 points (11-23), 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals in 48 grueling minutes of action on the court. In January, Dre has been playing at an All-Star level with averages of 20.4 points, 6.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game.
The key to the game ended up being points in the paint and field goal percentage. Boston scored an unbelievable 56 points in the paint and shot 48.7% from the floor, while Portland only found a way to score 32 in the paint on 38.2%. One of the reasons Portland shot so poorly from the field was the combined 9-34 shooting from Blake, Fernandez, and Webster. I'll give Marty a pass on this night due to his recent hot streak, defense, and he hit the game tying shot in the 4th. On the other hand, Rudy and Steve need to step up. For supposed "shooters", Blake is shooting 40.5% from the floor, his lowest output since his 33 games stint with Milwaukee 3 years ago and Fernandez's percentage has dropped 4% to 38.5%. It's not as if they aren't getting open looks either, because they are getting set up on some nice catch and shoot situations off of dribble penetration. With Bayless being questionable for today's game, these two must be on from downtown for us to have any chance. Martell, LaMarcus, and Andre can't continue to do it by themselves.
Box Score

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trail Blazers @ 76ers: Game 43

We've discussed house of horrors, but for this core group of players, the Philadelphia 76ers has been a team of horrors lately. With last month's 104-93 loss, which included getting outscored by 17 in the 2nd half, the Trail Blazers (25-17) are 1-5 in their last 6 games against Philadelphia (13-27). The good news for Portland is that guard Brandon Roy will return to action tonight after missing the previous two games with a sore hamstring. The Monday morning loss really put the Trail Blazers behind the 8-ball in terms of having a successful road trip. The Wizards were seen as being the most winnable game, followed by the Pistons game. Many fans were hoping for a 3-1 trip, but now 2-2 would be a Godsend. For whatever reason, even without former Trail Blazer killer, Andre Miller, the Sixers have our numbers.
Again, with no Gregzilla, I fully expect their front-court of Samuel Dalembert, Elton Brand, and Mareese Speights to give our depleted bigs fits once again. Back on December 38th, those three players combined for 53 points, 19 rebounds, and 5 blocks. In fact, Brand had somewhat of a welcome back party against Portland as his 25 points tied a season-high and his 11 made field goals were the high mark for the year to date. We've seen Aldridge out-rebound Dwight Howard recently as well as grab 15 boards against the likes of Brendan Haywood, but he really needs to get scrap tonight and not only be a force on the glass, but not let Brand gain the critical post position he got in Portland. Whatever the reason, smaller, yet bulkier forwards such as Brand and Z-Bo, bother Aldridge as he can't use his length to disrupt their shot. I'm not sure Aldridge is built to stop Brand from bull-rushing him on the blocks, but what he can do is fight for position or even front him to deny the ball entering in the post at all.
Just as he did in Washington, Andre Miller will once again be the catalyst and spark anything positive the Trail Blazers do tonight. Even with Roy back, I would like to see a lot of the offense set up through Andre. He'll most likely have the smaller Louis Williams on him and we should post up Dre until Philly decides to do something about it. Hopefully, Philly comes with a double team and the likes of Martell, Rudy, and Brandon are on from downtown.
The key to the game will be field goal percentage. In the last meeting, Philly shot a scorching 57.7% from the floor, mainly from the paint as the 76ers dominated down low with 60 points. Portland just isn't a good enough offensive team to win by out-scoring opponents and if we play the type of matador defense we played with against Washington, this game could turn ugly. I'm going to go Mike Rice on this prediction and say that if Portland holds the Sixers to under 45% field goal shooting they will win and limit the points in the paint to under 45 as well.
Unfortunately, with no Joel or Greg, I envision Brand and Dalembert giving Aldridge, Pendergraph, and Howard fits down low throughout the game. We couldn't stop them three weeks ago, even with a home court advantage, so I'm sure sure there is reason to believe we can do it on the road. I really do think we are the more talented squad, but it's one of those things where I need to see us finally beat this team before I can start predicting them to do so. Do I think we can win? Yes, most definitely. Do I think we will win? Unfortunately not.
Game 43 Prediction: Trail Blazers 92 76ers 99
Post-Game Thoughts
The Trail Blazers finally exercised some demons tonight by knocking off the Sixers 98-90, but at what cost? Brandon Roy gave it a go and it was a great effort, as he tallied 10 points (4-6), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in only 18 minutes of action, but as he tried to explode off of the leg with the sore hamstring, he came up grabbing it. Roy is listed as day-to-day for now, but it is wildly expected that he will miss the final two road games at the very least.
"We are going to have to look into seeing if we are going to rest him [Roy] the rest of this road trip," said Portland coach Nate McMillan. "We have to see if it's a pull or if it's just going to tighten up again."
The two things Portland had to do tonight, hold Philly to under 45% field goal shooting and less than 45 points in the paint, they did. The 76ers came close to each mark but fell short by only shooting 43.6% from the field and obtaining 42 points in the paint. Elton Brand had another strong game with 13 points on 6-8 from the floor, but Coach Nate threw some great defensive schemes at him at the right time, most notably was Bayless leaving his man and doubling down. Aldridge also did a great job of not getting bullied in the post and controlling the backboard with 9 boards compared to Brand's 4.
Back to Bayless, if Coach Nate gave out the mythical "game ball", he would definitely have to be the recipient. As soon as Roy went out near the end of the 1st half, all Blazer fans, players too, knew someone would have to step up in his absence. Known for his love of the limelight, Jerryd did not disappoint as he scored 18 points (7-12), handed out two dimes, and had three clutch steals all in only 21 minutes of action. The biggest statistic? Bayless dropped 16 of his 18 points in the 4th quarter, including a stretch of 8 straight points to put the Trail Blazers up for good at 79-73. I am a huge Jerryd fan/supporter, and these types of games are exactly why. He is always prepared mentally to take on all challenges and is fearless when taking it to the rim.
A big thank you to the Blazers for proving me wrong. Aldridge showed up big time and carried us in the first half. In the end, he totaled. 23 points (8-13), 9 rebounds, and even dished out 4 assists as he is already in post-All-Star break mode. Also, it must have been sweet revenge for Andre Miller as he stuck it to his former team who really made no effort to re-sign him in the offseason. Dre, along with Juwan, were apart of a big 3rd quarter that saw Portland weather the Philadelphia storm. Really, since Andre was inserted in the starting lineup, his performances have been like clockwork and tonight was no different. Dre had a game-high 24 points (8-17) and 3 assists. He really flourishes in the open court and with the athletes we have on this squad, we should be looking to run nearly every opportunity.
"We are forced to play up-tempo with all the injuries," Miller said. "With all the injuries, we have to play more aggressive on the perimeter."
Finally, "You've got to make your free throws!" Portland did just that. They shot an amazing 22-25 over the course of the game, including 14-14 in the 2nd half and 9-9 in the 4th quarter.
Box Score

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Wizards: Game 42

After a great four game stretch that saw the Trail Blazers win comfortably against the Lakers, Bucks, Magic and nearly rally from 17 down to beat the Cavaliers, it is time for Portland (25-16) to hit the road for a four-game road trip that kicks off Monday morning in D.C. to face the struggling Wizards (13-26). As of this post (Sunday night), there has been no additional word as to whether Brandon Roy will be able to give it a go or not. My guess is that he'll be another game-time decision. Despite their NBA 4th worst record, the Wizards, even sans Arenas, have enough firepower with Jamison, Butler, Foye, Haywood, and Miller to beat any team on any night as shown by two early season wins over Cleveland and Orlando at the Verizon Center.
Without Arenas, it will be difficult to measure true team statistics, so we can throw those out the window for tomorrow's game. I'm sure when people were playing schedule maker a week or two ago, this game, especially now without Gilbert, looked like a sure road win and a great way to start off the road trip. What I think a lot of people are sleeping on, is the fact the game will tip off at 10:00 AM PST. Portland has played the past two years on the road during MLK Day, with each tipping off around the same time and usually play the Raptors early Sunday morning, so they do have some experience playing extremely early tip offs. If Roy can't go, combined with the early start, we could have a very groggy Trail Blazers team on our hands.
Portland will win this game and the all important first game of a road trip if they bring the energy. As mentioned, it is an early start, so it could affect the Wizards a bit as well. With Washington's performance being so lackluster after having so many expectations placed on themselves to start the year, the Verizon Center has been and will be a morgue. Sometimes for teams it is more challenging to create your own energy instead of feeding off of the opposing crowd. For the most part, the Wizard players know there will be no playoffs this year, so they are treating the rest of the season as an audition for other teams, whether it be for the trading deadline or free agency this summer. The earlier Portland can assert themselves as the dominant team, the better, as I feel like the Wizards will crumble and give up if Portland jumps out to an early double digit lead.
With that all said, my X-Factor for tomorrow's game is point guard Andre Miller. Without Arenas, Randy Foye has been earning the start for Washington, and although he is 6'4", he doesn't possess the width to start Andre from doing work in the post. The younger Trail Blazers need to follow the lead of Miller as well as fellow veteran Juwan Howard as to how to go about their business early on. If Miller can score early on and keep the Blazers in the game as he is prone to do, I love our chances, because the one thing we can not afford to do is to give Washington early life with a slow, sluggish start. Instead of starting out shooting jump shots, attack the rim and watch the ball go through the hoop via the foul line, which is why I love Miller in tomorrow's game, because he has a knack for scoring in the paint.
As much as the early start scares me, I really think the Blazers will take some of their momentum earned over this past week and use it to propel them to a victory. As unlikely as it sounds, especially considering the plethora of injuries, Portland is only 1.5 games out of 2nd place in the West and don't you think for one minute that the team doesn't know that either. They watch highlights and look at the standings. They are aware of how big every game is now. Outside of Miller, look for Aldridge to have another huge game as Portland pulls out the win. It will be very close through three quarters, but Portland who wants the game more, needs the game more, will surge away from Washington.
Game 42 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Wizards 89
Post-Game Thoughts
What was the biggest key to victory? Intensity. Portland played like they thought it was 10 AM in the morning, especially on defense. It seemed like whenever Portland needed a stop, the Wizards would casually get to the rim at will. In the end, a team who has nothing to play for and doesn't attribute a low-post scoring threat tallied 46 points in the paint. A lot of the Blazers problems occur on the pick and roll. They simply reused to fight through the screen, which allowed guards like Randy Foye to have a field day from mid-range as he shot 6-10 for 19 points and also got to the line 8 times. When Foye wasn't shooting, the guards were finding Jamison on the switch and he ate the team alive, most notably Juwan Howard, who is simply not agile enough to keep Jamison in front of him. If it wasn't fighting through the screens, it was a lack of passion on the defensive glass. Whenever Portland needed a big defensive board, Washington simply out hustled us for it. Portland out rebounded them 39-33, but couldn't get the ones they needed.
Guard Brandon Roy missed his second straight game due to a sore hamstring. Roy had all the plans in the world to go today but trainer Jay Jenson put a stop to any such idea. ``Jay and I didn't like what we were hearing, so we held him,'' McMillan said. ``I don't have any regrets about that.'' It was most apparent where Portland missed Roy the most and that was down the stretch. Washington outscored Portland 16-9 over the past 5 minutes and the Blazers jut couldn't find anyone who wanted to take the shots in the clutch. We had two possessions late in the game that ended up in prayers due to the shot clock being wound down, in a game where baskets were being traded seemingly all 4th quarter.
Outside of a 2nd quarter drought and the last two minutes of the game, the offense was running about as good as you can ask for without your superstar. Andre Miller was the catalyst for every Blazer run and his 22 points and 3 rebounds certainly kept his recent trend alive of performing at an All-Star level. Dre was hampered with two early fouls, which could have been why Portland couldn't extend its very early 5 point lead, which would have been vital for Portland to get off to an early lead. Also, It was another outstanding performance by Aldridge with 22 points and 15 rebounds, 9 offensive, but personally, I don't think he got enough touches. Our guards need to find quicker, easier ways to get him the ball.
I don't think there has been a season in recent history which there was such an emotional roller coaster. I've tried on numerous occasions to revisit my expectations and only hope to make the playoffs, but then we dominate teams like Orlando and Los Angeles and I start to envision home-court advantage for the playoffs or even winning the NorthWest division. Just when it feels like we can make a good run, that damn injury bug creeps up and bites us. There is no doubt in my mind we destroy the Wiz with a healthy Roy, but he couldn't go and we lost an extremely crucial game. You can't keep losing to teams that Portland has been losing to (Warriors, Grizzlies (X2 at home), Wizards) and expect a top seed in the playoffs. This loss was a punch to the gut and with the nagging Sixers on the horizon, this road trip could be off to an 0-2 start. All I want to see next game is some defensive intensity!
Box Score

Friday, January 15, 2010

HolyBackboard 2010 Draft Look Ahead: January Edition

Back when the inaugural 2010 Draft Look Ahead was published, Portland was 18-12 and in the midst of one of their greatest road trip successes based on quality of opponent and roster health. A little over three weeks later and nearing the mid-way point of the season, the Trail Blazers have actually increased their winning percentage and are now eight games above .500 at 24-16. Help is on its way as Rudy Fernandez returned from back pain, Blake is nearly fully recovered from pneumonia, Jeff Pendergraph has now got a taste of the NBA game, and now it seems like Nicolas Batum could return near the end of January. Chances are the Blazers could make the playoffs and be looking at a pick in the low-mid twenties. But, this team is loaded with talent, too much talent, and if KP targets a prospect, he has the ammunition to get his guy.
  1. SG-Evan Turner: Ohio State

  2. A new number 1! After fracturing his back in early December, Evan Turner returned to the Ohio State lineup and he didn't take long to make his impression felt. In just his third game back from injury, Turner led Ohio State to their first conference road win of the season over then-ranked #5 Purdue in West Lafayette, 70-66. He was simply phenomenal, going for a season-high 32 points, grabbing 9 rebounds, handing out 3 assists, and doing it without one single breather by playing the entire 40 minutes.

    After that performance, Turner shot all the way up to #6 in the latest's 2010 mock draft and is now the 3rd best prospect according to DraftExpress. He is compared to Brandon Roy, and if you have seen him play at all this year, you know that is a pretty spot-on comparison. He is always under control and seemingly can get to the rim at will. On the season, Turner is currently averaging 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He's a terrific rebounder, as shown by his 10+ boards a night, which leads me to believe he could play some small forward and we all know how well Roy handles the point, so Evan could play alongside him at the two. A future 3 guard rotation of Bayless, Roy, and Turner would be absolutely lethal.
  3. C-Cole Aldrich:Kansas

  4. Ironically, the date of our first update, Joel Przybilla went down with the same injury Greg Oden suffered in early December, only he tore ligaments around his kneecap which brings up the question if he will be the same player as before? With Portland's Greg going on his 4th injury since the Trail Blazers drafted him in 2007 and Przybilla only appearing in over 70 games four times in his 10 season in the NBA make it imperative to carry three legit centers on their roster. Aldrich is the top center prospect in this year's draft crop and what I love about his game is he knows his role is all about defense and rebounding. He won't come in and expect to take shots away from Aldridge, Roy, or anyone else.
    For the season, he is putting up 10.6 points, 10.4 boards, and his 3.7 blocks per game are good enough for 7th in the entire nation. We mentioned this last update, but there has still only been one game this entire season where he hasn't tallied 3 or more blocks in. Kansas dropped their only game of the season at Tennessee, but don't put any of the blame on Aldrich. He scored 7 points (3-5), pulled down a season-high 18 rebounds, and swatted away 4 shots. If it weren't for how amazing Evan Turner was against Purdue, Aldrich would easily be our top prospect, because he seems like a young Przybilla clone, which could grow with the Blazers through this next decade. NBADraft has him at #12, while DraftExpress has him all the way at #5, so it will be interesting to see where his stock is come June.

  5. PF-Patrick Patterson:Kentucky

  6. Patterson slips just slightly to the #3 player on our Blazers Draft Board, not because he has continued to prove himself as one of the best players on the 2nd best team in America, but due to the fact Jeff Pendergraph has emerged as a quality backup power forward. Right now, he is rated #9(down one spot from last update) and #8 (up 3 spots from last update) on Draft Express and respectively and his numbers have stayed relatively similar over these three weeks and change. Through 17 games, he is producing 16.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg and doing so very consistently as he has only had one game of below double digit scoring.
    With the arrival of Jeff Pendergraph since the first installment of the Draft Look Ahead, the necessity for Patterson goes down quite a bit. But I can't get the thought of a potential Buck Williams type player on our roster out of my head. While they are similar players in stature, Pendergraph and Patterson, Patterson is more athletic, while Jeff has more range on his shot, and they are both pretty even in terms of rebounding. It all could be a moot point though. If Kentucky makes a deep tourney run and Patterson continues his excellent play, he will likely shoot up too high on the draft boards to warrant trading up to acquire him when you consider we already have JP.

  7. PG-John Wall:Kentucky

  8. John Wall has done absolutely nothing to warrant dropping to 4th on our big board. He is by all account everyone's choice for not only National Freshman of the Year, but National Player of the year. Not only is he averaging 17.3 points, 7.1 dimes, 3.8 rebounds, and stealing 2.1 a night, and he is leading the 2nd ranked Wildcats to an undefeated season so far. So why the drop?
    Here is where the realism of the draft board has to come in. Even if a team who has a bonafide star at point guard wins the lottery, they will take Wall #1 or they will trade the pick to a team who is going to take him #1. Portland could trade up for the #1 pick, but at what cost,Brandon Roy? Roy would get the job done, but that would be a very risky deal and would have Rip City in an uproar. Whomever does land wall has a real gem on their hands. He is leaps and bounds above Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose at the same time in their UK careers. Honestly, I haven't seen a Freshman be able to take over a game in so many different facets of the game, whether it be scoring, distributing, or on the defensive end of the court.

  9. PF-Greg Monroe:Georgetown

  10. Monroe makes his debut on our list mainly because Derrick Favors has been lackluster to say the least, including 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 turnovers in their win over Duke. For a player who is supposedly going Top 5 in the draft, he sure hasn't put up the numbers to deserve the status. Also, Willie Warren has been looking like Jamal Crawford, minus the ability to get hot lately. This was supposed to be his year to lead the Sooners back deep into the tourney, yet Oklahoma has a decent 10-6 record with no major wins on their resume.
    It's interesting to see how differently two different scouting sites can evaluate a player. has him going late lottery at #13, whereas DraftExpress has him falling all the way to #23. Monroe is a player I wouldn't necessarily trade up a lot for as the need for a backup power forward has been nullified with Pendergraph showing the Rose City what he can do, Cunningham's ability to play the 3 and 4, and of course Mr. 4th Quarter will return soon. The real draw to Monroe, is like Cunningham, he can play multiple positions on the front line. With his size, 6'10", 234 lbs, he would be a huge power forward and a decent sized center. As mentioned earlier, Portland needs to be on the prowl for a 3rd center from now on. For a man of his size, he surprisingly fills up an entire stat sheet on a daily basis. To date, he is averaging 14 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.6 steals a night.

Players To Watch
  1. PF-Gani Lawal:Georgia Tech
  2. PF-Jarvis Varnado:Mississippi State
  3. C-DeMarcus Cousins:Kentucky

Trail Blazers vs. Magic: Game 41

The 2009-2010 season has finally reached the half-way mark as the Trail Blazers (24-16) take on the Magic (26-13) to end their five-game home-stand. The last time these two teams met, Portland lost a 92-83 grind-it-out affair in which the game was tied heading into the 4th quarter, but the iron became unkind for our Blazers. A lot of this game rides on the injuries to each team's superstar. Brandon Roy is listed as questionable with a sore hamstring and will be a game-time decision, while Vince Carter is also questionable with a shoulder injury. Roy scored 33 points last meeting, while Carter shot a dreadful 1-14 from the floor.
For Portland to have any chance at a victory tonight, LaMarcus Aldridge needs to come to play the same way he did against Milwaukee by coming out aggressive and never taking his foot off of the gas. He had quite possibly the worst game of his season against Orlando back in December where he tallied 3 points, on 1-6 shooting, and managed only to secure 1 rebound, while Dwight Howard gobbled up 20 of them. I realize no one should ever expect LMA to stop the league's best rebounder, because Dwight is just that dominant on the boards, but a -19 differential is unacceptable, and without Joel and Greg in there tonight, he will really have to focus hard on hitting those boards. If Roy does play, look for him to only try to do things in spurts, but Aldridge will be their horse for the majority of the game. I have no doubt that he can dominate Rashard Lewis in the post as long as he fights for good position and the guards make the correct entry passes.
The game for Portland will come down to the battle of the boards. Each team is top 6th in the NBA in rebounding differential, Portland #5 (+2.72)and Orlando #6 (+2.46). To no one's surprise, Dwight Howard is leading the NBA again in rebounding at 13.2 per game and he has the ability to change the course of the game on the glass alone by gaining second chances for his offense, stopping any fast break chances, and keeping the Trail Blazers from getting second opportunities. Lately, it seems like whenever the Blazers can win the rebounding battle, they find themselves with a W at the end of the night.
Defensively, I would play Howard straight up. He's quicker than Shaq, but doesn't have the brute size or force O'Neal possesses. Howard doesn't have any go-to post moves, so if he makes a hook shot or two, so be it. I'd rather take my chances with Howard in the post than doubling down and giving the 6th ranked three-point shooting team (.367) free reign on open trifectas. Orlando occupies six players on their roster who are shooting over 35% from downtown with at least 75 attempts on the season: J.J. Redick (.407), Jason Williams (.405), Rashard Lewis (.399), Ryan Anderson (.391), Jameer Nelson (.371), and Mickael Pietrus (.363). Not to mention the Magic acquired Vince Carter, if he plays, and Matt Barnes, two players who have the ability to go off on any given night. What is boils down to is outside of the two centers, Howard and Gortat, at any given time, the Magic could have four three-point threats on the court at one time.
Orlando has lost five of their past seven games, including their recent 97-115 performance at Denver, and are on the road for the third game of their four-game road trip. Surprisingly, Orlando is a poor road team by their standards this year, racking up a 14-9 record, compared to back to back 27-14 records in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. I really had a great feeling about this game until I heard about Roy potentially missing the game tonight. I do realize we pulled one out in San Antonio by giving the green light to Jerryd Bayless, but I'm not sure Portland can go another game without Roy's 23 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Yes, Rudy is back, but most likely is in no shape to play any more minutes than his 15 played on Wednesday night. Assuming Roy can't go, the offensive burden goes onto the veteran shoulders of Andre Miller and second-year spark Jerryd Bayless. An X-Factor to think about is holding Orlando to under 100 points tonight. The Trail Blazers are an unimpressive 2-11 when they allow their opponent to break the century mark. When it's all said and done, Aldridge steps up big time and starts his post All-Star torrid play earlier than usual and a combined team-effort, just like the one against Milwaukee, paces Portland to a win before they head back East for a four-game road trip.
Game 41 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Magic 92
Post-Game Thoughts
The make-shift Blazers do it again, this time without Brandon Roy. Portland demolished Orlando with a wire-to-wire 102-87 to run their record at the half-way point to 25-16. The Trail Blazers had to do two things to win the game tonight, hold Orlando under 100 points and win the rebounding battle. Portland held Orlando to 14 points below their season average of 101, mainly due to their closing out on Orlando shooters. The Magic shot a dismal 7-30 from downtown and their coverages on Howard were quick and different each time down the court.
"It started with Howard and included Jeff (Pendergraph) and LaMarcus," McMillan said. "We tried to mix up our defense on him. The guys did a good job of beating (Dwight Howard) to a spot and making him work. The guards did a good job with double-teaming and also in defending the three. They did a great job of rotating out."
"We did a good job of not letting them have anything easy in the paint," Webster said. "Everything they had down low. we made them work for. Particular guys (read: Howard) weren't going to get a shot. We executed our game plan perfectly tonight."
Speaking of Howard, I haven't been so underwhelmed by a supposed "superstar" in a long, long time. For a "Franchise" player, he certainly didn't find a way to take over like superstars are prone to. When your best player can' be counted on down the stretch to hit foul shots, he becomes a liability. Dwight was 3-10 from the charity stripe and only tallied 11 points in all. The most surprising statistic of all had to have been 11 rebounds against a front-line of Juwan Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge. In the last meeting, he was +19 on the glass versus LaMarcus. This time around, Aldridge was +3 in the rebounding battle. Maybe Orlando is just in a team-wide slump, but I just don't see it in Howard. When it all boils down, he can't make free throws, especially worrisome since he leads the NBA in free throw attempts a game, he can't hit a mid-range jump shot, and he really can't create any offense from himself whatsoever. He's a more-athletic prime Ben Wallace.
Back to Aldridge, how amazing was his effort tonight? He was all over the floor, diving for loose balls, boxing out, and showing so much more desire than the Magic players. You could tell the 1 rebound last meeting was on his mind, because he was always in the middle for a rebound, and in the end, he grabbed 14 boards, which helped Portland win the rebounding battle 42-38, to go along with his 14 points (7-17) and 3 assists. Personally, what really impressed me was his intent on getting good post position and if he got knocked off of his spot, he'd go right back and keep fighting. The will he played with last night is exactly what Blazer fans want to see from him, because he is simply a different beast when he plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Andre Miller was Andre Miller of late, with his 19 points (8-14) and 9 dimes, Steve Blake dialed in a few from long distance to tack on 18 points, handed out 6 helpers, and got inside to grab 4 rebounds, but make no mistake about it, Martell Webster was the star of the show again tonight. Every single time Portland needed a big basket it was Webster. It was Webster who was the catalyst in the 1st half to run the lead into double figures. In 38 minutes of play, he had another stellar scoring outing with 24 (8-14), including 5-9 from I-5 as Mark Mason likes to put it, and pulled down 9 boards. Like many Blazers fans already knew, it is all about confidence for Marty. Lately, he has been just shooting with a purpose, not even thinking about his past few shots. During his last 5 games, he is averaging 17.2 points and 6 rebounds a night, which means it's going to be hard to take away his playing time.
"The guys keep rising to the occasion," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "It's been a collective effort. We just keep stepping up."
Box Score