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

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