Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Bucks: Game 40

After a couple days off, Portland (23-16) embarks on the fourth game of their five-game home-stand tonight to take on the up and coming Milwaukee Bucks (15-20). Other than obviously trying to stay in the race for the NorthWest divisional crown, the Trail Blazers should have revenge on their minds tonight, after dropping a double overtime thriller, 108-101, to the Bucks in Milwaukee this past December. Milwaukee recently learned that their most recognizable player from the last decade, Michael Redd, has torn his ACL & MCL, and will miss the rest of the regular season and his career in basketball could be in jeopardy.
It looks like the Trail Blazers are catching the Bucks just at the right time, unlike last December's meeting where the Bucks were flirting with a .500 record and Brandon Jennings was the toast of the NBA. Now, the Bucks have dropped 5 games below .500, are 4-6 in their last 10 games, and an abysmal 4-13 overall on the road. Even better news for Portland is the fact it looks like Jennings has the the proverbial "Rookie Wall". In his last 10 games, Jennings' scoring is at 12.8 a game, down from his seasonal average of 18.2, with assists and rebounds down by less than 1 per night. The biggest drop off has been the shooting percentages. Over the past 10, he is shooting 32.9% from the field and a horrendous 25.4% over his last 5 outings. Once a stunning 49.3% three-point shooter in November, Jennings has came back down to earth by shooting 33.3% during his last 10 and 28% in the midst of his worst 5 game shooting slump of his young career. If you remember correctly, Jennings did not attempt one single shot in the first half of the last meeting, but ended up with 18 points, 11 assists, and 4 rebounds, including the game tying mid-range jump shot to send the game into double overtime. Hopefully for Portland Jennings continues his shooting slump and shoots his team out of the game.
One person Portland needs to watch out for though is Andrew Bogut. Even with Joel Przybilla defending him last December, he devoured our defense to the tune of 27 points (12-19), 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks. LaMarcus and Juwan, try as they might, just are not centers and will have their hands full tonight with Bogut who is a full inch taller than LaMarcus and well over 20 lbs heavier. Not quite the disparity we saw Sunday night when they matched up with Shaq, but Bogut is much more agile and has more stamina which will help him play over 30 minutes tonight. Although the Bucks are a middle of the pack NBA team when it comes to shooting the three, 35.6% and 13th best, with Jennings being in such a monumental slump and Michael Redd out for the year, only Luke Ridnour (.410) and Ersan Ilyasova (.354) shoot over 35% from three with over 100 attempts. If I am Coach Nate, I take my chances with the other Bucks shooting threes and throw multiple variations of double teams at Bogut to fluster and frustrate him so he doesn't single handily lead them to a W tonight.
Just as Portland has no answer for Bogut, the Bucks have absolutely no idea how to handle LaMarcus. In the last matchup, Aldridge had a field day, going for 31 points (13-22) and grabbed 11 rebounds. He made the most noise by running the break and being rewarded with pinpoint passes from our guards. The Trail Blazers need to play lock-down defense, force turnovers, defensive rebound, and do whatever it takes to get out and RUN, RUN, RUN! I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is not a better big man at running the floor. A lot of people scoff at his numbers this season (16 and 8), but if we made a more conscious effort to play to his strengths (pushing tempo), he could easily be above 20 a night. During the game, I will be looking at LaMarcus and seeing if he gets it rolling, how does he react. Does he demand for the ball, does he get a swagger to his game, or will he just go on even keel? Personally, I want to see some fire in him and yell at a teammate if he doesn't get the ball.
During the gauntlet of games, Portland swung and miss when they lost against Memphis, one of their best chances of winning a game this month and they can't make the same mistake by letting this one slip through their hands. The key to the game is all about intensity. They brought it for the Lakers but didn't have that level against Cleveland for the first half, which showed in the score. With the West being as tight as it is, Portland needs every single win against single sub-.500 foes, which Milwaukee is. I think Roy will be Roy, nothing more, nothing less, but LMA will be the star of the game tonight. I feel the double teams will come at Bogut and throw his game off and Jennings will continue to struggle. For the first time in what seems like forever, I think the Trail Blazers will have a blowout on their hands tonight.
Game 40 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Bucks 88
Post-Game Thoughts
Portland jumped out to a 31-16 lead after the first quarter and never looked back, leading by as much as 33 during the third quarter, before ending up with a 120-108 victory to improve to 24-16. Don't be fooled by Milwaukee's 100+ point outing as over 1/3 of their points (36) came from behind the arc and on 29 attempts. Once the lead grew to over 30, the Bucks were content with just chucking up any and every three made available to them. It was a complete team effort for the Trail Blazers as they had 8 of their 11 players with 9 points or more, lead by Roy's 22. A blowout was exactly what the doctor ordered for Roy, as he sat out the last 15+ minutes of the game in order to rest a sore hamstring that has been nagging him recently.
"It's seen better days," Roy said when asked about the hamstring. "It kind of grabbed on me a little bit, and I went downcourt and we were up 30, and I said, 'Coach, I don't have to play anymore. Could you maybe keep me out?' It was pretty sore."
"As long as I can play, I'll keep trying. Hopefully Friday it doesn't burn more. Early in a game it feels good, but as the game gets into the third or fourth quarter, it seems like it starts to fatigue a little bit."
For a supposed "Play-Making" point guard, Brandon Jennings was lackluster to say the least tonight. Almost a carbon copy of his performance against Portland the last time around, he decided not to attempt a shot until very late in the 2nd quarter. He looked passive and disinterested most of the time and when he did shoot in the 2nd half, they were awkward and difficult jump shots, with nothing heading to the rim. Known for his flashy passes to set up teammates, Jennings must have not watched game tape of the last meeting, because he made no attempt to get Andrew Bogut the ball. Bogut abused Przybilla in December, yet he was only able to shoot the ball eight times and ended up with only 10 points against Juwan Howard most of the night.
LaMarucs must read the blog, because he was en fuego tonight. The stat-line read 21 points (10-15), 7 rebounds, dropped 6 dimes, blocked 2 shots, and had 1 steal in one of his most well-rounded games of his career. He was doing it from inside, outside, and running the court. It was so refreshing to see the team continually feed him in the post and he was making legit post moves, and attacking his defender. Most o his points came on aggressive takes to the basket and not his patented fade-away. If we get this Aldridge consistently, then Roy has his 2nd option.
Although it was a team win, with everyone contributing equally for the most part, two other players really stood out well. With his 15 points, on 6-10 shooting and 3-4 from deep, Martell Webster scored in double figures for the 7th straight game which is a career best. I really think a trade must be made to clear some space in the backcourt, because it is becoming clearly obvious that Webster really plays well when he can get into a rhythm and play good minutes.
The other player who is like a fine wine that only gets better with age, no, not Juwan Howard, rather Andre Miller. Ever since Coach Nate finally handed him the reigns to the offense, Andre has been flourishing. Tonight was just another example of how well he has been playing. He scored 19 points (6-8), got to the line 12 times, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and committed only one turnover. Just as we talked about how poorly Brandon Jennings has been in his last 5 games, Andre has been he polar opposite. Scoring 17.6 points, grabbing 4.6 boards, and handing out 8.2 assists during his last 5. So many times when the shot clock is winding down, you can feel safe with the ball in Miller's hands because he will find a way to get to the line by sing his crafty, veteran pump fakes.
Box Score

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