Sunday, January 10, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Cavaliers: Game 39

After a dominating performance over the defending champs, the Trail Blazers (23-15) must take their level of play up another notch as LeBron James and the Cavaliers (28-10) stroll into town for a nationally televised affair. Cleveland has taken the previous five games from Portland, including back to back heart breakers the past two games at the Rose Garden. Playing with only an eight man rotation, it will be intriguing to see how the Trail Blazers not only physically, but emotionally, handle this four-game home-stand that feels more like a gauntlet.
Although LeBron James has career averages of 27.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.6 assists in 13 games, LeBron will get those numbers regardless as there is no stopping him, only hoping he doesn't go off for 50+ on you. With that all said, Cleveland's bigs, Shaq, Big Z, and Varejao are the x-factor's tonight. In their early December, 104-99 win in Cleveland, those three players combined for 42 points, 23 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Most notably, it was the slip pick and roll ran by James and Varejao all 4th quarter long that was the difference. Portland definitely is not the greatest team at defending the pick and roll, and without a true center in there to defend the paint, it would be foolish of Cleveland to not run this play at will.
There is no way Martell Webster will be able to stop LeBron tonight, but he can do exactly what he did against Kobe. Force LeBron to take shots he doesn't want to, always leave a hand in the face during the shot, and make him earn every thing he gets. I'm fine with James getting 30, as long as it takes him over 25 shots to accomplish that. On the offensive end, Marty is going to have to be more accurate than his 6-17 shooting performance, including 2-10 from distance, because he is really our only 3-point threat with Rudy, Travis, and Nic out and no one really knowing what to expect from Blake's return tonight.
In my mind, I really don't think there is a very realistic chance we pull this one out tonight. We have no one to match up with Shaq in the post, LeBron will be LeBron, and if we double, they have all the shooters in the world to make us pay as they are the league's #1 3-point shooting team at 41.6%, and I think we may be a little too emotionally drained from last Friday's victory over Los Angeles. But my heart says, "Blazers Win! Blazers Win!" Cleveland definitely has the more talent currently, but I have never seen a Trail Blazer team, in recent memory, with as much heart and resiliency as this current bunch of guys. Look for Brandon Roy to continue to make his case for his third straight All-Star appearance, Andre to keep running the show, Juwan Howard defying age, and Jerryd Bayless heating up and scoring another 15+ points. The key to the game tonight will be free throws. Portland needs to get Cleveland into early team foul trouble and continue to attack and make a living at the charity stripe. On the flip side, it is imperative to stay out of foul trouble since we only have 10 healthy guys, but really only play eight.
Game 39 Prediction: Trail Blazers 104 Cavaliers 100
Post-Game Thoughts
When watching the game or looking at the final box score, people will "OOOOOHHH" and "AWWWW" and LeBron's stat line of 41 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists as the main contributor to a a 6th straight Cavs victory over Portland, but they couldn't be further from the truth. Once again, Shaq proved to be a thorn in Portland's side, even as he nears the age of 40. While he was on the court, he had a +16, the highest of any player. When you have Juwan Howard giving up 4 inches and nearly 75 lbs, Portland had to pick their poison. They either played him straight up, which usually resulted in a point-blank look, double downed on him, while he was surrounded by the league's top three-point shooting squad, or bear hug him. There was literally nothing Portland could do. He had to be wrapped up so many times, the Cavs got into the penalty with 10:30 left in the 2nd quarter, en route to 30 free throw attempts compared to Portland's 20. There was a reason why the Blazers made their run in the 3rd, and a lot of it had to due with big #33 getting his rest on the bench.
Once again, Brandon Roy showed why he is a legit NBA superstar and bonafide Top 10 player in the league. 34 points, on 14-23 shooting, 4 boards, and 3 assists, with much of his damage coming during the 17 point comeback charge. When he was taking/making those jump shots, he had that swagger to his game not unlike the 52 point outburst against Phoenix last year. I was hoping he would take nearly every shot the rest of the way. The only negative continues to be his free throw shooting. Brandon went an abysmal 3-8 from the foul line in a game where we needed every single available point due to the David v. Goliath feel to the game. Even though the free throws were a blip on the screen, Brandon turned that game from a snooze fest into a real exhilarating experience last night. It wasn't just the Portland faithful noticing Roy's performance either. "Roy had a heck of a game," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "He was tough the entire night. He did a hell of a job keeping those guys in it."
Although he missed two crucial free throws with the game still in reach and made a costly turnover on the next possession, it was awesome to see LaMarcus have a solid 18 point (8-11) and 13 rebound night against difficult competition as well as still being banged up. My only gripe with him appears to be his passiveness. On the turnover, he received the ball near the hoop where he looked like all he had to do was go up strong with the ball and he would have at least drew a foul, yet he panicked and threw the ball back into traffic which ended up in fast break points for the Cavs to essentially ice the game. Also, when you shoot 8-11 from the floor, tell someone about it. By that, I mean call for the ball. There is no way Anderson Varejao is going to stop you in the post.
Will the aggressiveness come around in his game or will he only show it in spurts (similar to how he plays after the All-Star break, like a man possessed)? Portland needs to know, quick. Brandon Roy needs help out there and when LMA plays like he does post-All-Star break, he is a legit #2 option and All-Star caliber player, but currently his points are down 2.5 this year. 16 and 8 are excellent numbers for a 3rd option, but I think most fans would have expected closer to 21 and 9 as he is now entering into his 4th season. With Oden's health in limbo, a lot of things are now up in the air. With a healthy Greg, the way he was progressing, KP doesn't really need to look for a 2nd option, but if for some unfortunate reason Greg can't shake the injury bug the rest of his tenure here in PDX, KP needs to go searching for a wing-man for Brandon Roy if LaMarcus stays at his current production level.
In the end, I was really bummed about the loss. I had a pretty good feeling it would be a tough night due to the matchup problems Cleveland presented and no matter who the Trail Blazers throw out on the court, I root for and root hard, so any loss is tough to deal with. But, there was no shame in that loss last night. Our boys could have very easily mailed it in down 17 in the middle of the 3rd, but the resiliency they have shown this past month and a half is amazing and makes me proud to be a Trail Blazer. If they can take ONE thing and ONE thing only from this season's experience, is to take the fight they have shown this year and play like that in the upcoming seasons. Basketball is a game of talent, but more importantly a game of heart, desire, and intelligence. If we play with the same passion we have been for the past month, next season at full strength, there will be no stopping us.
Box Score

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