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

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