Friday, January 8, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers: Game 38

Portland (22-15) comes into this game losers of two straight, which has dropped them from 3rd in the West, all the way down to 6th. On the other hand, Los Angeles (28-7) heads into the Rose City owners of the NBA' best record but also riding an eight-game losing streak in the Rose Garden. If there ever was a time for the Lakers to get the Rose City monkey off of their backs, it would be tonight with Portland still most likely without Blake and really using just a 7 man rotation. On paper, this game looks like it should be LA all day, but a different beast brews inside the Trail Blazers when the purple and gold show up to battle.
There's no point in bringing up stats in a rivalry game like this, so I'm just throwing them out of the window. The status of Lakers forward Pau Gasol is still up in the air for tonight's game, and needless to say, it would be a big boost for Portland if he was unable to go. Andre Bynum is taller, but is flat out soft and doesn't worry me at all. Unlike Gasol, Bynum can't hit the mid-range jumper or pass as well out of double teams. Likely to play is Ron Artest, who has seen action in the past two games after recovering from a pretty major concussion suffered right after Christmas which saw him miss approximately two weeks of game time. Although Artest is averaging a miniscule 12 points, on 41.9% shooting, and 4.8 rebounds, tonight he will earn his paycheck by focusing 110% of his energy on defending Brandon Roy. Roy got 26.7 ppg last playoffs against an onslaught which included Artest and Battier, but it seemed like Brandon had much more success when Artest was guarding him.
The key player to the game tonight will be Martell Webster. Not only does he draw the unenviable task of trying to defend the league's leading scorer in Kobe Bryant, but now the team is starting to rely on him scoring as well as he has been these past 3 games. During this stretch, Martell has averaged 22.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and shooting a blistering 14-28 from downtown. The three straight 20+ point games is a career-best for Webster, and without Rudy and Steve, he is now our lone 3-point threat. In my opinion, Marty needs to net at least 15 points tonight and hold Kobe to under his scoring average of 30 for Portland to win.
Hopefully for Portland, LaMarcus' ankle is closer to 100% than the 80% it looked like against Memphis. I respect him a lot for going on a body part that is not 100%, but to beat LA, he's got to be more of an offensive threat in the post. Not only on the offensive end of the court, but on defense as well. Too many times did I see the much shorter Randolph bully his way into Aldridge's chest and get easy buckets at will. L-Train needs to find his mean streak that seemingly comes to him after the All-Star break and take it out on the Lakers tonight. Pau is about as soft on D as any big in the league and Bynum shouldn't be quick enough to handle him either, so LaMarcus needs to have a 25-12 type of game tonight to help lead Portland to victory.
Immediately after the Memphis game, I felt like this game would be a loss, but after coming to my senses, I feel a little differently. Just like their fans, the players of the Lakers don't view this rivalry as intense as the Portland players and fan base here. A few players are going to get their first taste of the rivalry tonight, including Pendergraph, Miller, Cunningham, and Bayless (don't think he really played at all last year). Out of those 4, I believe Bayless and Pendergraph will rise to the occasion and relish in these types of environments most. Both are fiery and intense players who don't back down from anyone. Look for JP to rebound the hell out of the ball, possibly get under the Lakers skin (Lamar Odom I'm looking at you!), and maybe a crowd energizing put-back dunk. Bayless is the exact player who thrives for these moments. With no Blake tonight, he should be expecting big minutes tonight and if he can get his jumper going, that will jump-start his attacking of the rim and possibly getting the Laker bigs in foul trouble. Portland just wants this game more tonight and scraps out a big victory tonight to revive their season during this upcoming difficult stretch.
Game 38 Prediction: Trail Blazers 94 Lakers 91
Post-Game Thoughts
First and foremost, I am so proud of the team for not hanging their heads after losing two winnable games earlier on in the week, not letting the Andre/Nate situation be a distraction, and for just wanting it so much more than the Lakers. Although the players are the ones making the hoops, I've got to give it up to the Rose Garden crowd once more. Everybody knows this season has been tough and we' be lucky just to make the playoffs, but the crowds have been stellar this year despite the injuries and they stepped it up to another level when the Lakers came to town. As a fan this could be pure homerism, but I truly believe the reason Portland has beat Los Angeles now 9 straight times is due to the crowd being so rowdy, loud, and into the game from pre-game till the clock shows 0.00 on the scoreboard. The home court advantage the Blazers get from the Blazer faithful is good for at least a 5-7 point advantage.
"I know once they started making a big deal of the streak, our fans have done a great job of coming out with a lot of energy," said all-star guard Brandon Roy, who was sensational in a 32-point performance. "The minute that game starts, we have a lot of confidence. We come out with a lot of energy and work hard and play our best games against them up here."
Speaking of Brandon Roy, what a performance! He went head to head with a Top 2 player in the NBA today, in Kobe Bryant, and completely outclassed him in every facet of the game. Roy scored 32 points, on only 9-11 shooting from the floor,went 13-14 from the charity stripe, handed out 6 assists, grabbed 5 board, netted 1 steal, and in his 38 minutes did not commit a single turnover. Bryant, on the other hand, did drop 32 as well, but did it on 14-37 field goal shooting, including 2-8 from 3, and turned the ball over 5 times. Roy's 32 points on 11 shots of less was the first time this feat has happened since Deron Williams back on March 14th, 2008. While watching the game, Brandon really makes it look easy out there, always seemingly in control of his movements. Kobe looked very herky-jerky on the court tonight and seemed to have to put together a series of moves just to get a difficult look off.
One of the main reasons why Kobe looked so uncomfortable out there was the defensive effort put forth by Martell Webster. He had a lousy shooting night, 6-17 from the floor and an ugly 2-10 from downtown, but he had a hand in Bryant's face all game long, never giving Kobe an open look. Although the shooting percentage was nothing to write home about, Webster scored 5 straight points on a 3 from the corner and a scramble scoop shot to the hoop to push the Blazer lead from 5 to 10 late in the 3rd to fight off a vigorous Laker rally. Coach Nate took notice as well when he thought Marty, "played one of his best games as a pro."
"It's a lot easier to get motivated playing against a team like that, a player like that," said Webster, who made only 6 of 17 shots but contributed 14 points and eight rebounds. "I took it my heart on my sleeve and prove to myself I can get down and guard him."
Even though LaMarcus Aldridge did not have the huge, dominating game I thought we needed out of him, 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, other players stepped for the still injured Aldridge. Most notably was Jerryd Bayless who came right in off the bench for Roy, who was hampered with two early fouls in the first quarter, and hit his first four long jump shots from the corner. When the dust settled, he turned in a 21 point (5-9), 3 rebound, and 3 assist performance. Like Roy, he took care of the ball as he only turned it over one time. The other player who stepped up was none other than Coach McMillan's "main man" Andre Miller. Dre tallied 17 big points (5-10), dished out 7 helpers, and found time to grab 3 rebounds. The only aspect of Miller's game that really needs work is the turnovers. He had 4 tonight and has had a knack for turning it over a bit too much lately. But you get 17 and 7, I'll live with turnovers any day of the week.
Box Score

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