Friday, January 15, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Magic: Game 41

The 2009-2010 season has finally reached the half-way mark as the Trail Blazers (24-16) take on the Magic (26-13) to end their five-game home-stand. The last time these two teams met, Portland lost a 92-83 grind-it-out affair in which the game was tied heading into the 4th quarter, but the iron became unkind for our Blazers. A lot of this game rides on the injuries to each team's superstar. Brandon Roy is listed as questionable with a sore hamstring and will be a game-time decision, while Vince Carter is also questionable with a shoulder injury. Roy scored 33 points last meeting, while Carter shot a dreadful 1-14 from the floor.
For Portland to have any chance at a victory tonight, LaMarcus Aldridge needs to come to play the same way he did against Milwaukee by coming out aggressive and never taking his foot off of the gas. He had quite possibly the worst game of his season against Orlando back in December where he tallied 3 points, on 1-6 shooting, and managed only to secure 1 rebound, while Dwight Howard gobbled up 20 of them. I realize no one should ever expect LMA to stop the league's best rebounder, because Dwight is just that dominant on the boards, but a -19 differential is unacceptable, and without Joel and Greg in there tonight, he will really have to focus hard on hitting those boards. If Roy does play, look for him to only try to do things in spurts, but Aldridge will be their horse for the majority of the game. I have no doubt that he can dominate Rashard Lewis in the post as long as he fights for good position and the guards make the correct entry passes.
The game for Portland will come down to the battle of the boards. Each team is top 6th in the NBA in rebounding differential, Portland #5 (+2.72)and Orlando #6 (+2.46). To no one's surprise, Dwight Howard is leading the NBA again in rebounding at 13.2 per game and he has the ability to change the course of the game on the glass alone by gaining second chances for his offense, stopping any fast break chances, and keeping the Trail Blazers from getting second opportunities. Lately, it seems like whenever the Blazers can win the rebounding battle, they find themselves with a W at the end of the night.
Defensively, I would play Howard straight up. He's quicker than Shaq, but doesn't have the brute size or force O'Neal possesses. Howard doesn't have any go-to post moves, so if he makes a hook shot or two, so be it. I'd rather take my chances with Howard in the post than doubling down and giving the 6th ranked three-point shooting team (.367) free reign on open trifectas. Orlando occupies six players on their roster who are shooting over 35% from downtown with at least 75 attempts on the season: J.J. Redick (.407), Jason Williams (.405), Rashard Lewis (.399), Ryan Anderson (.391), Jameer Nelson (.371), and Mickael Pietrus (.363). Not to mention the Magic acquired Vince Carter, if he plays, and Matt Barnes, two players who have the ability to go off on any given night. What is boils down to is outside of the two centers, Howard and Gortat, at any given time, the Magic could have four three-point threats on the court at one time.
Orlando has lost five of their past seven games, including their recent 97-115 performance at Denver, and are on the road for the third game of their four-game road trip. Surprisingly, Orlando is a poor road team by their standards this year, racking up a 14-9 record, compared to back to back 27-14 records in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. I really had a great feeling about this game until I heard about Roy potentially missing the game tonight. I do realize we pulled one out in San Antonio by giving the green light to Jerryd Bayless, but I'm not sure Portland can go another game without Roy's 23 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Yes, Rudy is back, but most likely is in no shape to play any more minutes than his 15 played on Wednesday night. Assuming Roy can't go, the offensive burden goes onto the veteran shoulders of Andre Miller and second-year spark Jerryd Bayless. An X-Factor to think about is holding Orlando to under 100 points tonight. The Trail Blazers are an unimpressive 2-11 when they allow their opponent to break the century mark. When it's all said and done, Aldridge steps up big time and starts his post All-Star torrid play earlier than usual and a combined team-effort, just like the one against Milwaukee, paces Portland to a win before they head back East for a four-game road trip.
Game 41 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Magic 92
Post-Game Thoughts
The make-shift Blazers do it again, this time without Brandon Roy. Portland demolished Orlando with a wire-to-wire 102-87 to run their record at the half-way point to 25-16. The Trail Blazers had to do two things to win the game tonight, hold Orlando under 100 points and win the rebounding battle. Portland held Orlando to 14 points below their season average of 101, mainly due to their closing out on Orlando shooters. The Magic shot a dismal 7-30 from downtown and their coverages on Howard were quick and different each time down the court.
"It started with Howard and included Jeff (Pendergraph) and LaMarcus," McMillan said. "We tried to mix up our defense on him. The guys did a good job of beating (Dwight Howard) to a spot and making him work. The guards did a good job with double-teaming and also in defending the three. They did a great job of rotating out."
"We did a good job of not letting them have anything easy in the paint," Webster said. "Everything they had down low. we made them work for. Particular guys (read: Howard) weren't going to get a shot. We executed our game plan perfectly tonight."
Speaking of Howard, I haven't been so underwhelmed by a supposed "superstar" in a long, long time. For a "Franchise" player, he certainly didn't find a way to take over like superstars are prone to. When your best player can' be counted on down the stretch to hit foul shots, he becomes a liability. Dwight was 3-10 from the charity stripe and only tallied 11 points in all. The most surprising statistic of all had to have been 11 rebounds against a front-line of Juwan Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge. In the last meeting, he was +19 on the glass versus LaMarcus. This time around, Aldridge was +3 in the rebounding battle. Maybe Orlando is just in a team-wide slump, but I just don't see it in Howard. When it all boils down, he can't make free throws, especially worrisome since he leads the NBA in free throw attempts a game, he can't hit a mid-range jump shot, and he really can't create any offense from himself whatsoever. He's a more-athletic prime Ben Wallace.
Back to Aldridge, how amazing was his effort tonight? He was all over the floor, diving for loose balls, boxing out, and showing so much more desire than the Magic players. You could tell the 1 rebound last meeting was on his mind, because he was always in the middle for a rebound, and in the end, he grabbed 14 boards, which helped Portland win the rebounding battle 42-38, to go along with his 14 points (7-17) and 3 assists. Personally, what really impressed me was his intent on getting good post position and if he got knocked off of his spot, he'd go right back and keep fighting. The will he played with last night is exactly what Blazer fans want to see from him, because he is simply a different beast when he plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Andre Miller was Andre Miller of late, with his 19 points (8-14) and 9 dimes, Steve Blake dialed in a few from long distance to tack on 18 points, handed out 6 helpers, and got inside to grab 4 rebounds, but make no mistake about it, Martell Webster was the star of the show again tonight. Every single time Portland needed a big basket it was Webster. It was Webster who was the catalyst in the 1st half to run the lead into double figures. In 38 minutes of play, he had another stellar scoring outing with 24 (8-14), including 5-9 from I-5 as Mark Mason likes to put it, and pulled down 9 boards. Like many Blazers fans already knew, it is all about confidence for Marty. Lately, he has been just shooting with a purpose, not even thinking about his past few shots. During his last 5 games, he is averaging 17.2 points and 6 rebounds a night, which means it's going to be hard to take away his playing time.
"The guys keep rising to the occasion," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "It's been a collective effort. We just keep stepping up."
Box Score

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