Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Wizards: Game 42

After a great four game stretch that saw the Trail Blazers win comfortably against the Lakers, Bucks, Magic and nearly rally from 17 down to beat the Cavaliers, it is time for Portland (25-16) to hit the road for a four-game road trip that kicks off Monday morning in D.C. to face the struggling Wizards (13-26). As of this post (Sunday night), there has been no additional word as to whether Brandon Roy will be able to give it a go or not. My guess is that he'll be another game-time decision. Despite their NBA 4th worst record, the Wizards, even sans Arenas, have enough firepower with Jamison, Butler, Foye, Haywood, and Miller to beat any team on any night as shown by two early season wins over Cleveland and Orlando at the Verizon Center.
Without Arenas, it will be difficult to measure true team statistics, so we can throw those out the window for tomorrow's game. I'm sure when people were playing schedule maker a week or two ago, this game, especially now without Gilbert, looked like a sure road win and a great way to start off the road trip. What I think a lot of people are sleeping on, is the fact the game will tip off at 10:00 AM PST. Portland has played the past two years on the road during MLK Day, with each tipping off around the same time and usually play the Raptors early Sunday morning, so they do have some experience playing extremely early tip offs. If Roy can't go, combined with the early start, we could have a very groggy Trail Blazers team on our hands.
Portland will win this game and the all important first game of a road trip if they bring the energy. As mentioned, it is an early start, so it could affect the Wizards a bit as well. With Washington's performance being so lackluster after having so many expectations placed on themselves to start the year, the Verizon Center has been and will be a morgue. Sometimes for teams it is more challenging to create your own energy instead of feeding off of the opposing crowd. For the most part, the Wizard players know there will be no playoffs this year, so they are treating the rest of the season as an audition for other teams, whether it be for the trading deadline or free agency this summer. The earlier Portland can assert themselves as the dominant team, the better, as I feel like the Wizards will crumble and give up if Portland jumps out to an early double digit lead.
With that all said, my X-Factor for tomorrow's game is point guard Andre Miller. Without Arenas, Randy Foye has been earning the start for Washington, and although he is 6'4", he doesn't possess the width to start Andre from doing work in the post. The younger Trail Blazers need to follow the lead of Miller as well as fellow veteran Juwan Howard as to how to go about their business early on. If Miller can score early on and keep the Blazers in the game as he is prone to do, I love our chances, because the one thing we can not afford to do is to give Washington early life with a slow, sluggish start. Instead of starting out shooting jump shots, attack the rim and watch the ball go through the hoop via the foul line, which is why I love Miller in tomorrow's game, because he has a knack for scoring in the paint.
As much as the early start scares me, I really think the Blazers will take some of their momentum earned over this past week and use it to propel them to a victory. As unlikely as it sounds, especially considering the plethora of injuries, Portland is only 1.5 games out of 2nd place in the West and don't you think for one minute that the team doesn't know that either. They watch highlights and look at the standings. They are aware of how big every game is now. Outside of Miller, look for Aldridge to have another huge game as Portland pulls out the win. It will be very close through three quarters, but Portland who wants the game more, needs the game more, will surge away from Washington.
Game 42 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Wizards 89
Post-Game Thoughts
What was the biggest key to victory? Intensity. Portland played like they thought it was 10 AM in the morning, especially on defense. It seemed like whenever Portland needed a stop, the Wizards would casually get to the rim at will. In the end, a team who has nothing to play for and doesn't attribute a low-post scoring threat tallied 46 points in the paint. A lot of the Blazers problems occur on the pick and roll. They simply reused to fight through the screen, which allowed guards like Randy Foye to have a field day from mid-range as he shot 6-10 for 19 points and also got to the line 8 times. When Foye wasn't shooting, the guards were finding Jamison on the switch and he ate the team alive, most notably Juwan Howard, who is simply not agile enough to keep Jamison in front of him. If it wasn't fighting through the screens, it was a lack of passion on the defensive glass. Whenever Portland needed a big defensive board, Washington simply out hustled us for it. Portland out rebounded them 39-33, but couldn't get the ones they needed.
Guard Brandon Roy missed his second straight game due to a sore hamstring. Roy had all the plans in the world to go today but trainer Jay Jenson put a stop to any such idea. ``Jay and I didn't like what we were hearing, so we held him,'' McMillan said. ``I don't have any regrets about that.'' It was most apparent where Portland missed Roy the most and that was down the stretch. Washington outscored Portland 16-9 over the past 5 minutes and the Blazers jut couldn't find anyone who wanted to take the shots in the clutch. We had two possessions late in the game that ended up in prayers due to the shot clock being wound down, in a game where baskets were being traded seemingly all 4th quarter.
Outside of a 2nd quarter drought and the last two minutes of the game, the offense was running about as good as you can ask for without your superstar. Andre Miller was the catalyst for every Blazer run and his 22 points and 3 rebounds certainly kept his recent trend alive of performing at an All-Star level. Dre was hampered with two early fouls, which could have been why Portland couldn't extend its very early 5 point lead, which would have been vital for Portland to get off to an early lead. Also, It was another outstanding performance by Aldridge with 22 points and 15 rebounds, 9 offensive, but personally, I don't think he got enough touches. Our guards need to find quicker, easier ways to get him the ball.
I don't think there has been a season in recent history which there was such an emotional roller coaster. I've tried on numerous occasions to revisit my expectations and only hope to make the playoffs, but then we dominate teams like Orlando and Los Angeles and I start to envision home-court advantage for the playoffs or even winning the NorthWest division. Just when it feels like we can make a good run, that damn injury bug creeps up and bites us. There is no doubt in my mind we destroy the Wiz with a healthy Roy, but he couldn't go and we lost an extremely crucial game. You can't keep losing to teams that Portland has been losing to (Warriors, Grizzlies (X2 at home), Wizards) and expect a top seed in the playoffs. This loss was a punch to the gut and with the nagging Sixers on the horizon, this road trip could be off to an 0-2 start. All I want to see next game is some defensive intensity!
Box Score

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