Saturday, February 27, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Timberwolves: Game 62

The Trail Blazers (34-27) must have a short memory, after losing a devastating, 115-111, overtime thriller in Chicago last night, as the next stop on the road trip takes them to Minnesota to face the talented, but inexperienced Wolves (14-46). Even though playing their fourth game in five nights is tough both physically and mentally, one aspect of the game this year's team has been able to master, in a season filled with adversities, has been the ability to play at a high level on the second half of a back to back. In such situations, Portland is a mind-boggling 11-3. Add to the face the Wolves will also be tired as they arrived after Portland to Minnesota, due to playing last night as well, only in Oklahoma City. Also, if there was one team the Trail Blazers want to see on the schedule its the Minnesota Timberwolves. Portland has defeated Minnesota 11 straight times, by far the longest active streak against any opponent (5 wins in a row over San Antonio is #2).
Although the three previous meetings between the two teams this year has seen Portland win by an average of 24.67 points, those games were played very early in November with different personnel. For Portland, Oden and Przybilla were healthy and dominant and the Wolves were missing their own double-double machine in Kevin Love. Oden, in particular, will be missed tonight, as Minnesota was one franchise he really flourished against. During the course of the three games earlier this year, G.O. put up averages of 15 points, on 70.4% field goal shooting, 6.7 rebounds, and swatting 2 shots. The Target Center does not intimidate opponents as it once did, their home record of 9-20 is 2nd worst in the NBA, as is their overall record, but Blazer fans should not expect another blowout win tonight. A lot has changed since November and big, bruising front-courts, such as the one Portland will see tonight in Love and Jefferson, really have been able to push us around ever since Greg and Joel went down (see Memphis results).
Speaking of Big Al Jeff and Love, Aldridge and Camby must bring their hardhats tonight. While both are effective at what they do, Aldridge scores and Camby block shots, each player is known for playing more of a finesse style of play. Like Z-Bo, who abused Aldridge to the tune of a three-game average of 19.7 points and 11.7 rebounds, Kevin Love is an undersized, rebounding machine at the power forward position. Both Love and Jefferson are tied for 12th in the NBA at putting up double-doubles with 27 a piece. Love's 27 double-doubles is even more impressive as he has one his work in only 40 games so far this year. If he had been healthy to start the season, he would be on pace for 46 double dips, good enough to be one behind Dwight Howard for first in the NBA. As great as each player is on offense, their defense is equally as bad. Just like last night in Chi-Town, Portland needs to exploit the Aldridge-Love matchup all game long and this time, do not forget to keep going to him!
Two major keys to victory tonight are defense and bench play. Not unlike yesterday, Portland is playing a team in the lower half of the league in scoring, as the Wolves are 22nd at 97.61. Only this time around, the Blazers must not allow the Timberwolves to come near 100 points. Yes Chicago was hitting everything, but no matter how tough the shots are we need to make adjustments. Throw a zone or a trap at Minnesota if something they start to run becomes unstoppable.
I think our bench this year is going to give me a heart attack. Can they put together more than one consistent game in a row? Rudy, Bayless, and Dante were all solid against Toronto, yet Bayless was the only one to show up against the Bulls. If the Trail Blazers can get 25 or more points from the bench, they should win with ease. Roy can score at will on Brewer and Miller should have no difficulties in posting up the much smaller Flynn, which the Minnesota coaching staff will be looking at closely, trying to neutralize each of those matchups. This is where the bench comes in. The more offensive weapons you throw at a squad, chances are the opposition won't have answers for each and every one of them.
Portland will secure their third win on this road trip and 12th straight overall against Minnesota, but it won't be as easy as the prior three. Love and Jefferson will keep the Wolves close all night long, even pushing them to a small lead in the 2nd half. What will push Portland over the top is their offensive movement late in the game. After struggling again down the stretch, I believe the Blazers will make some changes and quit playing not to lose, instead opting to stay aggressive. To swing momentum onto Portland's court for good will be the defense of Camby and Batum, swatting away a few shots, leading to some much needed fast-break points.
Game 62 Prediction: Trail Blazers 96 Timberwolves 91
Post-Game Thoughts
It turns out you can not make a field goal for more than 5 minutes in the 2nd quarter and still extend the lead when you play a team as poor as the Wolves. As awkward and lackadaisical as Portland looked in the first half, it would have taken a complete meltdown to lose this one tonight. What really pushed the game into Portland's favor were a few bailout calls the Blazers got just from the Wolves own ineptitude during the middle of the 2nd quarter when both teams were struggling to make a field goal. LaMarcus felt Love's hands on the ball and swung his arms through in a shooting motion to draw a foul, Martell drove recklessly down the lane with less than five seconds on the shot clock only to get hammered by Jefferson, and Rudy threw up a prayer of a reverse lay-up with one on the shot clock only to see Darko get greedy and go for the block but commit a foul instead. The Trail Blazers connected on 28-35 from the foul line which enabled them to escape from the Timberwolves. When you play a team as terrible and young as Minnesota all you have to do is play ball and they will beat themselves.
The game was won during the 2nd and 3rd quarters where Portland outscored Minnesota, 58-34, and the main cohort for the Blazers was none other than Nico Batum. Batum was nothing short of spectacular tonight, looking like a young Scottie Pippen, doing it all on the court. Whatever the Blazers needed, Nico provided. Whether it was running the break, spot up shooting from 3, hitting shots off of the dribble, or wreaking havoc on defense, Batum was everywhere during those two quarters which put the game away for good. In particular, Batum had 22 of his career-high 31 points (previous high was 16) in the 3rd. Wouldn't it be nice it he could bottle it up and saved for the playoffs? All in all, to go along with his 31 points, he achieved career-highs in assists with 7 and steals with 3 to go along with 7 rebounds.
"If he shoots the ball like that, he's going to be tough to keep off the floor," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "His shot has certainly improved and he's taking it with confidence. And we're going to need that from him because he's going to get that opportunity with teams double-teaming and leaving him open."
"He has worked his way into the lineup," McMillan said. "He's continuing to work hard and is getting confidence with his shot. Tonight was the best I've ever seen him shoot the ball."
The Blazers bench could have scored about 10 tonight and the game would have still been a W, but they came alive tonight for a massive 43 points, lead by Fernandez's 18 on only 8 shots. What seems to separate Rudy's hot shooting nights from his ice cold slumps are his free throw attempts. Tonight he was a perfect 6-6 from the foul line and not only does seeing the ball go through the hoop automatically raise his confidence, it keeps the defense honest as now they have to play him for the drive and give him that much needed extra space to get free for the 3. As for the other members of the bench, no one really stood out, but Patty Mills doesn't get much court time nor hardly any blog coverage here. Albeit in garbage time, Patty set himself a new career-high with 8 points on 3-5 shooting. He has a silky smooth jump shot and is deceptively quick for how stocky he is, getting to any point on the court at will.
This was a must win and a much needed win at that, as it ensures the Blazers of a winning road trip, but Trail Blazer fans should not look into this game too much. Anytime you can hold a 30 point 2nd half lead and win by 19 and Roy is held in check to 7 points while Andre only drops 4 it shows just how awful the Wolves are. I don't want to deny the Blazers any credit at all, because they deserved to win, were mentally prepared for the game (now 11-3 on the 2nd half of a back to back), and the best team on the floor tonight. But Minnesota is awful, worse than New Jersey awful. The Wolves handed the game over to us on a silver platter, literally, with 19 team turnovers compared to only 7 for Portland. Many of those turnovers were just careless basketball that lead to cheap, fast-break points which helped break the game open in the 2nd quarter.
It will be interesting to see how these last 20 games play out. Currently the Blazers sit tied for 7th in the West at 35-27 and would have to play .750 ball (15-5) the rest of the way to reach the 50 win mark. Finally, everyone seems healthy (knock on wood) and Camby's influence on the defensive end is shining brighter and brighter as his time on the court increases. It was no different against Minnesota, swatting away 4 shots and doing so by either coming from out of nowhere on the weak side or defending his man straight up. Aldridge seems to really hitting his stride this past month and Brandon is slowly but surely starting to take the form of the Brandon who was 2nd Team All-NBA in 09. The one aspect missing from this team is consistent play from the bench, which will determine a decent seed (5 or 6) versus almost a guaranteed 1st round exit or missing the playoffs entirely. The Blazers are 4-3 since the All-Star break and like the game in Chicago, beating Memphis would boost the Blazers and help them rise in the standings.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Friday, February 26, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Bulls: Game 61

The next stop on the road trip has Portland (34-26) taking a trip to the Windy City to battle Chicago (30-27) in the last regular season meeting between the two teams. Back on November 22nd, the Trail Blazers blitzed the Bulls,122-98, which was their 5th straight win over Chicago and have taken six of the last 10 in the United Center. It is still unclear as to whether center Marcus Camby will suit up at this time, but tonight's game may be a similar situation for Portland as their opponent could be without their best interior player, another trade-off I'm sure the Blazers would make. Bulls center Joakim Noah has been fighting plantar fasciitis, causing him to leave practice this morning for the doctor's office to receive a bone scan. This injury bug has forced Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro to only play Noah about 9 minutes a night since returning during the last three games after missing 7 games earlier this month. Also to note, Luol Deng sat out practice this morning due to a swollen left knee, which will be interesting to see how it affects his play or if it does at all.
With Portland and Chicago being 24th and 25th in scoring this season at 97.33 and 96.96 respectively, this game is your classic "first to 100" wins. Both teams also win less than 26% of the time when allowing 100 points to their opponent, which further adds fuel to the fire. Assuming Noah can't go tonight, that really puts a damper on the Bulls' chances of getting a lot of 2nd chance points as he is 3rd in the league in offensive rebounds at 3.7 per game and tied for 5th overall in total boards at 11.4. If Portland can find a way to keep Derrick Rose in front of them and force him out of the paint, it may force the Bulls to turn strictly into a jump shooting team. Although Noah is not at the level of Bosh in terms of interior scoring or post moves, he still is their best option when it comes to scoring down low. The other members of the Chicago front-court, Deng, Miller, and Gibson are perimeter oriented players. Hopefully the Trail Blazers can rebound those long misses and get out on the break, which seems to always ignite this team.
Possessing 6'11" height and a wingspan of 89 inches (7 ft. 5 inches), LaMarcus Aldridge is going to have a major advantage inside against the majority of NBA teams. Tonight is no different. Without Noah or even Noah playing his average of nine minutes, tonight's meal for Aldridge will consist of him feasting on the likes of Brad Miller, Taj Gibson, and Hakim Warrick. Even though LA wasn't shooting it well against Toronto, I still don't think he got enough quality looks in the low-post. Most of his misses were from the outside, but we never came back down to him on the low blocks. With the way Rudy is shooting it from three and Andre slashing to the basket, force Chicago into a Catch-22. Play Aldridge straight up and have him score at will with either a baby hook or his up and under or send the double and watch LA pick the defense apart. I truly believe one of the biggest reasons we have been giving up 15+ point leads has been due to forgetting about LaMarcus on the court. Each half we start out the offense running through him, then the team disremembers him.
Although not the mot difficult game on the road trip, Memphis wins there, the Chicago game is definitely the most intriguing. I have been very, very reluctant to believe the Blazers could go undefeated on this road trip, because no Blazer team has swept a 5+ game road trip since the 90-91 Trail Blazers won six in a row to end the season and our recent play of late had be worried. I truly believe if we can get a win here, the road trip catapults us up the Western standings. If we lose, a 3-2 trip becomes best case scenario in my opinion and still keeps us afloat for the 8th and final seed. Even though we are only a game out of 6th place, it is due to us having played so many more games but the reality is we are three back in the loss column which, to me, is what matters most.
I'm completely torn on how I think the game will turnout tonight. On one hand, Derrick Rose is the type of player who can take over a game by himself. He has the ability to score in the paint, pester Andre out top, and control tempo. Deng, although banged up, is still a threat to go off for 25 any night and bench players Jannero Pargo and Hakim Warrick have been known to due some Blazer-killing in their stints with other teams in the NBA. Does Portland's bench show up again? If yes, we win. Our bench, when on, is a top 5 bench in the league. The only problem is we rely on so much young talent to bring in consistently every night, but what young, inexperienced players lack most is consistency. Tonight, I'm banking on Roy, Miller, and Aldridge to do what they do, maybe one has a fantastic night while another performs sub-par, but in the end, those three players' total will average out. I think whatever lit a fire under Rudy's behind is here to stay for the foreseeable future and he will continue to spark our team with flashy, open- court 3's to go along with hot shooting from the perimeter. Rudy alone may be enough production from our bench to win, but I also believe we'll need one of Dante or Jerryd to step up and provide at least double figures in points. With no Noah, the driving lanes are clear of shot blockers so attack at will Bayless!
Game 61 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Bulls 95
Post-Game Thoughts
Sometimes there are nights that just aren't your night, and tonight was one of them. Portland tried as they might, did all they could do to try and win the game, but it felt like it was going to take a perfect effort to get the job done. Although the Bulls cooled off a tad to 57.5%, it really was their near 70% shooting in the first quarter which really got their confidence flowing. Now, I would be hard pressed to blame the Blazer defense as the Bulls were hitting nothing but deep jump shots, many with hands in their faces. As we saw during the 13-game winning streak back in 2007-08 for our Blazers, when a jump shooting team gets hot, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It was really only four Bulls players who did all the damage tonight as Rose (33), Deng (23), Hinrich (17) and Warrick (15) combined to score 88 of the Bulls 115 points on a smoking 60% field goal shooting.
For two offensively challenged teams, I was extremely surprised to see both squads hit 100 with ease and although it went into overtime, the first team to 100 did indeed win (Chicago). If you were a fan with no rooting interest, this was one great game to watch, but if you have a vested interest tonight, it was one emotional roller coaster. After matching Chicago's fiery start, the Portland bench could not sustain the level of play, which would be a reoccurring theme throughout the night, and the Bulls ran out to a 13 point 2nd quarter lead. One move in particular Coach Nate made that needs to receive a ton of credit was by putting in Bayless early on in the 2nd quarter once Portland got the Bulls in the penalty. Bayless took advantage of the foul situation and attacked with disregard as he knew the Bulls didn't want to put him on the foul line. In fact, the 3-guard lineup of of Miller, Bayless, and Roy really helped Portland scrap back into the game by trimming a 13 point lead down to 1 at the half. It looked as if the Blazers were going to run away with it in the 3rd, upping their lead to 9, but the Bulls wiped it away in a matter of minutes to head into the 4th down 1. The Blazers fought back once more and held a 5 point lead with 5 minutes to go, only to see it head to overtime. Now I know a 5 point in the NBA is nothing, but man, our offense late in games is really alarming.
Like we, as Blazer fans, have had to do lately is searching for the silver lining. It is such a shame we had to waste one of the greatest performances of LaMarcus Aldridge's young career. LA was the one reason we were able to keep it close in the 1st when Chicago was shooting the lights out. He was simply dominant tonight, 32 points, on 15-23 shooting, and pulling down 7 rebounds. The one constant issue with this team is giving up too easily on forcing him the ball. Once Portland got up 9, the Bulls went with Joakim Noah on Aldridge who really got physical and aggressive in denying Aldridge post-position. The Blazers saw this and didn't even attempt to get him the ball. Our offense is much more efficient working inside-out and through the L-Train.
The only player I knew could win the game single handily for Chicago was Derrick Rose. Portland tried nearly everyone on their roster to defend him tonight, Miller, Bayless, and Batum to name a few, but when you hit your jump shot, it's over. Rose's 33 points (15-25) were a game-high and the Bulls ran a high pick and roll near the top of the key to death tonight, using Rose as the main initiator. If the smaller defender stuck with him, he would simply shoot over the top of them and if he got his mismatch, he took it right to the hoop all game long. Hopefully the Trail Blazers watch tape and see trapping Rose and forcing him away from the hoop would be something to use in the future when a play continues to run like a well-oiled machine. We threw the trap at Rose late in the 4th and got a turnover out of it which lead to the comeback in regulation.
"He was really good tonight,'' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "We tried everybody on him. Our plan all night was to try to keep him out of the paint and keep him from driving. When we did trap him he did what he was supposed to and that was move the ball."
You kind of get the feeling it is either 8th seed or no playoffs at all for the Blazers. Since a six-game winning streak in mid-November, the Blazers have not won or lost more than three games in a row. While it shows great consistency to not lose more than three in a row, not being able to go on multiple winning streaks really hampers any chances at catching teams above us in the playoff standings. Tonight was no different than any other regular season game this year. We had more than our fair share of opportunities to pull out another key road win, only to falter down the stretch. Portland has had so many winnable games in the 4th, too many too count, only to fall short more times than not, including 1-5 in overtime games. After being such a clutch team last season, not being able to find a way to win in the clutch is a tough, bitter pill to swallow. One has to wonder that not having a consistent core of players healthy throughout the year, including our best defenders and rebounders in Greg and Joel and Mr. 4th Quarter himself, Travis Outlaw, has played a big role with respect to being mentally tougher in crunch time. Last season we had a swagger to ourselves. We just knew we would get it done. Unfortunately this year is almost over, so who knows if that mental strength will be instilled in time, but it couldn't hurt to lay the groundwork for the 2011 season.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Raptors: Game 60

Game 2 of the five-game road trip takes Portland (33-26) up to the Great White North to take on Toronto (31-24) for the first time this season. The Trail Blazers are 2-1 in their last three trips to the Air Canada Centre, with each game being a nail-biter, decided by an average of six points. After spraining his ankle in last night's win over New Jersey, Marcus Camby has been officially ruled out for the game tonight. No, it is not all doom and gloom though Blazer fans. The same ankle sprain is going to keep superstar forward, Chris Bosh, out of the lineup for the Raptors as well. I don't think you could find many Trail Blazer fans who wouldn't make that trade-off for tonight.
The biggest key tonight for Portland will be defense. Toronto is the NBA's 4th highest scoring team at 104.67 per night, and the Trail Blazers are only 4-14 when allowing their opposition to reach the century mark. Without Bosh and his 24.5 points a night, there should be no excuses in allowing Toronto to come anywhere near 100 tonight. Missing their only interior post presence, look for the Raptors to bombs away from downtown, as they are 4th best in the league, shooting 37.5% as a team from three. Toronto possesses five players, with at least 100 or more attempts from three, who shoot the 3 ball at, at least a 36% clip. Former Blazer Jarrett Jack is tops on the Raptors, shooting 41.2%, backup Jose Calderon isn't far behind with his 40.8%, sharp shooter Marco Belinelli is at 38.2%, our friend Hedo Turkoglu is accurate 37.4% of the time, and rounding out the top 5 is former #1 overall pick, Andrea Bargnani, who nails 36.7% from distance. Needless to say, if Portland doesn't show enough effort or gets sloppy on their rotations, it will be a long night in Canada.
Everything the Blazers should do tonight should be to exploit the absence of Chris Bosh. After his dominating performance last night over the Nets, Portland should not only feed Aldridge to start the 1st and 3rd quarters, but continue to ride him at the end of quarters. For whatever reason, we go inside to him, it works, then we simply go away from him. For the Raptors, the choice of who to defend LaMarcus with is slim pickings to say the least. All of their available bigs are either soft or short. I would assume Bargnani will get the call on LA, but he could see Patrick O'Bryant, Reggie Evans, or Rasho Nesterovic on him throughout the game. If LMA is hitting his shots in the post, attacking the basket, and drawing double teams, there should be no way the team loses tonight. Again, it is very imperative to cut to the hoop when the inevitable double team heads towards Aldridge. Toronto may even try a trapping style of defense to throw the Blazers off their game in hopes of forcing some early turnovers.
The keys to the game are no different than they were last night. Whenever you are playing an inferior team on the road, you must respect but never fear your opponent. Last night the Blazers played above the level of competition for 2 quarters, then let up, thinking the Nets would roll over and die. If the Blazers come out like they did against the Lakers when they found out Kobe was out and figured it'll be easy, it's going to be a quick loss. Along with taking the Raptors seriously (without Bosh), they'll need to limit second chance points, turnovers, and fast break points. Just like the Nets, make the Raptors earn everything they get from the perimeter, only make sure to always challenge the shot, unlike last night's ball game.
After a pessimistic outlook to start the road trip in Jersey (can you blame me after the Jazz loss?), I am optimistic about Portland's chances to get a nice 2-0 start to their five-game road trip tonight. The main reason of optimism has to due with our two superstars, Roy and Aldridge, finally appearing to be on the same page. Anytime you have a guy like Roy healthy, you are always going to be in the game, with his ability to always hit game changing shots or getting to the foul line to stop the bleeding. Jarrett Jack is a pretty stocky point guard and a decent defender, which could limit Dre's scoring ability tonight, but again, the bench could be huge tonight. If at least one of our bench scorers are on, we'll get it done. Whether it is Bayless attacking the rim, Dante knocking down mid-range jumpers off of the pick and pop, Webster draining 3's off of kick outs, or Rudy making plays happen in transition.
Game 60 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Raptors 92
Post-Game Thoughts
"Start the bus up, let's go," Howard said to Nate McMillan, embracing his coach to celebrate Portland's 101-87 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
In recent typical Trail Blazers fashion, the team raced out to a 17 point lead, 51-34, with 3:40 left to go in the half. In a bat of an eye, Toronto had probably the quickest 13-2 run my eyes have ever seen. Although this three-game trend of getting more than comfortable leads, only to allow the opponent back into the thick of the game is a major red flag, credit must be given to the Blazers for weathering the storm and finishing the game out strong in the form of a 101-87 victory.
Without Bosh, the Raptors did indeed bombs away from downtown, going 7-20 which is lower than their seasonal average by about 2%. Early on the Blazers were a little slow to put a hand up on the 3-point attempt, but as the game wore on, the defensive intensity on the perimeter increased. As great as the bench was and Andre's near triple double will get the attention, it was the defense which was the catalyst to another road victory. Portland had to keep Toronto from sniffing the century mark, and they did by only giving up 87 points, which broke a streak of double digit 100+ point games by the Raptors. Also, the Blazers, outside of one series in the 3rd quarter, did a great job of holding the Raptors to one shot and one shot only as Toronto only was able to grab 9 offensive rebounds. The last facet of the game Portland had to control were the easy points off of the fast-break, which the Raps were held to a respectable 14 points. Portland laid out the blue-print for how to beat a team without their superstar by limiting cheap, easy buckets for Toronto and continued to take care of the ball at an amazing clip. One night after committing only 4 turnovers, the Blazers only coughed it up 6 times.
Aldridge did not have the type of game I expected against a soft Raptors front-court, only scoring 9 points on 4-12 shooting an only grabbing 2 rebounds. No reason to worry though as the Blazer bench stepped up and rose to the occasion. Rudy Fernandez played by far his best game of the season, going off for 17 points (6-9), an unexpected 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in a confidence-building 32 minutes. This is the Rudy fans have been hoping and waiting for. He was brilliant in the open court, including a tribute to Dr. J with his reverse lay-up and hitting back-breaking three after back-breaking three to always put Uncle Mo (momentum) on the side of Portland. This performance coming on the heals of a report out of Spain speculating how unhappy Rudy is here in the Rose City. Is the report true or false? No one knows, but just keep up this type of play Rudy! Also, how nice was it to see Jerryd find his jump shot? He and Dante also provided a scoring punch scoring a combined 18 points, 11 for Bayless and 7 for Cunningham.
"I thought our bench, Rudy [Fernandez] and [Jerryd] Bayless, those guys did a nice job of coming in and providing some scoring and they had some pretty fresh legs," McMillan said. "The fact that Bosh wasn't here, we certainly tried to take advantage of that. I thought our guys got off to a good start."
"The bench was big tonight," Roy said. "I think I just try to go out and play by game to get back in shape, but I think Rudy and Bayless played huge off of the bench. If they can play that well, they'll make my job a lot easier and guys can't kill me as much."
I can not wait until next year. Give Andre Miller a completely healthy team and the Blazers will be the top threat to dethrone L.A. in the West. He has a calming presence over the team and take a lot of the burden off of Roy. Dre had a near triple-double tonight with 18 points (8-14), 10 assist, and 7 rebounds. Whenever we needed a basket, Dre was there with the lay-up or post up jump shot. Toronto got the lead as low as one point, but Miller always had an answer either with his scoring or finding an open teammate for a good look.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Nets: Game 59

After a frustrating letdown against the Jazz on Sunday, the Trail Blazers (32-26) must find a way to put that loss aside and focus on the upcoming task at hand, which is their last extended road trip of the season. First up are the 5-51 New Jersey Nets. By Nets standards, they haven't been half bad lately, winning their opening game after the All-Star break in Charlotte, only losing by three to Miami, leading much of their match with Memphis before faltering by 10, and their only typical Nets loss of the year, during this stretch, was a 17 point drubbing handed down by Toronto. Mix in the fact Portland is in the midst of a two-game losing streak and coming off of the most embarrassing, heart breaking loss in recent memory there could be a perfect storm brewing tonight in Jersey.
For a Portland team used to playing in front of 20,000 BlazerManiacs at home, they will definitely have to find a way to generate their own energy tonight, as the Nets draw the least amount of fans per game on average in the NBA, at 13,009. The biggest key tonight will be the Trail Blazers focus level. Will they still be on a Utah hangover or have they brushed it aside from their memory banks and are ready to take care of business against New Jersey? They must come out early and assert their dominance. It must be made crystal clear to New Jersey they are not getting win #6 tonight, killing all of the Nets' confidence. Another factor has to be fear. This has already been an awful season, where literally everything has gone wrong, but could the team be fearful of being embarrassed if they lose to the lowly Nets? Portland can not play not to lose, but only to win. If they play tight and scared, it could be a devastating evening on the East coast.
Going into the season, few experts thought much of the Nets or even them challenging for a playoff spot in the weaker Eastern Conference, but I can't imagine anyone predicting New Jersey threatening to break the '72-73 Sixers record of 9-73. On paper, the Nets are decent. They have an All-Star caliber center in Brook Lopez who would have been an All-Star had New Jersey's record reflected something other than a monstrosity. I would have been a LOT more worried about this game had Portland not gone out and acquired Marcus Camby, because Lopez would have been too much to contain going up against Juwan in the post. Brook held more than his own against Greg and Joel earlier this year, during Portland's 93-83 win in the Rose Garden, as he put up 32 points and 14 rebounds. Although Camby places the Trail Blazers in better shape to contain Lopez, I still think he can have another big night as long as the Nets make a conscious effort to run their offense through them. When a team is doing as poorly as they are and all hopes of post-season play have flown out the window months ago, players tend to audition for other teams or future contracts and "get theirs" instead of making the proper reads throughout the game.
With the Nets averaging a league-worst 90 points per game, holding them in check on 2nd chance points, points off of turnovers, and fast break points are a must if the Blazers want to get a nice head start on their road trip. The way Utah got back into the game was on the offensive glass. Portland must be cognitive of this and put a body on everyone in the paint. Rebounding is all about effort and, more times than not, whomever wants the ball more, gets it. I've been extremely proud of LaMarcus this year on the glass, as he has boosted his average up to 8.4. Defensive rebounding needs to be Aldridge and Camby's M.O. tonight; everything else is gravy. The key to initiating your tempo on the game is to control the backboards. The only way to take advantage of the fast break is to clean up the defensive glass and if we can work the offensive boards time and time again, sooner or later, the Nets will throw in the towel.
Lopez gets all the pub for New Jersey, however much that may be, but do not forget about Devin Harris. After a terrible start to the season, Devin Harris has quickly turned his game around in the month of February and the 09 All-Star has the ability to take over games by himself. During this month, he is putting up 19.4 points, on 43.3% shooting, 9.4 assists, and 3.3 rebounds. The X-Factor tonight for Portland will be getting off to a quick start and the bench providing a shot in the arm the team desperately needs. Unfortunately, I have an awful feeling about tonight's game, in the sense we will get off to a lackadaisical start and not bring it 100%. Had we held on to beat Utah, this would be a sure-fire win, but the fact the Nets have shown signs of life lately and we could be in pity-party mode, New Jersey will get win #6.
Game 59 Prediction: Trail Blazers 86 Nets 89
Post-Game Thoughts
We can all exhale. I am sure glad I was proven wrong last night, because if we had lost, it could have been the end of our season. Portland did everything right through the half, holding a 19 point lead and only allowing 37 points through 2 quarters, then all of a sudden the defense collapsed. Although the Blazers did a fantastic job of keeping New Jersey out of the paint, 26 points, slowing down their fast-break, 6 points, and held the Nets to a minimal 5 offensive rebounds, they left jump shooters open which made the game way too close for comfort. The Nets stormed back in the 3rd with 33 points to trim the lead down to 7 heading into the final period, mainly behind the hot shooting of Courtney Lee, who had 28 points on 11-18 shooting, including a perfect 4-4 from downtown. Not known as a 3 point shooting team, 2nd worst in the league at 30%, going 6-11 from beyond the arc was what kept the Nets right in contention until the very end. Luckily for the Trail blazers, you live by the 3, you die by the 3.
"We dealt with it," Roy said. "We did a great job tonight of holding a team off that was playing pretty loose."
The Trail Blazer offense looked pretty impressive throughout most of the game, spots here and there where we still got a bit too conservative and ran down the shot clock not included, which saw Roy and Aldridge finally come together as the dynamic duo we all knew they were. It always seems like either Roy is on or only Aldridge is on, never both excelling at the same time. Last night was a completely different story. The team made a conscious effort to force feed the ball into LaMarcus in the post, and he responded by going for 27 points, on 13-20 shooting, grabbing 7 boards, and handing out 4 assists. The sign of a great big man is always if he can dish out a few assists. If he is killing it down low it makes the defense think twice about sending the double team, because not only is he willing to make the extra pass but he is capable of seeing when and where to pass it to. He wasn't fully back in the Utah game, but B-Roy is baaaaaack now. Brandon had a team-high 28 points (9-14), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, but maybe more importantly were his 13 trips to the line, netting 10 of them. A sign of a superstar is their ability to get to the line 8+ times a night, and all of his foul shot attempts seemed to always keep the Nets at bay and thwart their momentum just enough to come away victorious.
Not to be overlooked is the excellent performance of Andre Miller. With his 20 points (7-10), he became the third Blazer to score 20 or more, giving the team a legit Big 3 for the night, something they have been craving since the arrival of Oden. Well, Greg is out for the year and the team is going to need a third musketeer to help out Brandon and LaMarcus. The play of the game had to be Dre's desperation three as the shot clock expired to always keep the lead above 5 points. Dre also found time to chip in 7 dimes and 5 rebounds, which he did while not committing a single turnover. For a guard who has been turnover prone since the start of the New Year, 2.52/gm, it was great to not only seen Andre take care of the ball, but the entire team as well. Portland set a team-low for the season with only four giveaways, a recipe for victory any day of the week.
What would a Blazers game be without any injuries? In the 1st quarter, a Nets player came down on Camby's ankle, causing him to miss the rest of the game and out for tonight's game in Toronto as well. Then, if that wasn't bad enough, after nailing a huge 3-pointer in the corner, either a fan or another New Jersey player was responsible for rolling Jerryd Bayless' ankle, who did not return to action. His status for tonight is still up in the air. At this point you can do nothing but shake your head and chuckle. I have already became numb to these injuries, because, really, nothing will surprise me this year.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Jazz: Game 58

Portland (32-25) ends their three-game home-stand and their season series against Utah (35-19) tonight. For the first three meetings this year between the two divisional rivals, Portland has been ran out of the gym before the 1st quarter could even expire. Utah has not only won each game handily by double digits (16,11,13), but done so with ease as the Trail Blazer defense has put up very little resistance. Normally, Portland holds their opposition to an average of 46.3% field goal shooting, but Utah shot an astounding 60% or better in every matchup to date, averaging 61.2% over the course of the three-game span. Not that Portland takes advantages of the breaks given to them (see last game when Boston was on a back to back), but it looks like Utah center Mehmet Okur will miss tonight's game as he is still with his newborn child and Ronnie Brewer will not be in action either as he was dealt for a future 1st round pick to Memphis during last Thursday's trading deadline. For whatever reason, the Trail Blazers are a very pedestrian 19-12 at home this year in the Rose Garden, compared to an admirable 13-13 on the road. Let those records marinate a bit. Division leading Denver has a worse road record, 13-14, but is 22-5 at home, propelling them to 2nd in the West. If only the Blazers could handle their business at home, even with these injuries, we could be fighting for the Northwest division crown and home court advantage in the playoffs. Trying to be as objective as possible, I feel the fans in Rip City are easily top 5 in the NBA, so the energy and fan support has been there the entire season. Maybe last season's 34-7 home mark gave the team a false sense of security, meaning other teams would automatically be intimidated by playing in Portland or the team thought they could turn it on or off at any point and find a way to get it done? Whatever the reason is, the Blazers must get these slow starts out of their system, as it was 21-2 the last time Utah came in here before anyone could blink, if they want a chance to get an all important win tonight. Focus. It is going to take 100% focus from the Trail Blazers tonight if they want to have any hope of slowing down the buzz saw that is the Utah Jazz offense. Utah averages 102.1 points a night, but they have made the Portland defense look like Swiss cheese getting 110.67 points during the three previous meetings. A lot of the buckets came from a lack of concentration. Not trying to single any one player out, because they all have played lackluster defense, but numerous times I have seen Martell Webster turn his head only to see his man make a mad dash to the hoop for an easy deuce. It is all about keeping one eye on the ball and one eye on your man. Not only do the Blazers need to keep their eye on their man, but please show some heart and fight through the screens! If there has always been one thing this team doesn't do well at all, is fighting through picks. Just like a lot of aspects in hoops, all it takes is effort. Bring more effort to the game tonight than Utah and our chances of winning exponentially increase. It really is as simple as that. B-Roy said he will continue to play through the pain, most likely another 30-35 minutes, but until he shows the conditioning is back and rust is off, the show needs to run through LaMarcus. I have only one mere request. When the ball gets dumped into the post, can we get some cutters to the hoop or back picks set up for our shooters? There is nothing more frustrating as fan than to see our team work one on one, while the other four players stand around, whereas the opposition is running an offense so beautiful, its impossible not to give credit to. LA is taller and longer than any player the Jazz can throw at him, but given a lack of height, the Jazz big forwards take on the persona of their head coach, Jerry Sloan and will fight you all game long. As long as Aldridge is up for the challenge of fighting for his spot on the blocks all game long, he should have an extraordinary night. As much as I want to not only predict a win but see a win, I don't see it happening tonight. The Jazz have ran a muck over us and each contest hasn't even been close, so what should make this time any more different? They have beat us with Greg and Joel in there, done it without Boozer before, and already got one win in the Garden. Even though the Blazers won't see Brewer and Okur from the last three matchups, right now the Jazz have our number and Jerry Sloan has a great system going on in Utah and could sub in a few D-Leaguers and I don't think they would miss a beat. I believe it will be much more of a game than the prior three, but our inability to stop them from scoring in the paint will be our downfall tonight. On a side note, I would love to see Dante and Jerryd get more playing time than they have accrued lately. Dante, because we need someone who can hit an outside shot and his ball denial defense is perfectly suited to defend Utah. Bayless, on the other hand, is the only one attacking the middle and could get us some cheap points at the line. Game 57 Prediction: Trail Blazers 97 Jazz 103 Post-Game Thoughts Just another chapter in the Season From Hell, right? Wrong. Whatever that was I just witnessed last night hurt much more than another notch on the Season From Hell's belt. This was a punch to the gut which lingers like the worst of hangovers. In a season which saw Portland field a team of only 8 healthy bodies for multiple games, Roy missing over a month with a pulled hamstring, Greg Oden an Joel Przybilla going out for the season with eerily similar injuries, and more blown home losses than I can remember, it was naive of me to think the season couldn't get any worse. Foolishly, I actually thought something positive could turn out from this 2009-2010 season, which should never be mentioned again after it's completion, and after Andre drove the lane, spun around, an found the L-Train for a flush, the lead was 25, 64-39, and I thought this win was going to spark us an maybe we could land a decent seed in the playoffs. Never believe "it can't get any worse than this", because it can, and as we have all witnessed this year, it will. Ever since Roy and Aldridge's rookie seasons, we have been relatively solid at closing out games where we possess the lead in the 4th quarter. For whatever reason, this team just does not learn from their past mistakes. Comfortable leads have been blown late in the 4th at Atlanta, vs. Memphis, vs. New Orleans, and now last night's game against Utah. After each game, the team says the same thing about how they need to quit laying off the gas pedal and becoming too conservative. Through two and a half quarters, the offense looked brilliant. We were holding the Jazz to one attempt on offense, grabbing the board, and running the break. When we got into the half-court set, there were cutters being sent to the hoop once the ball was entered into the post, the ball movement was crisp and quick, and we didn't settle for outside jumpers. To me, the game seemed like it took a turn for the worse when Aldridge picked up his 4th foul early on in the 3rd quarter. As soon as that happened, Boozer went absolutely nuts on the offensive glass, with 8 offensive boards, 23 total, and Utah was getting multiple opportunities on the offensive end and found themselves only down 13 heading into the 4th. The defense was so stout through 3 quarters, but we stopped doing what helped hold Utah to around 35% shooting through three periods. The rotations got slower which allowed Utah to penetrate, drop it down low, which lead the big who received the pass to quickly shovel it to a cutting player for an easy two. As porous as the defensive rebounding was, all the offense had to do was muster more than 10 points in the 4th and we walk away with a W. I love Andre Miller's game. I was in favor of signing him as a free agent, wanted him to be the starter from Day 1, and have dubbed him the first legit point guard we have had since Rod Strickland, but last night wasn't the most shining moment in his Trail Blazer career. Sure, 17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals reads nicely in the paper the next morning, but going 5-18 from the floor killed us. Dre has been more than solid for us this season, and normally I wouldn't mind him attempting the most shots of anyone on the floor, because he is usually getting lay-ups the majority of the time. In another baffling aspect of this game, it seemed like every shot he took was a jump shot, even throwing up three 3-pointers. Nearly every one of his jumpers were wide open, but shooting outside of the paint is not his game. Hopefully he watches the game tape and realizes next time he should pass up the long jumper for an attacking move to the hoop or pass it off to one of our other shooters. Like Andre, I really love what Howard has brought to the team this season and he has really played over his head for a lot of games this year but might it be time for him to be more of a mentor and play spot minutes in dire situations like he was originally brought into do? In nearly 30 minutes, he was held scoreless, on 0-3 shooting, and only managed to grab 3 rebounds. Not only that, but Boozer was his man on defense and he allowed Carlos to maul us on the glass way too easily. Juwan has had to log a ton of minutes, much more than he expected, and at 37 is he beginning to run out of gas? Maybe Coach Nate wanted a veteran presence out on the court as sort of a calming for the rest of the players as Utah was making their push. Another option could have been to see Dante get in there to see what he is capable of in the 4th. In only 8 minutes, he had 4 points, on 2-2 shooting, and had 2 rebounds. Even if Dante would have got eaten alive on the glass by Boozer too, his shot was not even hitting rim and could have helped us score more than 16 point in the 4th and overtime combined. In the "trying to be as positive as I can be" portion of this post, Nicolas Batum again showed flashes of brilliance. He had 14 points (5-10), all in the 1st half, and a game changing block from behind on Deron Williams that for sure will be a highlight for years to come. Being a small forward, he needed to be much more of a rebounding presence than last year, which he has been. Tonight he pulled down 9 boards and with his length he should be a double digit rebounding threat night in and night out. Along with Nico, Aldridge really impressed me by attacking the Utah big men at will and was on track for a big game had foul trouble not found him. Finally, Rudy seemed to have a nice breakout game. In total he had 10 points (4-11), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and zero turnovers which is key for his style of play. I've noticed he is the X-Factor most nights when his shot is dropping and he is making plays in the open-court, the team thrives on that and it snowballs from there. If the team wants to finish the year strong, the bench will need to be as on point as they were in the 1st half. Official Game Photos Box Score

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Celtics: Game 57

Tonight marks the all anticipated Trail Blazer debut of Marcus Camby as Portland (32-34) takes on the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics (34-18). Fortunately for the Blazers, Boston is on the second half of a back to back, after defeating the Lakers late last night in Los Angeles, 87-86, and not arriving into Portland until the wee hours of the morning. If that wasn't enough of a break, Boston will be without newly acquired Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry as well as Tony Allen, who suffered an ankle injury last night, which will force him to be inactive as well. The C's took Round 1 of this two part season series, 98-95 in OT, but it was against a nine-man Blazer roster, without Roy and Batum. If Portland could have only dodged one more Ray Allen 3 in the closing seconds, the Trail Blazers could have walked out of TD Banknorth Garden victorious.
Speaking of Ray, he is coming off a great shooting performance against the Lakers which saw him go 4-6 from behind the arc en route to a game-high 24 points. Back on January 22nd against Portland, he shot a pitiful 3-14 from the floor, but his looks were still pretty clear. Even though Allen has only shot over 50% from downtown in 15 of 51 games this season (29%), he still is a dangerous enough shooter that we must take serious. With Boston having one of the best 1-3 combos in the league, Rondo, Allen, and Pierce, there really isn't anyone the Trail Blazers can put Roy on to defend to help him exert less effort on defense. He most likely will get the call on Ray tonight, which means a lot of running around on the defensive end, especially around and through multiple screens used to free Ray up. To help mask Roy's hamstring, I would think Coach Nate would use a lot of switching when Allen is being ran off of picks to preserve not only Roy's energy for the 4th quarter, since he isn't in complete game shape yet, but so he doesn't put too much strain on his hamstring by trying to make that last gasp of effort in hopes of getting a hand in Allen's face.
With both teams in the NBA's top 5 in opposition points per game, Boston #1 at 93.5 and Portland #5 and 95.1, this has all the makings of a low-scoring, grind it out type of game. I think it is safe to say that players like Pierce, Aldridge, and Rondo will get their averages, but what will be the difference maker tonight will be role players. We all saw on Tuesday how Martell Webster broke the game open with his 28 points and 7 daggers from I-5. Without newly acquired Nate Robinson and recently dealt Eddie House, the Celtic bench takes a huge hit. On the other hand, Portland possesses Webster, Bayless, Fernandez, Cunningham, and Batum who are all capable of scoring in bunches to spark a Blazers win.
Okay, enough beating around the bush. Everyone wants to see what Marcus Camby is going to bring to the Blazers arsenal tonight. One commonality both of Portland's most recent acquisitions, Dre and Marcus, have is their intelligence on the court. Both are students of the game and knew most of our plays even before being introduced as Trail Blazers, which should make for a smooth transition for Camby. Dre has worked out fantastically to date and if there is one intangible factor that can measure potential success it is owning a high basketball IQ, which the "Camby Man" obtains. I wouldn't expect a world-beating performance out of him, as he is almost 36 years old, but look for a couple of blocks, double digits rebounds, and about 6 points. Hopefully his presence will be able to keep the Celtics out of the paint who got an inexcusable 56 points in the paint last meeting.
Boston is an aging team, with Pierce, KG, and Allen each at least 32 years old, and playing on the second half of a back to back, I really love Portland's chances to jump on them early and keep their foot on the gas pedal. Two factors play into this thinking. One, the Blazers have already played Boston very tough by forcing overtime and did so by giving up 56 in the paint and playing without Roy and Batum. Secondly, the crowd is going to be hype tonight. I expect all the loose balls to go Portland's way as they are the fresher team and the extra adrenaline rush the Rose Garden Faithful will provide. Boston will keep it around 10 in the 1st half, but look for a huge 3rd quarter from Portland to put this one away. As mentioned, LaMarcus will have his usual 22 and 9, but Rudy and Martell are going to continue their hot shooting ways and blow the game open. The Blazers bench is going to be the x-Factor.
Game 57 Prediction: Trail Blazers 98 Celtics
Post-Game Thoughts
How do you lose a game in which you shoot 40 free throws? For starters, setting a new franchise low for assists in a game with 7 certainly does the trick. If that wasn't appalling enough, Portland gave up 34 first half points in the paint, which lead to an 18 point halftime deficit. The Trail Blazers did better in the 2nd half, only allowing an additional 10 points, but what good does that do when you're shooting 2-12 from 3 and 33.8% from the field. The straw that broke the camel's back had to be the untimely turnovers. Somehow, someway, after falling behind by 20+ points, the guys scrapped back and found themselves down only nine with about nine minutes to go in the game. Rudy got the ball on the fast break and not once, but twice recklessly ran down two different Celtics, getting called for offensive fouls on both occasions, wiping away potential back to back three-point plays.
"That's the best defense we've seen all season," Fernandez said. "We have to learn from the way they play."
Hats off to the Celtics for playing physical, tough defense, even suffocating at times. By no means was this a "we beat ourselves" game, as Boston definitely put the clamps down defensively and never let up. They saw game tape of our previous win over the Clippers and in particular shadowed Webster the entire game, never even letting him attempt a shot until garbage time in the 4th quarter. As good as the Boston defense was, the Blazers offense was that bad. I've harped on the team for a while that isolation-style basketball doesn't work and tonight was prime evidence. 7 dimes, that's it! It seemed like every play down the court was an entry pass into Aldridge and the other four players stood around and twiddled their thumbs. Not only does this cut down on ball movement, but totally plays into the hands of a tired, veteran Celtic team who was playing on the second half of a back to back. It allows Boston to be the attacker on defense instead of reacting to our movement and passing.
"I would love for everything to come together overnight, but that's wishful thinking on everybody's part," Camby said. "I still have to get familiar with the guys and get more time in practice and in game with those guys for us to be successful."
No, it did not come all together for Camby and the Blazers in Marcus' debut. 2 points, on 1-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks is not what Marcus nor Blazer fans expected, but it will take time for the chemistry to occur on the court. The 3 blocks were excellent, but our poor defense allowed Boston to shoot 53.4% which negated his biggest strength, defensive rebounding. One thing I did notice was he is not the best man defenders, rather doing most of his damage off of the weak-side help. Joel and Greg may not have the stats Camby produces, but one thing which can not be quantified is how amazing they are at manning up the opposition's best post player. Portland fans should be thankful we have a legit 7 ft'er to fill in their void, but this year we are really seeing just how important and valuable Greg and Joel were and still are to this squad.
In 35 minutes of action, Brandon Roy looked rather pedestrian again, going for 9 points, on 3-8 shooting, 4 rebounds, and only 1 assist. It is quite obvious his hamstring is still nowhere near 100%. No one outside of Roy knows exactly how healed it is or just how uncomfortable or painful it is to play on, but a couple of questions remain to be answered. First, by playing on a sore hamstring, if he risking further injury to his body which could put his future in jeopardy? Also, is Roy helping or hindering the Blazers while he is on the floor right now in his current state? Not unexpectedly, Roy looked non-existent on defense and too hesitant on offense for my liking. If the hamstring doesn't show signs of improvement soon, it may be best to just let him sit as future seasons are more important than this one.
"I have to continue to try to get my rhythm, get a feel for what I can do out there," Roy said. "I've had a lot of time away from basketball. I'm still trying to find my way with this team. They've been playing good basketball, and I'm trying to figure out how I can get in there and help, and get back to where I was. It seems like it's going to take a couple of games, and this was a tough team to come back against. There's some soreness, but I've come to the point where it's going to be there, and I have to figure out how to play with it," he said.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Clippers: Game 56

After a nice, much needed five day break, the Trail Blazers (31-24) start the mythical 2nd half of the season at home for a string of three straight games, starting tonight against the Clippers (21-31). Overshadowing "Roy Watch 2010" was a major trade pulled off between these two exact teams today, sending Marcus Camby to Portland and Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, and cash considerations to Los Angeles. Due to NBA rules, all parties much take and pass physicals before being cleared to play so none of the three players will be involved in game action tonight, although Marcus Camby will be on the Portland bench. This is the 3rd of a four-game season series between the two teams and to date, the home team has won each match. Portland won 103-99 back on December 30th, behind 25 from Roy, while the Clippers got their revenge just five days later on January 4th, winning handily 105-95, powered by Kaman's 20 points and 8 boards.
Before the trade was made to net Portland a legit center for the rest of the season, the big question would have been, how do the Blazers respond after such a long break from play? They entered the All-Star break on a huge momentum boost after throttling the stunned Suns, keeping their heads above water in regards to the 8th seed. Now the Portland players must try their best to focus on the task at hand tonight, getting a win. It is always hard bringing in another person into what has become a family atmosphere here in Portland, let alone doing it mid-season, and there is no doubt the fans and fellow Blazers will embrace Marcus Camby with open arms, but Travis and Steve were both very well liked by their teammates. Add to the fact basketball probably hasn't been on the player's minds this weekend, which it really shouldn't be, but how quickly can they change mindsets? An intangible measurement, but it still will be key to see whichever team can shake the All-Star break hangover.
As a season ticket holder, I make all the home games and have noticed a troubling trend in the Garden; it's got quiet lately! The nationally televised game against the Spurs didn't get rowdy until eight minutes to go in the 4th, it was probably the quietest and most timid Blazer/Laker crowd I've seen since 2000, and really nothing more than a dull roar came from the Thunder game. Could it be the fans are losing hope with Roy out during this stretch or what? Whatever it is, the team needs the fans tonight more than ever! Blazer fans aren't used to mediocre home records (Portland is 18-11 currently) and I'm not blaming the team's poor play at home solely on the crowd, but when your team is undermanned, the fans are the ones to push the guys over the top. If we can get a great, raucous crowd tonight, Portland should be able to pull away.
Even without Camby, the Clippers still possess two other centers. Chris Kaman is an All-Star and young gun DeAndre Jordan is held in high regard by Clipper management, always shooting down teams trying to acquire him. Also, for one more game this season, Portland is still going to play undersized basketball. They must keep Kaman off of the glass. If he is going to score on jump shots or post up hooks, then so be it, but he thrives on garbage points. Whenever a shot goes up, someone must find him and body him up. If Portland can hold him to a relatively quiet game, around 15 points and 7 rebounds, then I like our chances to win as I don't think Eric Gordon and Baron Davis will each go off for monstrous games.
With or without Roy, the team will find a way to get it done tonight. Look for LaMarcus to have a huge game tonight, as without Camby the only available Clipper bigs are Kaman and Jordan and both rarely play on the floor together. Along with the L-Train, Dante Cunningham should continue his recent trend of hot shooting off of the bench and his outside shooting should draw bigger Clipper players out of the paint, opening it up for LaMarcus down low. It will be neck and neck the entire way, but a couple of Webster 3's will turn the tide in the favor of the Blazers mid-way through the 4th.
Game 56 Prediction: Trail Blazers 96 Clippers 88
Post-Game Thoughts
The Trail Blazers left all doubt behind early on that they were ready for action post All-Star break, leading by six after one period and 11 at the half. Before eventually blowing the Clippers out of the water, 109-87, Portland flirted with a drubbing the entire night before the Los Angeles bench, comprised of Mardy Collins, Bobby Brown, and starter Rasual Butler closed a 19 point second half lead down to five at 79-74. The Rose Garden faithful were getting restless and hoping to not repeat a similar choke job the year before against these same Clippers. Immediately after a timeout, Portland played with fire, not timid, en route to an 11-0 run which was aided by hard drives to the hole to put the game on ice.
"Tonight, we were more ready than they were," Portland center Juwan Howard said. "It was a good way to start the second half of the season."
"We won pretty much everything but the boards," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "Normally, you are a little rusty coming back after that many days off. But we did a good job taking care of the ball and moving the ball, and we shot the 3-ball good.
I had a feeling if we could slow Kaman down, it would put the entire Clipper offense in neutral, but not even in my wildest dreams would have believed the All-Star center could only manage 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 turnovers against two, smaller power forwards. What I love about the defensive strategy on Kaman was the constant harassment we sent his way. One time the point guard was sent down on the double, while the next go-round a small forward came from behind and poked it away. We had Kaman on his heels the entire night and it was key in sputtering a Clipper offense that has potential to be very high octane.
LaMarcus didn't have the monstrous game I predicted, but 22 points (9-16) and 9 rebounds will be welcomed with open arms each and every game. More important than statistics was the fact the offense finally ran through him and he responded. I do wish he would get more accustomed to passing to cutters out of the double team though, as he could have racked up numerous assists to streaking guards. I haven't seen the cut to the hoop once LA has had the ball in the post too frequent this year, so it could have been something new Coach Nate is implementing for the rest of the year and will take LMA a couple of games to get used to.
It was definitely a Marty Party in the Rose Garden last night. 28 points on 9-13 from the floor including an insane 7-11 from I-5, good enough to tie his career-high in points and set a new one for three-point field goals made in a single game. Even more impressive than his seven threes in my opinion, was the fact he put the ball on the floor as well and attacked the hoop when we needed a bucket. In particular, he had a big 3 point play to push our lead back up to 8 with about 8 to go in the 4th off of a hard drive to the hole. When Martell is clicking, he isn't thinking. He just catches and shoots with disregard, a perfect shooters mentality. Myself and a few other Blazer fans have said it before, but it is all mental for Webster. If he can just go out and play, without thinking, he could very well live up to his lottery pick hype. If we get this type of production from Marty the rest of the season, it could make it much easier for the team to swallow the thought of Brandon Roy being out longer than anticipated.
Roy surprisingly made his all anticipated debut last night, scoring 4 points and looking, to no ones surprise, very rusty. For whatever reason, his hamstring just will not heal and it is only allowing him to play for about 30-35 minutes before tightening up. The pain got so bothersome it hindered him from returning to the game in the 2nd half and has him rethinking his status not only for the rest of the home stand but for the rest of the regular season.
"I feel like I'm probably going to need to stop playing for awhile," said Roy, who had four points on 2-of-7 shooting in his 15 minutes. "It's hard to get a rhythm. I was more concerned about [making] the move than shooting the basketball. If I'm thinking that much about playing, it's not worth being out there."
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Hierarchy Of Trade Value: 2010 Trail Blazers

Normally, this fan can not stand Bill Simmons, but his annual NBA Trade Value Rankings got me thinking. The February 18th trading deadline is quickly approaching and as usual, the Trail Blazers are always in the rumor mill mix one way or another. All fans have their favorite players, but we also love to play "armchair GM" and have our own differing opinions of who should be available to go this deadline and who should be strictly off limits. From a Trail Blazer perspective, this list breaks down each Trail Blazer player's trade value, from "Don't even ask" to "Yeah, we're listening" based on these criteria: age, talent, contract, injury history, intangible assets, and their fit.
The Untouchables Brandon Roy Realistically, in the world of the NBA, there is only one player whom, if you had him, you would not listen to any offer, regardless. His name is LeBron James. Even though there are a few better players in the league than Roy, Portland should not, and would not entertain any offer for Brandon, even if Cleveland came a calling with LeBron at hand. Roy is Portland. He is the franchise. There is no coincidence that when the Blazers drafted him back in 2006, their fortune took a humongous turn for the better, including him being there in New Jersey, representing the Blazers at the 07 Draft Lottery as we miraculously won the lottery after only being given a 5% chance. It just wouldn't feel right if the Blazers didn't win the title without Roy during his tenure in the league. Not to mention Roy is still relatively young, 25, loves the city of Portland, and is locked up for the next 5 season. You're Wasting Our Time Even By Asking Nicolas Batum For a player only averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds, #2 would seem extremely high on the trade value list, but Nico excels in all the criteria. He just turned 21, still has at least three more years on a deal that won't net him more than $2 million in the coming seasons, and brings exactly what the Blazers need to the table, defense. In only his 2nd year in the NBA, he is already the best perimeter defender and his length and athleticism, give him the versatility to guard anyone from Kevin Durant to Deron Williams. The Trail Blazers shouldn't even entertain a trade offer including Batum unless it nets back another legitimate superstar to play along side Roy. Greg Oden Although the plethora of injuries has caused G.O. to miss 154 games through three NBA seasons, he still is an agile 7 ft. big man whom the Trail Blazers have invested a lot into. His value is as low as it can be, but there is still hope he can recover to be a healthy NBA player and show more signs of improvement as he did before he went down with the kneecap injury. Portland is better off right now holding onto him, at least through his contract, which still has two more years before a qualifying offer must be made, and hope he lives up to at least half of the hype rather than trying to cut their ties now and get a poor return on their investment. No On Must Know We're Talking! LaMarcus Aldridge Athletic, long, 6'11" forwards who can run like gazelles and possess great footwork do not grow on trees and the Blazers would be absolutely foolish to move him. Aldridge is only 24 and, like Roy, is inked through the 2012-13 season. LaMarcus has All-NBA talent, but so far has had a tough time bringing borderline All-Star production to the hardwood, as averages of 17 points and 8 rebounds are not quite as impressive as many Blazer fans would like to see from the type of skill set the L-Train attributes. On the plus side, LaMarcus is well-liked by his teammates, the perfect 2nd or 3rd option as he has no problem deferring to Roy, and is the perfect fit once Oden returns, as he is able to spread the floor with his mid-range game. Don't Come In Here With That Weak Offer Jerryd Bayless Like a lot of his Blazer teammates, Bayless is incredibly young, 21, still on his rookie deal through the 2013 season, and has shown flashes of brilliance, which makes him incredibly attractive for teams looking to decimate and rebuild their current squad. Like Batum, Bayless provides something this team desperately needs in his ability to get to the the foul line at will. Outside of Roy and Outlaw, Jerryd is the only other Blazer able to create his own shot. Although questions still arise as to whether he can be a full-time point guard or be relegated to scoring 6th man, I would look to keep Bayless at all costs unless someone completely overpays for him, because Jerryd plays with a chip on his shoulder and I get the feeling he would definitely haunt the Trail Blazers the rest of his career every time he matched up with us. Dante Cunningham Dante could have been put into really any of the below categories, but he has the makings of one of the great Trail Blazer role players ever to put on the red and black. Again, this list ranks players value to the team from a Portland vantage point more so than whom outside general managers would rank them. What I love about Cunningham is he doesn't play like someone who he is not; he sticks to his boundaries. On offense he finds the open spots on the court to let his automatic jump shot fly and is always hustling or crashing the boards for every loose ball. While on defense, he plays great, intelligent ball denial defense, knows how and when to bring the double team, and lately has shown an ability to occasionally be a weak-side shot blocker. At 22 and making less than $1 million through next season, he is one of the NBA's best bangs for his buck. Great role players are not only vital to have on championship-caliber teams but are almost as tough to find as superstars, so keep Dante! Rudy Fernandez It has been reported lately that opposing GM's are really intrigued by two Blazer players. While those names have not been published, it is widely accepted that Baum and Rudy are the two in question. Why wouldn't general managers go after Rudy? At 24 he is still young in age but wise in terms of basketball experience as he has been playing professionally in his native country of Spain since being a teenager. Although Rudy has been assigned to shoot mainly 3 pointers, all NBA executives know what he is capable of if given a larger role as they all saw the show he put on in the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, most notably showing off his sneaky hops by posterizing Dwight Howard. Rudy is lowest on the trade value list amongst the young Trail Blazer assets, because he plays the same position as Roy, but there is still Manu Ginobili-type play making potential off of the bench and a future three guard rotation of Roy, Bayless, and Rudy could be lethal. Not to mention, Rudy is a huge fan favorite so any trade involving him better bring back a big name that is a long-term fix He Means More To Us, Than You Travis Outlaw It's hard to believe Travis has been a Trail Blazer for seven years and is only 25 and with an expiring contract of $4 million this year, he is a very attractive trading chip for opposing teams looking to shed salary. Outlaw earns his paycheck by creating his own shot when the offense stalls and being "Mr. 4th Quarter", nailing clutch shots time after time. What makes him so much more valuable to the Trail Blazer franchise is he is our "glue guy." He keeps the team loose in the locker room and is friends with every player on the team. If there is a nicer Blazer on the roster, show him to me. This isn't a knock on the other players, but rather a credit to Outlaw. Joel Przybilla The only reason Przybilla isn't higher on this list is the injury suffered earlier this year in Dallas, which couldn't have occurred at a worse time for Joel personally. He has a player option in his contract which allows him the choice to opt out of the final year of his deal in hopes of cashing in one last big pay day. Rupturing his right patella tendon really puts any opting out ideas to rest as his value is pretty low around the league. Also, it must be mentioned that Joel is no spring chicken anymore. He recently turned 30 and it will be interesting to see how his body rehabs from such a major blow to the knee. Will he be slower laterally or be limited in his jumping, which is a major staple to his superb shot blocking? The reason he means more to the franchise is due to the loyalty he showed to us back in 2006, opting to re-up with the Trail Blazers, even after a lowly 21 win season which was worst in the league, and over comparable offers from the two prior champs, Detroit and San Antonio. Joel's blue-collar play on the court is beloved by fans and his "take no crap" attitude is embraced by the players, often playing the role of team intimidator. You'll Probably Have To Overpay Andre Miller At almost 34 years of age, the mileage on Dre's body is piling up but as the current NBA ironman, he shows no signs of breaking down. Having Andre running the show this season has been a breath of fresh air for Blazer fans, who haven't been blessed with a true point guard since Rod Strickland was "Lightning Rod' back in the mid-90's. My theory on how the Blazers have been able to keep nearly every single game competitive and even pull out some improbable victories, even with Roy out, has everything to do with Miler. He is a veteran presence on a team which needed one in the worst way. He looks to pass first, but also keeps the defense honest by scoring around 13 a game this year and 16 since the start of the New Year. According to GM Kevin Pritchard, "We have no interest in trading Andre Miller. Zero. None. Write it." Martell Webster Like Outlaw, it's difficult to believe how young Marty still is, just turning 23, and having already 4 and a half years of experience under his belt. Although his current contract will not pay him more than $6 million, he does have a pretty lengthy contract with a team option that could keep him in the Rose City through 2013. From the Blazers point of view, the deal is a steal as Webster is one of the better backup guard/forward combos in the league, averaging a career-high 10.8 points per game and becoming one of the better perimeter defenders on the team. He still has room to improve and if he does, it could make him one of the bigger bargains in the league. Thinking of it from an outsider's vantage point, Webster wouldn't be high on the pecking list of wanted Trail Blazer assets due to that same contact. With the economy still down, the current NBA salary cap could continue to decrease which means teams will only seek players on either one or two year deals. The only exception would be superstars who are signed for four or more years, because even available, good-to-great players with long and large deals like Andre Iguodala are being looked at twice due to the thought of a hard-cap being implemented when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached after the 2011 season. Juwan Howard Who would have ever thought Juwan Howard would be on pace to start 50 games at center for the Trail Blazers this year? When word first leaked out about the one-year deal he signed in the off-season, most fans believed him to just be along for the ride as well as being a veteran presence in the locker room and during practice. At $1.3 million, Juwan is one of the best deals in the entire NBA and frankly, I think he earned his whole paycheck after his tirade in the locker room after a recent home loss to the Thunder. At 37, unfortunately this could be Howard's last year, or maybe he gives us one more year of solid basketball. What really stands out about Howard is his willingness to take younger players under his wing. It's fitting that this attitude comes from his early days with the Washington Bullets, when former Blazer Kevin Duckworth did the same for him. His impact on the Trail Blazers is unquantifiable, even to the point that I would love to see him involved with the organization much longer after his playing days, such as a Trail Blazers ambassador. Unless another team is willing to seriously overpay for a stately veteran, it's highly unlikely he'll be traded. We're Listening Steve Blake Every contending NBA team needs players like Steve Blake, who are hard working, play to their strengths, and known for stepping up and knocking down clutch shots. One reason Blake slid so far down this list is due to his age, 30, and, up to this point, he hasn't been able to match his 2009 production this year. Last year was really a career-year for Steve, scoring 11 points a night, making 140 trifectas on 42.8% shooting from downtown; all personal bests. However this year, through 55 games, his scoring is down to 7.6, 3-point shooting slumped a bit to 37.7% and he hasn't been hitting the three as frequently as he would like, only drilling 78 to date. What opposing organization's love about Blake is his $4.9 million expiring contract, which can be very enticing for teams looking to cut costs and start over (ex: Washington moving Butler and Haywood for essentially four expiring deals.) Jeff Pendergraph When much-loved, oddball Channing Frye left Portland for Phoenix in the summer, it was wondered by many fans who would fill that void left in the locker room? Enter rookie power forward Jeff Pendergraph who has left his own quirky mark on the Trail Blazers, mainly from his pre-game "War Dance". Jeff is a high-energy, hustling player who has no problems playing spot minutes off the bench. He has great rebounding fundamentals which allowed him to record a career-high 14 boards earlier this year. He currently has a tendancy toget lost a bit too much on D right now, but once he gets more accustomed with the Blazers defensive philosophies his minutes and value should rise. As long he keeps his high energy persona, his sub $1 million contract over three seasons will be looked upon as a great deal. Patty Mills Potential, potential, potential. Unfortunately, this is all we have to go on in regards to Patty Mills, as being the 15th man doesn't allow him to showcase himself on the NBA stage. Like Rudy, he has shown the ability to hold his own on the international circuit against Team USA's best, apparently being too quick for Chris Paul to handle. Another positive sign can be found in his play down in the NBDL, scorching the D-League competition for the Idaho Stampede in multiple games for 30+ points. I remember reading back in 2008 how the body language for Josh McRoberts was pretty lackluster after being sent to Idaho, which was a major red flag in many people's eyes. Somehow McRoberts felt entitled to be apart of the Trail blazers and saw the less than luxurious life in the D-League as a demotion rather than a chance to improve on his game. Patty, only 21 and making less than $500,000, is a good young prospect to hang onto. Many believed he made a pretty big mistake leaving St. Mary's after his Sophomore season and those sentiments were cemented after he fell to 55th in the NBA Draft, but it is not out of the realm to assume he would go in the late 1st with another superb season with St. Mary's.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three straight losses is tough, but all's not lost. Check out our latest podcast. We talk trades, season direction, and the game last night versus the Thunder. Let us know what you think of the podcast and feel free to share your thoughts on the topics as well! Feb 10th Holy Backboard Podcast

Trail Blazers @ Suns: Game 55

Portland (30-24) heads off to the valley of the sun to take on Phoenix (31-21) in the last game before the All-Star break. If it seems like the Blazers haven't played in Arizona in a long, long time, well, it is because they haven't. Oddly enough, both of the Blazer trips to Phoenix last season occurred in November of 08, essentially making it 14 months since playing in Arizona. The less trips to the desert the better for Portland as US Airways Center does not treat the our team kindly with losses in nine straight meetings and only two wins in 17 tries since the beginning of the 2000-01 season. Add to the fact the Suns are a solid 18-6 at home, current owners of a five-game winning streaks, and their uptempo pace doesn't match up too well with our personnel.
The up and down, frantic pace the Suns play at on a nightly basis is difficult enough to handle on a regular night, but the Blazers are playing on the second night of a back to back, while the Suns have been off since Friday night. Also, if you factor in an NBA-high 54 games played prior to tonight, the Blazers have got to be mentally exhausted as well as physically banged up and the thought of an All-Star break to re-charge the batteries is looking better and better by the minute, which means the team could be looking ahead to their time away from hoop instead of focusing on the task at hand tonight. Portland added veterans Andre Miller and Juwan Howard specifically to handle situations such as this and to always have the team with their eyes on the prize, but the team can't hang their hat on recent good play or having their superstar to bail them out. The team has lost three straight and only are 3-6 in their last 9.
For Portland to have any chance at getting a W tonight, they must guard the three point line. Phoenix is tops in the league in bombing away from downtown, shooting an astounding 40.8% as a team. The Suns possess three of the top 20 3-point shooters in terms of made field goals, with Channing Frye 3rd making 119, Steve Nash 13th by nailing 91, and Jason Richardson rounding out the top 20 with his 83 treys. Throw in Jared Dudley who's 74 bombs are no slouch considering he shoots 47.1% from downtown, good enough for 3rd in the league, Phoenix is loaded with gunslingers with quick trigger fingers when it comes to letting them loose from downtown. The Blazers must play with a purpose tonight on defense and close out on the Sun shooters, along with putting up a hand in their face. If they [Portland] come out with their tail between their legs and heads hung low, it will be a field day for the Suns on offense.
The Trail Blazers are a jump shooting team first, but there is no way they can or should try to win a shooting contest with the Suns. One of the main reasons Portland was able to rally for the 105-102 victory back on December 17th was attacking the rim, which lead to 35 free throw attempts. A lot of the damage was done by Jerryd Bayless who had a then career-high of 29 points (9-15) by getting to the rim and forcing the officials to blow their whistles to the tune of 12 trips to the foul line for JB. Jerryd has been in a little bit of a rut lately with his jump shot, but he is one player who's confidence will never waver, even through the peaks and valleys of an NBA season.
Personally, I think this will be a game where only the die-hard fans will tune in and watch till the bitter end. The Blazers are in a downward spiral right now, tired, not playing well, and looking ahead to the rest of five days off which will end up in a Suns blowout victory. As mentioned, they are the polar opposites of Portland right now, winners of five straight, playing at home, and have had a staggering four days rest between games. This one will feel much like the first game in Utah, over before the tip. Look for Phoenix to jump out on us early and often, as they will smell the blood in the water.
Game 55 Prediction: Trail Blazers 87 Suns 110
Post-Game Thoughts
"We got our ass kicked, plain and simple," Gentry said. "They outplayed us in every phase. They outhustled us. They made good plays, good passes, everything we didn't do."
For Coach Nate McMillan, those words spoken by opposing Coach Gentry, about his team, must be music to his ears. There is no higher compliment a coach can receive than to hear about how hard his players played and the effort and hustle provided was second to none. Reports came out after the OKC loss that Coach Nate has been trying to get through to his players, but when all the yelling is coming from the coach, it has a tendency to be tuned out. Cue Juwan Howard. From the "Behind the Blazers Locker Room" series, Mr. Howard made his presence known quite well Tuesday night in the locker room, throwing and kicking the water cooler around the room and going on a tirade about their effort given was unacceptable and their recent play was only embarrassing themselves. This situation was exactly why a veteran like Howard was brought into the team as sometimes it takes an older peer to get through to the team. As surprising as his play has been on the court, Juwan has been just as amazing off of it and even if he retires, there needs to be a spot made for him in the Blazers organization.
Boy, I don't think I have been so happy to be proven wrong by my team! At least I wasn't alone in the sentiment that this game did have blowout written all over it. If the "Mikes", two of the biggest Blazer optimists, can feel that way, then the Trail Blazers really surprised us all! Although it was a bit of a "fools gold" victory, due to getting outscored in the paint, 30-48, and shooting a lights out 58.4% from the floor. The mid-range shot was just falling for our guys tonight. We only received 15 points from the foul line and nine points on three 3-pointers. If you add the free throw, points in the paint, and 3-pointers, Portland scored 54 of their 108 on those three facets of the game, meaning the other half of our points were on jump shots. In no way, shape, or form am I trying to downplay this huge win which is easily a top 5 win on the season, but fans shouldn't expect to hit all of those jump shots at such a torrid pace. I will give the Blazers credit for moving the ball around and using dribble penetration for getting a lot of those jumpers wide open. Personally, I just would have liked to see more than 19 trips to the foul line, really only 13 as the last six were Phoenix fouling in desperation.
Its really quite difficult to single one player out for the reason we got this win tonight as it was the quintessential team win, with nearly everyone having a hand in the Blazer win. One person who deserves their due on this blog is Steve Blake. I have been pretty critical of his play to date this year, but he played with a purpose and their was a lot of confidence in his decision making last night. His 20 points (7-12) and 12 assists were extremely vital in the Trail Blazer win. He got hot to start the game which gave us the chance to put Phoenix in our rear view and he had an absolute back breaking, momentum stalling three in the 4th, right after Batum's, to kick the lead back up to 13 after the Suns chopped a 22 point lead down to seven in a span of about three minutes.
Aldridge had 22 points (11-17) and 6 boards and Andre chipped in with 20 points (8-15), 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, but if there was a second game ball to give out, it goes to Dante Cunningham. The dude is just automatic from 15 feet. He shot another amazing percentage, this time going 6-7, which lead to his 13 points. He also found time to grab four rebounds, halt a fast break by swiping away a Jason Richardson lay up, get dunked on hardcore by Amare, and still had enough game to return the favor to Stoudemire with a poster of his own. When I watch him play, I can't help but thinking, "No way is he a rookie, let alone a 2nd round pick."
Official Game Photos
Box Score