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


  1. LaMarcus posts up the way a guard does- too far away from the basket and looking for a fadeaway jumper instead of a drop-step dunk. I'm not sure he can be taught how to be an effective post player. He prefers to shoot runners off of one leg even when he does get near the rim. Finesse player. Good...but ultra soft.

  2. what a game for the L Train. that tip in off Roy's missed free throw was a huge moment for the Blazers in this game but unfortunately as we've seen before we couldn't capitalize on anything late in the game despite the fact that Chicago kept letting us back in with sloppy play. I completely agree that our 4th quarter offense needs to be looked at. It really is alarming that our offense falls apart late in games when it needs to be solid to take away wins. I think BRoy pushed too hard on that last possession, he didn't look 100% at that point, and I LOVE Roy but I don't want anything less than 100% shooting a contested clutch three to win the game, it would have been much more wise to maybe drive to the hoop and try for an and 1 but that's all coulda woulda shoulda talk. Tonight, as you said, just wasn't our night. Hopefully we can push through for a 4-1 road trip!!

  3. It just sucks we pushed so hard for an OT win and came up we must find some energy tomorrow in Minnesota. Like all road games, we need more than 1 bench player to step up.

  4. What a frustrating finish. No way the Blazers should have lost that game. With missed layups and FTs, the Bulls did everything but give it to us at the end but all Nate could think of to draw up was "You win this by yourself, Brandon."

    And we got outhustled by a guy who can barely walk because of plantar fasciitis.