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

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