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

1 comment:

  1. Man, I hope you're right. A loss to these scrubs would hurt really bad.