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

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