Friday, March 12, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Kings: Game 68

After exerting a lot of emotion and energy during last night's win in Oakland against the Warriors, the Trail Blazers (39-28) stay in northern California for their second bout with the Kings (22-43) in just four days. Portland took the two prior meetings earlier this season at the Rose Garden, 95-88 and 88-81, but neither win was as comfortable as it should have been. Like most young teams, the Kings are a much different animal on their home floor, which has accounted for nearly 73% of their win total this year(16)and they have been prone to knocking off quality teams with wins over the Jazz, Raptors, and Clippers just in the past two weeks. Like last night's game in Oracle Arena, Portland must try to find a way to get a victory at Arco Arena, a place the Blazers have struggled mightily in as of late. The Trail Blazers are only 7-13 in their last 20 in the small, but vocal Arco Arena.
Looking at the Kings game logs, the key to beating them at home lately is to score more than 100 points. Dating back to their last 10 home games, the Kings are 4-6. In the six losses, five times did they give up more than 100 points and in the four wins, they held their opponent under the century mark. Portland only averages 98.1 points on the road but have scoring in triple figures 11 straight times with an average of 106.4 points during that stretch. To add fuel to the fire, the Blazers are 22-8 when scoring over 100 points, a .733 winning percentage. To put that winning percentage into perspective, only the Cleveland Cavaliers current regular season percentage of .769 would top the Trail Blazers mark of .733.
Although the players have to be exhausted after the late TNT start, especially Roy who willed the team to victory, seemingly doing everything for the team the entire night, this is a team which thrives on the second halves of back to back games. They are currently 12-3 in such situations. The slower tempo pace is one major reason why the Blazers have such success in back to back situations, because they don't have to change the way they play when they are tired. Also, the Blazer bench provides outstanding depth and added energy when the team needs a shot in the arm. During Tuesday's win, the bench for Portland was fairly mediocre, with only Webster scoring in double figures and getting outscored 22-23 by their Sacramento counterparts. Roy looks as if he's back, but I wouldn't bet on him scoring 40+ again, so the bench must achieve at least 25 points and completely outplay their fellow 2nd unit foes.
There's not really much more that needs to be said which hasn't already been covered four days ago. As long as Portland controls Landry on the glass, keeps Evans out of the paint, and forces the entire Kings team into contested jump shots, the game is ours for the taking. Even though the Blazers have struggled to hit 100 against these Kings this season, their recent road scoring trends lead me to believe an offensive outburst is in order for tonight. I think the 4th quarter of last night's game finally awoke this team from their nonchalant, casual ways. Make no mistakes about it, the Kings will come to play and fight hard all night long, causing this matchup to be a back and forth affair. I have a feeling we'll see a much more efficient Aldridge tonight as he will lead the team in scoring en route to another back to back win. Also look for Miller to come up with crucial "stop the bleeding" type of plays and the back-court of Bayless and Rudy to bring the noise off the bench.
Game 68 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Kings 97 Post-Game Thoughts
Who was that team and what did they do to the Trail Blazers? For 48 minutes, it was like watching a completely different team than we have seen over the past couple of months. There was focus, intensity, purpose, and a will to win tonight. Finally, for a full 48 minutes, Portland put together a complete game, succeeding in all facets. A lot of the credit must be handed out to Roy for his assertive tone he set tonight. Instead of the team running their early offense through Aldridge, Roy was the pace car tonight, leading the way for the Blazers to come away with a 110-94 victory. As Roy said in his post-game interview, the team looks to him for guidance and when they see him passive, they have the tendency to do the same. To thwart this from happening, Roy was in attack mode from the get go and really let it be known how the game was going to be played out from the opening tip.
"Just trying to give the team a spark. Try to tune myself up. Try to play with confidence, play with swagger, give this team some swagger."
I really didn't think Brandon would be able to play up to his superstar level on the 2nd half of a back to back, mainly due to the rustiness from the near month long departure from the hamstring injury, but I was wrong. Brandon's baaaaack. I almost forget just how unbelievable his game is, because he hasn't strung together games of this nature since his late December run. Outside of LeBron, if there is a more efficient player in the league, please show him to me. Again, Roy scored 28 points, yet only took 13 shots, making 10 of them. Not only was his mid-range game on point, a great sign for Trail Blazer fans as it is the staple of Roy's offensive game, but he was aggressive and forced the defense to send him to the line 6 times, hitting each one of them. When Roy is at this level of play, it gives me hope of competing in the playoffs. Without a 100% Roy, it has been so difficult to watch as the opposition knows they have a superstar to lean on when they need a bucket while we were scrambling to find someone to keep our heads afloat. No longer do we have to worry.
"I'm trying to get it back. I missed a lot of games there," Roy said. "In coming back from injury, sometimes you feel like your game is on and others days you feel like it's nasty. But I'm starting to think my aggressiveness is coming back."
"I wanted to be patient, and get guys involved," Roy said. "To take what the defense was giving me and continue to be aggressive even if that means to pass and put pressure on the defense."
Not to be out-shined by Roy was the Trail Blazer bench. Not only did I want to see 25 or more points from them, but also to destroy the King bench in every aspect of the game. Although the box score tells one story, Sacramento bench outscores Portland 2nd unit 44-36, the game told another. It was the outstanding play of Bayless, Howard, and Fernandez which really helped pull Portland away from the Kings in the 2nd quarter, while the Kings bench did most of their damage with the game already in hand. Juwan ran the break like he was rockin' the high-top fade, long shorts, and maize, Michigan jersey, Rudy kept his hot three-point shooting rolling (3-5), and Bayless was anywhere and everywhere on the floor. A big momentum boost occurred at the end of the 1st when Jerryd took it cost to coast and managed to draw a foul as he was shooting from distance. He stepped up and knocked down all three free throws to give Portland some breathing room.
Not only did Portland improve to 13-3 on the 2nd half of a back to back, but they have now scored 100+ points on the road for an incredible 12 straight games. The team just had it flowing tonight and it wasn't just another "we're on fire shooting jump shots" games. Portland was incredibly lethal from three-point land in limited attempts, going 5 of 9, and shot a combined 38-74 from the floor, good enough for 51.4%, but neither were the main reasons why the 110 points were achieved. The Trail Blazers got the Kings into the penalty early and often and obeyed the Schonz by making 29 of 32 free throws. With the addition of Camby, the Blazer defense should be a little more formidable, but if the offense can continue to carve up defenses with an array of plays, Portland will be the team no one wants to play in the first round.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

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