Saturday, March 6, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Nuggets: Game 65

After a much deserved three day rest, Portland (37-27) heads back to the hardwood to face divisional rival Denver (41-21) in a nationally televised broadcast. The two teams split both games earlier this year at the Rose Garden with Denver edging out Portland, 97-94, due to missed free throws down the stretch and Portland exacting revenge on Christmas Day, 107-96, behind Roy's 41 points. In a season that has saw Portland get monkey's off of their back in historically difficult arenas to win in (San Antonio, Dallas x2), the Trail Blazers will get another chance for a improbable win. Since the 1999-00 season, the Trail Blazers are a disastrous 3-17 in the Pepsi Center. Really, the Nuggets haven't been competitive since the middle of the prior decade, but they have always been one of those thorns in our sides, regardless of team record. A combination of the altitude and historical bug-a-boo will make this one of Portland's toughest games played to date.
With Kenyon Martin out for an indefinite amount of time with a partially torn patella tendon, an already limited Denver front-court now becomes razor thin. Looking back at their last game against Indiana, Denver inserted Joey Graham into the starting lineup in place of K-Mart with seldom-used big men, Johan Petro and Malik Allen, getting left over minutes. If Aldridge is on his game, being aggressive in wanting the basketball and attacking the hoop, the Nuggets will be in a Catch-22 situation. If they try to stick the 6'7" Graham or 6'8" Anthony on LA, he will simply shoot over them down in the post with either the baby hook across the middle or the fade away from the baseline. Want to try Nene on the L-Train? Be my guest. A better defender than the previous two, Nene may be the more logical answer to solve the problem Aldridge will cause Denver. If the two ever get matched up, look for LaMarcus to either take him outside for the jumper or try to out quick him off of the dribble. Most of the time I want Aldridge on the blocks at all times, but maybe being on the perimeter may not be the worst of ideas if Nene is assigned to him. It would force Nene to stay away from the paint, which will allow for more offensive rebounding opportunities and clear the lane for drives by Roy, Bayless, and Miller.
Denver possesses three of the deadliest offensive players in the league which scare me to death when thinking of trying to defend them. Melo, Chauncey, and J.R. Smith average approximately 64 points combined and if Portland wants to have any chance at getting a win they must find a way to not let them exceed that average. Anthony, in particular, has abused the Blazers this year. In the two previous games, he has put up averages of 36.5 points, on 50% shooting, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. When he gets hot, Carmelo is a rare breed of NBA scorer whom can't be stopped, unless he isn't allowed to touch the basketball. As soon as he gets his man in the triple threat position, it's over. He's quick enough to blow right by his defender to get to the hoop and has one of the smoothest mid-range jumpers in the game. Although he has lit up Portland like a Christmas Tree this year, the Blazers should take some solace in knowing their top man defender Nicolas Batum was absent for both games. We've all seen what Batum can do to disrupt dominant shooters, most notably his 4th quarter/overtime defense on Dirk Nowitzki. If Nico can keep Anthony out of the paint and force him into tough jumpers, his length should be enough to bother him. Great defenders can only do so much though. Let's hope he isn't having another one of "those" nights.
For the Trail Blazers to get a much needed victory in hopes of moving up the food chain in the Western race, their bench needs to completely outclass Denver's. I don't think Brandon is completely 100% back yet, so banking on him heading into the phone booth only to re-emerge with a cape and carrying us to a win is not a smart bet. The key for our bench is to not only match but exceed the energy Carter, Smith, an Birdman play with, especially at home in front of their frenzied fans. Already without Martin, it looks like the Trail Blazes will catch another break as Ty Lawson is listed as out indefinitely with a sore shoulder after injuring it last Sunday in L.A. Obviously we'll need one or two of our 2nd string players to get hot from the field, but tonight, it will all start on the defensive end of the court. Bayless must pester Anthony Carter for 94 feet, Webster and Rudy must always find J.R. Smith in transition and consistently put a hand up on his 3 point attempts, and imperative that Dante keep the Birdman off of the offensive glass. If Portland can thwart a very productive Denver bench, it will force an already depleted Nugget starting five into exerting much more effort than originally planned. The bottom line is Portland must either outscore the Denver bench or hold them under 25 bench points.
The Nuggets average 107.47 points per game, good enough for 2nd best in the league, but that number increases to 112.2 a night when they play at the Pepsi Center. Unsurprisingly, Denver not only scores more at home but wins at a much higher clip playing in front of the home crowd. They are 27-5 when trying to protect home court, 3rd best home record in the entire NBA. If those stats don't put the Blazers back's against the wall enough, we do not fair well in uptempo, high-scoring affairs. When we allow our opponents to score over 100 point, only 4 wins in 19 attempts are the results, bad enough for a .211 winning percentage. With all that has been presented, it looks like the deck is stacked pretty heavily in Denver's favor. On one hand, I love our chances against a Nuggets team missing Martin and Lawson, but we could be without Marcus Camby after he rolled his ankle in practice. On the other hand, past and present trends have shown Portland fares horribly in the altitude of Colorado and against teams who score in bunches. Call me skeptical, but I'll take the latter as the most likely scenario occurring tonight. The game will be tightly contested throughout, but I just don't think we'll be able to match them basket for basket. Prove me wrong Blazers!
Game 65 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Nuggets 109
Post-Game Thoughts
Anytime your two stars shoot a combine 9-28 for only 28 points while playing in one of the most difficult arenas in basketball, it will be a recipe for disaster. Denver came out like a team on a mission and it was evident in their basketball moves and decisions on the court. Each shot, pass, or drive to the hoop was made with quickness and decisiveness, while Portland was slow to react to everything the Nuggets threw at us. It was their game plan to take Aldridge and Roy out of the game and force our role players to beat them. Job accomplished. While LA was slow kick it out of the double teams, Roy was literally non-existent on the court. I truly hope it was the hamstring bothering him, because he looked a step slow all night, lethargic, and really not completely into the game. If it weren't for Rudy, Bayless, and Miler, it would have been a 40 point blowout on national television.
"We didn't establish an offensive rhythm the entire game," Roy said.
Speaking of those three players, it was nice to see them, for the most part, stay in their comfort zone and not try to do things out of their skill level. When we cut the 21 point lea down to 7, it was Bayless scoring from inside or outside, getting to the line at will, Miller pushing tempo at every single opportunity, and Rudy spotting up from distance and killing it outside. Outside of a few jump-pass turnovers, this was one of Jerryd's best games as a Trail Blazer. When his jump shot is on, he is one of the most difficult covers in the league, as well as crazy efficient. In just under 24 minutes, Bayless dropped a team-high 24 points, on 6-10 shooting, including 3-3 from beyond the arc and 9-11 from the stripe, 5 assists and 2 rebounds. Although the score, 118-106, was not indicative of how badly Denver outplayed us, I wasn't too upset after this loss, because games like these are evidence that Jerryd Bayless is going to be a very good player in this league and our future floor general.
The Nuggets shot the living daylights out of the ball, to the tune of 58.9% and even getting a few shooter's bounces, but that is to be expected when a team scores 112 a night on their home floor. I thought Billups, Anthony, and Smith needed to be held below their combined 64 points for a chance to win, but Portland did nothing to even slow down one of them as they tallied 73 points. Even though Melo got some very questionable superstar calls, he was the aggressor all night, always getting to the line or finding a way to put the ball in the hoop to stop the bleeding. Letting Melo get 30 and Chauncey 21 is acceptable, because really the only people who can stop players of their caliber are themselves. What really got ticked me off was our defense on J.R. Smith. Do we not watch game film or pay attention to player tendencies? I lost count of how many times Smith was left open in transition, given way too much space, or was not closed out on. In the end, Smith was a smooth 4-8 from 3 which always seemed to be a break the backs of our Trail Blazers.
"Every time we would get it under 10 we would turn the ball over, missed some free throws or did something to allow them to get momentum back," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
Portland's next five games (Kings,@ Warriors, @ Kings, Raptors, Wizards) are all winnable, but after the loss in Denver, the Trail Blazers now see themselves four games behind the Spurs in the loss column. Luckily for Portland, the Spurs have an incredibly difficult remaining schedule and must play without point guard Tony Parker who fractured his 4th metatarsal and is now out for six weeks. The bottom line is if Portland can't catch San Antonio for the 7th seed with everything seemingly in their favor, I'm not sure we even deserve to make the playoffs. I didn't expect the Blazers to win the game last night, but I expected it to be a much more competitive game than it really was, especially considering their injuries. If we don't start beating some of these +.500 teams, a little bit of doubt is going to creep into my head about this team. We have been so resilient this year, which is why I have hope we will bounce back from this loss, but these next five games will tell the story for the rest of the season. There is no easier stretch of games for Portland than these upcoming five, where we need to win at least four of them if we want to be taken seriously in the playoff picture.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

No comments:

Post a Comment