Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Kings: Game 66

Tonight marks the first game of a five-game stretch where Portland (37-28) needs to make up ground on the teams above them in the standings. Up first is jump-start Sacramento (21-42) and Rookie of the Year front-runner Tyreke Evans. The two teams will get acclimated with one another quickly and frequently over the next 25 days as three meetings are schedule to occur, including two matchups this week. In the only prior meeting earlier this year on December 15th, Portland outlasted a strong effort from Evans behind 25 points a piece from Roy and Aldridge to pull away 95-88. Although the Kings have 21 wins, 15 of those have came at Arco Arena, giving them only six road wins, the 4th worst in the entire league.
One of the more underrated moves made at the deadline that got swept under the rug was Sacramento's move to essentially swap out Kevin Martin for Carl Landry. Since the move the Kings haven't noticed the results on the win/loss column, but they have been playing very competitively lately, even pulling off upsets over the Jazz and Rockets. By moving Martin, it allows Evans to slide over to the 2-guard, his more comfortable and natural position and brings in Blazer-killer Landry. In his four games against Portland this year as a Rocket, Landry put up 17.3 points, on 46.9% field goal shooting, and 5.5 boards. Luckily for the Trail Blazers, it appears Marcus Camby should return from his one-game absence with another sprained ankle. No matter who is in the game, they are in for a war. Landry was shot in his leg on March 17th and returned to action less than a month later on April 7th. The same player who took an elbow from Dirk Nowitzki, disengaging multiple teeth hard enough causing them to embed into Dirk's elbow. Most players would have been out at least a week, yet he returned to the court after a one-game hiatus. LaMarcus, Dante, Juwan, and Marcus better get their war paint on tonight, because he plays with a reckless abandon and will do anything to get the loose ball.
The marquee matchup tonight will feature Roy vs. Evans. Both shooting guards with point guard handles and play at their own pace. Each seemingly can get to the rim at will without extraordinary athleticism. A surprisingly good rookie class, even without Blake Griffin hooping this year, Evans is head and shoulders above the rest. If he can up his assists marginally, he will be only the 4th rookie in NBA history to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, joining Jordan, LeBron, and Oscar Robertson. For Portland to have any chance in this game tonight, Brandon needs to mentally zone in to the task at hand. I mentioned it in the Denver post-game thoughts, but he didn't even look 80% out there and his body language wasn't uplifting either. No one but Brandon knows how badly his hamstring is bothering him, but if he can't go harder than he did on Sunday, I recommend he sit, because Evans is a load to try and keep out of the paint. If Roy is back to normal, then he must assert himself early and teach the young Evans a few things, because even though Tyreke has the potential to become better than Brandon, Roy is the superior player now.
With their 106 points against Denver, Portland eclipsed the century mark for the 7th straight time, an impressive feat for the 21st scoring team in the league. I believe if the Trail Blazers do not score over 100 tonight, something terrible could go wrong. The Kings allow the 5th most points in the NBA at a little over 105 a night and with no real shot blockers inside, Portland should look to abandon their jump shooting philosophy and attack the hoop at will. Along with watching the Roy/Evans battle closely, my other main interest is seeing if guard Jerryd Bayless can build off of one of his better performances as a Trail Blazer. If NBA teams were smart, they would take the tape from the Denver game and watch how they took Roy and Aldridge out of the game and made others try to beat them. It will be up to the likes of Bayless, Batum, Cunningham, Webster, Miller, and Rudy to make the Kings pay for putting all their attention on the big two. It should be noted that Aldridge needs to swing the back in a much quicker and timely manner than he has been lately. Without a quick pass out of the double team, it doesn't even give the other players a chance to take the shot, because by the time the ball has arrive the defender has made up the ground and is now in their grill.
I don't think we'll be seeing any blowouts tonight like we saw against the Pacers, due to the Kings mentality. Coach Paul Westphal has them believing in leaving it all on the court, not tanking, and playing the part of spoiler. Roy will definitely make it a priority tonight to make amends for his porous outing on Sunday and the bench will bring it in full force tonight in front of the RG crowd. Look for a tight game throughout the half, but once the subs are made later on in the 3rd quarter, the Bayless/Rudy back-court tandem will go to work and put the game out of reach.
Game 66 Prediction: Trail Blazers 105 Kings 96
Post-Game Thoughts
Another game, another nearly blown lead. What is up with this current group of Trail Blazers? They jumped all over the Kings, 12-2, to start the game and lead 73-62 entering the 4th quarter. In both instances Portland allowed the Kings to go on runs of over 10-0 to get right back into the thick of things. Not surprisingly, it was the offensive output letting down the Blazers once again. I thought something horrible could happen if we didn't eclipse the century mark against a team who allows 105 a night and by only scoring 88, we were close, too close at times, to losing that game. If it wasn't for Camby's defensive prowess in the 4th and Roy's 4th quarter wake up call which saw him close out down the stretch offensively and soared high to grab numerous clutch rebounds, the Kings would have walked off the Rose Garden floor victorious to a stunned Rose Garden crowd.
"It wasn't our best effort, but any time you play against those teams that are playing for nothing, you pretty much get their best effort," Camby said. "We were fortunate to get away with the win, while understanding we can play a whole lot better."
"Even though his stat line wouldn't knock your eyes out, Camby really dominated the game for them on the defensive end and was very much the difference," Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said. "He was a big impediment to our offense."
Through three quarters I was wondering if we made the correct trade or not. Travis was a known 4th quarter scorer while Steve spread the defense with his three-point shooting ability while all I saw was Marcus throwing the ball away at every opportunity, including a careless inbounds pass which was thrown in no one's vicinity. In total, Marcus has committed 17 turnovers in 8 games, a high number for a player who has the ball in his hands very little and more than his combined 13 made field goals in his tenure to date with the Blazers. Who knows what got into him, but he won it for us last night. His five blocks closed down the interior for a team, in Sacramento, who makes their living scoring in the paint. A couple times, Marcus handed out a couple of what I like to call "man blocks" where he bodies his man straight up and smashes the ball right back into their face. He had a few weak-side and even one from behind, but those "man blocks" really send a "Not in my house!" message to the Kings and ignite the crowd.
B-Roy stole the show down the stretch by scoring inside or out (19 points) and pulling down some clutch boards amongst the trees (8 rebounds), but someone who flew under the radar and isn't getting noticed for his great impact last night was Nico Batum. 14 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists isn't going to jump off the stat sheet and wow many people like his back-to-back performances last week did, but he is incredibly efficient. He shot 6-7 from the floor, not once forcing a shot and becoming a deadly mid-range shooter. Another facet of his game which can only be appreciated from watching the game and not found on a box score was his defense on Tyreke Evans. 'Reke did score a team-high 18 points but it took him shooting 8-19 from the floor to accomplish that feat and only got to the line three times for a player who ranks 15th in the league in free throw attempts per night at 6.5.
When the Blazers are struggling to put away a 21 win squad, instead of yelling or going crazy over something I can't control, I think. Last night's topic was playoffs. A few times during that game I was kind of hoping for Draft Lottery, because if we come out with that level of effort or intensity during a playoff game, the Lakers, Mavericks, or whomever are going to flat-out embarrass us. Personally, I am a big fan of making the playoffs, even though chances of advancing are incredibly slim, mostly due to the fact our whole team can use as much playoff experience as possible. On the other hand, as a fan, I can't take a four or five-game series defeat. It strikes too close to home and brings back memories of all of those hopeless first round exits from 1993 and on (sans for the 2003 7 game series against Dallas). There is absolutely no shame is bowing out in the 1st round as long as you put up a fight, but the past two games have lead me to believe otherwise. I wish I could sit here and pinpoint the problems we have or what we are lacking, outside of Gregzilla, but I just can't put my finger on it. The team is missing something this season and the fans can feel it. The Garden hasn't been the same hostile environment it was earlier on this season. We have two absolutely huge road games against sub .500 teams and if we can look like a playoff team in defeating Golden State and Sacramento then the playoff juices will start to flow within, but as of now, I shall proceed with caution.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

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