Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Pacers: Game 64

After an impressive and much needed 4-1 road trip, Portland (36-27) heads back home to take on the struggling Indiana Pacers (20-40). Up until last season, historically the Pacers had the Blazers number, winning nine straight in the season series spanning all the way back to the 2003-04 season. Portland has turned the tide a bit, winners of three straight in the series, including a comfortable 102-91 victory back in early December. It must be noted that Indiana's most dangerous player, Danny Granger, was out for that game as he was still nursing a foot injury.
The Trail Blazers better be careful tonight and not overlook the Pacers. Just as Brandon said after the win in Memphis, the team needs to treat this game against Indiana like the last game of a road trip, because the first game home after a long trip is always prime for mental letdowns from the home team. Also, the team is only home to play one game before getting a nice three-day break before heading to Denver, which really does feel like another roadie. Not to mention, Portland has fared extremely poorly, by Rose Garden standards, at home this year. We are a pedestrian 19-13 at the RG to date, bad enough for 4th worst in the Western Conference.
Indiana is a tired team with absolutely nothing to play for, except the spoiler role, which may or may not motivate them considering the two franchises are no where near rival status. After getting drubbed, 122-99, last night in Los Angeles, I can't imagine the 4th worst team (record wise) would be enthused to give it another go tonight. Along with being on the 2nd half of a back to back and accompanying a 7-24 road record, 5th worst in the league, all the Blazers have to do tonight is show up and assert their dominance early on in the game to crush the Pacer spirit. Poor squads with no chance at the postseason will only show signs of life if the door is left open and they get the feeling tonight may one of the few remaining nights left on the schedule to get a feel-good win. A classic example happened just about two weeks ago when the Pacers went on the road and defeated the Rockets, 125-115, after Houston failed time and time again to put them away. The lead was only 11 at halftime and they weren't able to shut the door on Indiana's hopes and it bit them in the butt.
Portland can pick and choose any part of the Pacer defense to exploit, but if I were Coach, I'd let Aldridge get the scalpel out and go to work on the vaunted power forward tandem of Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. Murphy, more known for his perimeter scoring and relentless effort on the glass, and McRoberts, most recognized for dating Lauren Conrad for 3 hours, will not put up much resistance to Aldridge's efforts to back them down in the post if the L-Train gets aggressive. One player LA must always keep an eye on is Indiana center Roy Hibbert, who is 10th in the league in total blocks with 103, and will surely be looking to make something happen off of the weak side. If all goes as planned, Aldridge dominates either Murphy or Granger for multiple possessions, which forces Hibbert to come over and help out. Once this happens, LA needs to expand his court vision and just rack up the easy dimes to Camby or Howard for easy buckets in the paint.
Like the Chicago game, Indiana possesses a player whom can take over a game at any time and put his team on his back and carry them to the win. His name is Danny Granger and would be the 9th leading scorer in the league had he played in enough games. Batum has earned his paycheck the previous two games by going crazy on the offensive end of the floor, but if he can simply contain Granger tonight, either holding him to under 20 points or forcing him into an inefficient, high-scoring night, consider it a job well done.
Normally I'd be terrified heading into the first home game after a long, hard fought road trip and considering we have lost four of our last five in the RG, but I really believe Brandon when he says he is going to get these guys ready to play tonight. They know they are barely hanging on by a thread in the West race and would rather face the Lakers later on the in playoffs, instead of right off the bat, and losing tonight will not accomplish that goal. Portland has done a good job of beating teams they should lately and I think a strong start from Aldridge with Roy taking the torch from him in the 2nd quarter will put the Pacers away early. Indiana allows the 3rd highest opponent 3 point percentage at 36.6%, which could mean big nights from Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez spotting up from I-5 in transition, off of Aldridge double teams, or out of dribble penetration. Throw all the 3 point opportunities in a hat and pick the best one, because it is just going to be that kind of night for the Trail Blazers tonight. Finally a huge home blowout for the RG faithful to get excited about.
Game 64 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Pacers 87
Post-Game Thoughts
"It’s tough to come back off a road trip and get that win. This one could have easily gone the other way," Miller said. "Luckily we found a way to play some defense, get aggressive to the basket and force them into a lot of turnovers."
Let's all admit we thought "Here we go again?!" after seeing the Pacers jump out to an early 18-11 lead due to some very lackluster play and effort from the Trail Blazers starting unit. Insert Bayless and Fernandez to come and and breathe life into the team which looked like they were sleepwalking through the first eight minutes of the game. Bayless brought a bulldog-like toughness on defense, pestering T.J. Ford up and down the Rose Garden floor, taking any and every opportunity to get up in his face to disrupt any rhythm he would have had otherwise. While Jerryd was out making Ford's night a living nightmare, Rudy was pouring in triples from I-5, five on the night, each seemingly made at opportune times to keep Indiana at bay.
Although Brandon had me worried he re-aggravated his hamstring injury as he sat with a towel over his shooting shirt for the entire 2nd quarter, he came out and put to rest any doubt about his healthy with a typical Brandon Roy take over performance. With Portland only up 12 at the half, still way too close to comfort for Blazer fans this year after a few monumental collapses, Brandon made every effort to abandon the jump-shooting mentality of this team and went to work in the paint. He took advantage of his size and posted up the smaller Dahntay Jones or went around the slower Brandon Rush and always seemed to be in complete control with the rock. All in all, Roy filled up the stat sheet to the tune of 22 points (6-16), including 10-11 from the foul line, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and an impressive 3 blocks. I still don't think his hamstring is 100% but either the hammy is getting stronger or he is masking the pain much better. Either way, we'll need more outputs like this tonight in order to be competitive in the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs, it is becoming more clear as the season winds down to the finish, Portland looks to be a near lock (*knock on wood*) to make the post-season for the 2nd consecutive year. Houston has been dropping home games to sub-.500 teams, Memphis can't win a home game post All-Star Break (0-5) and by the time CP3 returns to the Hornets, it may be too late to catch up. The Blazers have finally put together a nice stretch of games, winning five of their last six, but with no more consecutive home games, sans the final two games of the year, and road games against West powers L.A., Denver, and Phoenix sprinkled in with teams notoriously known for being bug-a-boo's in Sacramento, Golden State, and the Clippers. Bottom line is I'm not sure our schedule sets up for sustained winning streaks with the hopes of moving up in the standings, but our seed in the playoffs shouldn't matter. Instead of scoreboard watching, which should be left up to the fans, Portland needs to just focus on upping their level of play and getting everyone on the same page to boost team chemistry and scare the living daylights out of their 1st round opponent.
"We're trying to get back to the way we played here last year," said Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 19 points and seven rebounds in only 26 minutes. "When teams come in here, we want them to know we're going to play well, and we're going to play our game."
“I think it’s going to be a tight race. For us, our focus is on us. We’re in the driver’s seat regardless of what they do. If we take care of our business, we’re going to be okay. To start watching the standings like that – we know where we are and it’s like watching the market. It goes up and down and you can go crazy with that. The focus for me and the team is on ourselves, making sure we take care of business and try and have a strong finish.”
On a final note, I feel for Indiana Pacer fans, because that team has no hope, no future. Their only building block, Danny Granger, is about to head into his prime and I'd be shocked if he didn't find a way to get out of that situation as no one wants to rot away their prime years in an awful situation. T.J. Ford is a shell of his former self, Murphy and Dunleavy are overpaid role players who start, and Tyler Hansbrough doesn't strike me as a lottery talent to build around, rather a nice energy player to bring off the bench. All Blazer fans can relate to their situation as we have endured seasons starting the like of Sergei Monia, Charles Smith, and even the man, the myth, the legend, Ha Seung-Jin with no hope on the horizon.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

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