After what has seemed like a longer than four-day layoff, the Trail Blazers (41-28) head back to the grind of the NBA schedule to face the Wizards (21-45). If Portland can overcome the obstacle of being rusty after such a long rest, the perfect storm could be brewing in the Rose City. The Trail Blazers are Red Hot & Rollin', winners of nine of their last 11 while the Wizards have dropped nine straight and are a sub-par 9-23 away from home this season. Not to mention, Portland dropped one earlier this year in D.C., 97-92, in a game in which they had no business losing.
We will get to see just how well Portland practiced during the week, because if they come out flat and lackadaisical, the focus obviously wasn't there at the practice facility. On the other hand, if our boys can jump on them early and look crisp and sharp, the intent and attention to detail was made a priority throughout the week. I only harp on this so frequently, due to the fact the team is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to the 2010 season. Portland owns an amazing 13-3 record on the 2nd half of back to backs, but always seems to trip over their own feet if they get more than 2 days rest, only going 7-5 in such scenarios. The team has two huge games coming up, at Phoenix and against the scorching Mavericks, so it is important to not overlook the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference. I have no doubts the Garden crowd will provide the energy tonight as they have been like starved animals over the course o these four days without Blazers basketball and are ready to make some noise!
One player who can ruin this night for the Blazers is young, big man Andray Blatche. Since the Wizards had their fire sale, Blatche has answered the bell for Washington, putting up 24.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1 block per night since the All-Star Break. Although he is shooting 53.2% from the field in the same span, there is still not a shot he doesn't like and with the green light stuck on automatic for the rest of the season, he should be letting them fly tonight. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to see Andray make his first couple outside jump shots, because then he may believe it is the spot for him to be shooting tonight and as the game stretches out, shooting percentages from outside tend to drop. LaMarcus needs to be physical with him in keeping him away from the paint and also make him work on the defensive end of the floor as well.
Honestly, Portland could get this win with their eyes closed and one arm tied behind their back, but if they want a solid building block, heading into the Suns game, the bench is going to have to lead the charge. Outside of Roy going postal on the rest of the NBA this past week, leading to Western Conference Player of the Week honors, the 2nd unit has really been clicking. If Rudy can continue not only his hot three-point shooting, but play-making ability in the open-court, Jerryd keeps working on that jumper of his to set up drives to the basket, and getting whatever we can out of Dante and Marty, the Trail Blazers will run away with this one quite easily. If the Blazer bench gets 30 or more points, this game will be a 15+ point blowout. I think the lower you see the bench points, the closer the outcome of the game will be.
After reading Marc Spears' piece about Brandon trying to find his inner ruthlessness, I have a feeling we are going to see B-Roy get downright nasty on the court the rest of the way. Look for Roy to assert himself early by getting into the heart of the Wizard defense, setting the tone right for the rest of his teammates. After he achieves that, the team will follow suit. Brandon could easily get 30, but he may not have to as the game could get out of hand quickly. Complimenting Brandon will be the L-Train. For whatever reason, I have a feeling this team is on a mission to not just make the playoffs but to be the hottest team heading into post-season play. Everyone, even Travis Diener, gets in on the fun tonight. Blazers win big!
Game 70 Prediction: Trail Blazers 110 Wizards 86
"After (the game-winner), I was just laughing, 'Hey, I made a shot.' And it was one that won an important game for us."
Laugh. What more can you do after one of the sloppiest, most lousy performances ever staged on the Rose Garden floor? A game that saw a combined 150 points tallied, only three more than the snail-paced Spurs dropped on the Warriors the same night, on 35.4% shooting (55-155), including a dysmal 5-20 from long range, and a pedestrian 35-49 from the charity stripe (71.4%); a poor shooting display on all facets of the game. A game so poorly played and executed, the players should be ashamed for making the Basketball Gods roll over in their graves after watching it.
Portland looked as if they would run away with it after obtaining a 42-26 lead early on in the 2nd quarter. As usual, the Blazers failed to keep their foot on the gas pedal and let the Wizards of all teams sneak back into the game. Lazy rotations lead to Washington, sharp shooter Mike Miller heating up a bit, canning 5-11 shots for a team-high 16 points and a failure to fight through screens saw Rnady Foye heat up and nearly win the game single handily. He scored 7 of his 11 points all within the last three minutes of the game, including a three-pointer to give the Wizards their first lead of the 2nd half, 70-69. Time after time, each jumper was drilled off of the high pick and roll, so obvious even Brian Wheeler, Trail Blazers radio play-by-play analysis, knew the play was coming. It makes one wonder what is being watched at the practice facility, Spongebob Squarepants or game film?
Ever since being dealt for one another on Draft Day 2006, the two have been permanently linked to one another and for once it looked as if Randy Foye would enact some revenge and upstage Brandon Roy, seeing how Roy is known for his clutch game winners, team success, and personal accolades. Roy started out on fire, going 3-3 from the field, looking as if he was on his way to a monster night when the shooting eye deserted him. This was no normal mini-slump; Roy missed 14 straight shots after the torrid start. With the game knotted up at 74 and 20 seconds remaining, who else do you want to have the ball in their hands? "That's the guy you're going to live with," McMillan said. "He is very capable of making that shot. He plays in that situation a lot." Like the supertar he is, Roy confidently stpepped up and hit the game winning jumper, saving Portland from a terrible defeat in the ever-so-tight Western Conference race.
"We wanted to get Brandon in the pick-and-roll if they were playing him straight up," McMillan said. "Spread the floor and put the shooters out there and let him go. And he hit an unbelievable shot."
"I wanted to step back and shoot it, but he jumped so high, I had to step in. I could have tried to draw the foul, but he did a good job of jumping away from me. When it left, it felt good, but they all felt good. I was just happy it went in."
I'm not quite sure what to make of this current groups of Trail Blazers. Every time I expect them to figure it out and destroy a team they should, they play poorly and revert back to their old, terrible habits of being lazy on rotations and settling for outside, contested jump shots. On the other hand, whenever I seem to think they are overmatched, with not a prayer to win, they'll pull off a miracle. For whatever reason, we do not play crsip or sharp after more than two days of rest, so I'll chalk up this lackluster performance due to the long layoff, but only this one.What fans need to realzie, myself included, is the NBA schedule is a six month grind on the body, both physically and mentally, and over the course of an 82 game season, lapses are bound to happen. It's impossible to be 100% focused, 100% of the time. What separates the good from the great teams are the frequencies in which these lapses occur. Quite frankly, the Trail Blazers aren't a great team, yet, but with what has happened this year, I'll take a 42-28 record with a smile on my face.
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