Portland (38-28) heads to the Bay Area for an important two-game road trip. Up first are the troublesome Golden State Warriors (17-46) in a nationally televised broadcast on TNT. Although the Warriors posses 3rd worst record in the entire league along with only 13 home wins, the 2nd lowest total, the Trail Blazers must be hexed while playing in Oakland, because they have lost eight straight games at Oracle Arena. It seems ever since Don Nelson re-took the reigns of the coaching position, Golden State's frantic, freestyle up and down tempo give our team fits. During this dry spell in the Bay, it has been the Warrior guards who have bested their Blazer counterparts by baiting them into playing the way they prefer, fast and furious. Guard Monta Ellis has been banged and beat up all year long, causing him to miss nine of the team's 63 games with a various assortment of injuries, the latest being back pain which has kept him out of the lineup since February 25th. It appears as if Ellis is going to give it a go, but it doesn't really matter as random D-Leaguers are now scoring 20+ a night in that system.
If there is a team who has been more injured than Portland this year, it could be the Warriors. Currently, counting Ellis, Golden State is without the services of eight players whom are either out for the season or just indefinitely, causing them to call on the services of four players from the NBA's Developmental league. Like Portland's Miller, the one constant for Golden State has been rookie sensation, Stephen Curry. Although beat up and having lost seven of their last eight, I couldn't have thought of a worse time to play this squad and it is based solely on the fact of how well Curry has been playing. Playing so well he climbed to the #1 spot on NBA.com's Rookie Rankings. Over his last 10 games, Steph is putting up 21.4 points, 6.8 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game. No, Curry is not the best player in the game or even the best point guard. It's even debatable whether he is the top rookie, but he is the perfect player for a system known to carve us up on a consistent basis. As terrific as he is, he is still a rookie and I would throw an array of defenses at him and keep them changing frequently throughout the night, keeping him on his toes. He is averaging 3 turnovers a game, so maybe a few half-court traps can lead to shaky passes and easy, fast-break buckets.
Somehow Portland found a way to hold Golden State 18 points under their seasonal average back on the 2nd of January with a 105-89 victory in the Rose Garden. Considering the Warriors are 3rd in the league with their 107 point scoring average, holding them to 89 was the exception, not the rule. For the most part, teams must outscore Golden State in order to beat them. Of course an emphasis on defense needs to be made, but very rarely can you stop the Warriors from putting the ball through the hoop. The key for Portland is tempo. If the guards can stay away from the temptation of getting caught up in the run and gun, green-light offense, settle down, and run their offense, points can be had against Golden State. They allow the most points in the league, 111, by a large five point margin. Even with a nearly healthy team, Portland only managed 94 points in their 14 point loss earlier this season, mainly due to being a jump shooting team. 19 three-point attempts is too many against a team which usually has four guards on the floor at all times. You live by the jumper, you die by the jumper. Aldridge needs to get physical inside, not settling for fade-aways, and the guards, Bayless, Andre, and Roy, need to be aggressive in their attacks to the rim.
While an offense ran like a well-oiled machine wins the game for Portland tonight, a lot of intensity and effort must be put forth on the defensive end. Just because Golden State scores 110 at home, doesn't mean we have to give up more than that just like we did in Denver last Sunday where they scored six more than their home average. What the Warriors do best is bomb away from distance, as they attempt 19 per night and make them at a 36.7% clip. Outside of Ellis, if he plays, and Curry, Portland must zero in on Anthony Morrow. He is the 4th most accurate three-point shooter by hitting threes 45.2% of the time. Golden State is going to shoot them, with a hand in their face or not, so it's the Trail Blazers job to make sure to make the attempt as difficult as possible. All it takes is will and desire to close out on shooters, which Portland has struggled with at times this year. I'd rather not see many double teams unless they are quick traps, because if they get rolling from deep, we could be in for a long night.
It seems so easy on paper to close out on shooters, disrupt Curry's rhythm, and keep the game at our own pace, but sometimes game objectives fly out the window as soon as that ball is tossed in the air. The Blazers will really need to be focused and disciplined tonight if they want to execute their game plan to the fullest extent. Unfortunately, I haven't seen enough from my Blazers lately to think they'll get the job done. Too many mental mistakes has me believing the whole team is not on the same page which could be the cause for the sporadic play lately. This is without even mentioning the vicinity in which the game is being played in. Call me skeptical, but I'm not predicting a win until I see one in Oakland. Every time it seems so easy to take advantage of their small-ball lineup, yet we lose focus and end up playing a style not tailored for our team at all. It should be a close one with Golden State leading by six-eight throughout and a few dagger threes late in the game should seal the deal in the opposition's favor.
Game 67 Prediction: Trail Blazers 102 Warriors 113
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't dominating, and it wasn't easy watching three quarters of action. But a win is a win and I'll take it! Through three and a half quarters, Portland played this game to a tee as they always have in Oakland: bad shot selection, no hustle or energy, and giving into the temptation of playing the Warriors way. If it wasn't for foul trouble knocking on the Golden State door, as Curry, Maggette, and Ellis all battled it throughout the night, and Brandon Roy literally putting the team on his back and carrying his teammates, Portland extends their losing streak to 10 games at Oracle Arena. What got Portland clicking in the 4th was a brilliant move by Coach McMillan to switch up the defense and throw a zone at Golden State. It tripped them up, causing them to score a season-low nine points in one quarter. Also, the defensive intensity was raised more than a few notches. Finally it was the Blazers grabbing all the loose balls and playing with a desire and purpose. The turning point occurred with about three minutes left in the game when his teammates finally found him. I'm talking about Rudy and his flair for the dramatic. He stepped up and knocked down two huge, momentum boosting threes to push the Blazers over the top.
"I'm happy it's over, but I'm happier about what we did," McMillan said. "The game plan we talked about executing, we did. We pounded them on the boards, we got to the free-throw line, we went inside with [Andre] Miller, Brandon and LaMarcus [Aldridge]."
"This is the first time I think we ever really guarded them in the fourth quarter," Roy said. "Having Camby and LaMarcus, being able to switch out on guards, that was big for us."
There must be something about TNT on Thursday nights and Brandon Roy. Roy's most spectacular and improbable performances happen late into the night hours. The 30 foot three-point heave to knock off the Rockets, 52 points in a come from behind win over the Suns, and now a 41 point barrage to help Portland exercise more road demons this season. What is most impressive about Roy's game is how efficiently he operates, like a surgeon he slices up the defense on his own terms. It only took him 22 shots to drop 41, making 14 of them, and got to the line 17 times with 13 hits. Scoring wasn't the only facet of his game in rhythm last night, as he grabbed 8 rebounds, handed out 3 assists, and had 2 steals. If the Trail Blazers are serious about moving up in the West, it's a damn good sign to see Roy looking like the Roy-Wonder pre-hamstring injury.
"The biggest thing was, I was trying to be more patient," said Roy, who had read some of Ellis' quotes and filed them away. "I felt like in the [Nov. 20] game, I settled for too many outside shots. ... The defense gives you jumpers, but tonight I just wanted to be patient and make sure I got as many easy baskets as possible."
The two unsung heroes of the night go to Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. Again, Miller can lull you to sleep at times with his play, but you look up at the box score and see he's stuffing the stat sheet. Tonight was no different as he compiled 15 points (4-15), 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. Often in the earlier portion of the game, he was one of the only players getting his hands dirty by going inside and fighting for the offensive rebounds. While Dre was doing a little bit of everything, Camby is starting to live up to his hype of being a rebounding monster. A monstrous 17 boards were gobbled up by the Camby-Man, including 9 on the offensive glass which helped give Portland a sizable 22-11 edge on the offensive glass and a 53-36 total advantage. I still see too many Blazers standing and watching, assuming Camby is going to gran the rebound. He is a beast on the boards, but he can't do it all. The entire team needs to start helping him out a bit more often.
Entering the 4th quarter, Portland saw themselves in a fairly large hole, down 13, on the road in a hostile environment where the franchise has not won in since November of 2004. For a lack of a better term, the Blazers were sleepwalking through the first 36 minutes of the game. Whatever Coach Nate did or said, probably yelled, needs to be bottled up and stored for the rest of the season. The Trail Blazers were lucky they were playing against a team who is prone to losing double-digit leads, as this was their 13th loss I believe after being up 10 or more, because if they think they can flip it on or off at their dispense, it's going to get ugly against the good teams.
Official Game Photos