Thursday, April 29, 2010

Trail Blazers vs Suns: Round 1, Game 6

For the first true time this season, the Portland Trail blazers face a must-win game. Win or go home is what the stakes are set at tonight for the team against the Suns who hold a 3-2 series lead after their impressive 107-88 win during Game 5. After 5 games, the teams know each very well and they keys to victory aren't changing anytime soon. Portland needs to ugly the game up, slow down tempo, contain Phoenix fast-break points, and win the second-chance points battle. On the other hand, Phoenix wants to get Portland into a jump-shooting contest, run and gun style, and let Nash and Amare run the pick and roll to death. Whichever team is able to force their style of play upon the other will win. I haven't seen any evidence the Trail Blazers can win playing free-flowing nor is their proof the Suns can get a W not scoring less than 95 points. There's really nothing more to say. I believe Portland will come out and play like a team with their backs against the wall, feeding off of the rabid Rose Garden crowd. The emergence of Roy into the starting lineup should being stability back, allowing Bayless to thrive by becoming the spark off the bench. In a series that has seen the losing team come back and win every game, outside of Game 3, it seems the previous winner comes out a little less urgent while the loser has made the proper adjustments. Also, do not count out the fact the Trail Blazers finally got more than one day of rest in between games, which has allowed Brandon to get a little more conditioned. Portland wins the second chance battle, slows the tempo down, and even gets a little hot behind the three-point arc themselves. Behind big nights from Miller and Aldridge, along with Bayless' continued consistency off the bench, the Trail Blazers will force a Game 7 for the first time since 2003. Game 6 Preview Video Round 1, Game 6 Prediction: Portland 97 Phoenix 94 Post-Game Thoughts A season filled with adversities, which sent our emotions on a roller coaster of highs and lows, finally came to a halt Thursday night in the Rose Garden. Phoenix jumped out early behind the hot shooting of Jason Richardson, who ended up with 28 points on 10-16 shooting from the field, including 5-8 from downtown. Portland saw the deficit grow as large as 16 mid-way through the third but didn't want a blowout to be the last memory of the 2010 season for the fans. Reminiscent of his 24 point quarter two years ago against Utah, Marty caught fire in the later portions of the third and into the 4h to the tune of three three-pointers as well as being fouled on another, making two of the free throws. In total, he was 6-10 from the field for 19 points. Aiding him was none other than the reemergence of Rudy Fernandez, who bombed away, draining 5-6 from beyond the arc which brought the RG from a passive clap to a loud roar. Portland fought all the way back to tie it up at 76 apiece, but a 8-0 Suns run killed any hopes of a Game 7. "I hope it hurts right now for all of us," McMillan said. "We need to get a grasp on how this feels. Because next year at this time, we want to be moving on to the next round and competing for a championship." Give all the credit in the world to the Suns and their coaching staff. After falling asleep in Game 1, they made all the proper adjustments to take away all of our strengths. After scoring 105 in a Game 1 win, Phoenix locked in on Miller, Aldridge and really never left either one out of their cage, holding the Blazers to under 100 points the rest of the series. With a non-100% Roy, Phoenix was able to hide Nash defensively and put the bigger Hill on Miller, stifling his every move. When they weren't full court pressing Dre, they would simply play a zone whenever he was in the game, daring Miller to win the game from the outside, obviously his major weakness. Gentry also knew the Blazers were not an aggressive team in terms of cutting to the hoop, so he doubled Roy and LaMarcus at every opportunity, which ended up in Portland usually just swinging the ball around the perimeter instead of sending a slashing cutter to the middle of the open defense. On offense, whomever Roy was guarding, they engaged him, making him work on defense by running him through screen after screen. Finally, whenever Portland seemed to have a comeback in them or any wave of momentum, Phoenix always had an answer. "He[Roy] struggled to get his rhythm," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "He wasn't able to move like he normally does. (Jason) Richardson did a good job crowding him and getting into the ball. (Roy) was trying to get a rhythm, but he just couldn't get it." Even in defeat, there is something positive to take out of this series and it comes in the form of Jerryd Bayless. Although he got a little bit reckless during the game, coughing it up three times, for the first half, he was the only player trying to be aggressive and take it to the cup. What we have found out though is that with ample playing time, Jerryd is able to get more into a rhythm. Once he gets settled into the game, not only does his jump shot seem to find bottom more times than not but his court vision expands. JB's 4-12 shooting wasn't indicative of his series but he did pass out a game-high 7 assists, showing his maturation as a point guard. Maybe even more impressive is his defensive effort and intensity. He just seems to relish the big-game situation, something a team can never have enough of. Portland's future is in safe hands with Jerryd waiting in the wings, ready to take the torch from Andre in 2-3 years. The 2010 season has finally came to a close. Although Portland failed to advance past the first round since 2000, there is a lot of hope heading into the 2011 version. Camby is locked in for two more years, Andre will head into training camp as the starter, giving us more stability at the lead guard slot from the get-go, and hopefully all Trail Blazers who are dinged up can be healthy and rejuvenated come October. Nico showed he is the small forward for the next 10 years and most likely would have been on a All-Defense team had he not been injured for half of the season. Portland won 50 games despite having over 300 games missed due to injury, so it's not inconceivable 60 could be on the horizon, especially with Oden's return inevitable and the majority of the top Western players aging and out of their primes. Official Game Photos Box Score

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brandon Roy: A True Superstar

After being eight days removed from right knee surgery to repair a tear of the meniscus, and seeing his team lose Games 2 and 3 by a combined 50 points, Roy couldn't take it anymore. Originally, the prognosis on the surgery of a torn meniscus is about a 4-6 week recovery time, therefore, he was ruled out for the playoffs, but the number of incisions to the knee were less than usual, causing team officials to become optimistic of his return, should the team advance past the first round. Initially upon awaking from the operation, Roy said the knee felt great and didn't experience any swelling at all. Whispers of him returning for a possible Game 6 or 7 now started to linger through the media, but Game 4, just eight days after surgery? No way, no how, it wasn't happening. Roy was pushing to play in the team's home playoff games and initially accepted Coach McMillan's answer of no, but while watching the playoffs the Friday before Game 4, Roy got the playoff itch and wouldn't take no for answer this time. He pestered Coach McMillan via text message as well as Trainer Jay Jenson to let him play. No Trail Blazers' fan would have questioned Roy one bit if he decided not to play at all this post-season. The risks were high for the franchise player, especially after signing a maximum extension during the summer of 2009. This season has been difficult enough in terms of the injury bug, and the last thing we need is our leader to be out the start of the 2011 season. But Brandon is not your stereotypical athlete of the 21st century who carries a me-first persona, rather Roy, like all Trail Blazers, is humble and puts the team before himself. Only he knew how well his knee was progressing and although he's not physically 100%, if he could contribute, nothing was going to stop him from bringing home a Game 4 win for the team, city, and fan base. His performance wasn't pretty, even looking awkward at times, but it was more of his presence, than his 5 big points in the latter portion of the 4th quarter that propelled the Trail Blazers to a 96-87 win. No one felt Roy's presence on the court more than Aldridge, who was more than relieved to see the other half of the dynamic duo return. With Roy garnering all of Phoenix's attention, it was Aldridge who made them pay with a career playoff-high 31 points and 11 rebounds. 52 points on December 18th against the Suns, hitting the game winning three-pointer from 30 ft. with 0.8 seconds left to crush the Rockets, being named, for the third consecutive year All-Star and 2nd Team All-NBA, and countless other clutch game winning baskets were already part of Brandon Roy's legacy as a Portland Trail Blazer. He was already on the path to inevitably have his #7 jersey hanging from the rafters of the Rose Garden and be on the short list of candidates mentioned for greatest Trail Blazer of all-time, but what he did before Game 4 was something of legend. Being activated 15 minutes before tip-off, Roy's dressing for action created a buzz of its own throughout the arena and eventually spreading like wildfire out onto the streets leading to the Rose Garden. Then it happened, his face was shown on the big screen, back in the locker room with his teammates getting ready to run out onto the court and he didn't look like a decoy. The crowd erupted in amazement. A new hope was instilled. Portland could win this series with their hero back in action, and it wasn't only the fans who felt this way but his fellow Trail Blazers, who went on a 9-2 run while he was waiting at the scorer's table set to check in. The rest as they say, was history. Even if Portland doesn't go on to win the series against Phoenix, the team is still in good hands. The torch Clyde Drexler passed on as face of the franchise took longer than expected to get into the hands of someone worthy but better late than never. For the next four years guaranteed (player option for year #5), every person with ties to the organization can be proud to have Brandon Roy be synonymous of all things Trail blazers. Outsiders have even caught on too, as the list of most popular jersey sales was just released, placing Roy 13th on the list.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Suns: Round 1, Game 5

A best of seven series now turns into the best of three as the two teams are all knotted up at two games apiece after Roy's Willis Reed/Kevin Duckworth incredible return to action propelled the Trail Blazers to a 96-87 Game 4 victory. After stunning the Suns in Game 1, Phoenix threw the first wrench into the equation by putting Grant Hill on Andre Miller and having him pick up Dre a full 94 feet at every possible chance. It wasn't until Game 4 that Portland was able to make an adjustment of their own, which was to trap and double Nash as much as possible. It worked as he had just 15 points, 8 assists, and a game-high 6 turnovers. Does Phoenix have an answer for the suffocating defense on Nash or on Roy's reemergence back onto the court or does Portland have another trick up their sleeve for the Suns? Nothing is more important to the Trail Blazers tonight than getting off to a good start. In their two losses, it was evident early it was going to take a miracle for them to pull out a win. When they won Games 1 and 4, it was a one point game either way. The addition of Bayless to the starting lineup should solve this issue as he is another ball handler out on the court who can get to the rim and create for others and actually take advantage of Steve Nash defending him, unlike Rudy who plays most of his game outside on the perimeter, allowing for the defensive strategy of the Suns to suffocate Miller with Hill. What I like about Brandon coming off of the bench for the time being is that its a win-win situation. If we get off to a sluggish start, a much more reliable Roy will be there to help bail us out instead of seeing their lead increase or if we hold a lead once he comes in, the chances of us extending the lead go up with our All-Star checking into the game. If the Blazers can keep it at least within four points after the first period, then they should feel good about themselves weathering the opening storm. Assists and fast-break points will be the deciding factors in whomever wins tonight's Game 5. The potent suns offensive attack is based upon these two key statistical categories, essentially acting as the fuel for their high-octane offense. Although you always want to stop a team from getting easy baskets, the importance is greater against a team of Phoenix's caliber. If their shooters see the ball go in, it raises their confidence and puts them in a rhythm Portland doesn't want to see them in; games 2 and 3 were enough for everyone's liking. There's no secret the Blazers won their two games by holding the Suns to a combined eight fast-break points. They must force Phoenix into playing their slow, grind-it-out tempo and attack them at every opportunity. Getting to the foul line should be priority #1, because not only does it negate the run game but helps the 3rd leading free throw shooting team get easy points of their own. Finally, win the assist battle. Phoenix is nothing without Nash driving and dishing to his teammates for open looks. Outside of Amare, no Suns player can get his own shot off via isolation. I would continue to throw multiple defenders at Nash and make someone else beat us. On the flip side, by racking up more dimes than the opposition, it means the Blazers are playing good, team basketball and making Phoenix work on the defensive end of the floor, taking away some of their energy on offense. Win these two categories and you win the game Portland. Trail Blazer shooters be ready, because Brandon's back and he's going to find you. We all saw how many times he found Aldridge open for his patent 18 foot jump shot simply by drawing multiple defenders to him. Although he still isn't 100%, the Roy dynamic is yet another wrinkle in this series and if Roy continues to find open men off of dribble penetration, we must knock them down, otherwise our offense is going to burn out. If such a scenario occurs, they'll simply take Roy out of the game if Bayless, Batum, Webster, and LaMarcus don't make Phoenix pay. By hitting a few from the outside, not only will it spring Roy loose a bit but the paint begins to thin out as the Suns defenders can no longer pack it in tight and sag off the shooters. If Portland can shoot around 46-48% from the floor tonight, they shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves up 3-2 heading back home to the Rose City. If Portland is able to win this series, it must be done tonight. I don't think you want to take your chances winning a Game 7 on the road as the odds are stacked too high against you. Unfortunately, Portland isn't going to be heading home to the Rose City holding a 3-2 series lead. I believe Phoenix will make an adjustment to Roy being back in the lineup and our trapping of Nash. They just have so many weapons on offense that one is bound and determined to get hot. Also, with the series being so chippy, look for one of our key players on defense (Batum, Camby, or Aldridge) getting into foul trouble and Phoenix exploiting it. I'd love to be proven wrong, especially considering this is my birthday, but Phoenix is the 3 seed for a reason and will protect home court tonight behind a monster performance from STAT. Round 1, Game 5 Prediction: Trail Blazers 96 Suns 101 Post-Game Thoughts Apparently getting off to a hot start wasn't as important as many thought it would be during Game 5. The Trail Blazers came out blistering, taking a 9-0 lead and eventually seeing it grow as large as 14 at 23-9 mid-way through the 1st quarter. Then the wheels fell off completely. Marcus Camby picked up his 2nd foul, Brandon Roy had three fouls in a heartbeat and Phoenix went to their bench and boy did they ever produce. Behind their 55 bench points, Phoenix was able to wipe away the 14 point deficit and trail only by 1 after the 1st and take a commanding 57-47 lead at the half. Portland found themselves down only 7 late in the 3rd, but a lack of defensive rebounding killed any hopes of a Blazer rally as Phoenix rode the wave of momentum to a 84-66 3rd quarter lead. The Trail Blazers once again fell into the Suns trap of a high-tempo game and got burnt by allowing 17 fast-break points, getting out-rebounded 41-29,and got to the foul line 8 less times (32-24). With all of that happening a result of 108-87 isn't surprising. "We fell into their tempo," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. On a positive note, Jerryd Bayless continues to make a case for more playing time in the 2011 season as he had another excellent outing. He tallied 17 points (6-14 FG, 3-5 3PT), handed out 4 dimes, grabbed 4 rebounds, and committed only 1 turnover in 37 minutes of action. One play in particular which showed the maturation of Bayless into a true point guard occurred in the 1st half when he took his man off the dribble and proceeded into the lane. Normally, he would try to force contact and get to the line, but he saw a big come over to deny his access to the basket and dumped it off to Howard for an easy two. These are the types of plays that will only gain Bayless more court time which he has so desperately desired since arriving in the Rose City. We all know he can score and get to the paint but being able to create for others, not just himself, out of the penetration will take his game to a whole other level. People will point out the refs were biased during this match as PHX had shot 20+ more free throws than Portland at one point during the course of the game, but even if some of the calls were questionable, they were the aggressors. I've said this time and time again, the officials reward teams who are more assertive and give them the benefit of the doubt more times than not. The Suns simply wanted this game more. I don't know how many times I saw multiple black jerseys underneath the hoop waiting for the rebound to fall into their laps only to see one, lone white jersey come out of nowhere and take it from them and lay it up and in. We punched them in the mouth from the get-go and its as if we didn't expect them to fight back and once they did, we folded. If the Blazers do indeed wind up losing this series, they can go back to Games 3 and 5 and kick themselves. Its not often a road team obtains the home court advantage and we gave it up without much of a fight in Game 3, once again failing to secure rebounds and give up cheap buckets in the paint. Also, when you have the momentum heading into a road game after the emotional Game 4 win and come out with both guns blazing, you simply can't let your opponent back into the game so quickly. We all knew the 14 point lead wouldn't last the entire night, but to see it evaporate within minutes was a red flag in my book. We had the Suns by the throat but the lack of killer instinct haunts us once again. Portland now finds themselves behind the 8-ball, needing to win twice against a Suns team which hasn't lost consecutive games in nearly 3 months. Phoenix wants this series over as soon as possible, so the Blazers can't expect to win Game 6 just because its at the rowdy Rose Garden. Official Game Photos Box Score

Friday, April 23, 2010

Trail Blazers v Suns: Round 1, Game 4

Do or die, now or never, win or go home, or whatever other cliche is out there, it doesn't matter, because they are all applicable to tomorrow's Game 4 matinee. There is simply no way the Trail Blazers, without Roy, will be able to dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole on the road, meaning they need to prepare for Game 4 as if it were an elimination game. It's not shocking Phoenix has stormed back to take two in a row, but what is surprising is the level of ease the Suns are doing it at as well as the point differentials. Combined, the prior two matchups have seen the Suns win by an astounding 50 points, crushing the spirits of Blazer fans all over Rip City. The big question looms over the Trail Blazers reaction tomorrow after being humbled and humiliated over the course of these past two games. Will they thrive with their backs against the wall, aided by the best fans in the NBA or will they sulk in their sorrows and fold, setting up an inevitable 5 game series win for Phoenix? At this point in the series after being drubbed twice in a row, wins and losses are not what I'm going to measure this team by, because of the key injuries making Phoenix the superior team; the Trail Blazers were expected to lose this series. All I want to see out of the boys are a sense of urgency without second guessing every movement. The Suns have came out of the gates the past two games and set the tone and we simply haven't responded. Either Portland needs to be the ones being proactive instead of reactive out of the shoot or they need to learn how to respond after taking the first blow. I just want to see bodies on the floor, diving for each and every loose ball, multiple tips to keep offensive possessions alive, and charges taken. Being the injury riddled team that we are, we'll have to win this one smashmouth style and gut out an important win to ensure the fans at the Rose Garden there will be a Game 6. Three players I really think could give the Trail Blazers a boost tomorrow are Bayless, Cunningham, and Pendergraph. Jerryd has been the one constant all series and I hope Coach Nate gives him the green light, much like he did before Christmas in San Antonio with Roy sidelined. Our only players able to get into the paint are Miller and Bayless. Right now they are taking away Dre with the longer Grant Hill smothering him. Giving JB the go ahead to score at will forces either Dragic or Nash to defend him, daring Phoenix to pick their poison, Miller or Bayless? Howard has been a surprise and inspiration all season long, but I think its time to unleash Dante's fountain of youth and jump shot on Phoenix. His mid-range jumper will make the Suns think twice about sending doubles to Aldridge or from packing the paint. Finally, Amare is a very vulnerable target right now and is not the most mentally stable person in the NBA when it comes to controlling his temper. It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world to send JP in there, one on one, and just get under his skin. I don't care if he commits fouls, but jab STAT here and there with an elbow, bump up on him, get physical, and be an all around pest towards him. Maybe it pushes Stoudemire over the edge and he either loses his cool or gets taken out of the game mentally? Its time to pull out all the stops! Defensively, the Trail Blazers need to take a page out of the Suns playbook and pick them up for a full 94 feet every time down the court even if it means picking up a few extra fouls in the process. To keep Phoenix from crashing the offensive glass, the Trail Blazers need to emulate the Suns and push the tempo once the rebound is secured, making them fear our fast break and rethink their strategy about sending everyone inside to fight for the second chance points. Also, Portland needs to find a way to fluster the crafty Nash. Like many teams do to Roy, they immediately run two defenders at him with a quick trap, begging someone else to beat them. I realize Richardson is the hottest player on the planet right now, but the reason he is getting all of those open looks is due to Nash. Its time for our coaching staff to be the ones throwing wrench in their well oil offensive machine and put them on their heels for once. If it works, Portland probably wins. If it doesn't, then at least they tried something. I fully expect the effort to be there Saturday as I can only imagine how embarrassed the players were after that performance Thursday night. Hearing one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports rain down scattered boos most likely opened their eyes. The play on the floor has to be extraordinarily terrible for the fans of Rip City to bust out the boo birds. Unfortunately, this is the playoffs and you can't win on effort alone. The Suns are one of the most deadly teams out West and if that wasn't going to be hard enough for the Blazers to stop, now Phoenix is loose and relaxed. I'm just not sure we have an answer for them in regards to putting Hill onto Miller without Roy to exploit Nash. They'll keep it close, but in the end, Phoenix just has too many weapons, someone is bound and determined to catch fire and carry them to victory, but that's fine with me. I just want to see our boys leave it all the floor if this is truly the last time we'll see this 2009-2010 Trail Blazer team play live in the Rose Garden. Round 1, Game 4 Prediction: Trail Blazers 95 Suns 105 Post-Game Thoughts With their backs against the wall and the thought of this being the last game played in the Rose Garden for the 2010 season, the Trail blazers, aided from the emotional boost of their leader, Brandon Roy, returning to action, left everything on the floor and took it to the Suns in every facet of the game, resulting in a 96-87 win to tie the series at 2 apiece. Phoenix looked like they were about to repeat the start of Game 3, hitting numerous long-range shots all the while stifling the Blazers offense, then it happened. Brandon Roy stood up from the bench and proceeded to the scorer's table to check in. In the span of time while Roy was ready to sub in for Batum, the Trail Blazers went on a 9-2 run, including two three-pointers and a Batum dunk to let the Suns know they will be no pushover in this series. Even though Portland missed 13 straight shots to begin the 4th quarter, they never relinquished the lead over the final 12 minutes and were always able to force Phoenix into critical turnovers, keeping them in check to only 15 4th quarter points. Finally, shots that weren't dropping started to see bottom of the net, including two Roy jumpers, bringing back memories of vintage Brandon. "We finally got to playing basketball, scrapping," McMillan said. "We matched their intensity and challenged them. We were the aggressors. Seeing Brandon Roy on the big screen in the locker room tunnel before the team took the floor and the reaction the crowd gave was worth the price of admission alone. It gave me chills and I'm man enough to admit a tear was close to falling. I was only five when Duckworth came back during Game 7 against the Spurs in 1990 so I only have video to bring back those memories, but being there live and seeing him run out onto the court will be unforgettable. That moment is going to be a staple of any Brandon Roy tribute video when he is one day inducted into the Hall of Fame or inevitably having his jersey retired by the team. Not only did he contribute with 10 points (4-10 fg), but he gave his team a mental boost of confidence as well as the fans. I wasn't too hopeful we could win Game 4, then I saw Roy suiting up and in a instant, knew we had a series on our hands. No longer can PHX throw the kitchen sink at LMA and Dre as well as hide Nash on defense, exposing them at that end of the court. "I got chills when he got up and the crowd saw he was going to the scorer's table," McMillan said. "I know our players fed off of that, the emotions and the energy in the building and having him back." "As soon as he checked into the game, I got my first shot with nobody guarding me," Aldridge said. "It was like, 'thank God he's back.' " You know that missing person's report Portland filed for Aldridge after Game 3? Well, he was found! Stepping up when his team needed him most, Aldridge went toe-to-toe with Amare Stoudemire and had the best playoff game of his young career, scoring a post-season career-high 31 points (11-19 FG, 9-12 FT), grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds, and handing out 3 assists. Whether it was on the block or off of dribble penetration shooting the jumper, he was dialed in, especially late in the 4th when Portland was matching Phoenix bucket for bucket to ensure the lead stayed in our hands. It's no coincidence Portland won the two games this series in which Aldridge played to his talent level and it's also no coincidence LaMarcus got open looks due to the return or Roy. If Portland has any thoughts of upsetting the Suns, they'll need to ride the L-Train. Roy isn't ready physically to carry this team, but Aldridge is. He just needs to continue knocking down the open looks Dre and Brandon will create for him. Three categories won this game for the Trail Blazers yesterday afternoon and will continue to be the deciding factors for the eventual winner: fast-break points, assists, second chance points. Just like they did in Game 1, Portland held the Suns to a mere four fast-break points, doing so by getting their butts back in transition defense as well as slowing the game down by attempting 28 free throws, minimizing the opportunities for Phoenix to leak out and push tempo. Phoenix lives and dies by Steve Nash creating shots for the entire team. Portland made an adjustment in Game 4, trapping Nash nearly every time down when he had the ball and forced him to give up the ball or commit one of his 6 turnovers. In the end, the Trail Blazers won the assist battle, 26-17, meaning they forced a lot of isolation play from the Suns as well as using superior teamwork to exploit the weak PHX defense. You can't win a playoff game is you don't show heart and desire and the Blazers showed they didn't want this to be their last home game of the season and destroyed the Suns on second chance points, 15-4. Winning those three statistical categories helped Portland contain the potent Phoenix offensive attack to a season-low 87 points and they'll need to continue to play with that type of defensive effort if they want to advance past the First Round for the first time since 2000.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trail Blazers v Suns: Round 1, Game 3

Portland got what they wanted out of the first two games in Phoenix, a split. By doing so they stole home court advantage out of the grasp of the Suns, giving them an opportunity to take the series if they simply win home games the rest of the way. But it all starts tonight in Game 3, which should be the first real game of the series as Phoenix underestimated the Trail Blazers a bit in Game 1 and Portland likewise relaxed in their Game 2, 29 point shellacking. If both teams didn't know before what the other was capable of, they do now. Outside of getting their egos bruised, the Blazers received some good news as soon as they landed back home in the Rose City. First, the MRI on Batum's right shoulder confirmed a strain of the previously injured body part, putting him as a game-time decision for tonight, which is probably the best case scenario after seeing the injury live. Secondly, Brandon Roy seems like a lock to play in the 2nd round and maybe even sooner after his comments at Trail Blazers practice yesterday. If Phoenix is going to make stopping Andre Miller priority #1 on defense, then Aldridge must rise to the occasion. His 16.5 points on 39.3% shooting and 3.5 rebounds a game are not going to cut it, especially with Roy sidelined. He's not even seeing average defenders step up and lock him down either, its a combination of Jarron Collins and Channing Frye, two guys he should eat alive every time down in the post. What I've noticed when LA does get it down low, the defenders always give him baseline, but he rarely takes it, instead settling for a difficult turn around. It'd be nice to see him back either man down, fake to the middle, and proceed to go up and under his man for the easy two off of the window. There are only five defenders on the floor and they all can't hound Andre and Aldridge, so if a double comes, run a cutter to the basket. We should have absolutely no problems scoring at will on this team in the paint, but it takes the proper mindset. The biggest adjustment from Game 2 to Game 3 should be on the defensive end for Portland. Most would think finding ways to re-release Andre off of Hill should be tops on the list, but if we make those countless missed lay-ins, we easily break 100. It was on the other end of the floor which broke us. The fronting in the post which worked so beautifully in Game 1 was negated with crisp, precision passing in Game 2, leading to cheap points in the paint or kick outs to wide open shooters when someone rotated over. Not only did the fronting cause chaos for the Trail Blazers, as everyone seemed out of position, but it seemed like we couldn't buy a rebound either. They won the battle on the boards again, 43-34, and if they weren't racking up offensive rebounds they were in good enough position that all Portland could do was tap it out of bounds to prohibit put backs. The Trail Blazers best bet to slowing down the Suns should be to force them into shooting jump shots, even if it means playing off guys like Amare. This can also help defend the pick and roll with just two players, letting the other defenders stay at home on the three point shooters. I've said this before and I'll say it again, if they are going to beat us with contested jump shots, then so be it. For the Trail Blazers to take a 2-1 series lead tonight, two things must happen. First of all, their body language and movements needs to be sharper and more alert. They were a step slow in reacting to the Suns pressure, which caused for a lot of empty possessions. We all know the Suns will let you score, but you've still got to earn it. Also, Rudy Fernandez needs to wake up and do so quickly. Without Roy and Phoenix keying in on Dre, with he as the starting shooting guard, the Blazers need much more aggression out of him. Why wouldn't the Suns trap Miller at all costs if they know Fernandez isn't going to even look at the basket? This is one game maybe where you don't mind a couple turnovers from Rudy if he's showing signs of being in attack mode. If I'm Coach Nate, I run a few plays for Rudy right out of the gate to see where his body language is at and if his stroke looks right or not. A hot Rudy will ruin all Phoenix defensive strategies to this point and make us that much more difficult to prep for. If Rudy is able to get around 15 points and 5 assists, look for Portland to come away victorious. This is one game where I don't have a clue who is going to step up. Will Camby get 30 again? Can Batum and Bayless go off for 18 a piece once more? Does Andre break the Phoenix code and finally get loose? How does Fernandez react to being scrutinized by the media for really one of the first times in his career here? I'd love to tell you I have a prediction, but I don't. The only thing I'm sure of is how absolutely nuts the Rose Garden is going to be tonight. The energy inside that arena will be enough alone to give the Trail Blazers a boost on the defensive end and prove to be one of the most hostile environments an opposing team can play in. With nothing but blind faith in my team and a deafening crowd in their corner cheering them on, Portland finds a way, somehow, to gut out a gritty win. Round 1, Game 3 Prediction: Trail Blazers 102 Suns 98 Post-Game Thoughts In the bat of an eye, the game was over. Aldridge picked up two more quick fouls in four short minutes to start Game 3 and when he returned, the lead was 18, an insurmountable deficit without the services of Roy. Phoenix, riding the momentum wave, pushed the lead up to 29 at halftime, bringing back horrific memories to Blazer fans who had to sit through the same embarrassing display against Houston in the first home playoff game last year. After being humbled in a big way on Tuesday night in Game 2, a lot of people would have expected more of a sense of urgency, instead we were subjected to second-guessing in all movements and a lack of heart, which is really sad to say considering how much fight they showed all year long. In the first half, Phoenix was outworking us for every loose ball, no Blazer put a body when they drove to the paint, and we failed to show any signs of aggression. Portland did end up winning the 2nd half by 10, giving the fans a little hope going into Saturday's game, but it was too little too late and had fans everywhere scratching their heads and asking, "Where was that earlier?" "The second half tonight, we won that," McMillan said. "We played basketball. We started to fight and we won both of the last two quarters. Somehow we have to get that scrappiness at the start of the game." Portland needs to man up and get off to better starts, because as soon as Phoenix gets up 12-15 points, they shoot loose, which means money in the bank for their shooters. The Suns have just too many shooters for them all to be cool, calm, and collected as they are bombing away from downtown. It also starts and ends with Steve Nash. The amount of easy shots he gets his guys is surreal. No one benefited more from it than Jason Richardson, who picked up right where he left off in Game 2, going off for a playoff career-high 42 points on a sizzling 13-19 from the floor and a heartbreaking 8-12 from distance. As soon as one of Portland's long jumpers missed, Nash received the outlet and pushed it down court, getting J-Rich off early with easy buckets, building his already sky high confidence which was a catalyst in getting him off tonight. With how hot Richardson was shooting, I was amazed how open he was being left open. One play in particular which stood out to me happened in the 3rd. Webster was within arms distance of J-Rich then suddenly decided to drift towards the hoop. Phoenix saw Webster was caught in no mans land and hit Richardson for a wide open three. Portland was not mentally prepared to play basketball last night. "I was very surprised," Richardson said after scoring a career playoff-high 42 points in the Phoenix Suns' 108-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night at the Rose Garden. "Seemed like I was open every time. I was surprised they kept leaving me." I'm surprised Portland hasn't issued a missing person's report, because LaMarcus Aldridge has been M.I.A. this entire series and it really needs to stop now. 17 points, on 5-14 shooting, and 7 rebounds, done most in the 2nd half when the game was already decided, just isn't going to cut it without Oden and Roy. For the second straight game, he took himself out of the game with two early fouls. As a four year vet and team leader, Aldridge needs to play smarter and not take himself out of action. With Roy out, Phoenix is already eying in on LMA and Miller, but when Aldridge goes out early with foul trouble, the whole team swarms to Andre, suffocating him and stalling our offense. Aldridge finally showed a little bit of fire in the 3rd when he got a double technical, getting into an altercation with Amare as well as fighting for good, deep post position. There is absolutely no reason Frye and Collins should be pushing him out to the perimeter to catch the ball with his back to the basket. Am I being too harsh on LMA? Probably, but this is the playoffs, either you win or you go home and his teammates, the city, and fan-base is counting on him to step up and take over like we all know he is capable of doing. "They're trying to take me out any way they can," Aldridge said. "I just have to figure out ways to get going." This loss isn't on Rudy, Aldridge, Nate, or any one player; it was a team loss. Is Phoenix more talented? Most definitely. But wouldn't it make more sense for the injury-depleted Trail Blazers to be the ones showing more intensity on defense, determination in diving for loose balls, and aggression on offense? I love this team and they fall very high on my priority list in life behind religion, family, etc and I supported them through thick and thin, good times and bad times, Drexler era and Jail Blazers era, but that first half effort was simply unacceptable. I brushed off Game 1 against Houston last year as first time jitters, but four of the last nine playoff games for this era of Trail Blazers have been blown out by 16 or more points, twice at home. The fans brought their A+ game last night, chanting to no end, even with the game in doubt. I don't ever think I've seen a crowd so lively with a 17 point deficit in the 4th quarter, but now its time for the players to bring it and ensure the city of Portland gets at least one more playoff game hosted. As ticked off as I am with the team, I'll still be in my seat for Game 4 and if you have tickets to, I hope you're their as well.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Suns: Round 1, Game 2

Our goal is to only get a split. There's no way we can take two from the Suns in Phoenix. All we have to do is protect home court and its on to the next round. Phoenix is going to come out extra energized and motivated, it'll be a miracle to come out alive. We're satisfied going back to Portland tied 1-1. If any player is having those thoughts, they need to be smacked. Of course getting a split on the road is enormous in terms of the entire series, but that doesn't mean it's time to relax or that taking a second game is out of the question. The Trail Blazers have a huge opportunity, not task, to put a stranglehold on this series by going up two-love in the best of seven, with two home games at the raucous Rose Garden looming on the horizon. If the team allows Phoenix to put them away easily, it fuels the fire for the argument that Game 1 was a aberration and Phoenix simply overlooked the depleted Trail Blazers. Portland already shot a loud message across to Phoenix in Game 1, now they must do so again. After the Game 1 win, I scoured the internet for post-game reactions about the lone upset of the first round. From a lot of Phoenix fans, I kept hearing the same rhetoric over and over about how the Suns will not continue to shoot that poorly throughout the series. Research disagrees with this opinion. Over the span of the four prior games played this year, the Trail Blazers have thwarted all of the gaudy offensive numbers that the high-octane Suns usually put up. The 110 points per game Phoenix usually tallies has been restricted to 99. The league-leading 49.2% shooting, plummeted down to 43.8% when the red, black, and white are on defense. All those three point shooters, bombing away towards a league best 41.2% has been stymied to a lukewarm 36.7% against Portland. Four games against one team is a large enough sample size to revoke the fluke references. A lot of people say Phoenix didn't shoot well, but I've got news for those naysayers, Portland didn't play that great either. You think the 3rd leading free throw shooting team is going to miss six of eight down the stretch again? Is Camby going to miss a breakaway dunk once more? Or LaMarcus and Rudy shooting a combined 10-27 repeatedly throughout the remainder of the series? In the words of Kevin McCallister, "I don't think so!" The first quarter is crucial towards success tonight. After being the only home team to lose Game 1, especially when all the experts thought they had the easiest series out West, Phoenix is going to come out guns blazin'. The Trail Blazers must weather the storm and keep the game within striking distance (5-8 points) after the first 12 minutes of action. Phoenix was embarrassed and beaten, making them all the more likely to overexert themselves, which could take them out of their offensive flow. To counter this onslaught which is about to be bestowed upon them, Portland must control pace now more than ever. Put the rock in Dre's hands and let him go to work, creating nightmare matchups for the Suns all game long. I suspect they will have something up their sleeves in regards to containing Miller, therefore, look for Aldridge to see the ball down low early and often to start the game, because there is no way Collins or Frye should be able to uproot him from gaining excellent low-post position. The longer the Blazers can make this a close, tight-knit ballgame, the more pressure builds upon the Suns shoulders and doubt clouds their mind. Outside of Nash, not many of the Phoenix players seem to react to pressure well, as seen in Game 1. One way this game can get out of hand for the Trail Blazers is if the Suns bench goes bananas on our reserves much like they did on Sunday. Luckily, we had a steady lead built before it happened last time around. Portland needs to do their damnedest to fight through the screens, keeping Nash in front of us, and disallowing him to dissect the defense which results in wide open three-point attempts. If Portland can limit Phoenix's open looks and lock down the defensive rebounds, it could be hard for the Suns to eclipse their 110 point average. Obviously Portland needs to continue their defensive prowess over the Suns, but they also must make the same shots they took in Game 1. If Bayless doesn't hit from the outside once or twice, the lane gets a little tighter. If Batum doesn't make those open looks from downtown, the doubles comes quicker and longer towards Andre and LaMarcus. We don't have our go-to-guy who can simply take over games anymore. To win, it must be a total team effort. For the love of all things holy, Fernandez needs to heat up from the outside. Just catch, shoot, and don't think about it Rudy. I expect a lot more of the offense to run through Aldridge, as PHX will most likely dial in to minimize Dre's impact. If Aldridge can stick his 20 ft jumper, things will only get easier inside. On defense, let Nash get his, because I don't think he can be stopped unless he is flat out missing, but quiet the others. When Nash is doing the bulk of the shooting its because nothing else is open, which helps keep them out of rhythm. Finally, continue to bother Amare. Frustrate the living daylights out of him and if he wants to ball further away, so be it. Force him to take jump shots. A lot of folks probably don't expect Portland to take two from the Suns, even I must admit that I came into this preview feeling a Phoenix win, but after writing and being reminded how this group of guys always rises to the challenge when everything seems stacked against them, I can't go against my team now. April 19th Practice Round 1, Game 2 Prediction: Portland 103 Phoenix 101 Post-Game Thoughts Phoenix did what many expected (not I) and took Game 2 as they simply played with more urgency and desperation. Portland knew they had to weather the first onslaught and did so admirably, finding themselves only down 32-26 after the 1st quarter after being down 10 the majority of the period. But it was only the first of many storms and the Trail Blazers just weren't equipped to take it all on. Grant Hill took the ball out of Miller's hand, forcing Rudy to step up, which he failed to do so. Aldridge picked up three first half fouls, putting the offense in a world of hurt. For the first time in five meetings this season, the Suns caught fire by shooting 52.3% from the field, combined with the fact Portland was simply struggling for any buckets, it continued to rain down upon the Trail Blazers. A six point deficit after 1 turned into a 14 point hole at half and any hope of making a comeback with a fresh Aldridge was negated by a 31-19 quarter in the favor of the Suns, pushing the lead into laughter territory. Not only was Portland getting manhandled 94-68 after 3 periods, but Batum re-injured his right shoulder after colliding with Nash at the buzzer. When it rains, it pours. "We were the aggressors...and we did a good job on Andre Miller," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We ran and got easy shots. We didn't give them a chance to get their defense established. I think they're as good as any team in the league if you let them get set in a halfcourt defense." McMillan lamented, "We needed to match their sense of urgency. We never did. They imposed their will from the start." It wasn't the Phoenix bench, nor STAT which was the storyline of the night, rather the scorching shooting of Jason Richardson and Grant Hill. Held in check to 6-21 shooting and only 18 points on Sunday, they were able to get off to the tune of 21-27 from the floor, tallying 49 points. There just wasn't enough resistance on the Nash pick and rolls, leaving Richardson just enough space to get off his shot. Batum was hampered by two early foul troubles, freeing Hill up to work the middle of the floor for multiple foul line jumpers. Even though the Suns were taking and making nearly every tough shot, they had a lot of open looks which got their confidence flowing, making those tough, contested shots easier to make. Overall, the entire defensive intensity of the Trail Blazers just wasn't at the necessary level needed to win on the road in the playoffs. While Phoenix was pestering us the entire 94 feet, Nash and Co. had open lanes to the paint continuously throughout the night, enabling them to rack up an unstoppable 58 points in the paint. Personally, I'm not worried about the Suns dropping 119 or J-Rich and Hill shooting 21-27 or even getting nearly 60 in the paint. Let's not kid ourselves here, Phoenix is a really good team, borderline great, and it was only a matter of time before they exploded offensively. What Portland needs to do is tighten up the defensive intensity and make life rough again, much as they did in the other four matches with the Suns. But, the main adjustment Coach Nate must make is how to get Dre Miller off. Hill took him away and Andre was relegated to being trapped 30 feet from the home most of the night. I'd like to see Bayless get a lot of time in there with Miller to get another ball handler in there to help him out, because Rudy flat out isn't cutting it. Possibly run Andre off a couple of screens to free him loose, then make a quick move to the hoop before Hill can keep up or run a better pick and roll with the screener actually putting forth a solid pick, allowing Dre to carve up the Suns defense. Wednesday, June 3rd, 1992 and Saturday, May 20th, 2000. What do these dates have in common with the Trail Blazers and last night's performance? Portland experienced a huge embarrassment at the hands of a favored opponent in the playoffs. Chicago blasted Portland, 122-89, in Game 1 of the '92 NBA Finals and the Lakers dominated the Blazers, 109-94, in Game 1 of the '00 WCF. If you're a Trail Blazers fan, and more importantly a player, simply shrug this one off as walking into the perfect storm and remove it from the memory banks. Blowouts happen, and they happen frequently in the playoffs. When you're facing a team 4-7 times within a two week period, teams make adjustments and sometimes they catch the opposition off guard. The best thing about those aforementioned games? Portland came out more focused the next night out, thrived upon the underdog role the media placed upon them after getting throttled, and came back to win the very next night out. The next two games are going to be in the frenetic Rose Garden, giving the Blazers a huge confidence boost and they'll be able to play off the energy buzzing throughout the arena. Official Game Photos Box Score

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Suns: Round 1, Game 1

After six grueling months of regular season basketball, countless injuries, and up and downs, the playoffs are finally here! Like '09, Portland's opponent wasn't known until the last day of the season, but for one of the only times during this season from hell, the Trail Blazers got a little bit of luck by drawing a team they match up extremely well with, the Phoenix Suns. Although the Suns obtained the West's best record post All-Star break, 23-6, Portland has taken two of three from Phoenix, including a 108-101 win in the dessert without Roy on February 10th. Without Roy being the key term, the Trail Blazers will be without their leader, superstar, and best player for at least the first round after having successful surgery to repair his torn meniscus. But Phoenix has injury problems of their own. Absent has been Robin Lopez, their starting center and only defensive minded player, who has been sidelined since March 26th due to bulging discs in his lower back. The key to the entire series is bench play. As Rudy Fernandez moves into the starting lineup for Game 1, a weak performing Blazer bench, gets even weaker. Not only does Portland have to face the hottest team, Phoenix, and the hottest player, Amare, but they have to deal with one of the top benches in the league. Jared Dudley is 4th in the league in three-point percentage, 45.8%, Channing Frye's 172 three point makes are good enough for 4th most in the league, and Goran Dragic is playing his best basketball of his young career, averaging 9.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 20.1 minutes per night during April's seven games. While the Phoenix reserves are peaking, Portland's are just now trying to find their niche. Webster had a clutch performance in L.A. last Sunday and is netting a little over 14 points in the three games since Roy has been out. Lets not forget he did lead the NBA in 3's made during January when he saw starter's minutes due to Roy's hamstring. But, I think flying under the radar is the fact this is Webster's first ever playoffs, as he was out all of last year with the stress fracture. Marty won't be alone either, because Dante is experiencing it for the first time and Bayless might as well be too after only seeing 2 minutes during last year's series with Houston. Both starting fives match up very well and all the Portland bench has to do is survive their shifts, giving the starters just enough rest for them to take control of the game later on. Inside, the interior, the paint. Whatever you call it, that is where Portland must take this series by the reigns and assert their dominance. As big a loss as Roy is, I'd argue losing Robin Lopez is nearly as big for Phoenix. He is their rebounder, their energy, and only player who puts defense first. Phoenix loses skill when Jarron Collins starts and toughness when Frye checks into the game. Yes, Amare should win the MVP for the second half of the season, but outside of Dwight Howard, I couldn't think of two guys I'd rather have than Aldridge and Camby to throw at STAT for an entire series. In the only match between the duo of Marcus and LaMarcus versus Amare, STAT was held in check to 18 points an 14 rebounds compared to his April averages of 26.4 points and 9.3 rebounds. Two things Blazer big men must do to slow down Stoudemire is to limit his momentum boosting facial dunks out of the triple threat position which ignite him and force him to work on defense, because it's widely known he doesn't take as much pride on that side of the ball. In their first full game without Roy, the Trail Blazers filled out the blue-print on how to win by scoring a season-high 60 points in the paint on another small team, the Thunder. Game 1 sets the tone for the entire series. Does Portland get stage fright and bullied around as they did against Houston or do they follow their veteran's footsteps and become the aggressors? The arena is going to be loud, hostile, and ramped up, but through smart play, playing under control and with poise, Portland can weather it by putting the game at their pace. Andre needs to have the ball in his hands at all times and either decide to take Nash off the dribble or on the blocks and work the offense around what Phoenix gives you. Phoenix will let you score, there's no denying that, but Portland needs to force the action inside, have crisp ball movement, and players always on the go. The series is a four-game sweep if we try and get into a jump shooting contest or a run and gun race with these guys. These are the playoffs and half-court basketball prevails; slow the game down, work the shot clock, and find the open man. The more you make Phoenix work on defense, the less energy they'll have to exude on offense. To win, the Trail Blazers must get to the line 7-10 more times, commit under 10 turnovers, and dominate the glass. If there's a game to catch the Suns napping, it's this one. Role player of the game will go to Marty. He performs when he knows the team is counting on him. Look for at least three 3 pointers and 15 points from Marty Party. Andre's steady play and Aldridge's offensive repertoire will lead the way for Portland on offense, Batum and Camby on defense, to a very close Blazer victory. Trail Blazers Talk Playoffs Round 1, Game 1 Prediction: Trail Blazers 105 Suns 103 Post-Game Thoughts In a game which felt more like a heavyweight fight than a basketball game, both teams throwing what seemed to be knock out punches all throughout the 2nd half, only to see the other counter or retaliate. Neither team had a lead more than nine and the 4th quarter was a seesaw affair. Phoenix would go on a mini run and go up 5, then Portland would strike back. While listening to the post-game show on the ride home, every clip in the 4th I heard Wheels call, I said "Man, that was clutch!" or "Play of the game right there!" Where to even begin? Martell had those two mammoth blocks, Aldridge's running tip in to put Portland up 5, Bayless' countless drives to the bucket, Andre's three ball, corner pocket, and Batum's three moments after Nash had hit one on the other end to push the lead back to 5. Although missing six of eight free throws down the stretch and Camby's oops moment of the decade are not recipes for success, whatever the Suns threw at us, we had an answer. To have a puncher's chance, I knew we had to commit 10 or less turnovers, get to the foul line 7-10 more times and dominate the glass. Well, two out of the three isn't bad. Aided by Bayless and Miller's relentlessness, Portland out shot the Suns 31 to 16 at the charity stripe, taking advantage of the fact Robin Lopez is still sidelined, leaving no real imposing force to challenge them once they get to the cup. While everyone was being aggressive, the team played under control and with poise, only coughing it up 10 times, which also helped contain the dangerous Suns fast break to only four points. One area which must improve is defensive rebounding. The total advantage was only +3 for the Suns, 47-44, but they had 17 to our 10 in regards to offensive boards. Outside of Camby's 17 pulls, no one else even sniffed double digits. "We had to drive the ball to the basket to get them in the penalty," said Miller, who called the win "big, especially considering....they were probably the hottest team in the league." The saying goes, "Defense wins championships" and tonight was further evidence to prove that argument correct. The Suns were held in check to only 41.8% shooting from the floor (38-91), 34.4% from downtown (11-32), and 100 points, 10 points under their season average. Only Nash was able to reach the 20 point mark, dropping 25, and really the only Sun making it happen. If the ball wasn't in his hands, everything was at a stalemate for Phoenix, settling for contested jumpers or eventual turnovers. Most impressive had to do with the lock down on Amare Stoudemire, viewed by most as an unstoppable force heading into the post-season. Normally a 27 and 10 guy, Camby and Aldridge swatted those numbers away, frustrating him constantly throughout the night. In the end, STAT didn't live up to his acronym, netting 18 points (8-18 fg, 2-3 ft), 8 rebounds, 4 turnovers, 3 shots blocked against him, and ending the game early on the bench, fouling out due to the swarming defense of Camby taking him out of his game. "Amar'e is as tough as they come," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "Camby made him work and didn't give him anything easy." "They did a phenomenal job defensively," Stoudemire said. For Portland to have continued success throughout the series, the Blazers will need two players at least have huge games outside of our new Big 3 (Aldridge, Camby, Miller). Last night it was Bayless and Batum coming to the rescue, combining for 36 points and Webster doing his own damage on the defensive end, but the Suns bench is deadly, putting up 39 points, putting the pressure on the Blazer reserves on a nightly basis. Taking out Frye's 12 points of production, since Collins plays two minutes per shift, the Suns only outscored the Trail Blazers bench, 27-25, an outcome Blazer coaches and fans will take all day. I expect Martell to keep up the defense, Batum to continue to excel, and Bayless to do his thing in the paint due to the lack of shot blockers Phoenix possesses, but Portland can not win this series unless a certain #5 steps up. Rudy has been yearning for playing time all year long and he is finally getting it, only to perform sub-par. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the first game, but if he doesn't put up, Webster is ready to get those starter's minutes. Official Game Photos Box Score

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pendergraph Puts On A Show

Here is a video compilation of Lil' Bit's rim-rocking throw downs during last night's Fan Appreciation game against Golden State. Steph Curry, get out the way!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Warriors: Game 82

81 games are in the books, leaving just one more regular season game to play. Tonight, Portland (50-31) looks to accomplish many feats; clinching 6th out West, figuring out who the first round opponent will be, maintaining momentum from Monday's win all the way into the playoffs, and giving the fans a good ole' fashioned beat down of Golden State (25-56) on Fan Appreciation Night. The Trail Blazers have taken two out of the first three seasonal matchups this year, including an impressive defensive performance with only eight active players on January 2nd, winning 105-89 and allowing only 48 points after the 1st quarter. But, like many games played earlier in the year, they must be taken with a grain of salt, especially since Golden State doesn't have half of that team available anymore due to injuries and Portland had half of theirs out due to injuries. If one team can sympathize with us about our turbulent 09-10 season, it's the Warriors who have had over 300 games missed to injury as well. Win or lose, the #1 objective for tonight's game must be to keep everyone healthy. With the later start at 7:30 PM, Portland will know exactly what they need to do in regards to seeding. If Dallas beats San Antonio, the outcome of the Blazers/Warriors game is a moot point, because the 6th seed will be wrapped up. Knowing Coach Nate, he'll have his troops ready to play to win, which is the right decision, but it'd also be nice to be able to rest our vets whom we have relied upon so heavily down the second half of the season. It looks like the Trail Blazers will be without he services of LaMarcus Aldridge as he was hospitalized last night with a stomach virus and was released today but considering he's dealing with a left calf strain after Collison tackled him on Monday, LA is listed as doubtful for tonight and its probably for the better. Juwan Howard would be the starter if the L-Train is indeed derailed for tonight only. In what could turn out to be a completely meaningless game, look for a lot of Cunningham, Pendergraph, Mills, Webster, Rudy, and Bayless. Of course it would be superb to win #52, but at what cost? It wouldn't be the smartest move to push Camby, Andre, and Juwan for 35-40 minutes and tire them out even more for the weekend's first playoff game. As painful as it is to say, maybe LA not playing tonight is a blessing in disguise. With the way the injuries have snowballed this year, who knows who's next? At least this way, everyone on the team is able to get into a rhythm heading in the post-season. Personally, I still think Cunningham could have a nice impact in the NBA's second season, but his jumper needs to be stuck on automatic to do so and no better way to get him into a groove than play him heavy minutes tonight. The same goes for Rudy and Jerryd who have struggled mightily since the New Year. Even without Roy, Aldridge, Oden, and Przybilla, Golden State still may be the more banged up team as they only played seven players last night and may again only have eight players available for action tonight. Let's not forget the back to back the Warriors are going to be dealing with along with vacation spots dancing around in their heads, being the final action for a lottery bound team. On the other hand, Coach Nate will have whomever suits up in the Rip City jerseys tonight 100% focused and zoned in on the job at hand. Portland eats adversity for breakfast. Roy's torn meniscus, Aldridge's hospitalization, or whatever, after all that the team has gone through it just starts rolling off your backs after a while. Whatever the current playing roster looks like between now and 7:30, I am extremely confident in their ability to finish the season off on a strong note and win one for the fans and keeping some nice steam going as they head into a hostile environment come this weekend. Watch out for big nights from Bayless, Cunningham, and Batum as Portland sends their fans home happy. Game 82 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Warriors 97
Post-Game Thoughts
In a meaningless game that saw Aldridge, Roy, and Camby all sit, Andre play only 9 minutes to keep his Iron-man streak in tact, and Golden State play really only five guys, including George who fouled out but was allowed to continue playing due to a loophole in the rulebook, Golden State ended up winning 122-116. In short, we found out Jeff can fly high, Dante's a better rebounder than given credit for, Patty's jumper is almost as awesome as his accent, Bayless' court vision has re-emerged, Rudy throws a sweet one motion scoop lob pass, Marty makes 3's, Andre's still our Iron-man, Juwan and Marcus get excited when Lil' Bit throws down, Nico can fly as well, and Diener didn't score. All in all, a great Fan Appreciation Night! Official Game Photos Box Score

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trail Blazers vs. Thunder: Game 81

Without their leader and superstar, Brandon Roy and coming off an emotional victory in Los Angeles, the Trail Blazers (49-31) take on the Thunder (49-31) in a game that decides who avoids the Lakers in round 1 of the playoffs. While the Trail Blazers are soaring high after knocking off the Lakers in Staples Center, the Thunder are feeling the polar opposite after blowing not only a 42 point first quarter but a 20 point lead in the Bay Area against the Warriors last night. Portland leads the season series to date, 2-1, with each team winning on the others home floor, including the most recent matchup on March 28th, a 92-87 Blazers win. Coincidentally enough, the only game Oklahoma City won occurred during Roy's rehabilitation of his hamstring, causing him to be miss the game and yet again tonight they are going to be the beneficiaries of another lucky break. In their earlier loss to the Thunder on February 9th, 89-77, Portland actually held a two point lead head going into the final period, but with no Brandon Roy to turn to, the cold shooting Blazers only were able to muster up 16 4th quarter points. Defensively, Portland has their number, holding the Thunder to under 90 points during every game this year, compared to their 101.1 points per game average. Its doubtful the Blazers will be able to score over the century mark, but if they can find a way to score around 95 points tonight, it could be enough to hold off OKC. Luckily for Portland, Webster, Bayless, and Rudy appear to be in much more of a groove, looking to pick up the scoring slack from an absent Roy and anything they provide tonight has to be better than their combined 3-17 shooting last go-round, right? One night it's Kobe Bryant, the next day it's scoring leader Kevin Durant. Being Portland's best perimeter defender doesn't allow for nights off and just one day after holding Bryant in check to the tune of 8-23 shooting, Nicolas Batum has to refocus and prepare for another scoring assassin. KD has got right near his scoring average, netting 31 a night in two head to head matchups with Batum, but not without challenge as he was contained to 19-43 shooting (44.2%). Like all elite scorers, Durant does his business at the foul line and does it often, getting to the line a league-leading 10.3 times a night, making 9.3 of those attempts. Both Marty and Batum kept Kobe quiet by forcing into a large quantity of contested jump shots combined with suffocating ball denial defense and doing so without fouling, as Kobe attempted only 3 free throws the entire night. A success for our wing defenders tonight would be to make Durant shoot under 45% from the floor and limit him to 8 or less free throw attempts. One player who gets swept underneath the rug when it comes to the Thunder is jack-of-all-trades forward, Jeff Green. Reminiscent of Antwan Jamison is his ability to not only score inside but drift his game out as far as the three-point line, Green is their quintessential "glue-guy". Durant is bound and determined to get 30, no matter how many shots it takes, but if the Trail Blazers can score more than they did against Dallas when they let Dirk loose but held everyone else in check, they can win the game the same way. Green has been very consistent this year against Portland, keeping extremely close to his season averages in all three games, averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.0 assists., so don't expect Green to not produce. To keep him from exploding for 25+, Aldridge must make sure most of his [Green's] energy is spent trying to keep him [Aldridge] off the blocks. A fiery Aldridge is something the Thunder are not equipped to handle, especially if Nenad Kristic isn't able to go after a bruised knee kept him out of last night's game against the Warriors. Injuries have forced both squads to thin out their bench and put quality reserves into the starting lineup. It will be a test to see which 2nd units want it more. Although Portland won the last meeting, it wasn't in any part due to their bench, getting outscored 23-12 and losing the rebounding edge 14-2. One player Portland must keep an eye on at all times is young forward Serge Ibaka, who during the month of April is putting up season-highs in points, 9.5, rebounds, 7.3, and minutes, 20.3. One player who the Trail Blazers should call upon is rookie Dante Cunningham to ignite the offense and scrap for loose rebounds. In the last game against OKC in the Rose City, Cunningham was the only Blazer who was locked in from the field, shooting 7-12 for 14 points and grabbing 6 off the glass. Even though the reserves have only played well for the last two games, I see the trend continuing tonight. Marty's confidence has to be through the roof after his huge 4th quarter, Bayless, at one point, scored 7 straight for Portland yesterday in the 2nd half, Old Man River seemingly is there whenever we need a foul line jumper, and Dante always seems ready for the challenge. The Blazers bench outplays their counterparts, Durant gets his but others are negated, and the Aldridge/Camby front-line are just too much inside for the Thunder to handle. Game 81 Prediction: Trail Blazers 94 Thunder 90 Post-Game Thoughts This team, this town, and these fans never cease to amaze me. Literally 45 minutes before tip-off, the inevitable bad news regarding Roy's injury about his knee leaks out, delivering a gut check for everyone with Blazer ties. I can't lie, for a moment I had my "woe is me" moment, but quickly refocused my energy towards the guys who will be suiting up tonight. In a game that both teams desperately needed, the Trail Blazers and fans worldwide wanted it so much more. The term playoff atmosphere gets thrown around way to lightly, mostly without any merit being held behind it, but tonight was the exception. Portland used a 10-0 run to start the 3rd, taking a 2 point lead after seeing the Thunder control the entire first half aided by Aldridge's 3 fouls. What was so magical about the Garden last night occurred during the 21-4 Portland run over the span of six minutes in the 4th quarter. At around the four minute mark, the Rose Garden faithful all rose as one and stood and cheered deafening chants for the rest of the game, including one of the best synchronized and loud ones of all-time. As he checked out of the game, Camby was serenaded with chants of "Mar-cus Cam-bee, Mar-cus Cam-Bee." "Haven't heard anything like that since I was in the (Madison Square) Garden," said Camby, who played his home games there for New York from 1998-2002. "Felt good to be appreciated, but they should have been cheering the whole team." "We weathered the storm without B-Roy. Being down by eight points at halftime and pulling out this game in a back-to-back situation shows a lot of character and heart by our whole team." We were cheering for the whole team Marcus, but you deserved a little extra recognition for a simply sensational performance with the stakes stacked so high. Every single time Portland needed a bucket to stay alive, especially in the first half with LA out with 3 fouls and a hobbled Roy, Camby was always around the ball either tipping in numerous shots or grabbing offensive rebounds to prolong possessions. He stepped up, taking his game to new heights by doing things not many of us new he had in his arsenal, such as putting the ball on the floor in order to get to the line and even running the fast break. When it was all said and done, Camby tallied 30 points (12-16 fg, 6-8 ft), 13 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block in 36 clutch minutes. Portland fans are very sly as well as I believe there could have been an ulterior motive behind the praise. While the chants were much deserving, the showering of affection towards Marcus from the fans will linger in his mind this summer when deciding where to finish up his career up. If he didn't know he was wanted before, I think the point is loud and clear now. In the first half it seemed like Durant was going to put on a performance of Biblical proportions, scoring 21 points, getting to the line 9 times, and doing so on only 7 field goal attempts. Coach Nate showed his troops some first half game film and changes were made coming out of the locker room which really flustered KD. Martell and Nico both denied him the ball much better, if he got it at all, it was three feet beyond the three-point line. Different looks were thrown at him, including a trap out top and just putting the paint on lock for him, only giving up one free throw attempt in the 2nd half, which came off of a Nate McMillan technical. When it was all said and done, Webster and Batum held him to just 3-13 shooting and 9 points in the 2nd half and it wasn't just Durant missing makeable shots. Both defenders were up in his grill the entire half, forcing deep, contested jump shots throughout the final 24 minutes. Durant ended the night with his average of 30 and 10 trips to the charity stripe, but on only 8-20 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 3 turnovers. "We weren't playing our roles at the defensive end of the floor in the first half," McMillan said. "In the second half, if there was an opportunity to switch out and deny, we did it. We wanted to body him and wear him down, and we wanted to double-team him in isolation on certain parts of the floor. And we kept him off the free throw line the second half. That was a key." With the win, Portland avoids the Lakers, giving that unenviable task to the young Thunder, but maybe more important than all of these playoff scenarios was the way the Trail Blazers responded to adversity for the umpteenth time this year. Knowing the fate of their superstar's knee and the realistic possibility he won't even be 75% for the playoffs, if there at all, instead of choosing to sulk, they rose above everything and played with heart, passion, and intensity. They have realized how hard it has been to simply be in the position the team is at right now and don't want to waste seven months of hard work. It wouldn't be their style. Call me naive, but with the veteran presence of Camby and Miller, Aldridge looking more and more like an All-Star forward, and a coach who is impressing the hell out of me with each passing game, I can see Portland wreaking a lot of havoc this post-season, similar to the Rockets last year without Tracey and Yao. Also, on a final note, 60 point in the paint from the Trail Blazers last night. If there is one way to win in the playoffs, its forcing the issue down low. Official Game Photos Box Score

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Lakers: Game 80

After coming off arguably the most intense games of the season, which saw Portland (48-31) drop one they couldn't afford to against Dallas, they must quickly compose themselves with the defending champion and potential first-round opponent Los Angeles Lakers (56-23). The two teams split two early games in the Rose City this year, Portland winning the first, 107-98, behind Roy's 32 points on only 11 shots, while Los Angeles finally got the monkey off their backs, defeating the Blazers in the RG, 99-82, without the services of Kobe Bryant. Speaking of Mr. Bryant, head coach Phil Jackson has rested his star the past two games in hopes of getting his legs back for the playoffs. With their win last night against the Wolves, L.A. clinched home court throughout the Western Conference and really is only jockeying with Orlando right now. The $1 million question now remains, will Kobe get another day off? *Edit* Kobe Expected To Play Against Portland If there was one positive which came out of Friday's debacle, it was the fire and composure LaMarcus Aldridge showed. Normally when someone is fired up, they let their emotion get the better of them but LA was able to rise above it all and simply focus on hoops. I can guarantee you each game the rest of the way is going to feel like a playoff-type game, so the team has a couple practice games to get accustomed to playing under control, regardless of how they feel the game is being called. With teams begging anyone other than Roy to beat them, seen by help-side defenders sagging into the paint and always having two players locked onto Roy, someone else is going to have to step up outside of Aldridge. In the month of April, Aldridge is putting up 22.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, all above his season averages. With defenses keyed on them, who will step up and become that third scorer Portland is going to need to beat L.A.? I think a key stat will be if the Trail Blazers can get 60 combined points from three players. Regardless of whether Bryant plays or doesn't, the key to beating the Lakers is to neutralize Lamar Odom. When he is playing the point forward, setting up teammates, grabbing rebounds, and hitting open jumpers, their squad is nearly unbeatable. In their last contest against Portland, Odom completely dominated the glass, gobbling up 22 boards like they were gummy bears. Now, I doubt Odom is able to do that much damage again on the glass, as the Camby-Man now mans the paint for the red and black, but none the less, Marcus can't do it all by himself. Juwan, Batum, and LaMarcus all need to make rebounding a priority. Los Angeles was able to manufacture 13 extra shot attempts, which was the difference in a fairly even game otherwise statistically. With Bynum out, Odom has been the starting power forward, meaning he'll be matched up on Aldridge. L-Train is going to have to make Odom work on defense, hopefully taking away some of his energy in other facets of the game. What will swing this game in either team's favor will be the play of the second units. As mentioned, Bynum is still out with an injury, moving the Lakers best reserve, Odom, to the starting lineup. Most fans and media correlate the Lakers recent struggles, three wins in their last eight games, directly to the lackluster play of their bench. Howard has been solid for the Trail Blazers, Bayless looked a little bit better against Dallas, and Rudy hit three pretty huge three-pointers, but can they build upon that success and take the momentum gained against Dallas with them on the road in a hostile environment? On paper, I'll take our bench over the likes of Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Josh Powell, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown, but games aren't played on paper. Most likely we'll see the two, inconsistent benches play to a standstill, but if one outshines the other, it will be the deciding factor in the outcome of the game. Even though the Lakers got embarrassed at home on national television against the Spurs, they hold the NBA's 2nd best home record at 33-6, and I don't think Portland will be giving L.A. their 7th home loss on Sunday. L.A. knows this is one of the tougher Western Conference's in recent memory and with the last week of the NBA schedule starting tomorrow, the time in which to turn the proverbial switch on is quickly vanishing so look for them to come out with a purpose tomorrow. Although we dislike them more than they us, L.A. hasn't been living under a rock over these past couple of weeks. Portland could very well be their first round opponent, especially after the Spurs stunned the Nuggets tonight, and they'll want to thwart any Trail Blazer confidence early and often. With the West being so tough, the Lakers will want as quick of a first round as possible and if they do match up with us, the series starts Sunday. I hope I'm wrong, but the Lakers message will be loud and clear to the Trail Blazers about how tough its going to be to get the one win they'll need to to advance in the playoffs. As much as it makes me want to puke... Game 80 Prediction: Trail Blazers 88 Lakers 97 Post-Game Thoughts Words can't describe how satisfying this win was or the way in which is came about. Early on it looked as if the Lakers were ready to show why they were defending champs, running off to a nine point lead, but the Trail Blazers weathered the storm and only trailed by three after one period. In the 2nd quarter, Roy's knee went one way while his body went the other. He would not return to the game, scaring the living hell out of Trail Blazers fans everywhere. Luckily an MRI just revealed only a bone contusion, with a time table for a return uncertain but easily the best possible scenario. With Roy out, Portand's bench came to the rescue in a big way, outscoring their L.A. counterparts 35-8. After momentum swings saw both teams take six-eight point leads, the game settled into a classic photo finish. Andre Miller was clutch all game and his driving lay-up put Portland up 86-81 with 54 ticks to go. A Kobe 30 ft. three and an And-1 within 20 seconds put L.A. up 1 when the madness began. An Aldridge low post miss opened the window for Marcus to tip it in; Portland up one. Webster, apparently not knowing time and score, bear-hugs Bryant, putting him on the line with a chance to take the lead. With M-V-P chants reigning down from Staples Center, Kobe ironically front rims two, yet L.A. gets the offensive rebound and Fisher is fouled seconds later by Miller. Fish only made one of two, setting up the game winning shot for Portland with 5 seconds to play. Somehow a running jumper off of one foot was the play we got out of Webster, yet Fisher and Bryant both fouled him in the act of shooting, resulting in three made free throws from Webster. Up 3, Batum denied Kobe the ball, meaning Gasol out top was their only viable option which he unsurprisingly clanked, giving the Trail Blazers their biggest win of the season and in a dead-heat for the 6th spot out West. "It's big for us," said LaMarcus Aldridge of the victory. "It's giving us more confidence if we do face them. This will be big for us on the road. We always feel like if they come to our house it'll be a really good game, but now (with this win), it makes our confidence grow even more." I felt the reserves would decide the game if either bunch showed up. Luckily for Portland, everyone was above par today. Bayless chipped in 8 points and 5 rebounds, including a three to give the Blazers back the lead and broke the two minute long dry spell from either side to begin the 4th. But it wasn't Bayless, nor the reliable Howard who starred for the bench. It was the much maligned duo of Fernandez and Webster. Rudy stepped in right away as soon as Roy went down and looked comfortable out there for the first time in months. Finally he was hitting the pull-up three pointers, had his patented lob pass to Aldridge for the flush in the waning moments, and even picked up a charge. All in all, Rudy recorded 9 points and an impressive six assists. I don't think I've seen a player go from hero to goat back to hero in such a short span of time than what happened with Webster. While he started off missing badly on his first two attempts from outside, he received an alley-oop from Rudy that seemed to ignite him. His defense on Bryant was phenomenal and had to hit two pairs of three free throws in this game, showing signs of extreme clutchness. His 16 points (4-7) all seemed to come at a desperate time for the Trail Blazers, stalling any hopes of a Laker run. Not only did the Blazer bench outscore L.A.'s (35-8), but they out assisted them 9-1, got to the line five more times, and grabbed 11 boards compared to their 5. In a game that needed them (bench) more than ever, they delivered. A tremendous sign heading into the postseason. "He was great today," said Camby of Webster. "We're definitely going to need him as the season ends." As much length and overall talent the Lakers attribute, the key to stopping them starts and ends with Kobe Bryant. Coach Nate had Batum and Webster dialed in on Kobe all game long, forcing him into 8-23 shooting and maybe more importantly limiting him to only 3 trips to the foul stripe. Throughout the game, Batum used his quickness and length to deny Bryant the rock and when he did get a shot off, made sure a hand was right between the eyes of Kobe as he let it go. Only was it through a few questionable calls that allowed Kobe those six points in 20 seconds, but regardless, when it mattered most, L.A. wasn't able to get their go-to-guy and supposed "best closer in the game" the rock down by three with 3.1 to go. Here is a video breakdown from BasketallBreakdowns of how great a job both Marty and Nico did on Kobe. It just wouldn't be right to not give our starting big men their due. Each player played off the other just how KP imagined when he pulled the trigger to bring Marcus to Portland. Camby was suffocating on the glass, grabbing a game-high 17 rebounds and sending messages of 'DO NOT ENTER' inside with 4 confidence crushing blocks. While Camby was doing his thing on defense, Aldridge became the de-facto leader as soon as Roy went down, scoring a game-high 24 points on 10-21 shooting from the floor and showing signs of All-Star caliber play with 11 boards of his own. Normally known to roam the perimeter during games, Aldridge was a beast inside, always trying to overpower the soft Gasol. Although he missed the would be go-ahead shot with Portland trailing by one, it was his desire and determination to get off a good shot inside that drew Camby's defender over to him, leaving Marcus wide open for the tip-in. A criticism of Aldridge has been his tendency to shy away from the ball in the 4th, but lately that doesn't appear to be the case. The feistier Aldridge has resulted in nearly 23 points and 8 rebounds during the month of April. For the Trail Blazers to advance in Round 1, the team will nee the April Aldridge and not his early season counterpart. Official Game Photos Box Score