Blazers 96, Rockets 87 Re-Thoughts

Well Opening Night was good, great, bad, awful and everything in between those words. It was a win that, due to 26 turnovers and the ever-fighting Rockets, should be deemed an ugly win — the type that good teams find a way to get. It was also, I’m guessing, not dissimilar to how many Houston games will play out this season. They will scrap, they will take charges, get put backs, force turnovers and generally attack things with a fervor that most NBA teams don’t. An unlike last postseason, the Blazers took what the Rockets pushed and their talent succeeded in a mostly nonrhythmic effort. Save for that 23-7 second-quarter run.

While we already had an idea of it, the Blazers have one hell of a second unit. Led by Andre Miller (7 assists) — whose play is really starting to accent the shortcomings of Steve Blake — the tempo increased, perfect lobs were thrown, easy buckets were obtained and the bench briefly had the look of something special. Travis Outlaw hit his Travis Outlaw shots (23 points) but it was Miller and Rudy Fernandez who were facilitating and creating. And unlike the Sergio-Rudy connection of yesteryear, the Miller-Rudy tango is a two-way street.

The Rockets tried to put a downer on the night — which was already fairly down for a season opener due to Houston’s thrill-lacking style — but the Blazers never seemed to be in great peril. Instead of “Oh, Crap, we better start playing”, they seemed to take on a more “Alright, Blokes, let’s put a lid on this already” attitude in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t quite the killer instinct you want to see, but in such an uneven game it’s nice that when the opponent made a late run, the Blazers didn’t have to survive, they had an answer ready.

So, they’re 1-0, most expectations were met, nothing terrible happened and the Blazers showed that they can win ugly. More please!

On to the players:

I get the feeling we’re going to be talking early and often about Greg Oden in most recaps. Most folks are going to stare at the 7 in the turnover column, as Greg committed a number of offensive fouls and off-ball penalties, but at least two of the gimmies were not his fault. That said, Oden still got stripped a couple times in the post and it seems as though he has trouble with undersized players like Carl Landry (or Corey Maggette when GS goes really small) who use ball swipes and balance-altering techniques rather than straight body-to-body defense. Not a huge cause for concern, but the turnovers did seem to throw off Oden’s offense, which in turn might had led to his late flurry of fouls. He did establish fairly good position in the paint a number of times and Outaw was unable to get him the ball, which is why I want Miller on the court with No. 52 at all times. The good news is that no matter what was going on with his O, Oden owned the defensive end. He rebounded like the great rebounder he is (12 boards) but more impressive were his timing and patience on his 5 blocks and his footwork on the pick-and-roll. In one second-half play, Aaron Brooks tried to take Oden off the dribble on the elbow, but Oden cut him off with three slide-steps forcing Brooks into a pull-up jumper. And despite the late foul trouble — of which Joel and LaMarcus shared — he shut down any last hopes the Rockets had in the final minutes by locking down the lane. Better yet, playing with 5 fouls, he played aggressive defense while not fouling out. Small steps, folks.

Brandon Roy had a steady line of 20, 5 and 5 but struggled from the field, going 5-of-18. No cause for concern, as he still played a strong floor game and looked every bit the leader of the team that he is. He did deffer to Andre Miller on a few occasions, but in the end it’s going to be Miller who has to make sacrifices.

As mentioned, Outlaw was the high scorer of the night and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He made his one-dribble pull-up jumper and scored in transition, but also missed some open players and messed up a fast-break or two. You take the good with the bad with Outlaw, but tonight was most definitely the good.

Martell Webster (14 points) did Chuck Hayes very wrong with a “Look At Me, I’m Healthy!” dunk and was overall a better player than we last saw of him two years ago. Rather than drift into the corner on offense, he made some strong moves to the hoops and even tossed a couple risky passes to open guys that were right on the money. He wasn’t really tested defensively tonight, so we’ll hold off on analysis there, but so far the results are just fine on Webs.

Steve Blake made a pair of threes and killed me when he made a great steal that could have started a fast-break and instead mysteriously paused for a moment as if to murder the break in cold blood. It hurt to see him do that, and as Wendell Maxey pointed out to me on Twitter, Andre Miller was at the scorer’s table the very next possession. His minutes were basically even with Miller, but over the course of the season I just don’t see how Blake is going to maintain a 50/50 platoon.

LaMarcus Aldridge was in foul trouble the entire night and had four turnovers but played fairly efficiently without much of a rhythm.

Andre Miller is the best passer this team has and also seems to have a knack for filling in gaps in the defense for open looks. It was strange to see him posting up — even on Brooks — when LMA and Oden were both on the court. Just as how the defense looks completely different with Oden in the game, the same effect applies to Millers presence on offense. No big spacing issues tonight, but I don’t know if Miller has ever been so open for the three he made in his life.

Joel was Joel and I am confident I can copy and paste that phrase every night and stick it here. That’s a compliment, mind you.

Finally, Rudy had his moments but looked rusty when trying to initiate the offense. Give him some time as he has much more to show us.

One last thought: It was nice to see Nate stick with a nine-man rotation and not muddle things by trying to force Jerrdy or Dante or Juwan into the game. We would all like to see the young guys play, but the rotation looked very organized and streamlined.

All in all, we may not want to return for a second helping of this contest, but it puts everyone involved in a good enough place before going back to work.

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Tags: Aaron Brooks Andre Miller Blazers Brandon Roy Greg Oden Joel Pryzbilla LaMarcus Aldridge Martell Webster Nate McMillan Portland Trail Blazers Recap Rockets Rudy Fernandez Steve Blake Travis Outlaw

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