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Blazers 94, Nuggets 97 Re-Thoughts

Games with the Denver Nuggets are not going to be pretty this season. They are going to be chippy, lots of fouls will be called, and the better defensive team will usually win. But the small things will decide key possessions, and though they will always be targets of an unfair amount of blame, it’s easy to cut yourself off at the legs in the divisional race if you miss too many freebies.

So, plenty of people will blame Greg Oden — even though Aldridge and Miller both missed important free throws — and he will blame himself as well, but there’s nothing to discuss. That’s what playoff games come down to. You’ve got to make them. The Blazers still made 33-of-41. And now we move on.

The real reason this one is going down in the loss column is because Carmelo Anthony went turbo nuclear and, despite the offensive duet of Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez, the Blazers lost some late rebounds and simply ran out of possessions. There wasn’t much Roy and Martell Webster could do to stop the Melo barrage, but they tried admirably to play face-up D (surprised they didn’t double team him a couple more times). Because of foul trouble the second-half lineup was screwy, and too often Andre Miller wound up with the mismatch of his life trying to stop Anthony. Nic Batum might have been helpful, but I was a little let down by the defensive scheme for Anthony. Maybe they focused more on Billups, but Anthony always seemed to have too much time and too much space in isolations.

Regarding those lineups, Nate made some mistakes tonight, and he seemed unsure of who he wanted to go with. He probably went with Juwan Howard for too long between the 3rd and 4th quarters and at some point will have to stop immediately jerking Oden after his fouls. Most of all, the Blake-Miller situation was a minor disaster in the second half. Blake was getting torched and adding nothing to the offense while Miller oscillated between trying to make hero shots, creating for others and just sort of…floating. In the final six minutes, neither of them should have been in the game. The Blazers needed size and they needed to get rebounds, so the lineup that made sense (and that Nate eventually, and briefly, went to) was Roy, Rudy, Webster, LMA and Oden.

I’m not pretending to know more than Nate, but it looks like he’s still figuring things out. The foul trouble didn’t help matters either, but there wasn’t enough consistency to who was on the floor.

Credit Denver’s defense as well. Portland made the same amount of shots as them (28) but took 20 more shots. Some of them should have been hit, but Denver rotated well and hands were in the face of most jumpshooters. It wasn’t a mistake that the Blazers also had a paltry 24 points in the paint, as the Nuggets played physical and they played tight in the paint. There weren’t many driving lanes tonight.

The Blazers were okay themselves on defense, surrendering only 28 points in the paint, but they’ve got work to do on help rotations. Melo was getting by just about everybody and there were many instances when there was nobody there to meet him at the rim or take a charge. Nobody wants a team full of floppers, but I saw too much arm and hand defense and not enough body defense.

It might sound like this was a terrible day the Blazers, but that’s mostly because it’s early in the season and it’s fairly clear what thing are not quite there yet for them. They only committed seven turnovers and the guards played just as physically as Denver did, but in the end they didn’t push back enough. And when Gozer the Destructor appeared, it was in the form of Carmelo Anthony. Thanks Ray, stick with Stay Puft.

Individual Performances:

The eye opening sequence of the night was when Martell Webster drove baseline on Chris Andersen for the two-handed jam and raced back on defense to swat away a Melo dunk attempt. He was aggressive early and looks ready to be a versatile asset, not just a perimeter shooter. He faded in the second half, probably because he was putting everything he had into fighting off Melo, but overall it was an encouraging performance. Just would like to see him maintain that aggressiveness on offense throughout the game.

Roy wasn’t as much the maestro tonight as he was an explosion, but that was not an easy 30-5-5 line. He was swarmed by Nuggets and really had nowhere to go off the dribble other than take a step-back jumper. We know we can count on Roy for these kinds of heroics, but there needs to be more offensive options, and other than Rudy, there wasn’t.

It’s already frustrating to see how the Blazers are using Oden on offense. He’s working his tail off in the middle, rebounding at a very good rate and affecting shots on defense, but whenever he establishes deep — I’m talking right in front of the hoop — position, the Blazers can’t get him the ball. Instead they wait until he’s a little outside the block and seem to expect him to score on Kenyon Martin (a fantastic defensive player). That quick spin move didn’t do much for him, but we’ve yet to the Oden in places where he doesn’t have to dribble to get to the hoops. I’m not too concerned about the fouls, as most of them weren’t silly and he was trying to cover up someone else’s mistake. Would like to see Nate let Greg try to play through foul trouble at some point, but this probably wasn’t the game to experiment with that.

This wouldn’t have been a game without Rudy, simple as that. He was the only player other than Roy who stepped up offensively and he probably would’ve gotten a few more looks at the end of the game had the Blazers been able to maintain possession.

People wanted to know why I was “hating” on Travis Outlaw after his 23-point performance in the season opener, and tonight was a good example why. After some early offensive boards, he was effectively a non-factor.

Not a good night for LaMarcus Aldridge. He played by far the most minutes of any Blazer and did very little with them. Maybe he just needs to play against Lamar Odom, but that mean streak needs to come out. The Blazers aren’t going anywhere unless Aldridge answers the call against tough defenses, and it wouldn’t hurt if he was more of a presence on defense himself.

Already touched on the Blake-Miller thing and neither player looked completely comfortable. The whole “Miller leads the second unit” idea kind of goes out the window when Outlaw doesn’t show up, doesn’t it?

Przybilla couldn’t escape the whistles, and it’s worth mentioning that he’s had just as much foul trouble so far as Oden has had. Juwan Howard filled in as you might expect him to, and didn’t do anything to hurt the team.

That’s it. It hurts a little more because it was a divisional rival on national television, but the Blazers just had some of their weaknesses exposed and didn’t have the offense to make up for them. There will be brighter days ahead against lesser teams, and the Blazers were still in this one until the end, this tonight was fought like a playoff battle, and this is the season to learn how to command those battles.

Tags: Andre Miller Brandon Roy Carmelo Anthony Chauncey Billups Denver Nuggets Greg Oden Martell Webster Portland Trail Blazers

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