As has been tradition for the last week, the Blazers won a game that fell off the ugly tree, rolled down the ugly hill, walked into ugly town and got a shot of mud water at the ugly bar. Still can’t really fault them for it now that they’ve gone 4-0 on this road trip, but it sure doesn’t feel like we’ve seen prolonged quality basketball in some time.
Obviously the story of the night is Travis Outlaw breaking his 5th metatarsal, which at the bare minimum will keep him out until mid-January. But since it’s the same injury suffered by Martell Webster last Fall, we all know to be prepared for something much longer. The Blazers will probably play it safe, however, which is going to make it very difficult for KP to make a consolidating trade come February. The worst-case scenario would be bringing Travis back too soon just to get his value back up and to have him hurt his foot more, especially with this being a contract year for him. Bad news all around.
Everyone is going to feel an increased burden with Travis out, but none more so than Rudy Fernandez, who is now the primary creator off the bench — depending on whether or not Jerryd Bayless gets a minutes hike. I’d like to say I’m fully confident in Rudy shouldering the load, but he continued his “Now you see him, now you don’t” play against Charlotte. Yes he sunk the clinching free throws, but the Blazers ran a number of screen sets for Rudy in the second half and the results were mostly uneven. Rudy could benefit from playing with Oden more, but as it is, he’s hardly getting to the rim at all and often looks like he’s stuck on the proverbial island once he finally receives the ball. All eyes will be on Rudy against Atlanta.
This was Martell’s fourth game this year with minutes in the teens, and he didn’t deserve any more tonight. His shot was off and he reverted to 2007 Martell when he would just disappear on court at times. At the moment I’m convinced that the 3-guard lineup will not change until Martell starts playing more consistently.
The savior of the night was Brandon Roy, who shook some excellent on-ball defense from Raja Ball to score 25 points on 16 shots in 40 minutes, with 7 boards and 5 assists to boot. This was probably his best game attacking the rim and the most normal performance we’ve seen from him this year.
Back to the game in general. We haven’t seen the Blazers let someone back into the game like they did the Bobcats towards the end of the third quarter and beyond, but credit Charlotte, which put together some great offensive sets. The defense was mostly strong, with Gerald Wallace not having his usual Blazer-splosion and the help rotations on time for most of the night. Granted, the Bobcats don’t have anyone who requires a ton of attention, keeping it easier to focus on team defense, but the difference is night and day between now and the first week of the season.
It was a little more concerning that Portland only scored 26 points in the paint, most of which could be credited to Roy and Oden. Oden being in foul trouble most of the night didn’t help, but from 5:48 in the third, when Portland was up 12, until the end of the period, the Blazers attempted seven jumpers, one layup (a Miller attempt blocked) and one Aldridge hook shot. At the end of that stretch, the Blazers were only up four. Coincidence?
Fortunately, Oden scored Portland’s first four points of the fourth and things shifted back towards a balanced attack. Oden was great again in limited minutes, doing his paint control thing and looking particularly good scoring on the block. The fouls were his fault no doubt, but they came guarding penetrating perimeter player, only picking up the foul after moving his feet well and dropping one arm to create too much contact. Against the smaller guards, he’s going to have to learn to actually jump backwards on block attempts to account for players leaning and jumping into him to create contact. This is a guess, however, but the Blazers probably haven’t seen too many official crews more than twice, so the refs are still getting used to a quicker Oden as well. It’s on Oden, but he should have a little more leeway moving forward.
Monday’s game at Atlanta would be one heck of a gravy win, but it will be the best barometer for Portland’s play in quite some time. And I think we all know they need it.