Eventually, the kid that keeps getting beat up is going to find a way to fight back. They will find a way to get you in trouble, booby trap your locker, befriend you only to betray you by offering bad SAT advice or — were it a movie — learn Karate from a janitor.
Fortunately, the New Jersey Nets are still getting stuffed in their lockers.
There wasn’t much you could ask for going into tonight. Without a quality opponent, the Blazers weren’t going to improve in any area. They weren’t going to make a statement or even going to be noticed by much of the league by winning. It was either the status quo or catching the brunt of a league-wide joke in the morning. Unexciting was more than enough. The Nets still don’t have a win and the Blazers escaped unscathed. That’s a good night by me.
The Blazers started off as they did against Chicago, using Oden and Aldridge — mostly Oden — to set up everything else by pounding the ball inside. That’s exactly what happened. We’re starting to see a pattern to the first quarters here, one that has been working mostly because Oden has been efficient and willing to pass out of the post. Portland tried to keep to the balanced offense for most of the game, despite the 28 points in the paint, but were less successful later because neither Oden nor Aldridge was getting consistent post position until late in the fourth quarter.
Surprisingly, the Nets rank 10th in the league in points per 100 possessions, a stat which I didn’t put much stake in until tonight. They may not have a plethora of scorers or much in the way of offensive rhythm, but these guys defend their butts off. They made a lot of crisp rotations and kept Portland guards out of the paint where other teams have failed. But where the Nets were most impressive was in putting bodies on the bigs and limiting one-on-one post play. They did this with double teams sometimes, but often it was just New Jersey’s smaller defenders fronting Oden and Aldridge while having a help defender shade over just enough to discourage a lob. Other teams have been doing this to Portland as well, but none as effectively as the Nets. In the future, the Blazers would serve themselves well finding a way to beat the front, either by lobbing (less ideal) or using the inside position of the big to swinging the ball as the big seals off or by driving to the side of the front. Aldridge in particular seemed to have trouble getting comfortable down low as the Nets attacked his hip to keep him off balance.
Brook Lopez put up 32 and 14, but the Blazers didn’t let him dominate the game. 10 of Lopez’ rebound were offensive, so much of his performance came down to him just being aggressive and being efficient, with Przybilla and Aldridge having trouble boxing him out. Lopez scored once or twice on Oden, but for the most part Lopez’ stats came when Oden was out or in help defense on someone else.
Not much else to this one. The Nets are depleted of both health and talent and aren’t likely to get too many more wins after snagging their first somewhere, somehow. They hit their mid-range shots and played well inside thanks to Lopez, but never appeared to be a serious threat to burst out of the locker and lay down a mean flying crane kick on anyone.
Oden was the high scorer with 18 and 8 rebounds, benefiting from Roy and Miller finding him for some easy late dunks to boost the point total. One of Portland’s goals for the season should be to work Oden up to around 30-32 minutes per game as they just look completely different whenever he is in. Every inch of the offensive floor is utilized when Oden is in the game, which means spacing, spacing, spacing for all the guards and Aldridge to operate.
Aldridge shot 4-for-13 and never got much of a flow thanks to New Jersey fronting him in the post. He was very active, however, making hard cuts to the rim and getting rewarded for it. Despite the eight boards, he could have bodied up Lopez more underneath, but his defense continues to either stay the same or get better. There hasn’t been much game-to-game regression in that area which we often saw last season.
Roy (13 points) hit some wonderfully gorgeous shots and didn’t have to do too much else other than create some opportunities and act the safety valve. Its beginning to feel like he’s due for one of those “Flawless Vic-tory” game takeovers, but in the meantime he’s playing just fine and everyone is benefiting from the defensive attention he’s earned.
Steve Blake hit shots, which was nice for him, and Andre Miller brought a lunchpail full of dunks for everyone to share. Solid effort for the two-headed point guard, and its nice to see Nate McMillan staggering the early rotations enough so that Oden and Miller get a fair amount of court time together.
Felt like Rudy Fernandez scored more, but he winded up with 12 points on four three’s. He’s rebounded nicely from a slow start its becoming obvious when he is looking for that three. So far, nobody has been able to stop him, but once that person comes around, he needs to have a counter. And it can’t be that swooping lob to Oden in the paint, as teams seem to be catching on to his paint intentions.
Martell had one of his more in-control nights, shooting well and making plays on defense. He’s the one guy that, no matter who the opponent, I’m watching carefully, just to see if he can develop the consistency that he’s lacked for much of his career.
He pulled 10 rebounds but it wasn’t Przybilla’s best defensive night against Lopez, who got the best of him. Joel does appear to be benefiting slightly to the increased focus on centers in the offense, and he’s doing a decent job around the basket in that respect.
Looks like Jerryd Bayless’ time will come mostly in the final minutes or so of quarters, presumably because he can not only get to the rim quickly, but he can traverse the court quickly, needing only a handful of seconds to go coast-to-coast. Hopefully he can take advantage to earn a slightly larger role.
Dante Cunningham looked like he belongs in the pros. That’s all you can ask of him. I already feel comfortable with him on the floor.
Now we can all go back to our regularly scheduled programming of pitying the Nets and awaiting the next big Blazers test.