At least it wasn’t as bad as the losses to Memphis and Utah…..alright it was still pretty darn bad.
Tonight marked the third consecutive game in which Portland was, in most respects, unrecognizable from what we’ve come to know in the last few seasons. Greg Oden dominating — dOhm-eh-nAte-ing — the boards is something new in a very good way, but otherwise the Blazers just haven’t played with the energy they’ve had, the offense looks stilted, Brandon Roy has been stifled other than a good stretch here and there. And the defense, oh my my my my my, for the third game in a row, Portland allowed a team to shoot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from downtown. Rotations were slow, closeouts on shooters were slower and too many players were running unabated through the paint when Oden was not around. Even without Travis Outlaw, Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge — with Przybilla in foul trouble — that’s still not the basic defensive execution you want to see after two days off.
Everyone can see it, too. Roy is fumbling the ball on simple drives, missing open players and the refs aren’t bailing him out when he screams in the paint. Steve Blake has been a non-factor when he isn’t hitting three’s. Martell Webster has at least been active on defense despite his shot not falling with any consistency. Rudy Fernandez actually got himself benched in the fourth quarter. And more so than anything, every player just feels like a piece, not like a part of the cohesive unit an elite team needs.
Going to intermission here for a new segment we debuted over the weekend and we will be bringing back as long as its effective, the Twitter Thoughts. Because the Blazers have such a strong, vocal and intelligent online community, there are a ton of people out there with insightful things to say. This is where we’ll post them. So after every game, tweet us your thoughts in 140 characters or less and we’ll grab the best ones — for both humor and analysis — for the recap.
@travismargoni: Another game, another 48 min. of scrambling around to cover open jumpers. When Howard scores 14 on 75%, #Blazers should win.
@prezofdeath: (via Timmay! of BlazersEdge): The best part about the game? You have to see what’s broken before you can fix it.
@G_riff: Tonight as video games: Greg=Altered Beast, Joel=Off-Road, Brandon=Bubble Bobble, Nate=Out of Order. This game ate my qrtrs!
@tmundal: Oden was the only starter even trying out there tonight. Same problem though they give the ball and stand around watching.
@kittenwrench: Roy wanted a pecking order, got it, failed to deliver, made bad decisions, Greg can’t be only rber, Joel D missing, Nate UGH.
Sounds almost exactly like what people were saying after the Utah debacle. It’s amazing that some folks are venting their frustrations with Roy, and even more surprising that they are completely right to do so. You must discount the evening because of LaMarcus being out, but the Blazers still made zero progress towards establishing the identity it felt like Roy and McMillan spent the last two days talking about, both publicly and privately.
With little in the way of apparent chemistry between the two, you can see where Roy is getting the “integrating Oden” tagline of recent days, but not the talk of sacrifice that’s been going around. This game had to be about Roy and it took him 25 shots to get to 25 points. Even when Oden shoots 4-of-13, you can’t blame him after pulling down 20 boards and basically trying to clean up everyone’s mess on either end of the court.
Here’s something disconcerting about Roy: In 2008-09, 66 percent of his shots were jumpers and 57.8 effective field-goal percentage on his shots around the rim. This year, 79 percent of his attempts were jumpers and he’s shooting an effective 54.9 percent in the paint. Having Aldridge around to spread the floor helps, but on nights like tonight when Portland is starving for self-made offense, the Blazers can’t survive against very good teams depending on Roy and Aldridge to have hot-shooting quarters like Roy in the first against Miami.
As for the defense, you can live with Jermaine O’Neal getting 14 points on mostly jumpers. You can live with pretty much anything Dwyane Wade does. You will drown allowing 47 points and 17 rebounds to Michael Beasley and Quentin Richardson. The open shots that clanked for less talented teams dropped in, but the two plays that concerned me most were dunks. The first came when Wade curled off a screen-handoff on the wing, Oden didn’t show, and walked into the paint with a cup of coffee and a half-read Wall Street Journal. The second also came in a help situation, when Przybilla was caught off guard at the top and the paint was left open for business for all those that applied to dunk. Both times, Portland’s shot-blocking centers were taken out of the lane and nobody stepped inside to help. This was more of a problem with Dante Cunningham and Juwan Howard, but has remained a problem off and on all year.
What the past three games have brought to light is that the Chicago beatdown may have just been that one game when everything came together perfectly. The kind of out-of-body rout that allows teams like Minnesota to beat Denver, the kind that every team has but no team can depend on. The Bulls coming to town was a sort of placebo effect for Portland and the team. Now we know that, injuries and all, the problems had taken root earlier in the season. Problems that have made the Blazers look very mediocre, but that are entirely fixable with internal solutions.
Not many people deserve a shoutout other than Greg “God of Thunder” Oden — OK, technically Odin is Thor’s father, we get it, stop hating fun — and his career-high 20 rebounds. Unlike the rest of his teammates, even when his shot isn’t falling, Oden is consistently imposing his will and presence on the game. My only complaint is that he is often standing still too long before setting picks, rendering them, and especially his pick-n-rolls with Roy, less than useful. Still, Oden remains that single drop of rainwater for whenever the Blazers wander off into the basketball desert.
We’ve covered Roy. The man people want to call The Natural just isn’t doing too many things naturally right now.
It may not be pretty, but at least Andre Miller was still busting his butt trying to get to the line late in the game. He did get a little bit of tunnel vision towards the end, but since he and Oden were the only ones to get to the stripe more than five times, you let it slide.
Did Rudy play tonight?
Steve Blake showed up and hit some late threes as part of Portland’s fool’s gold run in the final minutes. Otherwise he just wasn’t very noticeable at all, which on offense is fine but on defense his attackers have, on occasion, appeared to literally pass right through him on their way to the bucket.
Przybilla got the Rookie-Oden treatment with the fouls tonight, but his 13 minutes were some of his worst in an otherwise very solid season.
When Oden was out, Juwan Howard (14 points) looked like the best player on the floor for Portland. He hit open jumpers, grabbed some boards and just played his early 90’s butt off. He essentially channelled John Salley in “Eddie” right up through the point in the movie when Salley gets kneecapped by the Hornets, which would be when Howard back-ironed a breakaway dunk.
Dante Cunningham played with energy and had a nice finish on the break, but defensively he was abused. When the rest of the team is rotating well this doesn’t look so bad, but not when island philosophy kicks in.
I’m not sure why Jerryd Bayless can only get three minutes and 22 seconds when the Blazers are dying for shotmakers, but I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who were thinking during much of that game that Portland could use an offensive spark plug. Dre Miller did his thing, but Bayless coming in for a quick burst could really alter momentum.
As for Nate, I’m not second-guessing a coach that was missing three rotation players. There are apt, thoughtful criticisms to be made of him right now, which have been made by just about everyone in the last few days, but there’s no need to overdo it when he has his hands tied in terms of players that are playing well and players that are simply available.
The response to Memphis-Utah wasn’t what we hoped for. Little progress was made. But this season is nowhere close to definition. Wins will come, and when they do we will look back and see if things have been fixed or if the team just plays better and hides the wrinkles.