It’s kind of funny how these teams are kind of tied together in a way. When I was in middle school a certain Game 7 collapse in 2000 was always made tougher to swallow by the fact that the Blazers could have beaten the Pacers in the Finals. Then, yesterday, I wondered if this Blazers fall from contender status to…whatever this is, thanks to injuries was reminiscent to the way the Pacers season fell apart in 04-05 after the ‘brawl’. Then there is the Jerryd Bayless-for-Brandon Rush draft day deal a couple years back. And of course, tonight the Blazers and Pacers square off. Both teams are having their fair share of injury-related bad luck this season. Indiana has had a case of the injury bug early with issues surrounding every white guy on their team. No seriously, they all have been hurt this season. And just when it seemed they were getting the gang back together, their All-Everything Danny Granger goes down with plantar fascitis and is out for at least 4 weeks. You all know about Portland’s struggles, no need to go into details. It’s fitting that two teams in a similar boat now must face each other. One guarantee for tonight; one of these team’s fanbase is going to pretty down in a few hours.
Since Blazer Nation has been emo for a few days, let’s try and make these pre-thoughts as positive as possible. That means I’ll try to avoid bringing up the fact that since the Pacers moved into Conseco Fieldhouse in 1999, the Blazers have gone 3-7. Oops. Let’s try this again. Indiana comes into tonight’s contest having lost 9 of their last 10 games, including their last 5 in a row. They also don’t have a ton of weapons. Who is their leading scorer? If you guessed Dahntay Jones you would be a) right and b) a cheater. Indiana is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to shooting, only hitting 43% from the field (29th in the league) and 30% from behind the arc (27th in the league). The latter is important because we all know how well the Blazers guard the three (not very well). TJ Ford is having one of the rougher years of his career (9 points, 2 assists per game) but has the kind of quickness that could be dangerous. You would assume that the Pacers would bring a hard working attitude and a defensive/rebounding mindset. Not really. Indiana gives up 101.7 points a game and teams are averaging 46.5 rebounds a game on them (12 offensive) which ranks near the bottom of the league.
For Portland, as a team trying to get their footing they luckily get to face a team that also is trying to get its footing. Rotation? No longer a problem thanks to injuries. I think the whole funk of the injuries has made people forget that Portland still has two really good players in Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. These aren’t the Voshon Lenard/Von Wafer/Ha days ladies and gentlemen. You look at the New York game and if Portland doesn’t turn the ball over 18 times and the Knicks don’t shoot 50% from three, you’ve got a different outcome. This is a game that Portland can grind out. Indiana doesn’t have an All-Star talent to go through tonight. That’s not to say that Dunleavy/Foster/Ford/Rush can’t beat you, but solid defense and rebounding should give them the edge. If Portland keeps this one in the half-court they should be able to come out with a victory. Turning the ball over and settling for jumpshots, allowing Indiana to get out in the open court could make it a long day.
Keys to the game
- Energy and Effort. This Blazer team has lost a lot of talent to injuries this season. This is where playing hard and playing together becomes important. Sometimes outworking a team is half the battle, especially when you’re depleted.
- Take care of the ball. With the lack of depth and scoring options available, Portland cannot afford to give away possessions. I’ll take the Blazers shooting 30 percent with 5 turnovers over shooting 40 percent with 18 turnovers. Facing a team like Indiana who could struggle in the half court, there’s no reason to give them easy buckets at home. That’s just asking for trouble.
- Win the battle of the boards. Indiana has much more front court depth than the Blazers. Murphy, Hibbert, Foster and Hansbrough are all guys who can bang and cause trouble on the boards. The stats haven’t backed it up for the Pacers.
- Time to shine Jerryd Bayless. This is your chance. Portland is going to need a third scoring option during these times. Last year you showed that you can play. This year you should be able to do it again. Frankly it’s coming down to you, Martell or Andre Miller as the guys who HAVE TO pick up the offensive slack. I put my money on Bayless breaking out.
This is a winnable game. Indiana is still trying to find their way, still trying to find a group of guys that are going to get the job done. They are going to be hungry for a win, especially after a long, losing West Coast road trip. The one thing I want to see from Portland is an effort to win. Road games are tough to win even when you’re at full strength, let alone when you’re depleted like the Blazers. If Portland loses…so be it. It’s just how they play. At the end of the night are we going to say this team took steps in the right direction or stood pat? The Blazers have to just keep making progress. Contrary to popular belief there is a light at the end of the tunnel…
(Almost made another Tiger joke)