It’s hard to get all that irked about losing to the Grizzlies at home anymore, because really, the overall talent level isn’t all that different right now. Their starting five is as good if not better if you discount LaMarcus Aldridge for essentially playing on one good ankle. When you put the front lines side by side it isn’t even a contest. And even though Portland has the best player on the floor, Brandon Roy is an easier target than ever for defenses to key in on.
The Blazers were in this game, and in control of it for a time, because Martell Webster and Andre Miller, with doses of everyone else, were complimenting Roy on offense. They lost the game because, after shooting over 50 percent all game, the team couldn’t find the offense to make up for its roster shortcomings.
Yada yada yada, foul calls, whatever, wake me when the refs cost the Blazers a championship. A wise professor once told me that, as a writer, you only get one exclamation point to use in life. That might be taking things a bit too far, but the same applies to complaints about NBA refs. Pick your spots wisely, and a January game against Memphis is not one of them.
This game was lost on the defensive end of Memphis’ 30-point third quarter. I hate to be the guy that points out the painfully obvious, but I can’t remember a recent game that Portland missed Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla as much as they did tonight. 54 points in the paint for Memphis, 14 offensive rebounds, 10 offensive tips that Portland statkeepers didn’t count as offensive rebounds and 41 shot attempts within 10 feet of the basket. Juwan Howard might be using every trick in the book, Jeff Pendergraph might be busting his butt and Webster might be trying to block every weakside shot ever known to man, but Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph did everything but bust out the marshmallows over the fire in the paint.
You’re welcome to say the Blazers collapsed after holding an eight-point lead with under four minutes to play, but they didn’t do anything all that different in those final possessions, other than miss all five of their jumpers and suffer a couple untimely turnovers. If we’re going to condemn this team for the way they lost, we might as well condemn them for the way they almost won it as well. Such are the days of their lives.
The haircut was a good idea for Roy, who scored 27 points on 18 shots with nine assists, though only two of those assists were on baskets within 16 feet. Defenses are collapsing so much on Roy — who isn’t getting calls because it then looks like he’s going one-on-three — that all the dump-off lanes open to Andre Miller and the big men are shut off as well. I don’t have Synergy notes in front of me, but were I to hazard a guess it would be that in the last week or so, the majority of Roy possessions result in some form of jumper for someone else.
It was pretty clear that Aldridge wasn’t himself because of the ankle. Credit the man for playing, but Memphis caught on to him in the second half and effectively worked around him on defense and on the boards.
Blame Kelly Dwyer if you want, but all I kept thinking all night watching Webster was that he looks like a guy giving Top 3 effort on defense, but doesn’t look like he’s getting Top 3 production out of that effort. That said, Rudy Gay shot 6-for-18, so maybe I’m being too hard on him. Offensively, Webster is finally starting to live up to the sniper title so many visiting broadcasters blindly drape over his shoulders. I don’t believe in jinxes, and yet Webster might be one of two players I don’t want to jinx by writing more about.
Jerryd Bayless had a strong second quarter and was more in tune with the offense than on Monday, but it’s becoming clear that the gaping hole in his offensive game lies 3-15 feet away from the rim. Either he is spotting up for three, pulling up for long two’s or crashing to the hoop. Two of those things he’s doing quite well, along with being a better passer than people give him credit for, but the next evolution for him is finding ways of taking advantage of his ability to get by defenders without having to challenge every shot blocker in existence.
It’s not always pretty, but man is it nice having Andre Miller around. Five offensive rebounds, 10 overall, from the point guard position? Fuggedaboutit.
Howard appeared to be baiting Marc Gasol into a technical foul at one point, but I’m sure nobody in the league wants to be known as the one who picked a fight with the old guy.
Jeff Pendergraph was overmatched for most of the evening, but at least he looked more active than Hasheem Thabeet and managed a game-high raw +13.
Filling in the rest of the spots were…wait, Portland only played seven guys. Nevermind then.