What a difference a month makes in the NBA. On December 11th when these two teams faced off in Cleveland, it was all bad for the Blazers. The short-handed/undermanned mess had just begun on a scary 5-game East coast road trip. Blazer Nation was stuck in an emo-mess. Bayless hadn’t quite broken out, Webster and Miller were still finding their way. Nate was at home…and LeBron had just danced all over the Bulls…yeah it was just bad. Now, despite still being as undermanned there is a different feel to this Blazer team. Roy has been playing unreal, Webster is probably playing the most consistent all-around game of his career and Andre Miller is just straight ballin’. There isn’t a feeling that LeBron and the gang are going to bust out their ABDC routine in the Rose Garden.
(Is America’s Best Dance Crew still cool? Or should I have gone with the So You Think You Can Dance reference? Stop judging..)
It can’t be denied, this is quite the two-game stretch at the Rose Garden. From the Lakers to the Cavs. You go from the best in the West to the best in the East. From superstar 1a to superstar 1b. From one puppet to the other. That Laker win was fun and all, but it is back to business for the Blazers tonight with another nationally televised contest against King James and the Pips. Or the Cavaliers, whatever you want to call them. Cleveland’s come in having lost 2 of their last 3, including a just dropping one to a Melo-less Denver team. They still present a major-league challenge: LeBron James. I don’t need to put his stats up here, but let’s say he’s averaging 30/9/9 against Portland over the past couple years. Just reading that you already know you’re praying for Martell Webster. Not only that but they pride themselves on their defense (the only thing Mike Brown knows anything about) obviously the Blazers are going to be challenged on both ends of the court.
A win is very do-able for the home team. In Cleveland, the Blazers could have pulled it out had the offense not stagnated and Brandon Roy been rendered inefficient (23 pts, 9/25 shots, ew). Portland has to handle Cleveland’s frontline, something they struggled with a month go WITH Joel Pryzbilla in the lineup. Varejao and Shaq went bananas and shifted the tide of that game. If Portland can’t handle those guys, the challenge of LeBron becomes that much tougher. I’m interested to see how a more comfortable Blazer team fares off against one of the league’s best. There isn’t a curse/rivalry element like when LA comes to town.
Keys to the game
Contain Cleveland’s bigs: As long as Joel/Oden are out, I’m probably going to sound like a broken record when it comes to opposing teams frontlines. I’m not going to apologize for it either. I will say LaMarcus really impressed me with his D on Bynum the other night. But we just don’t have anyone with the size to bang with the Diesel. Shaq/Varejao pose a problem. The game in Cleveland proved that these two can really hurt us. As a matter of fact, the Cavs are 11-3 when Sideshow Bob scores in double figures.
Execute offensively: if you remember the game in Cleveland, you’ll remember how in the 2nd have Portland’s offense came to an absolute standstill. Too much standing around, too many isolations, too many shots late in the shot clock. Portland won’t win if that happens again. Cleveland excels in the halfcourt defensively. Portland can’t get suckered in, they have to be in attack mode.
Brandon Roy must be efficient: he’s got to find ways to get to the line and get good shots. If he’s throwing up a Monta Ellis/T-Mac special (points equal or close to FGAs) it’s going to get ugly.
Supporting cast has to show up: staring at Martell Webster and Andre Miller. Roy is going to be targeted and Aldridge struggles with Ilgauskas and Varejao. They will need some big time help.
I feel as if this is a winnable game but it’s an uphill battle. Still want to see where this team is at.