Blazers 100, Rockets 104 Re-Thoughts

It’s tough to be too displeased with this loss. The Blazers marched into one of “those” buildings they tend to struggle in, fought for a lead, fell way behind and still managed to make it a game decided on a handful of possessions. I know I’m getting repetitive from past posts, but given the roster, you now just have another reason to admire this team for going Col. Custer rather than…20th Century France (with apologies to all our French readers). It might not be a moral victory, but at least it’s a mild success.

You have to hand it to the Rockets. For a team that’s stuck in the middle of the pack in defensive rating, they are still capable of some of the best stretches of defense of any team in the league when they hunker down and get to it. The Blazers don’t really have the talent on the floor to keep teams second guessing their offense, but after re-watching a couple earlier possessions, the Rockets were often rotating to the open man faster than the ball could get there. It was like watching a high school team run the shell drill, with the varsity playing D and the freshman team told to rotate the ball in order around the three-point line without dribbling. Better yet — or worse yet for Portland — Houston swallowed up many players that even attempted to poke around in the lane, and as a result the Blazers only had 19 attempts within 10 feet all night.

The Blazers had the opposite effect with their defense. Though a couple loose balls didn’t go Portland’s way, the Rockets committed points-in-the-paintular manslaughter. Carl Landry and Luis Scola had their way inside just by positioning themselves well to take advantage of some Portland gambling in the passing lanes, and Aaron Brooks ran the old Potomac Two-Step on his way to 33 points. No Blazer point guard could come close to staying in front of him and he burned Portland’s help rotations whether the stepped up on him or hung back on their marks.

And yet the Blazers were in it for reasons mostly tied to a solid assist rate (24.5), the Rockets obliterating themselves with 14 misses at the free-throw line (out of 43!)  and . . . some timely threes I suppose. There were plenty of things to get irked about, but mostly you just have to shrug your shoulders at another bad matchup and nod your head that it wasn’t a blowout.

Individual Thoughts:

LaMarcus Aldridge faced a lot of the same looks and double teams the Jazz effectively threw at him the night before, except he made quicker decisions, reacting to the defense quicker and getting the ball rolling around the perimeter. The four blocks were impressive but I can’t say it was from him being more active than usual, just that he was playing against the team which gets the second-most shots blocked on average.

This was one of Rudy Fernandez’ better games of the season, though eight of those 25 points came when the Blazers were playing the foul-timeout-three game in the final minute. It was wonderful watching him out-maneuver Houston’s defenders going around those picks, and equally awful watching him play with the ball and struggle (and fail) to get around Luis Scola. I have to admit I’m going through a expectation readjustment with Rudy at the moment, having expected him to be a little more of a driver-creator-cutter than he’s been. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that he was absolutely everywhere on the court and was mostly fantastic.

Steve Blake hit a couple crucial shots when the Blazers were bogged down on offense and also got torched, blazed, razed and fumigated by Aaron Brooks. Some of the shots he was hitting were a tad out of his normal comfort zone, however, and his performance dipped as the Blazers needed him to do more with Andre Miller being wholly ineffective. Credit him for the highest assist rate on the team, which at first glance was easy to gloss over.

Houston showed that when you really closeout Webster on the arc, he’s not going to be able to do a whole lot in half-court sets without post guys spacing the floor. He’s not a consistent enough off the dribble to take advantage of the few over-rotations from the Rockets and since he wasn’t hitting his — mostly contested — shots (1-of-7), he only played 21 minutes.

Andre Miller had an almost identical night to Webster — 1-of-6, 20 minutes, two points — but didn’t play well for complete opposite reasons. The Rockets didn’t respect him  on the perimeter and packed the lane. That Miller has looked a little worn down the last week didn’t help.

How many ways are there to say that Juwan Howard was Juwan Howard? The Rockets are vulnerable to big men that are bigger or more athletic, but not so much to guys that are relying more on wits and fundamentals.

Nic Batum-tum-tum, someone probably wants you in their room. Did anyone expect him to look this good, this early. 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in 28 minutes while moving well off the ball and creating some off the dribble while committing just one turnover. All game I was wondering how long it would take for someone to start the “Batum for Starter” train, and sure enough Ben Golliver got it going before the clock struck 12 on the east coast. Legit question: If you could get them both at the same contract, would you rather have Batum, Battier or Ariza?

The Blazers needed more from Jerryd Bayless than 11 points and three assists. Strange to say, but since this is the first prolonged stretch of extended playing time in his career, he could be hitting the theoretical rookie wall, especially since Houston was able to key on him so well.

Jeff Pendergraph looks like he’s going through the same rough stretch that Dante Cunningham went through a little while ago.

Topics: Aaron Brooks, Basketball, Blazers, Carl Landry, Houston, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luis Scola, NBA General, Portland, Recap, Rockets

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  • http://www.couriernewculture.blogspot.com Travis

    Blake was in there at times down the stretch when Andre should have been handling the ball. ‘Dre is a bit better at staying with Brooks, too, and he can guard Battier when needed, too. Blake hit some big shots, but he also turned the ball over in two key situations late in the 4th, then got embarrassed on D.

    I’m starting to think that the Nate haters are onto something. Amazing job last year; awful job this year.

  • Natsthecat (MaryJoelle)

    First of all thank you for your post. I enjoy it every time. I think Andre has been looking…first I thought tired..then wonder if maybe he has an injury he will not succumb to…back spasms? Ankle problems? Seems like it happened after the 48 minutes played in OT against the Celtics…Anyway, I think McMillan limits his game regardless. Wish he would show as much faith in Miller as he does with Blake. Also think Webster needs to talk to a sports psychologist. Why did I KNOW he would start to choke as soon as he knew someone ELSE could play his minutes? Which is why I’d love to see Webster and Batum in at the same time. Also Webster seems to need a very certain type of pass to make his 3 pt. shot. And usually this “type”…meaning it hits his body at waist level or so…comes from Miller.
    I like Nate McMillan. I wish he would coach a game more similar to Rick Adelman’s. It seems as though Nate runs the same plays over and over and often these plays include stagnant offense…”you guys..the one’s without the ball…go and stand in the corners…that’s it” Why aren’t there cutters? People Andre could pass to that aren’t STATIONARY?!~!! And I love Batum’s play. I hope Nate will allow him to play to HIS talent level. Also..what do you think the chances of the Blazers signing Adelman in the future?

  • http://ripcityproject.com Coup

    I’ve agreed with you very often on Blake, but Nate didn’t have much of a choice last night. Miller didn’t really have anywhere to go with how Houston was playing him and he looks worn out on top of that. Other than Rudy, there just weren’t great options at guard, last night.

    How can you say awful, though? He has mismanaged a couple situations, but under a lot of coaches this team might have completely sunk with the injuries. Not a perfect year because of the point guard stuff, but at least he hasn’t bobbled the starting lineup anymore and has been fairly consistent — between Blake and Miller — playing the effective, or less less-effective, hand.

    Now let’s just see how he handles the brewing Batum-Webster situation.

  • http://www.couriernewculture.blogspot.com Travis

    Okay, Coup, awful is too harsh. In fact, unlike a lot of the blathering idiots on Oregonlive, I actually think Nate is a good coach.

    But the PG situation continues to be a problem. Blake’s minutes right now better pay off in terms of a trade this season, or I’m going to be pretty dumbfounded. Miller just dropped 52. 52. And he did it because he needed to, because LaMarcus could never do that filling in for Roy.

    Is there any more ideal situation than what we have here? Miller is a heady PG who doesn’t always look to score, but knows when he has to and can. He’s one of the best passers in the game. Notice Bayless’s lob to LA in Dallas? Bayless can dish the rock, not unlike a young Andre Miller. Bayless can get to the line, not unlike Miller. Defensive ability. Shot improving. It’s simple: you start Miller, and Bayless comes off the bench first. Next year, same thing, most likely. The year after that, Bayless starts and Miller may be gone.

    Instead, Nate has deeply upset both Miller and Bayless at times this season, and I don’t blame either one of those guys. As I’ve said before, if Roy really did express desire to play more minutes with Blake, Nate needs to help his young star grow and learn how to play with a true PG, learn how to play off the ball and be patient.

    The beginning of this season was really rough. I know it takes time for a team to come together, especially with Miller coming in, the return of Martell, a new and improved Oden, etc. But the team was flat. Nobody was happy and Nate didn’t know what to do with the offense.

    But I’ll grant him this: we have a problem in Portland. You can ask guys to sacrifice minutes and stats to contend for a ring in a situation like Boston’s, where guys are past their peaks. You can’t ask young guys like Martell, Bayless, Rudy, Nic, etc., to sacrifice their personal development for the sake of the team and expect them to be okay with it. That’s a key difference. I’m worried about it because I want to see all of these guys stick around (Blake and Miller leaving sooner or later, of course). There truly may be too much young talent on this team. And can Nate manage it correctly? So far, well, he’s done some things right, but he’s done a number of things poorly this season.

    I know, I know, I’m just some recliner-loving wannabe coach, right? Maybe, maybe, but Dean didn’t look comfortable with the situation on the road trip Nate missed earlier this season, either. Between his lines I read a little bit of “hey, I’m just working with the coach’s rotation here–I know Bayless is damn good.”

    Like you’ve recently said, now it’s Nic and Martell. Both really solid young players, both guys who can defend, both good people. If LaMarcus had a rebounding bone in his body, I’d say run him at center more and go with Nic at the 4, as you’ve mentioned a couple of times, I believe.

    In short: we’re watching, Nate. Good luck, and godspeed.