Is it a coincidence that the Blazers end their lengthy losing streak in Phoenix less than a week after the Lakers did the same thing in Portland? Nay. ‘Tis the season, I guess. Just not for defense.
While you can never expect a win in Phoenix, it wasn’t too difficult to see the Blazers coming out and playing like this. For starters, the Blazers haven’t established any sort of pattern of extended slumps. If they are crummy one night, they will usually either shoot better or move the ball better the next game or both. This doesn’t mean they haven’t had a couple small losing streaks, but for the most part they correct their correctable problems from game to game, even if the same issues crop up like that kink in your neck that goes away with a nice massage but comes back the moment you turn your head wrong.
Mostly, as we mentioned before in this space, the Suns were the perfect follow up to the surgical procedure the Blazers endured the night before against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In that game, the Thunder took away everything that Portland likes to do on offense before the Blazers even set out to do those things. It was a suffocation of comfort. And so the Suns, being the second worst defensive team in the league with no regard for the qualitative side of the ball, essentially opened up an oxygen bar and asked Portland their favorite flavors. When you go from one extreme to another — particularly when that one extreme embarrassed you at home — it’s only natural that you will siphon every advantage out of the newly allowed freedom.
The result wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, just something that was in stark contrast to the previous game. The Blazers didn’t win this game in the paint (30 points there) or at the free-throw line (19 attempts), they just took the generous amount of space being offered to them and rolled with it like they know how, shooting 27-of-42 from 10-23 feet. To the Suns discredit, they actually gave Portland exactly what they wanted, at one point sending two guys to cut off Steve Blake from driving off the pick, leaving Aldridge in his recliner at the top of the key, and at another simply giving up on defense after the first double or help rotation, leaving fellows like Dante Cunningham wondering why nobody was near him when he can hit jumper after jumper.
It was an efficiency win for Portland — of the seven guys who played 17 or more minutes, only Juwan Howard contributed less than a point per possession used — which is a little bit like saying Shakespeare’s latest success was a comedic tragedy. The Blazers were just themselves, including their failure to hold the lead in the fourth quarter.
Would I still trade LaMarcus Aldridge for John Wall? Without a doubt. Has my opinion of him risen exponentially since December? Very much so. Especially lately. Without Roy to pick-and-pop with all day around, Aldridge has been forced to carry the Blazers with more self-created offense and off-ball movement. He’s running the floor, trying to make the right pass and scoring efficiently on a variety of moves on the extended block. While I miss the running hook shot in a lane a little, Aldridge has a full complement of moves now to take advantage of most non-Chuck Hayes defenders, meaning Channing Frye didn’t have much of a chance. While his rebounding numbers have been up overall, he only grabbed six tonight, though his five defensive boards tied him for the team-high. The biggest change is you can tell Aldridge knows that nobody is going to take care of his mess on the glass. He’s putting a body on people and going after the ball, rather than holding down a zone so Oden or Przybilla can gobble up boards. He hasn’t been perfect, having had trouble getting good position — at times even outright conceding post position before a play develops — but this is a different player we’re seeing now, one who has transitioned into the middle stages of his evolution after years of slight improvements.
Andre Miller and Steve Blake combined for 40 points and 17 assists, making sure to remind everyone that Steve Nash doesn’t play defense and probably shouldn’t have won two MVP’s, not that that has anything to do with anything. Blake was in his zone completely, finding guys not only for jumpers but sending out six helpers for buckets at the rim, striking a nice balance between the controlled, reserve (some would say barely useful) Blake that simply fills in and the overly confident Blake that takes bad shots and damages plays. Very nice game from him.
Martell Webster is really good when he gets to run in the open court, as long as he doesn’t have to dribble the ball. Just thought you would like to know that.
Dante Cunningham took full advantage of a defense that ignored him, shooting 6-of-7 for 13 points. Stoudemire had his career on life watch with a bloodthirsty dunk in the first half — probably his “Welcome to the NBA, Rook” moment — but not many guys are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to pay that player back in the same game, much less serve up that vengeance on a silver platter.