For the 28th time in their 40-year existence as a franchise in the National Basketball Association, the Portland Trail Blazers have found their way into the playoffs. And they did it in impressive fashion. For 48 minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers absolutely beat the you know what out of the New York Knicks. I mean it was the type of game where everything was rolling. More importantly, not only did the Blazers clinch a spot in the playoffs…they did it by winning in playoff team fashion. “How do you win in playoff team fashion against the Knicks, you’re crazy.” Well…you just go out there blow them out, have some fun and go on to the next one…on on to the next one (sorry it’s a habit thanks Jay-Z). The Blazers continued their stretch of mature basketball by just doing what playoff teams are supposed to around this time of year. Namely, beat the you know what out of sub .500 teams on their home court. It was refreshing to watch Portland get an easy win this season, mainly because easy wins have been a rare commodity for this squad. Actually, easy anything has been the opposite of this season. The roll continues for the Blazers as they have won 4 straight games and 12 of their last 14.
How did they win? Portland came out ready to play. Coup was a bit worried in his pre-thoughts if Portland would settle for a win (aka fall into a dogfight) or go out and take it. Well they went out and took it. The ball movement was crisp early, and they jumped on the Knicks before they had a chance to know what was going on. And I’m not sure the Knicks knew what was going on even before the game, more on that later. LaMarcus Aldridge was on an early mission to destroy Al Harrington…I mean he was going at him early. He scored Portland’s first 5 points on his way to a 21 point-in-27 minutes-on 10-for-12 shooting night. Also, Brandon Roy absolutely pooped on David Lee. That dunk came out of nowhere, I don’t know if it was as nice on TV but in the arena I had to get up and make a Marbury face. I like anytime where Roy gets to play a chill 28 minutes. The starting lineup is developing some nice chemistry and you can really see them work as a unit. Credit to Camby and Miller. The Blazers have shown some maturity over the past couple weeks. For one, they’ve finished out some close games against tough opponents, something that has been shaky all year (OKC/Dallas). Secondly, they have been taking out the inferior opponents. One thing I was impressed with last night was the defense. Portland looked to be flying around and helping each other all night. It started early when they somewhat disrupted New York’s flow by ‘blue’-ing all ball screens. Essentially the defender would force his player away from the ballscreen, forcing him into the help and only allowing him to use one side of the court. It was Marcus Camby’s call generally and the guard would jump on the side of their guy. It’s hard to give Portland too much credit considering the Knicks are a jump-shooting team anyways, but still it was well done and should be pointed out. You can really see how Camby is bringing this team to another level defensively and they can still get better, but he’s making a big impact.
(Sidenote, I would watch NBA players try and guess popular music all day. That had me cracking me up. Especially since Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard are about a combined 95 years old. They need to come back next year. Please.)
The Knicks are bad. I mean, I knew something was up when before they game they went from ‘shooting jumpers with swag’ to the ‘half-hearted layup line’…without saying a word. Literally, no one said a word. It was unreal. Then they came out and played with about as much passion as a married couple out to dinner who are clearly only it because the kids are too young. I should have expected it but it was disappointing. I like Gallinari and David Lee, but the rest were just…damn. Mike D’Antoni looked liked he wanted to give everyone in a uniform the Sweet Chin Music. Seriously, if they don’t get LeBron or two All-Stars or something he might show up with a lead pipe and start destroying everyone in sight. It’s really sad to see how far Tracy McGrady has fallen. And I know, I know, I should be applauding him for coming back from the injury and all. But man, hearing him get announced to next to no reaction was just odd. I mean…he was in the Toney Douglas zone as far as reactions from the Rose Garden. And this was a guy who I once argued was the best player in the NBA (Orlando T-Mac). The same guy who dunked all over Shawn Bradley in such a vicious manner that drew crazy ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, now drew ‘huhs’ and assorted laughter after his first quarter dunk. And then he went on to carry on like a former high school or college basketball player at like a 24 Hour Fitness playing pick up. You know the guy who makes faces when his teammates make a bad pass, or shakes his head when he doesn’t get the ball, and kind of acts above everyone else there while playing with next to no effort. T-Mac showed a little bit of that last night.
Back to the Blazers, while the win was great I’m not going to lie I’m still a little concerned with the Blazer bench. Bayless, Rudy and Martell didn’t really do much to ease my concerns and they are going to have to step it up here shortly. Bayless had a rough first quarter all around but especially defensively as Sergio was going at him and he didn’t offer much resistance. Off the top of my head, there was a sequence where it was just all bad. He either got driven by or had to switch on screens and that was disappointing. Also, it wasn’t cool of him to keep running pick and rolls towards the end of the game…I mean that was clearly Diener time. That airball he shot late was karma as the fans basically willed him to miss it…they were not happy campers. Martell’s stat line looks better than it was thanks to garbage time, but he’s continuing to float around with his bad hair. It just seems like when he’s out there he’s either going to shoot an open jumper or swing the ball. Rudy did a better job of making plays and missed open shots so I’m not too dismayed with his performance. These three are going to have to start playing with more aggression because as we’ve seen in the playoffs, your bench can make or break you. Are these guys going to be Vinnie Johnson or Derrick Martin?