Playoff To-and-Fro on Blazers-Suns

As part of our buildup to Game 1 Sunday night between the Blazers and Suns, SJ and I did a lengthy back-and-forth via email on some of the relevant topics of the first-round series and whatever else came to mind. Hope you enjoy it.

SJ: So, the news of Brandon Roy being out is good right? Glad that we don’t have to watch him hobble around and can go into this series knowing what we have? Or would you rather have taken the chance?

Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trailblazers

Awww, Nash, give me my nose back.

Coup: It all depends on whether or not he could have torn up his meniscus any more? It’s always tricky dealing with structural damage and there’s no way for us to predict what could have happened, but if Roy could have played I’d have liked to see him out there, just to get more playoff reps, especially against a team that’s not going to throw frustrating defense at him like Utah would have done.

That said, it’s probably better, mentally, for guys like Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster knowing from the get-go that it’s on them to produce, rather than going through the same “Will he or won’t he” deal with Roy before every game. Question is, are you comfortable with either of those guys starting?

SJ: As weird as this sounds I’m at peace with Roy not playing. And I use the word weird because this is our best player, MVP, super duper star and I’m ok with him being unavailable in the playoffs. Maybe its because this season has numbed me to injuries. Perhaps its a credit to the fight of this team and their ability to overcome adversity. Maybe I’ve just been drinking too much who knows, but I’d rather he just get it taken care of and its over. I didn’t want to see him go out there and then go back to the locker room and just have that feeling of ‘damnit’.

About Rudy and Martell, this will benefit them. One thing we’ve learned about Rudy this year is he plays better when he’s not thinking he’s about come out. Being able to play against Phoenix and knowing he’s a focal point ideally should bring the best out of him. This season we learned that Martell is a volume type guy, so he needs minutes to produce. Now we’ll see what he can do. I find it a positive when it comes to these two because we can see what they have. Last year we learned that Steve Blake(and to a certain degree) Travis Outlaw weren’t going to take us to the next level. They’re gone. If these guys don’t show up they put themselves in the expendable category if you ask me.

As to if I’m comfortable with them starting? I have no choice, its like when your girlfriend asks you if she looks fat in whatever clothing item she has on. Ideally Rudy should excel but you never know with him. And numbers show that Martell is uber-better as a starter than coming off the bench.

Do you think LaMarcus Aldridge is ready to break out this post season or no?

Coup: I’m not sure Rudy and Martell should be put in the same class as Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw, two guys who had plateaued in terms of skillsets. Rudy especially, bad as he’s been, still has time to build his game, and Martell has some very clear things he can improve on (turnovers, ballhandling, consistency). But yes, this series is going to play a big role in their development, as it will for Jerryd Bayless.

LaMarcus probably isn’t going to break out in the sense that he’ll start dropping 30 and 15 a game, despite the defense he’ll be facing. Phoenix will use zones to nullify his post offense and send help just like everyone else has the past month or so, so if LA is scoring 30+ on a regular basis, it might be because the Blazers got too caught up in the running game and are losing anyways.

There are two areas I’d like to see him break out, the first being defense. Aldridge has shown some excellent signs the past couple months of being an aware help defender and strong against the pick-and-roll because of his quickness. How he and Andre Miller defend the Steve Nash-Amar’e Stoudemire screen game might define this series, and if LA can prevent switches by showing on Nash while still covering those strong Amar’e rolls to the rim, that’s a huge advantage.

And if he’s making a consistent impact on defense, Aldridge might become more of an emotive leader for a team that, at some point in this series, is going to need someone to rally around. We saw some unusual yelling and posturing out of LA against the Lakers and Thunder, and I’d like to see him reach that level of intensity in a couple games. That, plus the reps he’ll be getting as Portland’s focal point on offense — hopefully in the fourth quarter, too — could make a massive difference in his approach to the offseason.

What are you looking for out of LA? What other defensive areas are you going to be watching closely?

Winter Olympics - Opening Ceremony

What are you talking about? What fire? No, really, Andre, just come post me up again, it's fine.

SJ: Interesting you bring up Bayless, I left him out for a reason. I wouldn’t say this series is so ‘make or break’ for him let’s be honest this is his second season, his first getting consistent run. He has the benefit of the doubt. Now next year I might think that way but he’s got a semi freebie if you ask me.

Onto Rudy, we know what he can do I think we all just want to see him do it. Martell on the other hand has got to work on his mind more than anything you listed above. My frustration with him is that I’ve been saying this since his second year. His confidence issues and now his IQ are a little iffy…and don’t say anything because he nearly epic failed in LA.

As far as Mr. Aldridge is concerned I agree with a lot of your points. I’m not looking for him to start destroying people left and right. I just want to see continued maturation and consistency and I’ll be fine. Obviously it would be too much to ask him to put up insane numbers when for the first time in his career a team will be gameplanning him like he’s a superstar. I just want to see how he handles that role because we’re all better off if he can get on Roy’s level. I’m looking to see how Portland handles dribble penetration and rotations. Its a must against this type of team. Also getting back in transition will be a huge deal.

I’m also tracking how Portland is able to make adjustments from game to game. Speaking of defense, let’s talk about Marcus Camby. Its obvious the impact he has had on this team. His defense against Stoudemire will be key. With that being said I think its safe to say he has won the heart of Blazer fans. I’m not going to ask if we should re-sign him but the impact it would have. Does Camby mean the end of Big Joel or would he an insurance policy so he can fully recover?

Coup: Much as it pains me to say, I’m not counting on Joel Przybilla provide anything next season given the severity of the injury and possible length of a reset rehab. Considering next season is his contract year — surely he’ll pick up his player option this summer — it’s entirely possible we hardly see him in a Blazer uniform again, if at all. That’s not what I want or think will happen, but it has to be brought up. That’s why I’ll say time and time again that Camby needs to be re-signed, even if it means giving him a raise.

It’s easy to say Nate should just stick Camby on Amar’e and call it a day, but over the course of the series they’re going to have to use many different defensive looks to force Phoenix out of soft, comfort-land and into a state of perpetual adjustment. Especially when Jarron Collins is in the game, I’d rather play Camby off Amar’e and let him roam the paint, providing the backup for Aldridge should he get beat on the pick-and-roll rather than the other way around. When Channing Frye is in you might rather have Aldridge responsible for closing out on the three, but the point is this should be a fluid system.

A lot of people talk about Utah being a bad matchup for Portland because of their toughness, but a huge problem with them is that their offense is predicated on off-ball movement and passing — they led the league in Assists-per-FGM. Utah kills you if your help rotations aren’t up to snuff, and Phoenix isn’t too far off, relying more on shooters spacing the floor rather than backdoor cutters. So while Phoenix isn’t going to push anyone around, Portland can get killed just the same if they aren’t helping. Fortunately, that’s the area the Blazers have improved the most in since the trade deadline, especially the last couple of weeks.

Staying with defense, how would you use Batum? Grant Hill and Jared Dudley cannot be treated lightly, but similar to Camby I’d like to see Batum moved around the defense just to keep Phoenix off-balance with his athleticism. Play Batum on Hill, switch him on to Jason Richardson, send him to double Amar’e, everything. You can even put him on Nash for a possession or two, but not for long because Batum will probably struggle to get around the Stoudemire screens.

SJ: It’s a good point about Joel and I think its a story that’s kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. It pains me to say it, too, but at this point I have to agree with you. I hope its not true. Ill still remember when he broke out as a double double machine under Cheeks.

NBA: Bucks vs Suns APR 03

What they don't realize is I shoot one percent better than Aldridge from 16-23 feet on a comparable number of attempts. And you thought I was going to say something funny.

I think I made my Camby/Amare point a little too vague so let me just act like a 12 year old whose about to lose Game 7 in 2K10 and just hit reset. Obviously Portland is going to have to mix it up defensively, the Suns just have too many looks to concentrate on one thing. Defensively we have the ability to get them stuck in the mud if you will by throwing different looks at them. If Frye’s in you need Camby off of him, correct. If Amare is in the mid-post I like LMA’s ability to contest jumpers and slide his feet. His length is something I’ve grown to appreciate of late. The problem is Amare is looking to go into the post more and enter into beast mode. I like LMA but if Amare goes at him like he went at Paul Millsap and K-Mart I don’t like his chances. He beasted Paul and that’s a big boy.

I don’t like the idea of anyone roaming around too much just because of Suns’ ability to shoot and attack. I don’t want Portland to have to rotate so much because the Suns excel at moving the ball. Yes we’re better at help defense but making you help is Phoenix’s strength. Batum has the length to bother Richardson, but I don’t know about him on Nash. Bottling him up has to be a team thing. Plus I like Dre on him.

Do you think Phoenix’s bench is going to play a major factor?

Coup: Well, yeah, the less you have to help, the better, but realistically they’re going to have to help a lot.

The bench should absolutely be a major factor and the fact that Phoenix has a energy and/or shooting backup up at every position could swing a game or two if the Blazers can’t keep up defensively. Dudley worries me the most as the guy who will capitalize on all the Nash-Stoudemire attention, but there’s really nobody you can forget about on defense in that Phoenix lineup outside of Collins. Amundson could give Juwan Howard problems on the offensive glass, too, but I get the feeling Aldridge will be playing 42 minutes a game, barring foul trouble, so hopefully that won’t be a huge issue.

On that note, rebounding doesn’t seem to be talked about enough with this matchup. The Blazers and Suns are comparably good offensive rebounding squads, but the Suns have the second-worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league at .708. That doesn’t fully account for Stoudemire’s rebounding ramping up the past two months, but if the Blazers can slow things down to a half-court game, thus putting possessions at a premium, then the offensive boards will be there for the taking. Marcus Camby, go nuts.

How much of an issue do you think pace will be, and how do you think the Blazers can control it?

SJ: I don’t know about you but I’m perfectly OK with Goran Dragic launching and firing. Knowing my luck he will go Von Wafer on us. Dudley is an energy boost who gives them a jolt on both ends of the floor and he scares me half to death. For some reason I just picture us playing them beautifully, having a lead, him coming in and hitting two threes and the crowd going wild. I really need to start thinking more positive. Louis Amundson also brings energy but he brings a certain toughness about him. He’s going to board, hustle, do the little things. This is a Phoenix team with a bench that can blend right in without taking too much off the table. How many times have we been able to say that?

There you go with the numbers again, its Friday, my brain is trying to take a 2-day vaca. Jokes aside, I’m not thinking too much about rebounding. It would be nice if Portland could get some second shots but let’s not forget Phoenix wants to run, they have improved in a slow game but if they can run they become that much better. I’ll take transition D over offensive boards in this series 11 times out of 10. I would say if we get one of these games into a grind-it-out slugfest I would be more concerned with turnovers and execution than rebounding. If you recall the last game these teams played, Portland was right there in an ugly one, went cold and the wheels fell off. That kind of loss will be tougher to swallow in the post-season.

Pace, the big story du jour. I was wondering when we get to this. Obviously the Suns play fast and are going to try and impose their will on the Blazers. If you’re Portland you just have to be prepared to adjust and take your shots. Their pace is what makes them so tough to deal with. You have to know when to run and know that won’t be everytime because then Phoenix traps you and all of a sudden you’re playing their game. On the flip side you can’t completely commit to a slow, half-court game because all of a sudden they hit you with a quick 8-0 run and you can’t come back. Thankfully Portland can play slow and can run. They have to find ways to muck up Phoenix’s rhythm that could mean a zone, that could mean pushing it a few times then walking it up. They have to make Phoenix feel uncomfortable which is about a million times easier said than done.

What individual matchup do you think is the most important for Portland to win?

Coup: Individual matchups? I’ll take a Tracy Morgan here and Cop Out, saying that the key matchup will be Miller and Aldridge on the aforementioned Nash-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls. If the Suns are consistently getting want they want out of that play — open threes, penetration, Amar’e in motion slicing to the rim — then the Blazers are already out to sea. Every game is going to be different with the officials, but the moment any sort of physical tone gets set, Miller and Aldridge need to use that advantage to its fullest.

And with that, unless you want to add anything else, let’s get to the predictions. I’ve seen Suns in 6 around the ‘net a little, but considering the makeup of this team and how well they’ve surprised us with how they respond just as their being written off, I don’t see them losing an elimination game at home. We didn’t touch on this much, but I’m worried about Portland’s offense falling into ruts without Roy and simply not being able to keep up due to the lack of easy buckets, which might be the single greatest reason why I can’t pick them to win the series. So, Suns in 5 or 7? At this point, nothing is really scientific, so I’m going to say Suns in 7, but could easily see it going the other way to 5 (open ended answers FTW).

SJ: You’re a dirty traitor. Blazers in 6.

(All photos taken from

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Tags: Amare Stoudemire Brandon Roy First Round Series Grant Hill Jared Dudley Jason Richardson Jerryd Bayless Joel Przybilla LaMarcus Aldridge Marcus Camby Martell Webster NBA General Nba Playoffs Phoenix Suns Playoffs Preview Portland Trail Blazers Rip City Project Rudy Fernandez Steve Nash

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