After Friday’s win, I’m willing to bet that there are going to be a lot of people talking about how with this crop of Blazers you just never know what you’re going to get. Some nights they drop games to the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets in consecutive games, and some nights they come out and out play the Orlando Magic wire-to-wire. Some nights they’re losers; some nights their world beaters. Allow me to disagree with this assessment. I believe that you know exactly what you’re going to get from these Blazers. You’re going to get a team that needs to fight for every loose ball, crash the boards hard and all the time, and relentlessly attack the basket on every offensive possession in order to gut out wins against teams of all levels. Heart, scrap, defensive determination, those are the things that beat Orlando. Those are the same things that beat Minnesota.
The difference of course between Orlando and Minnesota is in the neighborhood of 40 wins, deep playoff runs, etc. etc. Friday night the Blazers played a far from perfect game, but because they brought the fight and heart to the court, they were able to come away with the win. We are at the point were Portland needs to bring a ton of energy in order to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of who suits up for the good guys. Without heart, and without fight, this season might be over before the All-Star Game.
I don’t want to sound too negative, seeing as this is Portland’s first win in four tries, and it was a pretty great effort overall. I’m just preparing myself, and hopefully those that are reading this, for managing my expectations. With the team Portland puts out every night for here on in, there are going to be a lot of clubs we just won’t have the tools to beat. So, I guess what I should be saying is, enjoy Friday’s win, and you should because it was enjoyable, but don’t expect the Blazers to be able to dominate without making some kind of personnel change.
To the game, shall we? Anybody that watched knew right away who the star was going to be for Portland. I’ll give you a hint, he scored the Blazers’ first dozen points. LaMarcus Aldridge put on a mini-show in Dallas, but came away on the losing end. The downfall of that game may have been LA’s slow start. A determined LaMarcus was able to set the tone early for the Blazers by attacking the hoop, mixing low post moves and high-low lob dunks, but for the first six minutes and change he couldn’t get anybody to come with him. When Portland hit 12 in the first quarter everything came to a screeching halt. Turnovers and missed shots by the Blazers, and offensive rebounds and made shots by the T-Wolves, and Minnesota had their biggest lead of the night. Then something happened, and it was something unexpected.
Rudy Fernandez checked in. It wasn’t unexpected that Rudy was going to play, it was just a little surprising that he would come in and basically take over the game. Rudy made his first two shots of the first period, and then five of his six shots in the second period, and Portland basically had some semblance of control. Rudy and LA played the two-man game all night, getting some clutch shots from Wesley Matthews, Dante Cunningham, Patty Mills, and Armon Johnson. This wasn’t a runaway, though, and give a ton of credit to Minnesota for that.
The T-Wolves are kind of a motley crew. They appear to be made up of mostly guys that weren’t wanted in other clubs and Kevin Love. No offense to these players, it just seems to be the way this team has shaken out. Minnesota has a ton of talent, they just don’t seem to play with much cohesion. They struggled in the half court, looking the best when Michael Beasley was isolated on a wing, and got a lot of points on second chance opportunities and in the paint, meaning that for the most part their jump shooters were missing the target. On defense, most of the Wolves, especially Beasley, played for the steal or the block. This lead to a lot layups for Portland, and shots right up near the rim.
As far is Portland is concerned, there were a few things that stuck out that were both good and bad. First with the good. The Blazers attacked to rim. The best example was LaMarcus, and it came on the most unlikely of plays, the pick and roll. If you asked LaMarcus what he felt about the pick and roll, he might answer, “I love the pick and roll, but I call it the pick and pop.” Kind of a lame joke, but you get the point. LaMarcus doesn’t run the pick and roll. He greatly prefers the jump shot. Friday he rolled toward the hoop, and with Rudy blazing around screens, he got more than one thunderous poster dunk. LA went for 35 in the big D, and he let a new career high die on the vine when he missed two free throws at the end of Friday’s game. I’m not sure if LA has ever had back-to-back 30-point games. But the gauntlet has been thrown down. LaMarcus has big games in him. He needs to now have consistency in him as well. The good thing for LA; without Brandon Roy, he is the offense.
Rudy is like LA, but on a lesser scale. He’s been non-existent, and his 26 points is a huge statement from him. If he comes out Saturday night against the Warriors and scores double figures, we might be back to the I Heart Rudy days. If he comes out and lays an egg on Saturday, we’ll be disappointed, but I doubt we’ll be surprised.
Enjoy this win, Blazer fans. Portland earned it, and they’re going to have to earn every other win they get this season in the same way.
A few brief thoughts:
- Patty Mills got the fourth quarter minutes on Friday, ending up with five more seconds played than Andre Miller. My favorite moment from Friday was when, with under a minute to go and Portland running an in-bounds play, Andre Miller crept up the sidelines to yell at the team alongside Nate McMillan. I can’t see Dre following in Nate’s footsteps, one day becoming a head coach, he would be a nightmare for TNT’s WIRED segments, but after the game he said that he likes staying involved when he’s on the bench. He said he wasn’t shouting any specific advice, just encouragement, and to keep an eye on the shot clock.
- Marcus Camby and Nicolas Batum left Friday’s game at halftime and did not return. They both suffered shoulder injuries that apparently occurred during the game. There is no word on whether or not they will play Saturday against Golden State.
- Joel Przybilla was limited to eight and a half minutes, sustaining an ankle sprain. There is also no word as to whether he will be in the lineup Saturday night.
- Assuming that Joel, Nic, and Marcus are out for Saturday, Portland is left with a bench that consists of Patty Mills, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, and Armon Johnson. DC and Patty played 25 and 24 minutes respectively. Luke Babbitt is on his way back to Portland as I type this sentence to provide some relief, but expect heavy legs against Golden State up and down the lineup.
- Martell Webster played his first game in the Rose Garden in a non-Blazer jersey Friday night. Martell, a favorite of mine and of a lot of Blazer fans, is returning from back surgery, and played well overall. In 30 minutes he scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He did have six turnovers, but to his credit all but one of those came in the first half. Post game Marty was somber, but not because he missed being a Blazer. He did say he missed the fans, but he has moved on. I really liked Martell, to the point that I have had many arguments about how important he was to the Blazers. Based on raw talent, his potential is nearly limitless, but it’s telling about Martell that six years into his pro career we’re still talking about his potential. I hoped, for his sake, that being on Minnesota would give him the touches he needs to develop into the player he’s capable of being. Unfortunately playing alongside Micheal Beasley means you’re shot attempts are going to be limited.
- Kevin Love scored 19 points and grabbed a measly 17 rebounds. I bet there are a lot of elite teams looking at him right now thinking that he could be the difference maker. Think about Miami or the Lakers with Love at power forward. That could be scary.