Here are the names of Trail Blazers that at one time or another were on the 2010-11 roster but were not in uniform Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors. Starting from the bottom and working our way to the All-Star. Jeff Pendergraph, Fabricio Oberto, Elliott Williams, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, Marcus Camby, Nicolas Batum, and Brandon Roy. Here are the names of three players that saw more than 10 minutes of action, which counts as big minutes in the NBA, during the Blazer’s cliche be damned “gut check” “locker room” victory. Luke Babbitt, Sean Marks, and Patty Mills. At the beginning of the season Patty was a long shot to make the roster, and Marks was likely in a gym somewhere waiting for a phone call. Yesterday Babbitt was getting his sea-legs and learning investment tips from Antoine Walker as a member of the D-League’s Idaho Stampede. To say that the Blazers were short-handed Saturday night would make the short list for the understatement of the season.
What did the Blazers do with a nine-man roster? They came out with heart, they fought over loose balls, they chased errant passes into the arms of the court-side fans, and the managed to outlast a barrage of three-point bombs to eke out a much-needed one point victory.
Who’s the hero Saturday night? That’s an easy one. Everybody. Every player that stepped on the court had a hand in Saturday’s win. Even Armon Johnson, getting the short shrift with only one minute and 40 seconds of PT, contributed an assist. Sean Marks looked lost a few times, and his legs were gone by late in the second half, but he missed only one field goal attempt on his way to 6 points in 16 minutes. 16 minutes. If you told Sean Marks the day this NBA season started that on December 18th he would log 16 important minutes with the Trail Blazers, he would have likely slapped your face and called you a liar. Marks is not a big minutes player by any stretch of the imagination, but he deserves big applause for his effort on Saturday because he gave effort, it’s as simple as that.
As for the un-hurt, rotation players. If you’re keeping track that is basically the five guys that started the game, Rudy Fernandez, Andre Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Dante Cunningham, they did something that I haven’t seen in a long time. They all basically contributed on exactly the same level. Add Patty mills to the mix, and on Saturday, you had six guys show you that missing one All-Star and three or four major contributors does not automatically mean that the season is over.
Of course Saturday’s opponent was the Golden State Warriors, but much like the Minnesota Timberwolves of the night before, they didn’t want to go away quietly. With five and a half minutes left in the evening, the Blazers led by 10, a relatively comfortable margin. Portland managed only five points the rest of the way, while Golden State ripped off 14. The Blazers scored only one point in the final 2:45, and the Rose Garden crowd, which to its credit was HYPED for the final play, held it’s collective breath as Monta Ellis, a gunner lacking a conscience, was given the opportunity to turn a real Kodak moment of a game into a out-and-out downer. Ellis, who was off in the first half meaning he was bound to be on in the second, missed his 20-footer; the sigh of relief from the faithful likely could be heard in Oakland.
The Blazers are back in action Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, and as of right now it’s unclear as to who is going to be in uniform at tip-time. Friday, Portland got a big boost off the bench from Rudy Fernandez, and although his game was sharp on Saturday, expect the Bucks to be ready for his new desire to attack the rim. LaMarcus ended his streak of 30-plus games at two, and he admitted to being tired in his post game. A day off is well deserved for what’s left of the Blazer’s roster, but Monday’s will be the sixth game in nine days. This team is in need of help, right now they’re helping themselves out by playing hard, and making up for their lack of polish and poise with a combination of will, determination, and a little bit of luck.
How long can it last? That’s the question. At least we know that Nic and Marcus and Joel will be coming back. As for the rest of the names on my aforementioned injured list; all but one are done for the year, Oberto for good, and that one, and of course I’m talking about Brandon Roy, is maybe the biggest question mark this organization has faced in a long time.
Portland isn’t playing well enough to forget about Brandon Roy, and Roy’s future is on such shaky ground that it’s hard to factor him in to the plans going forward. If anything was proven in the last 48 hours, there are teams that are willing to take big contracts and players that may or may not be performing to their potential. I’m not saying that Portland should trade Brandon Roy, I’m not sure anybody’s ready for that. But if this team wants to win without Roy, they aren’t going to be able to do it for long with the four bench players they have right now.
A few quick thoughts from Saturday:
- Dante Cunningham got his first start of the year, and earned it with a season-high 13 points. I’ve said more than once that Dante is an important part of this team. He shouldn’t be starting at center, he probably shouldn’t be in the starting lineup, but he needs the minutes to get his head together and to get his rhythm going. DC is a remarkable athlete, and an above-average mid-range shooter. If this team gets healthy, or in future seasons, Cunningham is a great energy guy who, on nights when he’s rolling, can kill the second unit of other teams.
- The starting five and Patty Mills put together a line that was pretty remarkable. All six of those players shot at least ten times, with DC taking the most shots with 13. A 1-for-5 night from Luke Babbitt, and a 4-for-10 night from Patty kept Portland’s shooting under 50%, otherwise it would have been one of the more efficient shooting nights in recent memory. After the game I talked briefly to Patty about his upcoming match with his Aussie brethren Andrew Bogut. Patty said they had somewhat of a friendly rivalry on the court, although Monday’s game will be the first time they’ve played against each other. Patty said he would try to put Bogut in as many pick-and-roll situations as possible, a little insider knowledge on the big guy’s limits.
- Andre Miller put on a show more than once Saturday night. Dre busted a few fancy dribbling moves, chased a loose ball into the front row, and picked Monta Ellis at half court at the end of the first half. It’s a shocker that right now the point guard position is the only one with a solid starter/back-up combo. Mills clocked 20 minutes to Dre’s 28. The rest is helping Andre, and as each game passes Patty is looking more and more like he belongs on the court.
- Luke Babbitt was back in a Blazer jersey, and logged 11 minutes. At this point he still is a long way from being ready to contribute at the NBA level. A few more D-League games will do Babbitt a lot of good. Check out Ben Golliver’s Babbitt check-in if you missed it. Right now, Luke is needed because of the thin bench, but that’s about it. Expect him to get assigned to the Stampede once a few guys come back from injury.