Say what you will about what it wasn’t: pretty, efficient, NOT heart attack inducing, but it WAS most definitely one thing. A win. At this point, at the very beginning of what could be a late season defining road trip, I don’t want to over emphasize how big beating Orlando in Orlando is. I will say this, though, Monday’s was as big a win as any of this season, and takes almost all of the pressure off Portland as they cruise into Miami for Tuesday’s game, which might just be the most anticipated game in the NBA. Luckily, non of that anticipation has to do with the Blazers.
But that’s Tuesday. Let’s take a minute and look at what happened in Orlando. First of all, Orlando without Dwight Howard is not quite a team. The Magic sans Dwight is almost like five guys playing one on one on the same court. Or at least on offense. On defense, they aren’t even that. It’s not their fault. Dwight Howard basically beasts every big man in the league on offense, and on defense is probably a little bit like shooting over bus tilted on a vertical axis. Without Howard, the Magic shoot off isolation almost every possession, and don’t play too much defense.
Portland took advantage of Howard not being in the middle by attacking the rim off the dribble and on cuts, and also started to knock down outside shots. Orlando was able to keep it close by knocking down shots of their own, but the Blazers managed to keep Orlando from coming all the way back by holding the Magic in check on defense. Again a fair amount of Portland’s good defense came from Orlando’s bad offense, but either way, the Blazers kept the Magic’s gunners from getting hot and making the Blazers pay for missed shots.
As a group, it’s pretty clear that this team can compete with most clubs on any given night. Individually, it’s also clear that Portland is starting to come together and form some cohesion. Part of that has to do with the establishment of units and rotations. Monday night, Coach Nate McMillan again ran two distinct sets, but this time he he intermixed the units a little bit. Late in the fourth quarter the Blazers’ lineup was thus: LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, and Wesley Matthews. It’s possible that next season that will be the starting lineup, it’s unlikely it will be at any point the rest of the way this year. Regardless of who starts, though, that unit basically has everything Portland needs. Dre running the show, LA attacking the rim, Wallace rebounding and slashing, and Brandon and Wesley shooting outside. Portland used that set of five to finish the game Monday night, and could move to that lineup as their closers
Right now the big discussion in Blazer-land revolves around whether or not Gerald Wallace should be in the starting lineup. As of right now, it seems that McMillan might just be sticking to his old school ways, keeping the starters starting just because they have been all season. It’s a hard call for me. I think Wallace deserves to be in the starting five, because he’s a great player and needs to be given the respect of his greatness. He’s the most effective slasher in as much as he thinks attack more than anybody the Blazers have on the roster. And he brings the kind of energy that could really help Portland at the start of ball games. I do think Wallace will get at least a look in the starting spot before the Playoffs start, and there’s a real chance that all it will take is one opportunity and he’ll be there for good. So far, Wallace has been more flash than substance, although there has been plenty of substance, and part of that could be because he is not used to coming off the bench. Wallace’s minutes are a telling statistic at this point. He’s getting nearly as many minutes as the starters. His scoring seems a little low, and maybe that production will increase if and when he is inserted into the starting unit. At this point, though, he is on the court enough to have a big role in what Portland is doing.
Two of the main stars for Portland Monday night were Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge. Those will be two key guys to watch on this road trip. As we know, when LA is on Portland is tough to beat, but having big games from Andre, where he controls the tempo and makes the other team’s point guard work, is equally as important.
The Blazers head to Miami on Tuesday, to see if they can give the Heat something else to cry about.
One quick thought:
- Monday night, Orlando had easily one of the worst final possessions I have ever seen. One thing that I have noticed watching the Blazers in their last few games, they may not always hit open shots, but they seem to at least know who they are passing to.