Thursday night is the kind of game you love to see the Blazers win, but you also hate to see the Blazers have. If that doesn’t make sense, think about this one statistic. Thursday Portland turned the ball over 25 times. Tuesday against the Kings they had 10 turnovers; opening night they recorded 12. Not great numbers either time, but Thursday’s 25 was more than both previous nights combined. So that’s why Thursday’s 111-102 win against a very solid Denver Nuggets team is not a game you want to see Portland have too many more times.
The part that we as fans should all love? That’s easy. The win, but not just the win, the way the win came about. Portland is a team with a lot of weapons, and they are a team with a lot of new parts. Right now the parts aren’t all working in synch, but the depth part, the part where the Blazers have enough gamers that one or two bad nights doesn’t sink the entire effort, that part is working just fine.
Like it will probably all season, Thursday’s win can be given in part to Gerald Wallace. He flat out hustles. Thursday he wasn’t scoring like he was on Tuesday, but having him on the floor makes Portland a better team. He sets the tone, and the team–and the crowd–feed off it. And the team following Gerald’s lead is what Blazer fans should love to see.
There is probably only one way to mitigate 25 turnovers. That’s hard work. Portland gave up an astounding 29 points off turnovers, mostly because those turnovers came by handing the ball to Ty Lawson and letting him have a free run at the hoop, but they also blocked nine shots, and grabbed 43 defensive rebounds, limiting Denver to three offensive boards. The Blazers also spread it around, racking up 20 assists as a team and putting five guys in double figures in scoring, three with 22 points or more.
It wasn’t that Portland did just enough to avoid losing, they played an uptempo style of basketball, and they committed to bringing high energy on both sides of the court for 48 minutes. Hopefully 25 turnovers won’t happen again, you don’t get to do that more than once and get away with it, but if there is a positive to take away from that, it’s that this team wants to attack, attack, attack.
In his post game remarks, coach Nate McMillan said that the thing for Portland to do now is rein it in a little. He said that there are too many guys trying to do too much. The Blazers have a lot of play-makers, and realizing that only one guy gets to make a play at a time will be how this Portland team takes the next step.
There were other things too, Thursday night, which should have Portland fans feeling pretty good about the future. Mainly Wesley Matthews started to make shots. Wesley is about as streaky a shooter as you can get, and before the third quarter of Thursday’s game he was missing, a lot. Thursday he broke out in a big way, in a four straight threes kind of way. The Blazers let Denver crawl back into this one. After giving up a 30-point first frame, the visitors had tied it at halftime. The third quarter didn’t turn into a blow out, but four threes from Wesley, and a second 30-pointer by the Blazers put the game squarely in their hands.
Wesley’s tendency to play either super hot or ice cold is a problem. It’s something that he is going to have to address if he wants to grow into the franchise level player that is definitely within his reach. But for right now, the Blazers need to be quick to realize when he’s hot, get him the rock, and let him let it fly. I would guess that three of his four threes in the third didn’t even graze the rim. That’s hot shooting.
Beyond just putting points on the board, getting Wesley the ball in places where he can be successful is a huge confidence booster. Wesley is kind of sitting in no-man’s land right now. There are a lot of veterans on this team for the first time, and his role is a little less clear that it might have been a year ago. With Brandon Roy gone, there is a chance for somebody to step up and be a big time player. But Wesley is going to have to compete with a couple of guys that are rather new to the team, and that might just be stopping through Portland on their way to another big pay day. By getting his consistency up, and building his confidence as the go-to guy, Wesley helps himself by helping the team.
Guys like Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton will defer to Wesley if they know he can be relied on to knock down big time shots. However, they’re not going to pass him the ball just because he’s Wesley Matthews. Thursday Wesley made strides by showing that he’s not afraid to keep shooting when the shots aren’t falling. He is going to have to keep building on nights like Thursday if he doesn’t want to get aced out by some of Portland’s new–or in the case of Gerald Wallace newer–guys.
With this most recent win, the Blazers open 3-0 for consecutive seasons for the first time in their history. Not bad. Last year Portland failed to make it to 4-0. This season, if the Blazers want to get that fourth straight win they’re going to have to be better custodians of the basketball. Like Nate said post game, they need to figure out a way to play fast, but not in a hurry. If that sounds a bit like a zen koan, think of it like this. The Blazers need to push the tempo and establish an attacking offense, but they need to figure out a way to do it without turning the ball over TWENTY-FIVE times.
The Blazers travel down to Lob Angeles (sorry I couldn’t help myself) to take on the Clippers after two days of much needed R&R.
Just a couple of quick things
- I’m not going to dwell on the Andre Miller Rudy Fernandez situation. What I expected to happen happened. Dre checked in first and got a standing ovation from the crowd. Rudy checked in a bit later and was booed. Dre deserved the cheers; I’m not sure how I feel about Rudy and the boos. Here’s the thing though, although Rudy got some halfhearted boos in the second half, by crunch time the Rose Garden crowd was too busy cheering for Portland to worry about cheering or booing individual players on the other team. I’m not saying we’ve all forgotten about how awesome it was to have Andre Miller as our point guard, I’m just saying that this fan base has been, and always will be fans of the Blazers, regardless of which guys are wearing the shirts. The one positive thing that I took away from Brandon’s retiring was that we won’t ever have to see him wearing another team’s jersey. The RG would never boo him, but it would be a bit hard to see the home crowd not cheer for him.
- Tonight’s minutes watch is kind of a big one, and is going to be one to pay attention to probably the rest of the way. 20:41 for Nicolas Batum. Twenty-one minutes seems like a good run, but for the first night in three Portland played an eight-man rotation and not a ten-man rotation–no Nolan Smith or Chris Johnson Thursday–and four out of five starters and Jamal Crawford logged over 30 minutes. More so than Wesley, Nicolas’s spot is a little in jeopardy. He doesn’t handle the ball like Jamal, and his post game isn’t as good as Gerald Wallace’s. What he needs to do to stay on the court is knock down shots, and take advantage of mismatches. What he also needs to do is play defense, and Thursday night was not a total waste because he tied a career-high with four blocked shots. Nicolas needs to have a big game, and he can do it. The big question is, how long does it take for him to get frustrated. I truly believe that Nicolas is one of the pieces this franchise should build around. Having said that, there is a short-term plan that differs from the long-term. Basically Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford could be gone next year. If there is a chance this Blazer team has a deep Playoff run in them you ride those guys at the expense of Nicolas’s minutes, and you hope he is satisfied with 25+ a night and a lot of Ws. The catch-22 part is that neither Gerald Wallace or Jamal Crawford should really be considered as long-term prospects for Portland, so Nicolas needs the game time to develop a low post game and get confidence in his shot. Like everything this season, it will be on the shoulders of Nate McMillan to decide if sacrificing Nic’s development is worth it.
- Oklahoma City and Dallas played an amazing game, or at least had an amazing finish. Watch the highlights.
- A couple of new dudes joined the second auxiliary press row. Scott Leedy from Hardwood Paroxysm and Seth Johnston from Portland Roundball Society. Couple of solid fellas, follow their tweets and read their stuff (if you don’t already) you won’t be sorry.
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