As we all know, in the last week and change wins have been hard to come by. No doubt we all wanted Portland to hit Canada’s largest city with the force of the storm currently filling the lower Willamette Valley with rain/river water, claim a much needed blowout victory against a lesser opponent, and get some rest for weary legs.
Friday, the Blazers had a chance to run off the court three quarters in, but couldn’t slam the proverbial door on the Raptors. On their way to a 94-84 victory, Portland had to play all 48 minutes. It wasn’t ideal, but right now a 21-point lead ending in a 10-point victory is solid. Anything that isn’t a loss is solid.
If Mike Rice is to be believed–and I’ll leave you to make that decision on your own–getting out of Canada is next to impossible, meaning the Blazers won’t arrive in Detroit for their Saturday match-up until very very late at night, which may adversely affect their chances in that game. The Pistons are another bad team. Portland has struggled thus far in 2011-12 against bad teams.
So, if not getting to rest the starters combined with having to deal with overly enthusiastic customs agents leads to a poor performance in Mo Town, beating Toronto by double-digits might just be the highlight of this basically highlight-less road trip.
So let’s talk about this game then, shall we. Friday’s win began and ended with one guy. LaMarcus Aldridge. According to the 2011-12 NBA.com survey of the league’s General Managers, LaMarcus is the fourth-best power forward in game, behind Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, and the vanguard of what’s next for the NBA Kevin Love and Blake Griffin. My own opinion in this matter is so totally biased (both because I am pro LaMarcus and anti-Love) that it’s basically irrelevant, but I have to say that I think LA is at least as dominant and easily as good as both Love and Griffin. He’s a tough cover for anybody, he can score both inside and outside, and he is top-tier when it comes to basketball IQ.
LaMarcus’s major knock, and something that I agree with, is his rebounding. Friday LA took a big step towards addressing this hole in his game to the tune of 23 rebounds. LA’s performance (which according to the wise and well-traveled Casey Holdahl was the first 33-point, 23-rebound, 5-assist game in Blazer history) won’t change the minds of everybody out there who believes that LA can’t rebound, but it might influence a few people who may otherwise be on the fence. Most importantly, it may make LaMarcus think of himself as a rebounder. If LA gets it in his head that he can influence the outcome of a game on the glass, he can very easily jump from number four at the four spot to number two, maybe even one.
Friday isn’t the kind of game we should expect every night out of LaMarcus, but it is the kind of game we should see from him when he’s playing against less talented big men. Toronto had no answer for LaMarcus, and he made them pay inside with strong lay-ups and dunks, and outside with 15-footers, the element of his game that is only matched or bettered at his position by Dirk.
After LaMarcus, the accolades are there, but not quite as glowing. Raymond Felton had a nice step-up game. His 10-point third quarter kept the Raps from extending their second half run that turned this into a game for a couple of minutes. His shooting was much better overall, 6-of-9 from the floor 2-of-4 from deep, and only turned it over twice. An effective Ray Felton is a necessity, basically because there’s nowhere for Portland to go should they decide his ineffectiveness is killing the team’s chances.
The only other player for Portland to reach double figures after LA and Felton was Jamal Crawford, and four of his 10 came at the line in the game’s final 40 seconds. The Blazer scoring was balanced, even if it wasn’t outstanding. Nicolas Batum had nine, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews each had eight, Craig Smith had seven. The contributions have to increase from Wallace and Matthews, Nicolas probably needs to get more than six field goal attempts. I’ll take anything Rhino gives.
Crash’s continued inability to show up on the road is frustrating. It’s mitigated to some extent by Portland winning, but if the Blazers are going to do something this year that they’ve done only once in the last three seasons, and by that I mean win an away game in the Playoffs, Gerald Wallace is going to HAVE to be a factor. I’m sure it will come eventually, but right now, it’s just not there for him.
I’m not going to harp too much on Wallace’s recent short comings. Like I said, getting the win is more important than any one guy blowing up the box score. Plus, Wallace had 10 rebounds on Friday, and didn’t try to take over the game when it clearly wasn’t his night.
It’s hard to go crazy about this game in much the same way it’s hard to really pick it apart for things that didn’t go well. It’s a good win, even if it’s a nondescript win. Road struggles are the name of the game right now in the West. The road records for the Lakers, the Clippers, and the Spurs are 1-6, 1-3, and 1-5. Those are all Playoff teams, and they’re playing much worse than Portland away from home. A 3-3 road trip for the Blazers won’t feel like a successful trip, especially considering that Portland led in the fourth quarter every night, but it very easily could be worse.
Portland and Detroit go at it in the Motor City Saturday at 4:30.
Couple of quick things:
- Marcus Camby returned to the lineup Friday night. Cam doesn’t do much on offense, but his rebounding is as important as any element of Portland’s game. In 27 minutes Camby snagged 10 boards, and I could be wrong but I think all of them came in the first quarter.
- Jerryd Bayless was not in uniform for Toronto Friday night, sitting out with an ankle injury. Due to the lock-out shortened schedule the Raptors won’t be playing in Portland this year. Because Bayless was traded to Toronto after the Raps made their 10-11 trip to the Rose Garden and before the Hornets made theirs, he won’t make his triumphant return to the city where he played his first game until some time in the 2012-13 season. At that point I wonder if anybody in Portland will even remember who he is.
- Minutes watch: 8:50 for Craig Smith. I’m not sure what the Blazers expected to get from Rhino when they signed him. I would say that beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s exceeded expectations. Smith does one thing, he hustles. Recently he’s been doing another thing too, scoring. In those eight minutes and fifty seconds, Craig Smith scored seven points, shooting 2-of-3 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line. Smith isn’t going to lead this team in scoring ever, but for a fourth front court player, he’s exactly what Portland needs.
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