It might not have gone how everybody wanted it to go. Portland exploded in the second quarter to build a 20-point first half, but with a minute and a half remaining on the game clock in a for-sure win LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, and Wesley Matthews were still on the floor. Not exactly what Blazer fans wanted to see.
But at this point we all know the story, winning the present game is more important than preparing for the next game. So at the end of the night, that’s why coach Nate McMillan was reluctant to get his bench guys on the floor. This team needs a win, no matter what.
How did the Blazers blow out the Kings? Well not very effectively. Portland had a pretty balanced scoring night, so there was no failure to get it done on the offensive end. The Blazers’ problem was mostly defensive. Portland had trouble keeping Sacramento from scoring late in the game, but mostly because the Kings couldn’t knock down a deep two or a three, at least the guys in Kings’ jerseys not named Jimmer Fredette or Francisco Garcia.
During their dismal road trip, the Blazers gave up a lot of open shots because they were slow on rotations. Sacramento isn’t the kind of team that is going to kill you with their jumpers, but Portland started the season with a lot of good lock-down perimeter defense, and lately that strategy has seemed to loosen up a little bit. Strong D on outside and elbow shooters is going to be a key against the Blazers’ next two opponents. Memphis and Golden State both have their share of gunners, and I guarantee they won’t shoot nearly the number of air balls chucked up by the Kings Monday night.
I’m not going to go all negative, there were a lot of things Portland did well Monday. Against a better team, a team that requires 48 minutes of sharp play and not 20-25, I imagine the Blazers will be able sustain a higher level of basketball, not slipping into the type of play that kept the Kings in the game, albeit down by at least 10.
Two players that stood out in my mind Monday were Jamal Crawford and Craig Smith. Crawford is almost built for the kind of game that Monday turned into. He’s a streaky shooter who isn’t afraid to let it fly from anywhere, and he never backs down from a one-on-one match-up. The Kings don’t play a ton of team defense or offense, in fact if you were paying attention to Monday’s last quarter and change you probably noticed that Sacramento played better when they started moving the ball. Jamal got plenty of chances to go head up with a single defender, and he took advantage of it. Crawford set a new Blazer high with 26 points, hitting nine of his 18 field goal attempts.
The key for Crawford, of course, is getting an efficient offensive night against a good team and on a night when he doesn’t get 18 shots. Jamal isn’t likely going to have a 9-of-9 night, but if he can get in the neighborhood of 20 points on between 10-and-15 field goal attempts, that would be perfect. To do that he’d have to take far fewer contested jumpers, and he’d have to try harder to get to the free throw line. Crawford is automatic from the stripe. He needs to start taking advantage of that.
And then there’s Craig Smith. It’s hard to talk about Rhino without sounding like a deluded fanboy homer who doesn’t know anything about actual basketball that isn’t happening a block from his front door. But…he’s amazing. Or, let me qualify that, he’s been playing amazingly well for what he is. And what he is is Portland’s ninth man; the last guy in the regular rotation, second to last if you count Nolan Smith. But you know what else Craig Smith is? A hard-nosed scorer, a banger on both ends, and the kind of big man that you can’t foul too much because he usually makes free throws. You know what else he is? A very very effective second unit staple.
Here’s why: Rhino isn’t afraid to have the ball run through him on offense, meaning that when LaMarcus Aldridge is off the floor Portland doesn’t have to launch jumpers to get points. And here’s another thing. There was at least one sequence on Monday when the ball was entered to Craig Smith against DeMarcus Cousins–a guy who John Hollinger says is both awe inspiring and cringe inducing although I see much more of the latter and hardly any of the former–and Sacramento sent a second man to double. The first time it happened I think Rhino got a bit confused, taking on both defenders and turning it over, but if the double is going to start coming on the reg it means that Portland’s second unit is going to have open shooters. Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum are two very good shooters when nobody’s guarding them.
Not a lot of teams are going to double Craig Smith, but they will see that that Rhino is where Portland goes when he comes in for LA. If he can be aware of that double early, and pass out to stretch the defense, the Blazers’ second five is going to have some big scoring nights. Rhino finished with 10 points, hitting 4-of-8 from the field. Listing his stat line is really what makes me feel like a know-nothing. But I don’t care, I love Craig Smith.
The Blazers kick off their first back-to-back-to-back with a win. They didn’t get a ton of rest for their starters, but if you turned over to NBATV following Portland’s win, you saw that Memphis-Golden State went down to the wire. It didn’t go into OT, but the Grizz had to fight all the way back in the fourth quarter to get their seventh straight win. Memphis travels tonight, Portland doesn’t. There’s a really good chance that Tuesday night is going to be a trap game, but for the Grizzlies, not the Blazers.
Couple of quick things:
- Everybody is going to be complaining about Nate McMillan not pulling his starters until way late, but hopefully they got over it some when Luke Babbitt came on and got the Chulupa bucket. Babbitt’s play has been atrocious, although it’s not fair to really judge him since he’s played so little, so maybe hitting a shot and getting a standing ovation will change that. Oh yeah, following the game, Luke Babbitt was trending on Twitter (via Blazersedge).
- Marcus Camby strained his groin in the second half, and was held to just under 13 minutes. Camby missed three games on the road with an ankle sprain, so my guess is that he was held out because by the second half this one was over.
- Sean Meagher from OregonLive had this tweet about University of Washington alum Isiah Thomas. I wouldn’t be against seeing Isiah in a Blazer jersey. I know that he was one of the more outspoken Twitterers during the few hours we were all trying frantically to figure out what was true and what wasn’t re: Brandon Roy’s retirement.
- Minutes watch: 18:43 for Nicolas Batum. Not Nic’s night. Zero for one from the field and two rebounds. No doubt a lot of that came from Jamal Crawford dominating the ball on the second unit. Nicolas had a couple of good games on the road, now is not the time for him to disappear.
- But seriously? How great is Craig Smith?
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