I’ll start out this short little recap by saying that I didn’t watch Friday’s game all the way through. I spent much of this game watching Indiana and Kentucky battle each other for a spot in the Elite Eight. I’m don’t usually go in for college basketball, not even in March. But last weekend I had the opportunity to cover Indiana while they played their way through the 2nd and 3rd rounds in Portland. IU was fun to watch, so I thought I’d watch them play against the best team in the country.
Kentucky looked excellent. Maybe one or two of those guys will be Blazers in the future. As for the Hoosiers, if they can keep their core of young guys together they’ll be able to make a real run at the NCAA title.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk briefly about Portland. If you take the scientifically accurate and impeccably researched chart produced by the wise man at the summit of the mountain of basketball knowledge better known to all of us as Ben from Blazersedge, Friday’s near-miss loss to the Lakers in LA hits all the sweet spots. Expectations were low, and the Blazers lost. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
The Lakers aren’t a great team, but they’ve got a lot of things going for them that Portland doesn’t. One thing primarily: Andrew Bynum. Usually it would be Kobe Bryant, but Friday Wesley Matthews did pretty good a neutralizing one of the best scorers ever (neutralizing Kobe can be defined as 5-of-17 from the floor 1-of-5 from deep 18 points). Unfortunately, the Blazers didn’t have anybody to really deal with Andrew Bynum.
Bynum is a load, and hard for 90% of the league to handle. His size was too much for a combination of J.J. Hickson, Kurt Thomas, Joel Przybilla, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Bynum finished with only nine rebounds, but he was 12-of-20 from the field for 28 points, and always seemed to have the ball and get easy baskets when LA needed him to.
Another thing the Lakers have the Blazers don’t is Pau Gasol (no double-Gasol for Portland tonight). Pau added the rebounds to Bynum’s offense, and showed just why the Lakers can be dangerous in the Playoffs, they’re just too big in the front court. Come Playoff time, some team is going to beat the Lakers because LA’s bench is not deep, but with the starting five LA has right now, they’ll get out of the first round.
Friday wasn’t all about the Lakers playing poorly though, although they played sloppy enough to lose even though they didn’t. Portland played a pretty nice game. Right now, I feel like all we can ask for is effort. Friday there was enough effort to make up for most of the problems the Blazers dealt with last time they faced the Lakers in LA.
But more than just effort, though, it was nice to see a little improvement. And by improvement, I mean improvement over the last couple of games. There are a whole lot of long term prospects for Portland’s current roster, but it’s good to see some positive changes over the course of the last few outings. That means that some of these guys are at least still engaged and trying to get better.
Case in point: the bench. Friday night, Portland’s bench chipped in 34 points. The Blazers’ second unit has been not good to bad over the last week and change. Watching Nolan Smith and Jamal Crawford play well for stretches makes me think that Portland might get a couple more wins.
Speaking of the bench, J.J. Hickson introduced himself to Portland with nice game. There will be some questions about the possibility of the Blazers keeping Hickson. He’s fallen pretty far since being LeBron James’ running mate, but he’s got some attributes that might come in handy for longer than just the last week or so of March and all of April. I wouldn’t count on it, but if he can go 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points every couple of nights, Portland management might think twice before letting him walk.
Other notable performances, just for the sake of it, came from LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews. Pretty sure both of those guys will be Blazers next season (unless somehow Portland can work a trade for Wesley), so I think we should be happy to see that those guys are still getting up for a big game.
That’s it as far as I can see. Portland has another big game on Sunday against Golden State. The Warriors are one of the Western Conference teams that doesn’t want to jump the Blazers in the standings. I know I’ve said that Portland shouldn’t tank and aren’t tanking, but if they want to improve their draft position, being worse than Golden State is the first step. Maybe GSW will beat Portland 1-0 with 48 minutes of shot-clock violations.
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