You can be forgiven if you nodded off in the middle of this game. It was far from exciting enough to hold even the most dedicated fan’s attention for more than a couple short bursts in the third quarter and towards the end of the fourth.
Wednesday’s game is what you’d expect to see when two sub .500 teams face off with 11 games (Portland) and 10 games (New Jersey) left on their respective schedules: some good play, more bad play, a lot of bench players, and a basically meaningless outcome. The Blazers won, rather easily in the end, Wednesday night on talent alone. Portland played bad for stretches Wednesday, but New Jersey is just bad.
Deron Williams was a late scratch (stomach ailments), and from the tip the Nets were over-matched. They didn’t do themselves any favors by turning the ball over 16 times, but that ended up being only one more TO than Portland had, so not taking care of the ball can’t really be blamed for what went wrong with New Jersey.
The best place to look if you want to really illustrate the difference between the Blazers and the Nets Wednesday night is the major scoring gap by each team’s starters. Portland got 24 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, 20 from Nicolas Batum, and 14 from Raymond Felton. The former Mr. Kim Kardashian Kris Humphries collected a very respectable 21 points on seven made buckets, but the scoring totals for the rest of NJ’s first five went like this: Gerald Wallace 8, Johan Petro two, MarShon Brooks two, Sundiata Gaines goose egg.
The Nets did get a combined 40 points from Anthony Morrow and Gerald Green (each with 20). Bench play was enough for New Jersey to make runs to get close and even ahead against Portland’s second unit, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the offensive failures of the starting unit.
Coming into Wednesday, the biggest story was the return of Gerald Wallace. The second biggest story was that if Portland wanted to lose a game on purpose, this was the one to do it. Portland holds New Jersey’s first round pick in the upcoming draft. That pick, however, is conditional. If New Jersey selects one of the top three spots in the draft, they keep the pick. Anything else, it belongs to Portland.
By beating the Nets Wednesday, the Blazers pushed New Jersey one step closer to that 3-2-1 area where nobody wants them to go. Right now Washington, Charlotte, Toronto, and New Orleans have worse records than New Jersey. Winning Wednesday doesn’t hurt Portland all that much, similar to how winning improves the Blazers’ Playoff chances but only as much as buying 1,000 Mega Millions tickets improves a person’s chances of winning $650 million, but Portland fans should probably actively cheer for New Jersey to win a couple of games down the stretch. Toronto has 17 wins, so they could catch New Jersey for fourth to last in the East. In the West, the deeper conference top to bottom, New Orleans probably won’t get five more wins, so even if New Jersey loses out and Toronto picks up a couple W’s there will probably still be three teams with more ping pong balls in the hopper than the Nets will have.
Wednesday wasn’t all bad (if we’re sticking to the narrative that Portland would have been better off losing). We got another chance to look at J.J. Hickson in action. Post game, coach Kaleb Canales answered the obvious question, “Why isn’t Hickson starting?,” diplomatically by reminding everybody that Joel Przybilla is the Blazers’ starting center.
I’m sure that Canales has his marching orders. Not to say he can’t act on his own if he wants to, he is the head coach after all, I just get the feeling he is intent on not making waves. There is clearly no intention to move J.J. into the starting five at any point in the future, but once again, Hickson’s minutes were over 20; Joel’s were under 15.
I’ve talked about the combination of Hickson and Aldridge already, so I won’t go into it too much. One thing I noticed more Wednesday than in the last couple of games, was Hickson playing with a stronger intention to finish around the rim when he’s on the floor with LA. Most possessions with LaMarcus and J.J. on the court are going to start with LA. Hickson is going to get his scoring done on the offensive glass, or after LaMarcus has gone through his moves and hasn’t found an open shot.
J.J. is a great athlete. He is also a classic under the rim worker: fighting for second and third possessions, and finishing with authority. J.J. collected 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, which is the kind of efficiency we should expect to see from him. J.J. only had the one offensive rebound, but a lot of that came because Portland shot 46% from the field.
As LaMarcus and J.J. get more reps together in practice and in games (and when Hickson is finally put into the starting lineup) Portland’s staff will be better able to figure out what these two guys can really do together. My guess is a lot of high/low, and a lot of getting the ball into J.J. when LA pulls the double-team.
Whatever ends up happening, it’s pretty clear LaMarcus and J.J. enjoy playing with one another. Especially LA. In his time as a Blazer, LaMarcus has had very little court time with a guy who can reliably score inside. There were moments in 08-09 when Greg Oden was healthy that LaMarcus’s numbers went through the roof. GO didn’t have the athleticism to finish on the move the way J.J. does.
I know what you’re saying, when GO and LaMarcus were on the floor, Brandon Roy was out there with them. True. Portland still needs some consistent perimeter shooters. Wednesday the Blazers shot 12-of-24 from deep, an even 50%. Some credit for that can go to the inside play of Portland’s bigs, and some credit can be given to the fact that the Blazers are a streaky team and seem to be riding a hot streak in the last few games (LUKE BABBITT). Whatever the reason, if the Blazers can start knocking down threes at any level of consistency, they might be able to put together a highly functional offense for the future.
Portland takes to the road for a Friday-Saturday two-fer that will close out this five games in seven nights week. The Blazers can give Canales his first back-to-back victories with a win in Dallas Friday.
Couple of quick things:
- Gerald Wallace got a decent ovation when he was announced with New Jersey’s starting lineup. As far as ovations go for returning players this season, Gerald’s wasn’t as boisterous as the one given to Andre Miller or the one a half-full Rose Garden dished out to Brandon Roy, he did better than Chris Johnson, and at least he didn’t get booed like Rudy Fernandez. I expect Marcus Camby’s reception will be closer to Dre’s that Gerald’s. Crash didn’t have a great night. He finished with eight points, was blocked twice by J.J. Hickson, and found himself in a LaMarcus Aldridge poster in the middle of a third quarter dunk fest. Playing in New Jersey isn’t what anybody wants, so I feel a little sorry for Gerald. My guess is that he ends up somewhere else next season. Probably a competitor, and probably not for a huge pile of money. Having spent much of his career in the NBA’s basement, I’m sure he’s ready to try his hand with a team that can actually win games. Maybe he’ll come back to Portland. If recent history is any indication, this team loves to ship guys then re-sign them (Steve Blake and Joel Pryzbilla).
- Nolan Smith had a rough night. In seven minutes, Nolan picked up a flagrant foul, fouled one of the best three point shooters in the league mid three, and missed his only field goal attempt. Jonny Flynn didn’t play great, but he got 15 minutes.
- Wednesday’s plus/minus might be the most illustrative stat. Portland’s bench as straight minus for everybody but J.J. Hickson (+10). Jersey’s bench was +13 for Gerald Green and +5 for Anthony Morrow. The Blazers’ starting five ranged from +38 (Felton) to +11 (Przybilla). The Nets’ starting five was the exact opposite: -38 for Gerald Wallace to the lone positive outlier +6 Marshon Brooks. Wednesday, Portland’s starting five was good enough and NJ’s was bad enough to make bench play (which was closer to even and favored the Nets at times) irrelevant.
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