18-12 Portland at 16-16 Utah

Portland has beaten Utah twice in the last 13 games...both times without LaMarcus Aldridge. Tonight they will have another obstacle...Coach McMillan will not be at the game. If I thought he would ever read a humble piece like this I would extend my condolences to him. Tough time of year for something like that.

With that said, a lot of people expect Portland to win this game. They are red hot and Utah is ice cold, having lost 2 straight and just 3-11 in the last 14 games. In addition, Utah is a team in disarray. They traded Giricek for Kyle Korver after the latest blow-up between Sloan and a player. That is a help to Portland as it removes another zone-busting shooter from the Jazz line-up.

But it does not solve a couple of their other problems. First off, Carlos Boozer feasts on the Blazers...he is a beast inside. He seems to have his way, scoring and rebounding almost at will. Unfortunately for Portland, Aldridge is struggling a lot right now, so an already bad match-up gets worse. Deron Williams is the tough type of point guard for Portland as he is excellent at penetrating at will, creating havoc for the Blazers' zone.

If Roy continues his outstanding play, Webster, Jones, and Outlaw are all hitting their shots, and Aldridge snaps out of his funk the Blazers will hit 14. I think it somewhat more likely that they will find that all good things come to an end as Utah remembers they are Utah and regains their winning ways. I really hope not, I seriously dislike them, but this has all the earmarks of one of those games where Portland ends one run...but they will win many more this season.

Philadelphia 72, Portland 97

Early in the season there was a game I fearlessly predicted, "Portland is a much better team than Philadelphia and should win. If they do not, for whatever reason, then the road struggles will become a thousand pound gorilla and they will struggle on the road for the rest of the season. Conversely, if they they should...then that will build their confidence and lead to a few road wins this season, which they will need to reach their post-season berth which I expect for them.

This is one of those rare nights where if Portland plays an average game, they win by a lot. If they implode, they should still win, just it will be close. They are that much better than the 76ers.Portland by 10+

Everything was in place. Portland was up by 25 at one point. They led by 17 going into the 4th quarter. They were on their way to winning that game. Fresh off the confidence-builder of their win, they would then beat Washington and Charlotte on the road, come home and close it out against New Jersey and be on a huge run. They would have been in the thick, believe it or not, at that point of the division race.

But we all know what happened. Portland had one of those young-team collapses. They gave back all 17 points and more, lost that game, and went into a swoon where they did, indeed, sweep the remainder of the road trip...except they did it in reverse, lost to a bad New Jersey team and the season looked like it was going down the tubes.

Of course, starting with Travis "Charles" Outlaw's game-winner against Memphis, they returned to being the team I thought they were. They have run off 12 straight coming into this game which should be a "revenge game" where a high-flying Blazers squad runs a bad 76ers team off the court.

They finished the first quarter with a 7-2 run to take a 21-16 lead. The rout was on...except then something happened. Philadelphia went on a 16-2 run of their own to close out the second quarter and go into the break with a 45-36 lead. Portland was on the verge of being blown out themselves in a game they should win and win handily. It is a game they should have been "up" for and been blowing out the 76ers. Now they were down 9 and heading into the 3rd quarter, a season-long bug-a-boo. Portland needed someone to step up.

Enter Roy, Blake and Aldridge. Aldridge scored early, Blake hit a pair of 3s and a short jumper and Roy added 9 points. Portland closed to within 63-62 after 3 and were entering their time.

During their win streak...yes, and even before...the 4th quarter has been their time. During the losing streak they often would make up huge deficits but just fall short after digging too big a hole in the 3rd quarter. During the win streak they have played the 3rd close and won in the 4th. This night they played the 3rd well and won the 4th, and not by a little bit.

They scored the first 18 led by Outlaw scoring 7 of the first 10. they never let up. Their offense was explosive (35) and their defense the best they have offered this season (9). This was the intensity I expected much earlier in the game.

And it was that magic 13th game...the last in the best win streak Portland has put together in quite some time. It has been fun to watch and there will be plenty more wins this year...I just don't think I see the next one coming again in Utah.


Minnesota 98, Portland 109

This is the game Portland needed to play. They came out early, building a 6 point first quarter lead...then winning the second quarter as well. The third quarter, such a trouble spot for so long, again was kind, giving them a tie and then Portland won the 4th quarter.

This is a big step. So often this season Portland has played down to the level of their competition or they have built a lead and then relaxed. That led, earlier in the season, to disaster. No longer.

Aldridge rebounded nicely, shooting 9-17, snagging 8 boards, blocking a couple of shots...he did not come out pressing, in fact, after making the first shot of the game he went 5 minutes before taking another, picking up an assist off an offensive rebound, pass to Przybilla for a dunk and turning the ball over. In other words, he played a team game.

The entire Portland team played a team game. They ended up with 6 players in double figures led by the 22 of Roy and 21 of Aldridge. They shot 49%, out rebounded Minnesota 47-32, blocked 6 shots and only had 12 turnovers. That is the solid type of performance they should lay on a bad team like Minnesota.

McCants and Jefferson got their points, Gomes provided some help but everyone else Portland held in check.

On a side note, Webster had another off game offensively, going just 2-8 from the field. He did help in other areas, though, bringing down 4 boards and adding 3 assists. I am hoping he gets his game going a bit more consistently soon. On the bright side, on a night they really did not have to have his shooting and scoring he was not pressing but for the season to deliver on its promise they are going to need him to develop some consistency.

Meanwhile, the roll keeps going.


4-23 Minnesota at 16-12 Portland

Minnesota is abominable at home (3-13) and worse on the road (1-10). They play to the speed of their opponents, are out manned every night, and have some of their better players (Randy Foye, acquired from Portland for some stiff named Brandon Roy...) out injured. They have lost something like 9 out of 10 games.

Portland, meanwhile, is on a roll, having won 11 straight including multiple wins over teams that were considered the divisions' best when the season started (Utah and Denver). By no stretch of the imagination should this be considered winnable for a bad, bad Minnesota team against a Portland team that is starting to look like an above average team.


There it is. I have become a doubter. I am going to outline the way this could become a "trap game" for Portland. Do I think it will happen? No. But I do see the possibility if several things happen.

First off, we all know how much Aldridge loves to play and how disappointed he was with his performance against the Supersonics. So he, being a young player, might come out pressing. That tends to lead to turnovers, missed shots, squandered possessions, and a stalled offense that simultaneously creates numerous extra scoring options for the opposition.

Second, this is the return to Portland of Sebastian Telfair. He has had flashes, brilliant games such as his 28 point, 11 assist performance in the Timberwolf win over the Pacers last week. He might still be motivated to prove Portland erred in giving up on him.

Third, Theo Ratliffe still has the potential to dominate a game defensively. If Portland is driving a lot and he is turning back shot after shot it could get ugly quickly.

Finally, Antoine Walker can still explode from time to time.

Now, I do think these circumstances are unlikely. I believe Portland is too talented, has too much leadership, poise, and the coaching is too good for them to overlook Minnesota. I do not believe Aldridge is a selfish player who will look for personal "redemption" at the cost of the team. Nor do I believe he needs redemption. He has contributed far more to many Blazer wins than any struggles he encounters will cause them difficulty. Everyone has an occasional bad game, the key is to just play his game and let it come to him.

That is one benefit of having a guy like Brandon Roy around. He had his own struggles earlier in the season and seems to have bounced back okay...

In the long run, the most likely outcome is a Portland win by blow-out. It will provide a pretty clear illustration of one thing; who the true league MVP is.

Huh? The guy who SHOULD win the MVP will not be playing in this game. However, a quick look at 3 teams will show what I mean.

The first team is the Knicks. Last year they had a TON of shooting power in their back court between Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Where did it get them? There is a reason the Knicks were looking to buy out Francis and why Marbury has become persona non gratis this year. Shooters are nice...but they are complementary.

The second team is Minnesota. They were not great by any standard of measure, finishing with the same 32-50 record as Portland did. Yet they have some nice pieces in place. They have a penetrating point guard in Telfair, they have complementary scoring available in Antoine Walker (though his averages are down he is still a capable scorer), and a talented front court player in Al Jefferson (20 points, 12 rebounds per contest). Yet they cannot win.

Then you have Boston. They have had 2 scorers before...remember when Pierce and Walker were throwing in 25 a night? Boston was stinking up the league. Boston with Allen and Pierce is New York from last year...a team where on any given night one or both stud scorers can get hot and almost single-handedly win the game but just as often will have "average" nights, not get help, and lose the game.

Boston with Allen, Pierce and Garnett? Pure gold. All aspersions on their schedule aside, Boston has done what other teams with "soft" schedules have not done...they have won those games. They are not losing games they are supposed to win. What is the difference between the below average, 2 scorer Knicks of last year, the average T-wolves of last year as compared to the pathetic Minnesota 5 of this year, and the bad Boston Pierce-Walker teams of a few years ago and the title contenders of this year?

Kevin Garnett. It is not just his scoring and rebounding...Al Jefferson has numbers nearly as good as he had with Minnesota last year. It is his presence...he facilitates other things happening. He plays great team defense. He passes. He takes over games when needed. He makes the difference between a team with 2 or 3 scorers that loses a lot and a team that could contend for a title. And that is the definition of an MVP. He makes everyone better, makes an okay team great.

Here is a fearless prediction: Minnesota will miss him in the Friday game. Portland will blow them out.


Another reason to love the 2007-2007 edition

I have been a big LaMarcus Aldridge fan since he came on board. I know I sound like a broken record...big Brandon Roy fan, big Martell Webster fan, big Travis Outlaw fan, big Jarrett Jack fan, big Joel Przybilla fan, becoming a big James Jones fan...but that is just one more thing to love about the Blazers. So many players to like. Aldridge is one more example. Last year I was hopeful he would get a few more minutes. This year I was ecstatic to see him not just starting but playing major minutes and being a focal point of the offense. It looks like he might develop into a 20+ points, 9 or 10 rebound guy in the coming years and be fun to watch. Best of all, he loves to play and it shows. He often has a big grin on his face even during the game and that is awesome to watch from a fan perspective.

In fact, the main issue I have with him is sometimes he is not aggressive enough with his offense. He does not demand the ball when the Blazers need a bucket or early in the game to establish himself. Even on nights where he misses his first shot or 2, he needs to demand the ball and make a move. It creates that possibility in the opposition's mind that he might be laying 25 on them and they have to adjust their defense. It opens the floor a bit for penetration by the guards and creates movement opportunities. Perhaps most important, it keeps him involved in the game. For all that, I think the other night when he did none of this is a prime example of why he is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorite Portland Trailblazers.

The other night against a bad Seattle team, though they had nobody who could really stay with him, he started slowly. His first shot was missed, his second was a rebound shot...and then he disappeared. It was probably the worst game I have ever seen him play. He shot horribly (1-10), missed both free throws, had a low rebound total, did not block any shots, make any of his normal hustle plays on defense...on this one night he did not look like a good player, even though I have been arguing all year he is on the cusp of being a great player who can dominate in this league. In fact, he was not on the floor for the Blazers' stretch run despite it being a game that could have been lost with one good Seattle run.

So what is there to like about that? I am going to argue it was his reaction that makes him special. Aldridge is no prima donna. He did not complain about McMillan keeping him on the bench. He did not point fingers at his team mates for not getting him the ball often enough or in the right places. He said nothing about his numbers. He just cheered from the bench....and then, after the game, he went to work on his shot to see what was wrong with it.

That is AWESOME. That is a player who loves to play and wants to improve. That is a player who is happy his team is winning and wants to do his part, whatever that part is, to keep them on the winning track. That is a MAN in a league of sometimes spoiled children. That is a great teammate in a league full of Stephon Marburys, Allen Iversons, Kobe Bryants (although that one might be a cheap shot this year...he is passing a bit more...).

I love the mentality that he is not going to complain when he has a bad game, he is not going to argue with the coaches, he is not going to cry about it...he is just going to cheer on his teammates and then go to work to improve. I don't think it will be too much longer before you see his name in the All-Star line-up. Not this year...but that time is coming.


Seattle 79, Portland 89

On their first offensive possession the Blazers had 5 (five) offensive rebounds. Blake finally hit a jumper but a lot of tones were already set. First off, it was going to be a horrific shooting night all the way around. Second, Aldridge was going to struggle. Third...Portland was not going to be beat.

I kind of think the first issue was a given from the pre-game. They were not taking the shoot-around serious, were just goofing around and having fun. This can be interpreted several ways. One positive way would be they were loose and having fun. A less promising one would be they were not taking the Sonics seriously. I would argue the latter. There was one key sequence in the first possession that showed it. Aldridge grabbed a tough board...and then took the first shot I have ever seen him take that looked like he was goofing around. His effort on that one looked like one of those shots players take after a foul where they effortlessly flick the ball in the general direction of the basket to see what happens. And he missed it horribly.

That was the start of a long, rough night for Aldridge. Portland was not looking for him and he was not looking for his offense. The result was that when Portland finally did go to him he was out of the flow and not really ready. He ended up with the worst game I have seen him play, 1-10 shooting, 2 points, 5 boards, and some of the most indifferent defense I have seen him play. It was very un-Aldridge like.

But people stepped up all night. 4 different people had 4 first quarter points, everyone was scrapping, Przybilla was dominating the boards, and Seattle was struggling to score as well.

Probably the key stretch in the game started with 2:45 to go in the first period and a 22-16 Seattle lead. It would be their biggest lead of the night. Portland closed the quarter with an 8-2 run to tie the game and came out firing in the second quarter as well. When Jack closed out another 10-4 run to open the second quarter, the overall run was 18-6 and the lead for Portland was 34-28...the same 6 point lead Seattle had possessed.

However, Seattle stopped going to Sczerbiak after he dropped in a run-killing 3 for his 15th point of the first half and they never really got Durant involved. That sounds strange when you realized he had 9 in the first half and 23 for the game...but for great portions of the game he was simply hanging out in the corner while the other 4 Sonics played ball.

I really have mixed emotions about that. He shot a fairly typical 8-20...but they were struggling to score. What is the point of freezing out Sczerbiak and Durant, your 2 best scorers? Run some plays for the guy...too many of his shots came when he created his own fast break, created the offensive rebound, or broken plays. Carlesimo needs to do a better coaching job.

While on the subject, I should briefly address the Webster situation. I am a big Martell Webster fan. He has, I believe, the potential to be a 15 - 18 point scorer with a decent shooting percentage. He can, when he wishes, be a force on the boards and over a season could average 6 - 7 if he wanted...and Portland certainly needs him to. He is a rugged, tenacious defender with the potential to become a very good defender.

However, too often he allows himself to get lost in the shuffle. Portland likes to set him up down in one corner, then run their offense, often on the other side of the floor. As a result, far too many of Webster's shots are A) 3s, B) contested 3s, C) scramble shots with no time and a hand in his face. He could learn a lot from James Jones.

Jones also often gets stuck down in the corner while Portland runs their offense, often on the other side of the floor. However, he makes some subtle adjustments that make him, at least at this point, a more dangerous scorer than Webster. Instead of standing stock-still in the corner, he moves around a bit.

It is not play in particular shows the difference. He was in the right corner. Roy had the ball at the top of the key and was forced towards Jones' side. Jones took about 2 steps to his left, enough to move his defender, then juked a cut into the lane. Instead he drifted back to the corner. His defender was frozen for a split second, long enough for Roy to give it to Jones for the wide open 3 look.

Another time he was in the far left corner and the play was on the right side of the key. His defender turned his head for a half-second, James flashed to the hoop, Rodriguez found him and he threw it down. 5 of his 9 points on plays Webster does not make.

Webster needs to free himself up a little bit, move around to give the guards angles to get him the ball. He needs to take a few shots from closer to the basket. Then he will step up his game and help provide that third scorer in the starting line-up the Blazers need.

The third quarter has been a problem for Portland all year. They started with a 2 point lead. Normally, this means they will trail by 2 - 6 points after the third. Not this time. They came out rolling, building a commanding 16 point lead before losing their touch. They had a brief scoring drought that let the Sonics close within 8 at the close of the quarter. However, all year the 4th quarter has belonged to Portland and this was no exception. The only question was whether we would get chalupas. We did not. But Portland won, so it was a good Christmas game. Besides, when is it NOT fun to beat Seattle? Yeah, I can't think of a time either.


Denver 96, Portland 99

From time to time I have been highly critical of Allen Iverson as a guy who shoots too much for the percentage he shoots. Well, Friday he did it again. On the surface he had a really strong game, scoring 34 points. This time he took just 26 shots. And it was actually a useful 34 as his 12 free throws demonstrate he was drawing fouls and creating havoc for the Blazers defense. Anthony also had a very strong game with another 34 points and added a dozen boards. Had they gotten any help they would have won.

However, only one other Nugget could muster as much as 11 points and once you got past him they topped out at 5. This was a game where the stars did what they were supposed to do...and the role players did not show up.

On the other side of the court, the Blazers got good balance as 5 guys scored between 12 and 19 points. Aldridge and Roy had 18 each, though Roy struggled mightily from the field. However, Portland got a lot of help from their role players.

Outlaw struggled from the field but he made his free throws and had key blocks. Frye did not score a lot but he controlled the boards. Blake took just 2 shots, scoring 3 points, but he moved the ball and got the Blazers into their offense. Jones and Webster were efficient from the field.

In other words, though Roy and Iverson both had poor shooting games while Anthony and Aldridge were a bit better, the Blazer duo got help while the Nugget duo went it alone. That, in my eyes, backs up a bit further my ongoing critique of Iverson.

In his game, role players get used to standing around watching. With Roy, they are used to being needed and, more important, wanted. Guys like Outlaw know that even if they go 4-11 the Blazers need them to keep participating. The Nuggets had 2 guys with 26 shots, 2 guys with 8, and nobody else with more than 3. Iverson and Anthony completely dominate the ball. Meanwhile, for Portland there were 4 guys who took double figures shots, another with 7 and another with 6. It was a team game.

As Bryant discovered last year and Wilt Chamberlain discovered during his career, 1 or even 2 players having game after game where they and they alone are the offense, good TEAMS with no player able...or perhaps just not score with them will still beat them. Good team beats good individual play. And it crushes bad individual play.

This was not an example of bad play. With the number of 3s he shoots and the free throws he attempted, Iverson had a pretty good game. However, he never got other Nuggets involved and when crunch time came the Blazers were able to keep the ball out of his hands and in the hands of Kleiza who got his shot thrown back by Outlaw.

It is another good victory by Portland. Oh, and it pulled them within a half game of Denver for 1st place...


Off Topic: On Bad Broadcasters and Bad Officials

Since the Blazers package is on Comcast and we have the dish, there are times I do not get to see their games. Some other games I will watch, some I won't. The ones I won't are typically those dominated by dull, plodding players who are engaged in the wrong sport. Teams I will watch almost anytime tend to be those that run, score a lot, and are entertaining...I would include the Suns, Mavericks, Warriors in that group for sure, and some other teams are getting there.

So when ESPN had the Suns and Mavericks game it seemed like a good time to watch. Two talented teams that play a more open style, have the flash on offense and the ability to provide the occasional spectacular play on defense, this is my type of game.

Unfortunately, the broadcasters were no Statler and Waldorf. Since I tuned in at half-time and the first few minutes of watching were sporadic, I did not catch their names. That is probably a good thing or they might find themselves consigned to the "O 'Neal" list...that is, players I dislike watching for whatever reason.

It was the color commentator in particular who repeatedly made the comment(s) that just gets under my skin and points out a problem with the NBA game today. He was going off against "floppers" such as he was accusing Devin Harris of being.

Now, flopping is an art that we can pretty much do without. Laimbeer was really good at it and got under people's skins. That habit existed pre-Laimbeer and will exist long after Harris is retired. At the same time, it is a necessary tool because the NBA refuses to enforce its own rules.

If the defensive player establishes position and the offensive player initiates contact to move him from that position it is, by rule, an offensive foul. It is a charge and should be called as such. However, some players...yes, I am looking in the direction of Shaquille O'Neal here, a rugby player I have complained about before...are so strong that the referees would not call it.

Actually, to be fair, that "non-call" was around before O'Neal and it is not his fault he took advantage of how calls were being made. A lot of post players do the same thing. Not as talented as a Hakeem Olajuwon with his "Dream Shake" or a David Robinson with his smooth moves or even...Laker-hater that I am, it is hard to admit this...the sky-hooking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, these post players don't bother to deke their opponent to get open, they simply run over him using their size/strength.

And commit uncalled offensive fouls.

Virtually every time he touched the ball Shaquille O'Neal ran over people and the poor sap on the receiving end got called for the foul. It was horrible, horrible basketball and just no fun to watch. When I want to watch big strong guys pushing and shoving I watch the NFL or wrestling. When I want to watch an athletic competition, I watch basketball.

But since the referees often do not call that charge, the defenders have to find other tools. One such tool is the flop. Sure, players fall more than necessary...but if they don't then officials don't call the charge.

This color commentator was so incensed about the second Harris flop that he said something along the lines of, "I hate floppers so much that even if they deserved the call I would not give it to them.". Guess we are all glad YOU aren't the ref then, aren't we? Picking and choosing which rules to follow and which ones not to follow is a recipe for disaster. It has led to the 90-84 snoozefests that have blotted the NBA schedule for a few years now. Gone are the free-flowing, up and down high scoring affairs. In their place we have walk the ball down the floor, have two guys play sumo for a few seconds until one throws up a shot, rinse, repeat.

Seriously, what NBA Finals has compared, in the last couple decades, to the year the Bulls and Suns combined for something like 3 million points in 6 games? Barkely, Jordan, that was a finals worth watching! Contrast that with the yawners produced by the Pistons, Heat, so bad, so unwatchable that most of us didn't. And a lot of it goes back to the referees refusing to make the correct call.

If a guy moves a set defensive player by sheer strength and gains an advantage it is a charge and should be called as such. Let's open the game up a bit and make it the athletic contest that makes for entertainment and put the kibosh on the pushing and shoving that replaces skill and lets the strongman competition winners dominate the game.

Last night was a good example. Stoudemire got called for a couple of fouls for running over his defender. So the Suns shifted their offense a bit and soon, instead of him standing there with his back to the basket, waiting for the entry, then running over a guy, they started moving, passing, driving to the bucket...and yes, he was throwing down some ferocious cuts as the movement got him open. Instead of strength he was using speed and agility, showing some tremendous skill.

At the other end of the floor you saw much the same thing from Dirk Nowitski. When he did post up, he used speed, agility, and a great fake to unleash his Purvis-Short reminiscent shot. Beautiful. That is basketball as it should be played.

You can have skilled post play. For all his whining about foul calls, Duncan is a great post player. He gets his shot off with slick moves, not Gorilla Bench Presses. Portland's own LaMarcus Aldridge is another one who works a variety of fade-aways to score from the post. It does not have to be a war zone. It is more entertaining to watch when it isn't just big guys pushing and shoving. And when the commentators aren't blowing out your eardrums with their backwards comments praising boring, illegal basketball.

Toronto 96, Portland 101

When Aldridge went out for a 5 game stretch that included 2 games with the Jazz and one in Denver my high hopes for the season were on the ropes. After the debacle in Philadelphia, team confidence was down, despite the boost it got in Memphis, and they were struggling to identify where, when and how to score.

His absence, in the long run, might have been one of the best things that could happen for this young team. Brandon Roy stepped up in two ways. First, he took charge of the team, telling them they each needed to step up and help a bit on the boards and with points, "a couple of points each". Sure, they were going to hear that from Coach McMillan...but coming from Roy it might have an even better impact. Second, he stepped up his own game. Sure, he has had a few bad shooting nights...but he is penetrating, making things happen, and most important...doing it the entire game instead of waiting for the 4th quarter.

With Webster struggling, Jones and Outlaw inconsistent and Aldridge out the margin of error for the Blazers is too thin to have Roy coast through the first three quarters with 5 - 10 points and then turn it on in the 4th. They dig too big a deficit.

Meanwhile, a primary problem for Portland during their losing streak was the third quarter. They would typically play really well in the first quarter, sometimes really well in the second, sometimes not so well, but usually it was a game at the half or Portland had a substantial lead. Then the third quarter would strike. Portland would throw low double digits up, seldom exceeding 20 points, while their opponent would often double them up. Then Portland would play well in the fourth but it would be too little, too late. So many games they should have won ended up in the L column.

While Aldridge was out Portland discovered a winning formula. They still habitually lose the third quarter...but instead of by 10 - 15 or even 20 points, now it is a manageable 3 - 5 points. And they are winning. And winning. And winning.

Naturally, I am a huge Aldridge fan. I have been saying most of the year that he and Roy, on this incarnation of the team, need to be averaging 22 - 25 points each to carry this team. I will listen to arguments that their 19 point averages are enough...but I believe they would improve the team by taking more of the scoring load on themselves as the best and most consistent scorers Portland has. This would open the game up more for Webster, Blake and Jones to bomb away. With Aldridge posting up, Roy and Jack driving almost at will, and the Webster/Blake/Jones triumvirate bombing away off kick outs for easy open shots you have the potential to have a dynamic, high-scoring team.

With that said, it really felt like they were messing with success a bit by having him return to the starting line-up last night. Sure, the winning streak STARTED with him in the line-up, but look at how effective Portland was in some tough places WITHOUT him...winning in Utah and Denver, scoring almost at will...

Now, it is hard to argue that moving Frye to the bench and putting Aldridge in the line-up can do anything but improve a team but there is such thing as chemistry.

Be that as it may, McMillan...who, despite some doubts during the losing streak I am fully behind again...pulled the trigger on putting his stud back in. Due to illness I could not attend the game but did listen to most of it and early on it seemed like the wrong move.

Portland was getting lost on offense. This is a team that fore several game stretches was shooting better than 50% and scoring well over 100. Now they were getting in each other's way and struggling to get good shots. This is when you need someone to step up. Preferably, it will be your big guns, the guys who bring you to the dance...Roy, Aldridge, I am looking in your direction here. However, what sets the great teams apart from the good ones is the great teams have "that guy" who figures out what a team needs on any given night and gives it to them.

Last night it was Blake early. He had 10 points in the first 7 minutes...and only 14 for the game. Early, when the offense was struggling he stepped up and made shots. That got Portland rolling and the ended up with a very nice 31 point quarter. Roy and Aldridge also were on pace for 20+ nights. Sadly, on the other side of the ball they weren't stopping anybody.

The second quarter started out okay, but then Portland hit a dry stretch largely revolving around Outlaw who was having a miserable night. At one point he was 1-7 from the field including having a dunk blocked. He can leap out of the building but the rim is still just 10' high...meanwhile, after over a 3 minute dry spell Aldridge rebounded a missed Jack shot and put it back in. By then there was but 5:51 left in the quarter and that pulled the Blazers to within 45-39...yep, 6 minutes and change into the quarter they had scored a whopping 8 points.

Down the stretch of the second quarter Roy scored 8 and Aldridge 6 to keep Portland close. By half time they only trailed 65-51.

That meant that, once more, the third quarter was make or break time. If Portland had one of their 10 - 15 point deficit quarters then the game might get out of reach. It started poorly. Aldridge and Roy each had a missed shot and turnover to start the quarter. Then the role players took over. Blake drove and scored. Webster dropped in back to back treys. Przybilla scored. In less than 2 minutes they stepped up and dropped in 10 points to carry Portland through a stretch where their stars were struggling.

And that is the sort of thing this team NEEDS. When Webster scored 11 for the quarter it provided the boost an otherwise anemic (25 points total) Blazer offense was desperate for. Their defense stepped up, though, holding the Raptors to just the deficit going into the pivotal 4th quarter was a large but manageable 7 points. They were not getting blown away or anything, they were scoring at a decent clip, they just needed to get a few stops.

Apparently, the Raptors also felt like getting a few stops. From the 10:56 mark until the 6:56 mark the scoring for the teams combined consisted of a Kapono jumper and an Aldridge layup. They combined to score a whopping point a minute. Why, if they continued that frenetic pace for an entire game we could see a 30 - 26 bundle of fun...However, that Aldridge lay-up was part of a 15-2 Portland run that gave them a 95-89 lead. Portland was, as is their habit lately, taking over in the fourth. They just decided to wait a while to do it...

The last 2 minutes were cardiac time for Portland. Clinging to a 97-94 lead they managed to have missed shots by Blake, Roy and Aldridge. But in the final 11 seconds Jones coolly sandwiched 4 free throws around a Chris Bosh dunk to give Portland the win...and the chalupas.

So what happened as a whole in this game? For starters, Roy had a huge game. He shot 10-16 (including 3-5 from downtown...a trouble spot for him lately), had 8 assists, 9 rebounds...he was all over. He had 3 turnovers in the first quarter but as the game went on his ball protection got better and he only had 1 the rest of the way.

Aldridge stepped right back in where he left off, 15 and 7 on only 15 shots...he needs to get more aggressive in seeking his offense, but coming back from injury, I am okay with that...

Webster stepped up nicely, providing 15 points on an efficient 5-7 from the floor including an astonishing 4-5 from the three point line...except it isn't that astonishing. This year the Blazers are blessed to have Jones and Webster, two guys who, when they get hot, it is surprising when they MISS from downtown. You just expect the ball to drop through the twine whenever they shoot. If they ever get consistent...look out. Portland just might have a juggernaut on their hands.

Assuming, that is, that Outlaw has more "ups" and less "downs" in the next little bit. He struggled from the field all night, ending just 4-12. On the bright side, he continues to rebound well (7) and is providing the intensity the Blazers need to make their zones effective.

This seems like a good time to mention that Portland once again won the battle of the boards, 40 - 35. Was that the Aldridge factor or a result of shooting 50% from the field?

Regardless, it was another great win for a young, fun, and improving Portland franchise that, if the playoffs started today, would be in 8th place. That gives rise to an interesting question; are they better served to (yes, still a long shot, but let's be positive) if they somehow squeeze into the playoffs this year only to go out in the first round or if they miss the playoffs and are in the lottery again? But that is a question for another time.


Charlotte 76, Portland 88

In their recent tear the Blazers have been shooting and scoring well, even without stud LaMarcus Aldridge. Into town comes one of the dirtiest teams in the league. Can you imagine the filth if they somehow got Shaquille O'Neal to team with Tyson Chandler?

In their prior meeting Delonte West went nuts. This time he was held in check, scoring 21 points but shooting just 8-19 and pulling down just 6 rebounds. Chandler had an outstanding game, shooting 8-8 and yanking 19 boards.

Roy was up to the challenge, however. On a night when Outlaw was a regrettable 1-12 from the field, Roy shot well, passed well (9 assists) and controlled the game.

Somehow, despite shooting only 41%, Portland outshot their opponents. They struggled on the boards. They struggled to score. But they held their turnovers down, got timely shooting, and took over when the game mattered, the third and fourth quarters.

This has been a trend lately. They still are struggling in the third, but now instead of 10 - 15 point deficits, they are only giving up 2 - 3 points. Then, in the fourth, they are closing out teams. They are letting their hot hands get the ball in places where they can score and winning games. It has been a beautiful sight.

It is also nice to see Outlaw playing with confidence where even if he has a rough night, he still continues to try to make things happen, getting to the line and making his free throws even if the shots aren't falling. It has been good to see his development.

Oh, and...for the first time all year, the Blazers have a winning record.

Portland 116, Denver 105

The first time Portland went into Denver they essentially laid down. They "knew" they could not handle Iverson and Anthony and they played like it. Of course, Iverson is easily one of the most over rated players of the last decade. Yeah, I know, that is not a popular opinion...but dude shoots WAY too much for the number of shots he makes. He is a case where less would be more. Sure, he can carry a team in individual games, but over the course of a series he will cost a team, also. Reminds me of John Starks, another guy who could shoot a team into, out of, into and out of a the same game.

Contrast that with someone like a Garnett. He could score 30 a game if he really wanted to, but instead he involves his teammates and lets the ball move around. I would rather have half a Garnett than 10 Iversons.

It was the second performance of the year for Portland I found disappointing (the first being their loss to the Hornets in what I still believe was a game they should have won. Portland is a better team than New Orleans regardless of where that game is played.)

Despite their win in Utah I was still not a believer coming into this game but Portland proved me wrong yet again. This is the team I thought we had. They can beat any team, any place. Denver in Denver? No problem.

Channing Frye exploded for 20, the first time he has had a dominating offensive performance.Blake, Jack, Jones, and Roy also scored with abandon. They shot 54% for the game. They out rebounded someone...yes, that is right, Portland won the battle of the boards. That does not happen often.

Ironically, Iverson had an excellent game (38 points, 6 assists, 50% from the field). Anthony had an okay game. But the Denver role players disappeared while the Blazer role players stepped up in support of Roy. In the absence of Aldridge they spread the ball around, worked the boards, played defense, and took down a game that shows they can play anywhere. It was a superior performance where they led wire to wire and, when their lead started to evaporate, they stepped up and rebuilt the lead. A very satisfying win.

Jazz 91 at Portland 99

If you had told me the Blazers would beat the Jazz in Utah WITH LaMarcus Aldridge I would have questioned it. If you then told me they would come home on a back to back and hold the Warriors under 100, also without Aldridge, and win I would have been even more doubtful. And finally, for them to beat the Jazz twice in a week without Aldridge...well, that just isn't going to happen. Sure, I am optimistic...I am the only person I know who in the preseason predicted a potential playoff birth for the Blazers, a possible 45 win season, and so forth...but even I was not this optimistic!

So how did Portland beat the Jazz again? It started with defense as they held the Jazz to under 40% shooting. Boozer was 10-20 but other than that the Jazz shot very, very poorly. Meanwhile, Roy, Jones and Outlaw all had very good games, shooting well enough and getting enough help from players like Webster to make things happen.

Once more Portland struggled on the boards, giving up 18 offensive rebounds (and fifty total), but they also turned back 6 Jazz shots.

Once more a scrappy effort by a team few people expected much out of this year.


Golden State 95 at 9-12 Portland 105

Early in the year I would have done a preview in which I would have predicted a Portland win. Later, I would have predicted a loss, particularly without Aldridge. This is the type of game where he would be HUGE, running the floor, scoring at will, rebounding when needed. I would say the keys were Aldridge to come up big, Webster and Jones to have strong games, and Roy to make his standard contribution.

I clearly have lost my feel for this team. Roy had a decent game, though his shooting was again ragged. Aldridge did not play at all and Webster had a bad, bad game from an offensive standpoint...he scored but 2 points, took only 4 shots, and played only 9:28 due to a flu.

Fortunately, they got unexpected points from an unusual source. Przybilla gets his offense primarily from offensive rebounds and broken plays. There is a reason he averages just 5 or 6 points a game. So when he exploded for 15 points, it was a huge advantage. You can tell how active he was by his 5 offensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, this is the type of game James Jones loves, where he is going to get numerous open looks at 3s. He responded with 21 points and Outlaw also likes it as he can run and gun, dunk, run around the floor like a madman...and he continued his recent strong play with 22 and 8.

At the other end of the floor Stephen Jackson had a miserable night, just 3-15 from the floor. Davis had a typical game for him with 23 points, 8 boards and 11 assists...but nobody stepped into the gaps of Jackson and Monta Ellis, who missed the game.

The Warriors ended up with a miserable shooting night which was needed as Portland gave up a double digit lead to briefly trail before rebuilding their lead. They proved they can win without some of their best players as other members of the team are stepping up. It is getting exciting again.


8-12 Portland at Utah

Utah lost 3 road games where their defense was bad enough to set Sloan's teeth on edge. Portland has struggled on the road all year. Stud scorer and rebounded LaMarcus Aldridge is not making the trip because of a foot problem. In short, I had little...okay, no...hope Portland would win this game. In fact, I had the timer set to flick over to Shrek the Halls even though I have already seen it since by then Portland would probably be about run off the floor.

If I were to write my "keys to the game" they would go something like, "Przybilla block shots and rebound, Roy score and distribute, and 3 or so guys from the Jack/Webster/Jones/Outlaw contingent have transcendent games while Boozer has a horrendous game."

In fact, before the draft I wrote a piece on Helium in which I discussed my (admittedly wrong) preference for Durant over Oden. My reasoning was something like this:
Przybilla plays defense and rebounds. He doesn't score much, but he doesn't need to. Aldridge, Roy, and Durant will provide plenty of punch in the starting line-up and Outlaw and Webster coming off the bench could be explosive. Meanwhile, you have Blake and Frye to provide defense off the bench. So they have balance between starters and bench, dynamic role players who can shoot from distance (Webster), work the ball inside (Aldridge), and provide defense and rebounding (Przybilla and Frye).

I thought then and think now it is a good formula, though putting Oden in the starting line-up and bringing Przybilla off the bench next year is starting to bring good thoughts to my head, admittedly.

Well, against the Jazz, they followed that formula to some extent. Przybilla did not score much (6 points on three shots) but he rebounded a bunch (10) and his defense...the 5 blocks tell only part of the story. He altered shots, he changed the game. He was a rock in the middle.

Jack added 16, though as we all know he is now coming off the bench, and Webster exploded for a career high 25 points and only missed 4 shots all night. Frye provided some good defensive moments and Blake, while he did not score much, helped hold Williams to 4-14 shooting and just 11 points.

Meanwhile Boozer had a big night with 29 and 13, but he was being matched basket for basket by Portland and not getting much help...other than Williams' 11, only Milsap reached double figures. On a night when Portland has 5 guys in double figures and shot 48%, that was not a positive sign for the Jazz.

Watching the game, early on it seemed like nobody could miss. When they did, the Jazz were all over the boards. Their offensive rebounding total was ridiculous, eventually totalling 22 offensive rebounds...and only 28 defensive rebounds. That was keeping Portland from rolling over the Jazz.

They still built double digit leads before settling for a 9 point half time lead. Early in the third it looked like they would blow the Jazz off the court but Utah worked itself back to pull within 12.

Portland fans have seen this before...Portland build a comfortable 15 - 17 point lead on the road in the 4th...and give it all back. Utah started the 4th with a 9-2 run to bring it back to a 5 point game with plenty of time remaining. No Aldridge, a lead disappearing...and Roy and Outlaw took over, rebuilding the lead. It would swell back to double digits and return to just 5 a couple times, but never less than 5. And somehow, someway and out manned Blazer team did the impossible...they beat the Jazz in Utah.

Early in the year I would have believed this possible but unlikely. Frankly, going into the game I did not even believe it possible. Without their (arguably) best player in Aldridge, having struggled on the road all year, and in a building where Portland never wins against a team that even I would not argue the Blazers are better than at this point...

All I can say is WOW! Way to go, Portland! This is the team I thought they had early in the year. This is the team I thought would go 9-2 in one stretch where, after the Philadelphia debacle, I revised that estimate. I still think if they finish that game they would have swept the other games remaining on that road trip, beating Washington, etc., and with that confidence they would have held serve at home against New Jersey for sure and possibly be on a HUGE winning streak right now.

I think this team, as constituted, is good enough to be better than .500 both now and at the end of the season. However, there is an open question if they will. They have been up and down, as expected with a young team. Hopefully they will run off the confidence from this game and continue the streak against Golden State Wednesday Night.


Milwaukie at Portland

Coming off the defeat of the Miami and the last second Memphis win, this is a game Portland should win, and easily. They are a better team than Milwaukie and Milwaukie is missing pieces like Simmons. Of course, Portland also should have beat Philadelphia, Washington, ....okay, you get the picture. I thought the Blazers were good enough to compete with almost anybody but they have also shown themselves capable of losing to anybody.

As usual, I thought going in the keys to the game were Roy and Aldridge having their "standard" type games...15 - 25 points each, Aldridge with 8 - 10 boards, Roy with 4 - 6 boards, 4 - 8 assists, both around 50% shooting with Aldridge above and Roy maybe a hair under that mark, and then for 2 other players to step up, maybe Outlaw and Jack, maybe long as SOMEONE stepped up.

Well, Aldridge and Roy both scored 24+ points on excellent shooting...but Aldridge could not buy a rebound, ending with just 3. Fortunately Roy had not just an average or good game but a great game, missing just two of his 13 shots, pulling down 8 rebounds, and dishing out 9 assists.

How about the support? Well, 2 people stepped up. First, Steve Blake elected to score and score in a big way, dropping in 19. And helping out considerably was Travis Outlaw.

On the surface, his game looks rough...3-11 shooting, just 5 rebounds. But then you notice he also took 16 free throws...and made 14 of them...and suddenly his game looks better. Outlaw was making things happen. He was drawing fouls, creating havoc, and he was not afraid to take a shot. That means he was getting into the lane and breaking down the defense.

Defensively, the Blazers had an up and down game. On the bright side, Michael Redd was held to 5-23 shooting. That is a positive, promising start. However, Bogut, Williams and Villaneuva all had strong games with better than 50% shooting, and in one case 70%.

The first quarter was very back and forth with each team holding small leads. In the second quarter Portland started to pull away, building a lead as high as 10 points but the Bucks battled back to pull within 6. Aldridge and Roy both were in double figures and Blake added 8 in a fine 57 point first half. The Blazers were scoring and scoring well.

They built the lead back to 10 and maintained it for most of the quarter until a late burst by the Bucks narrowed it to 84-76 entering the 4th quarter. Portland was getting scoring from numerous quarters with Aldridge, Roy, Blake and Outlaw all hot and Webster making the occasional contribution. Everything was set for Portland to run away with the game. They avoided the third quarter collapse...they came back after scoring but 4 points in the first 4 minutes, maintained their lead and got some rest for their key players.

The 4th quarter started well with Outlaw scoring to extend the lead back to 10. Then something happened. Jack turned the ball over a couple times, they missed a couple of shots, couldn't stop the Bucks and all the sudden the 10 point lead was a 5 point deficit as the Bucks went on a 15-0 run.

Here comes gut check time. Portland has struggled not just on the road but at home lately. Early in the year I would have had no doubt they would come back and win. However, ever since that Philadelphia game when everything fell apart, they have not been the same team. They showed some life in the Memphis thriller and again when the Heat made a run. How would they react to this?

They went on a 6 point run of their own to retake the lead. Then it was back and forth with the Bucks taking 2 or 3 point leads and the Blazers catching up. But the Bucks started to pull away, building a 6 point lead with about 2-1/2 minutes remaining. Portland needed someone to step up.

Or several somebodies. Embodying the team concept, Outlaw, Blake, Roy and Aldridge all scored with the final two Aldridge free throws tying the game with 15 seconds left.

Neither team could score and Portland would see how they played in an overtime game. Early on it did not look good as the Bucks took the lead. Again with 2-1/2 minutes left they had a 5 point lead and things looked bleak. They looked worse when, after making a big jumper, Aldridge fouled out and Portland still trailed by 3.

But Outlaw hit 4 crucial free throws, Blake added a couple, and Roy hit a layup. Meanwhile, the Bucks could muster only one Bell free throw in the last 2:18 and the Blazers gutted out a clutch 117-113 win.

It is exciting to see because this seems more like the team I believed Portland had early in the season. Winning at home, competing on the road, and good enough to make the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if that swoon will be repeated. Hopefully not.

Portland 112, Miami 106

I actually was offered tickets to this game and turned them down because I so dislike watching Shaquille O' Neal play. He is a walking offensive foul. I get so sick of seeing him initiate contact with an immobile player, move them, and get the call it just isn't fun to watch. So instead of seeing it live I elected to watch it on TNT.

Now we can add dirty to that offensive foul reasoning.

49 seconds into the game he made his patented bowl someone over move. Przybilla took the charge, went sprawling, and wonder of wonders...they called the offensive foul! But O Neal wasn't done with the play. Somewhat off balance, he deliberately moved the basketball in line with Joel's head and laid all his weight on it, driving Przybilla's head into the floor. It was a dirty, dirty play with no place in basketball. It was a play that should have earned O Neal a huge fine and long suspension.

When you deliberately try to injure another player, take away his livelihood...and possibly worse, considering O Neal's weight and the delicate nature of heads...that is inexcusable and nigh on unforgivable. I have seen O Neal throw elbows and fore-arms before and have oft thought he was a fairly dirty player but this was about as bad an incident as I have seen.

Because he is Shaquille, however, he did not even get a technical. What a joke, and a bad one. He is one of the few players I think would be well served to have someone take his legs out from under him when he is doing one of his dunks, land him on his head and end his career. It would make the NBA a more enjoyable league to watch.

Meanwhile, Roy broke out of his slump and had a brilliant game with 25 points on 7 for 15 from the field...but a confidence-boosting 11-13 from the line...and 6 assists and 5 boards. In other words, he was back to his all-around game and reasonable shooting. He also overcame recent free throw woes nicely.

Aldridge continued his steady season, thought he had just 14 points...then again, when you only get 12 shots and don't get to the line, it is hard to score much more. He could actually learn a bit from Outlaw.

Outlaw is not as good a player as Aldridge. He is not as good a shooter, though his rebounding has improved, and at times he has bizarre lapses on defense. However, he is also capable of tough, on-the-ball, harassing defense and sky-walking, game-changing spectacular blocks from off the ball. In this game he got up 17 shots AND got to the line 5 times. In other words, he made sure to get enough shots to contribute. More on this in the Milwaukie game. Aldridge needs to demand the ball. He needs to get in position, demand the ball, and make his move. Portland needs him to score consistently while continuing to rebound and have an impact defensively if they are to live up to their potential. And this is the year he has to do it because next season will be acclimating themselves to Oden.

He did have a statement. In the closing minute of the game Wade drove the lane and tried a layup which Aldridge spiked it so hard it bounced over a guy and into the crowd. It was a fun block that definitely sent a message.

Overall, this was a game where all the Blazers contributed. They shot well, got key stops when they had to, withstood a huge run that erased a comfortable lead, had their prime-time guys of Roy and Aldridge have good games and got help from key role players, particularly Outlaw, Jack, and Jones...who went 4-6 from three point land, and at key times.

That is their formula for success. Hopefully it continues.

And O Neal breaks his leg.


4-13 Miami at 6-12 Portland

When the schedule was released, this game must have had the suits at TNT salivating. A declining but still popular Shaquille O' Neal against #1 pick and young stud Greg Oden up front while 2005 Finals MVP Dwayne Wade runs into 2006 Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy. Marquee match-ups everywhere, with possible Most Improved Player of the Year LaMarcus Aldridge added into the mix.

Lo and behold we get here and Portland has no Oden, Wade was injured early and (for him) pedestrian since coming back...though any team that would not LOVE to have him in their back court is insane...but his "mere" 20 points a game has not helped Miami all that much, O'Neal is no longer a 25 and 10 guy, now just 15 and 7.5, and the marquee value has kind of disappeared as Miami is on a 3 game losing streak and Portland just finished a 4 game losing streak with their last-second win in Memphis. But it is still on TNT. One suspects the geniuses that scheduled this game for there are no longer quite as happy.

Early in the season I would have projected Portland to win in a walk. They are the more talented team, they are hungrier, they have more to prove. Przybilla and Frye have the defensive chops to give O'Neal problems, Miami has nobody to stop Aldridge or Roy, and only at point guard would Miami have a marked advantage.

But then Portland went into the tank. Their road woes affected their home game and they dropped 3 very winnable home games I thought they would have won. They look like what most people seem to think they of the worst teams in the league.

But Miami is still worse, at least right now. Maybe after Wade hits his stride that won't be true, but right now...they are worse. Portland should win this game, and handily. They play better at home, they have everything they need to run Miami off the court. I should make the call for a blow-out.

I just don't know if that road win over Memphis is enough to get them where they need to be.

Outlaw has been studly lately, Aldridge continues to be the man night after night, and Jack has settled comfortably into his 6th man role.

But Webster continues to struggle, Roy has had but one good game in his last several, and the Blazers are just not consistent. You don't know from night to night if you will get 20 and 10 from Outlaw...or a 2 - 11 shooting 5 point stinker. Webster might give you 15...or 2. Roy might be 9-15 for 25 points and a few boards, or he might go 4-18. There is no consistency so it makes it hard to predict what should happen.

Somehow, the doubt comes up in the back of the mind that they will let Wade, O'Neal, or Davis go off for a monster game and find a way to lose to a pretty bad Miami team that is struggling mightily.

But I am going with the homer card. Let's say what should happen will, Portland win.


Portland 106, Memphis 105

I thought going in the game would be a blow-out one way or the other. I figured one team would build a lead early. It it was Memphis, the delicate Portland psyches would implode and they would get run off the court. Conversely, if they came out angry and put up a lot of points, I thought they would take the lesson of the Philadelphia game and build the lead, finishing the game.

I was wrong.

This was the Portland team I thought we had at the beginning of the year.

They got contributions from a couple role players and their stars produced. Roy finished the first quarter with 5 points and 3 assists, Aldridge added 10 points and had 2 steals inside the last 38 seconds leading to 5 of the 8 points Portland scored in the last 50 seconds to take a 31-24 lead into the second quarter. But the key is they battled back and forth all quarter, coming back after trailing by 7 early at 12-5. That was the bad moment, when they could have laid down and gotten crushed. But Blake and Webster stepped up, each dropping in treys, and Portland was right back in the game.

James Jones, back from injury, had a hot second quarter with 8 points. Good thing he was scoring because hardly anybody else was for Portland. After a nice 31 point first quarter they could only put in 19 in the second. Once more the second unit struggled mightily. Meanwhile, the defense disappeared for Portland as they gave up a 33 point quarter. That is a huge swing and they found themselves down 7 at the half in a game they really need to have.

They started off hot in the third quarter, scoring the first 9 points to take the lead. They traded baskets for a bit, then Memphis extended to a nine point lead with less than 2 minutes in the quarter and they traded baskets to make it 80-71 with 51 seconds left in the third quarter. Then Portland rose up. Aldridge scored his 20th point, they produced a turnover, Jack made a layup, then with 2 seconds left Jones stole the ball and Outlaw made a ridiculous half court trey to make it a 2 point game going into the 4th.

But neither team wanted to lose, so the 4th would be exciting. Memphis built the lead back to 7. Portland came back to take the lead. They traded buckets and 1 or 2 point leads until Memphis scored 4 straight to take a 103-99 lead with 1:10 remaining.

Travis Outlaw then took over. Despite having his last shot attempt blocked, he made a jumper, rebounded a Stoudemire miss, drained a three with 15 seconds left to give Portland a 1 point lead. Then they got what they wanted, a last-second shot by Navarro. They did everything right, keeping the ball away from Gay, Miller, or Gausol. When you take away a team's top 3 choices, you should feel pretty good about your chances...

Of course, all year rebounding has been a bugaboo for Portland. And it struck again. Gay got the offensive board and scored with 2 seconds left.

Portland had some pretty good players on the floor for the last shot. Two mighty fine options would be Brandon Roy or LaMarcus Aldridge to take the last shot. Both had big nights. Both have shown they can make that shot. But Portland could not get the ball inbounds. We were watching, yelling "Get it inbounds!"

And they did. To Travis Outlaw.


Not our first choice. Or second choice. Or, for that matter, third or fourth choice. He was probably the fifth choice of the guys we had on the floor. And he dribbled for an interminably long time. I thought the shot clock had to have run out. He elevated, he shot from a bad angle off right...and made the shot.

They reviewed it about 100 times the rest of the night because it was that close to being too late. In the end the bucket stood and Portland had a win.

I thought for Portland to win they had to have production from their stars and 2 or three role players step up. Well, Aldridge went for 23, Roy had his best game in a while with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists, and Outlaw was probably the star of the game with 21 points and 7 boards. He was studly when Portland needed him most. James Jones also was key as he shot the lights out, 6 of 7...including 4-4 from downtown. His 16 points were a huge boost to the Blazers.

They never really slowed Gay or Miller, each of whom dropped 30 on them, and Gausol was hardly held in check as his 15 boards attest. But they got stops when they had to, made key shots, and came away with a badly needed victory. It will be interesting to see if this once more turns their season around. They still have time to return to the promise once shown if they can develop some consistency. Jones will help a lot if he can keep providing that sort of spark to the team. He is an exciting player. And Outlaw has really come on in the last few games. He has shown flashes before, it will be interesting to see if it lasts this time.


5-12 Portland at 6-10 Memphis

Portland is coming off a 21 point loss. Memphis is coming off a 29 point win. Portland is 0-11 on the road, riding a 4 game losing streak (and 9 of their last 10) while Memphis is up 3 of their last 4. Everything is in place for a Memphis blow-out win.

They have players who give Portland fits...Rudy Gay went off in the first meeting, Pau Gasol turned his season could be a long night.

Adding to Portland's misery is the way they cannot seem to have anyone other than Aldridge have back to back good games. If things go according to form, Outlaw and Webster will disappear, Aldridge will bounce back from a rare bad game, and Portland will lose handily.

However...Portland should come into this game angry. This is gut check time. Unlike Ring Night when Portland gave the Spurs a run for their money...and could have won...they were never in the game against San Antonio. The Blazers have had a long run of playing other teams when their best player is out (Agent Zero, Adam Morrison, etc.) or having a horrible game (Iverson, Nowitzki twice, etc.) and still pulled off a horrific defeat. Duncan was never a factor and Portland still got blown off the court.

Portland needs to come out angry, put the hammer down, and play their hearts out. They need to play tough, aggressive defense, get the ball inside to their scorers, and make the shots. If they get a lead, they need to show a killer instinct and expand the lead instead of allowing Memphis back into the game.

If the Blazers come out with fire in their bellies and get the Grizzlies to miss a few shots early, this will be the game where they get the road monkey off their back. If not, they will get blown out yet again.

This is a tricky game. Everything I think about basketball points to a Blazer win. I stubbornly hold out the argument they are a better team than Memphis despite a plummeting record. They were just embarrassed and should come out strong. Memphis should come in overconfident after a team record tying blow-out win. You would expect Portland to rise up and make a statement.

However, the one thing we know about losing streaks is they tend to become self-perpetuating. A team might even build a lead...but when the opponent makes the inevitable mini-run, then the team in a long-term struggle thinks, "Here we go again." That key confidence component disappears. They rush their shot or take a bad shot trying to turn things around. Then they make a turnover. A mini-run turns into a monster run. Now the confidence is destroyed. Good shots rim out. Bad shots whiff everything. Defense suffers.

And the only thing that stops it is someone stepping up, overcoming the pressure and having a positive game. This is a key stretch for the Portland franchise. They have a long home stand coming up. They need to rebuild their confidence and find a way to get a few wins. That includes breaking through on the road. We will see whether they can or not. More and more it looks like my pre-season prediction of playoffs was way off base and a better prediction would be "lots of ping-pong balls in the lottery". I hope I am wrong.

San Antonio 100, Portland 79

How would Portland respond to a game when not even once in 4 quarters could they eclipse the 25 point mark?

By throwing up the worst game of the season.

Roy scored 4. Aldridge doubled him up...but shot just 2 of 8. Blake added 1 point...and still outscored Przybilla. In fact, if not for Webster, no starter would have hit double digits. Martell was dialed in, shooting 7-11 and scoring 17, more than the other 4 starters combined.

Outlaw went for 17 points and 11 boards on 8-16, a very respectable game. In other words, the small forward combo had 30 points. But otherwise, it was an ugly, ugly performance. Przybilla tallied just 10 minutes for whatever presumes because Portland had so much trouble scoring. 79 points for the game with San Antonio's best player out? Inexcusable.

It was not as if San Antonio was lighting the world on fire. They lost All-World Tim "Whinemaster" Duncan in the second period...and still steamrolled the hapless Blazers. That happens when good teams shoot 48% and bad teams shoot 40%.

Portland needs to find an offense. The interminable pick and rolls only work when you get the ball to good shooters in good locations. When you don't, you end up with a stagnant offense that puts up 80 points a night and loses by large margins. And you spoil nice efforts by Webster and Outlaw.

If Portland can get these performances on a regular basis from Outlaw and Webster, all they would need to salvage a reasonable season would be Aldridge and Roy to have average nights regularly. I don't expect it to happen.

Dallas 91, Portland 80

Portland has actually been going to Aldridge early lately. And he has produced. He made Portland's first couple buckets, then disappeared for long stretches without even getting shots. Still, he finished 4 -5 in the quarter for 8 points.

Portland, as has become their way, struggled to score far more in the second quarter than the first. When you only score 19 in the first, that is a problem. And here is a bigger problem. On a night they are struggling to score at every position but one, the first shot their best scorer got came with 3:32 left in the quarter. And he made it. He would get but two more shots in the quarter, both inside the last 29 seconds (he made one). Portland scored but 17 points.

This is a running theme this year. Portland struggles to get enough shots for their best scorers/shooters. Aldridge is shooting .527% from the field...he should be getting 20 - 25 shots a night or more. High percentage, efficient scoring...they need more of that. Portland should look to Aldridge for maybe 25 points a night on this particular version of the team. Frankly, nobody else...including, surprisingly, Brandon capable of consistent, efficient scoring on this team.

Oh, sure, there are guys capable of the occasional explosive night...Outlaw had 26 one night, I would be surprised if at some point in the season Webster did not eclipse the 25 point mark, Roy is a better player than he has shown so far, Jack has bettered the 20 point mark a few times...but at this point, nobody is playing very consistently. In a quarter where you score 17 points...and a half where you score 36...there is no excuse for getting Aldridge just 8 shots. He scored a third of their points in the first half...they need to ride that horse. They were fortunate to only be down 8.

On the bright side, Portland identified this...and got Aldridge TWO official shots in the third period. He did get to the line twice..and turned the ball four shots for the period. Not enough. On the bright side, Portland "exploded" for a 23 point quarter. Not as many as the 32 Dallas put up...but certainly better than 19 or 17. Too bad the defense disappeared...

So once more Portland holds Nowitzki to 11 points...and once more it does not matter as they lose by a comfortable margin. They struggle to score, putting up just 80 points, and lose yet again on the road. This season started off so promisingly and is sinking pretty quick. It will get worse before it gets better.


5-10 Portland at 10-5 Dallas

Dallas is better at shooting, rebounding, and defending than Portland. Portland is winless on the road. Dallas has only lost once at home. Portland started the season strong and is fading. Dallas started strong, had a tough middle stretch, and now seems to be getting its groove back. There is no reason to think Dallas won't blow Portland out.

When they met in Portland Roy had a career high 32 and Nowitzki scored just 11. It is too much to ask for a repeat of that. Portland's confidence is low. Only Aldridge and Outlaw are playing well offensively right now. To beat Dallas, 4 or 5 guys have to step up.

Not much to say about this one, I just don't have much hope that Portland will suddenly rise up and beat one of the better teams in their building. I actually kind of see a beat-down coming our way, I would not be shocked at all to see a 15 - 20 point or more blow-out.

For Portland to win I think 2 or three of the following have to have monster games and the other 2 have to have at least close to average games: Roy, Aldridge, Webster, Outlaw, Jack. If Webster goes for 20, Aldridge drops in 30 and the rest have at least decent days, Portland could pull the upset. But I would not count on it.

Indiana 95, Portland 89

Portland, as they often do, started off well. Aldridge took 4 of the first 6 shots and Portland had a 6-2 lead. That was at the 8:39 mark. He only got 2 more shots in the quarter, 1 a dunk and the other he was fouled and made both free throws. Roy had a good first quarter, also scoring 8, and Portland had a 22-17 lead. They were struggling a bit to score but playing good defense and things were looking up. The second quarter found Outlaw and Aldridge leading the way. Portland stepped up their scoring a bit, tallying 24, but their defense faded a bit, giving up 25. Still, a 46-42 lead at the half was promising. Aldridge, Roy and Outlaw were scoring, Webster had a few points...the night had promise.

Then the third quarter hit. All season the third has been a bugaboo for the Blazers. Leads evaporate, promising nights turn ugly. Webster hit a trey a couple minutes in...and then Portland elected not to score for the next 4 minutes. 7 minutes into the quarter they had nothing but the Webster 3 and an Aldridge dunk. After Aldridge scored they had turned a 4 point lead into an 8 point deficit. What happened?

Try 5 missed 3s and a couple turnovers. Portland got pushed to the perimeter, Roy and Aldridge each missed a couple shots, and Webster missed a couple lay-ups. Suddenly you are in a funk and shots you normally make are rimming out. Aldridge tallied 6 points in the quarter, Outlaw had 4 points late, and the Webster three represented the only other scoring done by any Blazer. A 13 point quarter at home is not going to get the job done. Portland was down 8, 67-59, going into the 4th quarter. Ugly.

But they did not lay down. A 13 - 2 run gave them a 3 point lead with a shade over 8 minutes left. Portland was competing, a very positive sign. Then they ran out of offense. They struggled to score until the game was over.

Early in the season Portland was one of the best shooting teams in the league. Then Roy started struggling. Those struggles continue (4-14 shooting, 4 turnovers...though he also had 10 boards and 8 assists) from the field. Webster also has been struggling since the first few games (4-12). Suddenly 40% nights are nothing shocking or surprising. But that poor shooting seems to mostly stem from the third quarter. They consistently are in the game, often even leading, until the third. Then they dig such a deep hole that even when, as they did against Indiana, they find a way to retake the lead, their energy level is not what it should be.

It is too bad, too, because they squandered a magnificent effort by Outlaw who checked in with 26 points and 7 boards. Portland has the talent to win on any given night, but they do not have the consistency.

A couple of questions arise.

1) Why is Roy struggling so much with his shot?
Remember those heel issues that held him out of pre-season? Is it bothering him? He is missing shots he normally makes, and in huge numbers. Is he just on a cold streak, have other teams figured him out...or is he hurting? If he is hurting then Portland needs to take a very real look at their long-term goals. I appreciate that Roy is a team guy and wants to play. But maybe they would be better off insisting he get the surgery, get right, and come back healthy. If he is risking long-term damage in order to is totally not worth it. Portland needs Roy for a decade and change, not this season.

2) Is it coaching?
Portland will find something that works...Aldridge had another 22 point, 9 rebound game...but not ride that horse when it matters. They consistently come out flat in the third quarter. I like the job McMillan does overall. But there are times it seems like he loses focus. They struggle to score and either he does not identify their best option or the point guards do not listen. There are things they can do.
Aldridge has proven very effective playing off pick and rolls. Webster can get open when he is not stuck in the corner and told not to move from there. Jack has penetrate-and-kick skills. Yet Portland consistently struggles to score for long stretches of the game. Finding a way to avoid this should be a priority for Coach McMillan.

It is still early and no reason to panic, but there are issues creeping up that must be identified and corrected. Saying "We will have Oden next year" is not the answer. Developing the players we already have is.

Portland heads to Dallas for a game that, frankly, at this point in the season is pretty much unwinnable. The team psyche is on the verge of being crushed. Let's hope someone steps up on a consistent basis to help Aldridge because if not, this team might disintegrate.


7-8 Indiana at 5-9 Portland

Portland once more manages to get a game with a team missing their best player. This time it is former Trailblazer Jermaine O Neal who will be out. The departure of Jermaine is a microcosm of everything the Blazers were doing when they were a franchise in decline. They drafted him out of high school, sat him on the bench, watched him develop into a budding superstar, then let him go. What were they thinking? He had shown flashes of his huge potential and was about to spring into the outstanding player he has become. Now he is with a franchise that seemed to be in decline or at least in a state of flux.

Yet it is a talented team even with Jermaine out of action. They are coming off a road win in Denver. They have, not including Jermaine, 5 people averaging double figures and 2 more averaging over 9 points a game. They score over a hundred a game even with 2 major contributors (Jermaine and Ike Diogu) out with injury.

Even though Portland is catching Indiana at a good time...on a lengthy road trip, without their star and a talented role player...this will be a tough game for Portland. Dunleavy is on a role and the Pacers are turning their season around. Meanwhile, after a strong start the Blazers are fading.

They are confused about where to get consistent offense. They typically do not identify their best scoring option and take advantage of it. Their leader is reeling from a series of bad games.

Portland is a strange team this year. They have the talent to compete with any team in the league. The question seems to be do they have the basketball intelligence and/or the heart to compete?

That is a strange question to ask of a team with two players (Przybilla and Blake) who took less money to play here, one player who took over leadership as a rookie (Roy), and who, as a whole, voluntarily got together before training camp to work out together and develop unity, cohesion and chemistry. But it is a valid question. Why is this team losing games it could and should win? Is it just youth and inexperience? Or does it go deeper than that?

The Pacers start Foster at center, Williams and Granger at the forward spots, and Dunleavey and Tinsley at guard. Foster drags 9 boards a game while Dunleavy and Granger each snag about 6. This could be troublesome for a Portland team whose second leading rebounder, Przybilla, is a sub and their third leading board man, Webster, only snares 5. In short, Portland will struggle all night on the boards.

If they continue their tough defense, there will be a lot of balls coming back from the rim. Unless Webster and Outlaw in particular step up to help on the boards, that alone might be the difference in the game. If both teams shoot roughly the same percentage, Portland continues to stink up the joint from the foul line, and they get crushed on the boards it will be a long night.

For Portland to win they need to identify AND USE their scorers. If whoever has the hot hand is ignored for 8 - 15 minute stretches Portland will lose and lose big. Conversely, if Aldridge and Roy have average games, Webster has a good night and they get some extra offense from one or two of their third line scorers then Portland will win. They could also win on a big night from just Aldridge, just Roy, or just Webster. There is a pretty good chance this will also be a Chalupa night. Overall, though, I think negativity is seeping into my mind because I just can't see my way clear to predict anything other than another Portland loss by 10+ points.


Orlando 85, Portland 74

It took Portland 4 minutes to get LaMarcus Aldridge a shot. He made it. He took 4 shots in the first period. Travis Outlaw was out of his mind, scoring 8. Portland scored 27. They had a ten point lead. They were scoring, defending, rebounding...they looked good.

Then they fell apart. After a 27 point quarter, they only totaled 47 points in the next 3 quarters. How did that happen? Well, for one thing, Roy is still struggling with his shot. He missed from everywhere...3s, drives, mid-range jumpers. Also, Portland forgot about this one guy they have...LaMarcus something or other. Case in point.

Third period:
First possession: Aldridge turn around jump shot. Made.
Second possession: Aldridge turn around fade way: Made.
Third Possession: Aldridge 3 second violation.
Fourth Possession: Aldridge dunk. Time: 10:30.

Next Aldridge shot: the 3:16 mark (he made it). He took and made 4 shots in the quarter. When you score but 16 points in the quarter, how does someone who is 4 for 4 in the quarter and 6 for 8 on the night just 4 shots in the quarter? Webster scored 6, Outlaw 2. It was an ugly quarter. Get Aldridge more shots!

Is it a shock Portland, without Aldridge or Webster in the game for much of the quarter, struggled to score in the 4th?

Defensively, Portland did a great job. Howard struggled all night. The Magic shot just 41% for the game. Offensively, they made a huge error. I am a huge Roy fan, but this was not a strong night for him. On a night when Aldridge shot 8-15, Webster 6-12 and Outlaw 5-13, Roy's 4 -18 is a bad sign. The guy having the worst shooting night should not be taking the most shots. Portland needs to identify their hot shooters and get them the ball more often.

They also need to improve on their abominable free throw shooting. How on earth does an NBA team shoot worse than 54% from the line?

When the season started I had high hopes for this team. They were letting Aldridge get enough touches, Roy was penetrating and finding the open man, Webster was hitting shots, Przybilla was playing defense and rebounding. I genuinely believed they were playoff bound. They should win 42 - 45 games, which I know seems like a lot...but I believe they are that talented. Aldridge could easily be a 24 - 25 point a night guy, Webster 15 - 18 if used better (i.e., don't hide him motionless in the corner and run the play on the far side of the court. Let him drive a bit, get some mid-range jumpers, etc.), and Roy better than 20 a game. There is enough fill in talent with Outlaw, Jack, Blake, and Frye to give them a potent offense.

Defensively they have great potential in Przybilla, Aldridge, Webster and Outlaw. Outlaw in particular can be an All-NBA defender. His length, energy and intensity cause major problems for his opponent. And Portland is holding their opponents to low shooting percentages. But then they give it back on the boards.

They are close to being a very, very good team. If Oden is as advertised then next year might be the Cinderella year. But this year, ever since the Philadelphia game, is looking long.

In that game Portland had a 24 point road lead. They were on the verge of sweeping their road trip. Everything was in place. They were destroying a bad Philadelphia team. They had Washington without Agent Zero and the Bobcats without Morrison in front of them. They would come home riding a 4 game road win streak (what road monkey?) and, their confidence high, beat the injured, tired Nets. They blew that lead, gave up against Washington, and lost a winnable game to make that road monkey into a monster. Suddenly the home court is not as kind. They lost to a New Jersey team they should have beat in a game they had won. They can't score against Orlando. The season is heading for the lottery...but it didn't have to. It was on the edge of surprising goodness.

I still like to watch them. I still like the make-up of the team. They just need to find that missing, undefinable "something" and get themselves righted. Hopefully it happens soon.


Preview: Orlando at Portland

Orlando's star is Dwight Howard, a center who scores frequently and rebounds like mad. Supporting him on the boards are Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkglu, giving the Magic a monstrous front line (Lewis and Turkoglu are both 6'10"). Portland will be giving up size up front and facing a team that is better at scoring and rebounding across the board.

Only Roy stacks up to have any appreciable advantage over his opposite number as Keith Bogans is the weak link in the Orlando starting line-up.

Meanwhile, Orlando has been tearing it up on the road, coming in with a 6-1 road record. Portland, meanwhile, lost their first home game to a bad New Jersey team with an injured but playing Vince Carter and then struggled mightily against a bad Sacramento team that was fighting internally. There is not a lot of reason to believe these trends will change.

Orlando is a much better team. Portland can win if they develop some offense that takes advantage of their strengths and keeps going to people who are scoring instead of continuing to use them.

They also need better shooting from Webster. He has been struggling for a while lately. This is largely because Portland tends to hide him in the corner, then go to the other side of the court to run their offense. They need to get him more involved and doing more than hanging out in the corner shooting 3s or being given the ball with the clock winding down to force up awkward, off-balance shots with little chance of going in. Try running him off some screens, get him some mid-range jumpers, and get him to drive a bit more.

Let Aldridge go to work down low. Artest, Duncan, and others have failed to slow him down. The best defense anyone has offered for Aldridge is for Portland to keep the ball away from him and that has worked well.

Roy also looks like he is hurting. It will be deadly for Portland's season if he goes down.

Last but not least...enough of the zone already. Portland is struggling to rebound and gives up way too much penetration. They have capable defenders. Outlaw, when he is on the ball, is an irritating defender who causes problems with his energy, intensity, and length. Aldridge is also developing nicely. Against the Kings he often defended smaller, quicker players and blocked or altered their shots. He has issues against stronger, bigger players, but that is where Przybilla is supremely useful. Webster also has shown excellent flashes, using his quickness and tenacity to cause problems for his opponents. He did a very nice job on Martin when they were matched up.

The zone is useful and effective in segments but when they run it exclusively, Portland tends to get lost. Outlaw and Aldridge in particular lose their man or zone far too often and they leave their side of the floor open for quick rotations and wide open shots. Also, the zone is easily penetrated for lay-ups or kick-outs to wide-open shooters. Portland is young and learning...we will see how it works out.

Overall, barring a stat-packing explosion from an unexpected source or two, Portland should lose, probably by double digits. If they get that stand-out performance from any 2 or 3 of the Roy/Jack/Aldridge/Webster group, they should win.

Portland 87, Sacramento 84

LaMarcus Aldridge cored the first 7 Portland points and 9 of their first 11. He had 13 first quarter points (the Blazers scored but 22). He was working it hard. They found something using Roy and Aldridge early that Jack later exploited for his own assist.

And they stopped going to it.

He had 2 shots in the second quarter. This would be fine if they found something else that was working for them. Maybe Webster coming off screens, Roy driving and kicking, or Frye having another offensive explosion. They didn't. They scored all of 18 points in the second quarter. And it was not great Sacramento defense.

Roy had open shots. Webster had open shots. Jack had open shots. Rodriguez, Blake, shots were easy to come by. Made shots were rare. Fortunately, only Garcia was scoring for Sacramento. Even more importantly, inside the last minute in an 8 second span Outlaw blocked 2 lay-up attempts in spectacular fashion. The Rose Garden was rocking after that and it was just a 1 point deficit, 43-42 at the break.

Aldridge added 8 points in the third including a crowd-pleasing, roof-raising 1 hander where Roy drove and he followed from a bizarre angle with a one-handed follow dunk. It was spectacular. Almost as spectacular was Przybilla turning back a dunk attempt. The third quarter was back and forth as Artest carried the Kings with his 9 points to one-up Aldridge and Sacramento closed the quarter with a 65-62 lead.

The first part of the quarter was about even until Sacramento built a 74-70 lead. Portland scored only 1 point over the next three minutes...but Sacramento scored even fewer. Blake hit back to back threes, Roy scored on a lay-up, Jack added a pair of free throws and suddenly, with 3:41 left Portland had exploded to a 7 point lead, 81-74 with an 11-0 run. Sacramento looked like a team in disarray as Udrih was yelling at players he thought were going the wrong way, Miller and Moore were whining and there was no cohesion. Portland was on the verge of blowing them out.

Somehow, Sacramento clawed their way to an 10-2 run right after that to retake the lead by 1. This is where Portland's youth would battle with the leadership that Roy and Aldridge are reputedly showing. On the road Portland would melt down and give away a game they should have won.

Roy responded with a drive to give Portland the lead. Then he drew the offensive foul on Garcia. With 6 seconds left Portland had the ball and the lead. They inbounded to Jack. Miller hammered him, Artest came over the back, and three Kings were all over him. Astoundingly, the officials called a jump ball!

The Garden was aghast. Boos rained from the rafters. Instead of their best free throw shooter at the line, Jack, with a chance to ice the game, the monstrous Brad Miller would be jumping against the minuscule Jack for possession of the ball for the last shot.

And somehow, some way, Jack won the tip. Outlaw stepped to the line with 4-tenths of a second left. Portland was abysmal at the line for the night, 14-25 at this point. Outlaw is not the man you want at the line in this situation...or is he? He came through, draining them both, and the desperation near half court heave by Artest at the buzzer did not go in. Portland escaped with a 3 point win on a night they should have won by double digits.

Aldridge had a HUGE night with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He shot an unbelievable 12-15 from the field...and 4-8 from the line. Roy also took 15 shots, many of them open, and made but 6. But he added 8 assists and 3 steals. Webster had a rough night from the field but was awesome on the boards, tallying 9, and Outlaw and Przybilla showed their defensive prowess with 3 and 2 blocks respectively.

Across the way, the Kings only mustered 14 shots for their scoring machine Martin who finished with just 21, 6 below his season average. Artest played well with 17 points, 11 boards and 5 assists, and Francisco Garcia showed his talent with another 17 points on 6-11 shooting.

It was not a particularly entertaining game for the most part. It was a low-scoring affair that threatened to turn ugly. Miller dished out 2 elbow to the head and got 2 back, 1 from Aldridge and 1 from Przybilla. There was a lot of chirping going on, most of it the Kings internally. Moore, Udrih and Miller all spent more time yelling at each other than playing the game. I bet the brothers Maloof are glad they unloaded Adelman, the coach who maximized the talent, created a cohesive, unified team that won games it should and some it shouldn't. The Kings are in need of a lot of help. Getting back a healthy Bibby would help as he, Artest, Garcia and Martin can score some points, but until this team gets on the same page, it is going to be a long season in Sacramento.


Nets 106, Blazers 101

I mentioned in my preview the Blazers have problems with penetrating guards. Truer words have seldom been spoken. All night Kidd created offense for the Nets with drives and kicks, Jefferson and Wright got into the lane seemingly at will, and even when the initial shot was missed the Nets got tip-ins or offensive rebounds for extra possessions.

Meanwhile, Aldridge was having a rough night and the Blazers were struggling to create offense. When Frye scored at the 5:18 mark of the quarter Portland trailed 13-8. That is how hard it was for Portland to score early on. After 8 minutes they were scoring just 1 point per minute (their next score was at the 4:41 mark)

Fortunately, Roy came to the rescue and dropped in 13 points over the course of that 4:41 and finished the quarter with 15 . Impossibly, after scoring 8 points in almost 8 minutes, Portland tallied a whopping 18 in the next 4. Portland led after 1 quarter 26-19 and the Rose Garden was rocking.

The second quarter was more of a struggle. When Roy went to the bench the Blazers struggled to score. They got a few points from Jack, Przybilla, and Aldridge finally broke through to score his first points of the game at the 3:14 mark. Meanwhile, New Jersey was getting balanced contributions from their entire line-up. Wright, Jefferson, Boone, Nachbar, Kidd, Williams and Collins all scored at least 2 points as Kidd continued to cause problems with his penetration. By the half it was only 48-45.

Portland got a huge quarter from Frye as he tallied 8, Webster added 7, and Aldridge shook off his 4 point first half to add 6 more. Portland took it to New Jersey early, building an 11 point lead at 73-62 before letting New Jersey go on a bit of a run to close within 5 as Nachbar tallied his 10th point with a dunk at the tail end of the third.

And in the 4th Nachbar ran wild, looking unstoppable as he scored another 13. Jefferson did not stop scoring all night and New jersey put together a 31 point quarter. 8 of those came after an Aldridge dunk at 2:04 gave Portland a 101-98 lead. Then Portland played prevent offense. They started running down the clock. This led to rushed, bad shots, offensive fouls, and no points in the last 2 minutes. Meanwhile, Nachbar drained a 3, Kidd was fouled on a fastbreak, made the bucket and 2 free throws, then in crunch time the Blazers elected to play defense instead of foul. With 9 seconds left Nachbar shot a corner three and missed.

And Kidd grabbed the offensive board, essentially sealing the game. He made both free throws and New Jersey had scored the final 8 points to steal a 104-101 win.

It sounds odd in a game where Portland scored 101 points and shot 54% to say they struggled on offense, but that is exactly what happened. When they found something they did not work they did not stay with it. Aldridge was content to get pushed beyond his comfort zone with his back to the basket and not once in the first half did Portland get him his beloved top of the key elbow jumper. Roy had 21 first half points and ended with 25. Webster was "on" all night and got no shots for long stretches.

It was a game Portland should have won and didn't. They are a young team and it has shown ever since the Denver game. Hopefully they are able to turn it around soon. Meanwhile, it was an entertaining game and showed the potential Portland has.