Preview: Portland Trailblazers Vs. New Orleans Hornets

This will be the second game of a season opening three game road trip. In the first game Portland played well but too many defensive lapses led to a loss in San Antonio. Well, that and frankly being the second best team on the floor that night...

New Orleans is full of hope. Last season despite injuries, a changing roster, and moving home games, they finished 39-43. This year with a settled home situation, a settled roster, and better health their more optimistic fans are talking of not just a playoff berth but as high as the 5th seed. While from the outside this appears a bit optimistic, stranger things have happened. I think the 41-41 projection more realistic evaluations have pegged them at even looks a bit iffy but it could happen with the continued development of their young players.

They do have reason for optimism. In Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler they have promising young stars to build on and there are some crafty, talented veterans mixed in. With the right breaks, they could see a nice improvement from last year.

The Starters

Portland matches up well. The projected line-ups look like this:


Portland, Joel Pryzbilla, New Orleans, Tyson Chandler

Chandler only had 13 games with the Hornets last year and was overshadowed in Chicago. He has never averaged double digits in 6 years. Pryzbilla is a better defender and with Chandler's limited production, Joel will be free to roam a bit and help out. However, Chandler is a beast on the boards. Since Portland is already struggling there, this could be a problem. Statistically, this match-up will favor Chandler as he can be expected to ring up 15 - 18 points a night this year and is a better rebounder than Pryzbilla. However, any points the Blazers get from Pryzbilla are pure bonus. He is there to rebound and defend and some of the effect his defense has is not quantifiable by statistics.

Edge: New Orleans

Power Forward

This will be the marquee match-up of the game. For Portland we have the explosive Aldridge, capable of going for 30 and 12, more likely somewhere in the 20 - 25 point range. New Orleans counters with little known David West. He should be better known. Last year, despite injuries, he checked in at a shade over 18 points and 7 boards. Of the two, he is the more established but Aldridge is the more talented. This should be a good battle. This is Aldridge's break-out year and it is expected to be West's as well. This match-up could go either way.

Edge: Portland

Small Forward

Peja Stojakovich would be the man back when he was with that great-passing Sacramento team. He is still a talented shooter capable of going off on any given night, but night in and night out he is not the go-to guy anymore. He will be the third scorer for the Hornets, much like Webster will for the Blazers. Starting in pre-season, Webster has looked like a different player. He has a nice stroke going, he is more aggressive at taking his shot and making his own. Peja could provide some match-up problems as he is still a dangerous offensive player...but Webster looks lights out so far.

Edge: Draw

Shooting Guard

Morris Peterson

Brandon Roy is still troubled by his heel. He will still crush Peterson. The Hornets have big hopes and plans for Peterson. He simply is outclassed by the reigning Rookie of the Year. Roy is better offensively, defensively, passing, and rebounding.

Edge: Portland

Point Guard

Jarrett Jack is a fine point guard with a bright future. He will probably never be an all-star...but he will be a solid guy who runs the game, plays defense, and hits the open shot. But he will never be Chris Paul. Paul is a better scorer and passer. He could be an All-Star this year and some people think he will climb into the elite conversation with guys like Nash and Kidd. Perhaps, perhaps not. But he is still better than Jack.

Edge: Hornets


Portland has starter-quality back-ups in Blake and Outlaw. Some people think Frye is in there, I have not seen that yet. The Hornets counter with rookie Julian Wright and a cast of journeyman. If Blake falters the Blazers can bring in Sergio Rodriguez. Expect the second unit to make up ground.
Edge: Portland


Both Byron Scott and Nate McMillan had lengthy careers as talented role players, with Scott the better scorer by far and McMillan better at everything else. They know the value of specialists and role players and both seem to be doing good jobs of guiding young nucleus's. Is it proximity and homer-ism that make me prefer McMillan?

Prediction: The Hornets are coming off a blow-out win over the woeful Kings while Portland had a good effort but lost in San Antonio. Post-game comments from Roy, Aldridge, and McMillan let us know the Blazers are not thinking they got a moral victory, they are disappointed they lost and think they could have won. I love that. They are not giving anything to anybody, they are out to win every game they can and believe they have a chance any game, anywhere, all season. Portland is too talented, too full of an eagerness to play and has too good of leadership in Roy and Aldridge to take the Hornets lightly. The Hornets may have a very good season but this game goes to Portland. Look for Portland to break the 100 point barrier and get their first road win of the season.

Game 1, Portland Versus San Antonio

McMillan elected to take the players back to the dressing room. I was driving home listening to the pre-game and in retrospect...good decision. The interminably long, boring ceremony made watching cars fly by at 3 m.p.h. seem exciting by comparison. On the bright side, it gave me time to get home in time to watch the start of the game.

Once the game started my excitement level changed. LaMarcus Aldridge showed some things. He came out aggressive, high energy, and showed he will take over games...if the Blazers let him. He scored early and often. And it was not give-me buckets, either. He went down on the blocks, showed patience in allowing the help defenders to be cleared out by Webster flashing to the open spot, made nice, controlled moves and finished.

Webster also showed something. He missed his first 2 shots. Last year, he would be done for the night. This year he wants to play. His third time with the ball he was on the foul line extended left above the three point line. He made a nice subtle fake to shake one defender, moved around a second and popped the baseline jumper for a deuce. Just seeing his aggression after a couple of misses was a huge positive.

Roy was not looking for his shot early but he did not need to. His dribble penetration was getting easy looks for Aldridge, Webster and...Pryzbilla? Joel came out scoring.

And the Blazers were playing right with San Antonio for about 8 minutes. Then the substitutions started. You could tell when Steve Blake came in. It was easy...just look for Parker laying it up uncontested at the other end.

Actually, that is not quite of his three fast breaks there were 4 Blazers back. He still laid it in and only a late block attempt by Pryzbilla even looked like they thought they should defend him, so I guess it was contested...

But that shift in the momentum of the game I do lay at the feet of Blake. He got his pocket picked, then through a terrible pass, then got himself trapped and made another horrible decision. It was a flurry from which the Blazers would never recover.

They briefly made a run when Sergio Rodriguez came into the game. He completely changed the feel of the game again, getting the Blazers into a faster offense that caused the Spurs some problems.

It was helped by Outlaw. He was doing a nice job of shaking defenders for that hanging jump shot he is developing.

By the end of the first quarter it was 29-26. Though they gave up 29 points, the Blazers defense was pretty good for the most part. A few lapses had led to the flurry of fast-break points that were the difference. Offensively, Aldridge and Pryzbilla carried them.

Early in the second period TNT did a piece on the draft and as they were talking about Roy and how emotionless he was, then they cut to him on the bench and started riffing on how he "still had no emotion". Maybe they think he is Tom Landry? Maybe that is how he can be introduced at games..."Brandon Landry Roy".

Meanwhile, the Spurs were riding their offensive star, Francisco Elson. It seemed like he was throwing down ferocious uncontested dunks whenever he felt like it. When it wasn't Elson dunking it was Brent Barry using his tremendous speed to get free for wide open threes. For those who may be unaware of Barry's speed, he has been known to outrun molasses in January...on a good day. It was unfortunate, because when the Blazers did play defense Elson was shooting far too much from far too close to the 3 point line and the results were good for Portland, not so much for San Antonio.

This quarter really showed how much better the Spurs second team is than Portland's. Channing Frye seemed lost on the court, getting beat on defense and showing nothing on offense. Jones was a non-factor...if not for Webster, the Blazers might have been blown away before Aldridge returned to the game.

When he did return, he showed he is a difference maker. San Antonio tried a variety of defenders on Aldridge and he scored on all of them, including Duncan. He also got caught defending Ginobli on a switch. Ginobli made a move across the lane for his little left hand runner and Aldridge stamped it return to sender. It was great defense by Aldridge on a faster player.

The half-time deficit was 59-49. The second quarter was not kind to the Blazers as they gave up more points (30 as opposed to 29) and scored fewer, just a 23 point quarter.

The third period was a good one for Portland. Their big three scorers...Aldridge, Webster and...Pryzbilla? all worked it, their defense stepped up to the plate, and they closed to withing 81-77. The 28 points were their best output so far on offense and the clamp-down to 22 points defensively, primarily against the Spurs starters, was encouraging. Webster was really stepping up to the plate. If he can continue to play with this confidence, taking the open shot, creating his own shot when needed, the Blazers are going to not just make the playoffs, they are going to make some noise when they get there.

The 4th quarter they struggled. When the ball went to Webster or Aldridge the Blazers scored or got good looks. Roy was not hitting his shots, though he still got into the lane virtually at will. Blake hit a couple shots, but defensively he was a liability. And Barry kept getting open for good looks, including a break-away lay-up.

How on earth does the slowest guy in NBA history get a break-away? I am still stunned by that one. No way did I see that.

After a very positive third quarter, they struggled in the middle part of the 4th. They kept making runs but whenever they would close within 3 or 4 points the Spurs would remind them who the World Champs were and bump it back to double digits or pretty close to it. For the 3rd time in 4 quarters they were outscored. But inside the last minute they were within 4. Despite having a rough game from the field, Roy was still contributing, breaking down the defense to give Aldridge an easy 8 footer inside the last minute which he made.

In the end, the Spurs at home on Ring Night were just too good for the Blazers and won 106-97. But there were a lot of positives.

When they fell behind by 16 to the World Champs on Ring Night in their house, the Blazers could have rolled over and quit. They could have let it become a 20 or 30 point blow-out. Instead, they fought their way back and made it a game. The Spurs may never have felt like they were in danger of losing...I do not think they led by less than 4 after the first period...but they never could let their guard down, either. They knew they were in a game.

Aldridge can score on anybody and will play a little defense. Pryzbilla had a surprisingly good offensive game, dropping in 13 points, mostly on dunks and free throws. But his real strength was rebounding and defense.He pulled down a quarter of the Blazers rebounds by himself, yanking in 10. And Webster will be a really good 2nd or third option.

Roy and Blake had rough games, but each showed flashes for long-term optimism. The other big problem Portland had was in-bounding. When pressure was applied, particularly when Blake was in the game, they struggled to get the ball inbounds. Also, on defense, they often lost their man and gave up too many easy lay-ups. But those things can be worked on and improved as they get used to playing with each other.

I was a little disappointed that with Blake playing poorly and Rodriguez providing the spark that we saw little Rodriguez and much Blake in the second half, though this may be because Blake was having a good game scoring wise. I think McMillan is an outstanding coach and have no doubt he has pretty solid reasons for that choice, so I will wait and see how this develops over the course of the season.

All in all, it was an entertaining game that shows a lot of promise for the season. The Blazers might be 0 and 1 but it won't take long to break into the win column. I would say until about game 2....

The game, rightfully, goes in the loss column.

On a sad note, former Blazer Ime Udoka was suited up and healthy but did not play, coaches decision. This is particularly disheartening since he was primarily a defensive specialist at small forward. As a fan of his both while a Blazer and when he was at my Alma Mater, Portland State, I want him to do well. If they are not going to bring him in to work against hot shooting Martell Webster (9-15, 21 points)...when will Ime play?


Pre-view: Portland v. San Antonio, 11/30

Opening night of the new campaign and the Blazers are on national tv. This is pretty exciting. Last year nobody really wanted to see them. Actually, if the powers that be at TNT had a do-over, once Oden went Dance-Dance Revolution on his knee, they probably still don't want the Blazers on their opening night telecast. The Blazers are a team without 2 of their 3 Oden, Randolph is black-holing the offense in New York...and mark my words, he will score a lot of garbage points there, he is very good at that...

But a line-up headlined by Brandon Roy is not quite as marketable as a roster of "Once in a decade Rookie of the Year candidate Greg Oden and reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy lead the Blazers into San Antonio to do battle with the Spurs." For the network, the game has lost some of its luster.

But for Portland fans...not so much.

There was an interesting debate in some circles about how the Blazers should handle the pre-game festivities. Would the players be allowed to watch the distribution of the Championship rings?

The argument in favor runs something like, "They will be inspired by the possibilities of winning one."

The argument against went something along the lines of, "No, they will be intimidated."

Although there has been some significant roster turnover since last year, I am going to argue the argument against is a bit silly. Last year there was not much expected of the team. Aldridge and Pryzbilla were out with injury. I was fortunate enough to take my wife to her first ever NBA game against the Lakers. The Blazers, as was their habit early last year, fell behind by double digits, in the 14 - 16 point range. They were a young, depleted team facing a Bryant-led team that had a good-size lead on them.

And they came back. They fought and scratched and clawed their way back into the game. And they ended up winning it. Despite their youth and inexperience, they were not awed and competed against seemingly overwhelming odds.

Nor was it a one-shot deal. Several times they would fall behind early but claw back. They did not always fact, they probably did not even win half the time. But they always competed. They did not just quit, they did not get intimidated.

To be certain, some teams just plain out-talented the Blazers. The Suns, the Mavericks...they were just too good, too athletic. And the out manned Blazers struggled.

But they never quit or let themselves be intimidated.

So why would we think this year is any different? Blake and Pryzbilla took less money to play in Portland because of what they were seeing. Roy and Aldridge have a year's experience under their belts. Webster is playing better than he has in his first three seasons. Even without Randolph and Oden, the Blazers are a better team between the improved health of Pryzbilla and Aldridge, the improvement from Jack, Sergio, Roy and Aldridge, and the removal of the cancers from the team.

Does that mean I am predicting a victory in San Antonio? No, not really. Duncan is Duncan, Popovich is a great coach, their guards Parker and Ginobli are tough match-ups for the Blazers, and Bowen gives Roy fits. For the Blazers to win they need monster games from Aldridge and Webster offensively and Pryzbilla defensively. If he is able to come off his man to block a few of Ginobli's shots on those drives to the hoop it can create some transition opportunities for the Blazers, which they will need to score due to the always tough half-court defense of the Spurs. If he has a big game defensively, Roy is able to create, Webster knocks down his open shots to create some space for Aldridge to work, they could pull off the upset.

I think it is more likely the balanced, experienced, talented Spurs will get behind their horses, score a little bit, stop the Blazers a lot, and win by a comfortable margin, 8 - 10 points or more.

But the Blazers will lay a foundation. They will figure out they can compete with the big boys and it will lead to future improvements and successes. And if things break right...well, I would not be totally shocked to see them steal one.

And it will be entertaining.


Portland v. Seattle, pre-season

This should have been a marquee game. After the Blazers and Sonics got the first two draft picks, this game was heralded as the first match-up up franchise players Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. But after the misfortune suffered by Oden, it was just the first peek at Durant. But then he got injured and so much for the marquee rookie match-up.

I did not see the first quarter or the first part of the second quarter. When I did start watching Portland was up about 10. Slowly but surely, they gave it all back. It wasn't any one thing...they just started shooting poorly and their defense disappeared. By half-time they were down about 6, though they did have 52 points.

On offense they were settling too much for the outside jumper. That is okay if you have the right guys shooting...Martell Webster coming to mind. It is not so good if those guys are your Aldridges or Fryes.

On defense they could not seem to figure out what they were doing. They were losing guys in the zone, weren't boxing out, and just generally let Seattle dictate.

The third quarter was more of the same. Brandon Roy continued to struggle, missing shots he normally makes, making bad passes, getting out of position on defense. Blake and Jarrett were uninspiring, though Green had a couple nice plays. Outlaw had very mixed results with a couple nice blocks and rebounds and some nice offensive moves but his shot was not falling.

Fortunately, Webster and Aldridge were there to turn things around. Webster had a couple key shots and Aldridge was dominate, scoring and rebounding in measures large enough to keep the Blazers in contact, though they did trail by double digits.

Finally late in the quarter the Blazers hit a couple shots and had a couple stops to close within a more manageable 6 or 8 points.

In the 4th quarter Seattle just looked like the better team. It wasn't that the Blazers weren't trying...they just had the wrong people in the wrong places. Channing Frye was getting and taking open shots...but they were from the perimeter. Defensively, Aldridge kept getting stuck on the perimeter. It looked like a disappointing home loss to a weak Seattle team after they had been leading by as much as 13.

Worse, it was wasting a strong performance by Aldridge and some nice signs of life by Webster. If anything, it just went to show how important Roy is to this edition of the Blazers. He was still not up to game speed and it was showing.

Then, with about 6 minutes to go a switch flipped. Roy took over the point guard duties. He made a nice move, scored. The Blazers stopped the Sonics. Roy made a nice move, got fouled, hit the shots. The Sonics scored. Roy got inside and kicked it out to Webster who made a subtle move to move the defender and stroked the 3.

It was a great, great moment for Blazer fans. First, last year Webster would not have made that head fake, and second he would not have taken the shot. This year he smoothly, confidently took the shot and drilled it.

Roy just took over. He either scored or gave it to the open player for the score. Aldridge went over 30 points on a thunderous dunk off a nice dish from Roy when it looked like he had nowhere to go.

And all the sudden their defense stiffened, Sonics could not get a good shot off and the Blazers escaped with a win.

This was a great game for Blazer fans, even if it is "just" pre-season. They shook off a rugged middle part of the game, overcame a double digit deficit, found a way to keep contact even when their best player was struggling, and came back to win a close game against their biggest rival.

There were other positive signs. Webster has shown a HUGE improvement. He is playing with confidence, he is making smart plays, and he no longer has the confused, lost look he had last year. He looks like a talented veteran. He did not hesitate to shoot when open, he was willing to mix it up.

Aldridge showed his potential. Sure, games of better than 30 points and 10 rebounds are not going to be every night, but it will happen often enough to keep us happy. If the players keep feeding him the ball, 20 and 10 averages are more than attainable.

Travis Outlaw showed flashes as well. He is so athletic and energetic that he has the potential to make momentum changing plays at any moment. It could be a block from out of nowhere, a shake and bake move to launch that hanging jumper he is shooting so well, or a thunderous dunk from out of the rafters.

And best of all, the last 5 minutes or so were the old Roy magic. He went from another disappointing game to a 20 point game where every point mattered.

So we have a young team that loves to play, doesn't give up, and has great leadership in Roy and Aldridge, players not afraid to take the money shot in those two and Webster, and the potential to cause some defensive problems. All in all, pretty encouraging.

Meet John Townsend

Odds are you have never heard of John Townsend. In fact, it is possible you should not have. But he could very well have a major impact on how the Blazers season turns out this year.

He represents another step in the development of the NBA. It isn't that the NBA doesn't have enough my count, the Blazers have at least 6 already; Head Coach Nate McMillan, Lead Assistant Coach Dean Demopoulos, Assistant coaches Bill Bayno, Maurice Lucas, & Monty Williams, Strength and Conditioning Coach Bob Medina, and that does not even count the video coordinator(s), scouts, and so forth...or Special Assistant to Coach Bob other words, they already have more coaches than people they can play on the court at any given time. In fact, they could have an individual coach directing each player on the court and have one left over to yell at the refs or trip the opponents or something.

But the Blazers are now the 6th team to add a shooting coach and he comes in the person of "shooting guru" Townsend. This follows the lines of where you have the manager, the pitching coach, the bullpen coach, a hitting coach, a first base coach, a third base coach and who knows how many others. I have to admit I get confused as to why the pitching coach could not be the bullpen coach...what if they have different philosophies? And if they don't...isn't that duplication?

Or check out the NFL where you have the Head Coach, Offensive Coach, Quarterbacks Coach, line coach, receivers coach, running backs coach, special teams coach, defensive coach, defensive line coach, linebackers coach, defensive backfield coach, and who knows how many more...

In other words, these days you have a coach for EVERYTHING. It does make a certain amount of sense. After all, with the video technology available, a good hitting coach can turn a hitters career around, correct a pitcher's lost mechanics and extend his career, etc. Why would the same not be true for basketball?

So the Blazers went out, identified a need, and got their man.

Last year the Blazer field goal percentage was a shaky 45% , a number hardly likely to be improved with the loss of high percentage shooting Zach Randolph, who was third on the team at just .467%. The only players who shot better were Pryzbilla, Magloire, and Aldridge. On top of that, the Blazers are an extremely young team with most of their players under 25 and with less than 5 years of service. That is a recipe for a decline in shooting percentage.

In comes Townsend. It is yet to be seen if his work with the players will lead to improvement right away, but it is certainly a positive step. If he can add just a couple percentage points to the shooting percentage, the result may not be evident in any particular is hard to say something like, "Against Seattle Webster was 12 for 18, but without the coaching he would have only been 11 for 18"...the extra points and the benefits of those extra possessions will translate into a win here and there and will give the players increased confidence.

Of course, part of that may come from who is taking the shots. None of the three guys who had higher percentages than Randolph were taking a significant number of shots last year. Expect more of the same from Pryzbilla...his shots come mostly on offensive rebounds and broken plays where he shoots from close-in. He gets a high number of put backs and dunks which he will always shoot a high percentage on, but not have many shots. Magloire is in New Jersey. That leaves Aldridge who will be a focal point for the offense. If he continues to shoot better than 50% as he did last year but ups his attempts per game to 15 - 20 shots per game he will be a shoe-in for Most Improved Player...and the Blazers could surprise everyone with a huge jump in wins. Is this a long shot? Of course. But it is a possibility, too.

Just one more little thing to keep alert for as the season gets closer to opening and one more reason for optimism.


Preseason, 10/19/07 vs. the Sacramento Kings

This would be the first pre-season game that Brandon Roy would play in. I was pretty excited about that as I am a big Brandon Roy fan. In fact, as soon as we go to the game where his Bobble-head is being given away, that Bobble-head will become my new card protector for poker.

Anyway, we got there just in time for tip-off. The Rose Garden has gotten a great upgrade. The new score-board is a sight to behold. Whereas with the old one it was pretty grainy and not particularly pleasant to look at, the new score-board is GORGEOUS. The screen is high-def. It is smooth and clean, the colors are crisp, and the picture is out of this world. At times I caught myself watching it instead of the floor because it flat-out looked better. If I have a beef, it is with the scrolling ads located at the bottom rim. I know everything is marketing these days...but the neon flashing ads can be a bit distracting.

With that said, the seats are very cool. Section 311, Row L, seats 1 and 2...we are on the aisle, which makes me happy. It is an end court seat just slightly to the left of the backboard. It gives a great view of everything. Obviously the height means we are not real close to the basket, but for the second half we are at the Blazers offensive end, so in close games, that is where I want to be. For 6 bucks a pop, these are pretty spectacular seats I am thinking.

The game started fast. LaMarcus Aldridge was hot early, scoring the first 5 Blazer points. I really like the way his game is developing. He has a nice baseline move, is willing to set up a little further from the basket than you would maybe prefer, and use his quickness and agility to work back to his spot. Then he is lethal with some turn-arounds either direction and a rugged willingness to go get the tough boards. He shows the promise of being everything the Blazers thought he might be when they traded for him.

Martell Webster stepped up as well. He did a great job of floating to the open spot. More important, he was not tentative when he got the ball. Last year he would hesitate to shoot. This year if he had the ball and an open shot, the ball headed towards the basket. He had a nice rhythm going and also had a couple nice rebounds in that rugged area he really did not mess around in last year. It was great seeing him down under the boards when it was prudent. He is not strong enough to be down there against the animals, but he timed his forays into the paint well and snatched some key rebounds.

With his new confidence and willingness to actually play a bit instead of waiting for things to happen, his improvement will give the Blazers a lot of options they sorely lacked last year. I liked what Udoka did for the team but he was never really an offensive threat. Webster can be, though his defense is not as solid as Udokas.

Blake was okay at the point. He did not make a lot of things happen but he did all right defensively...and when your man is Mike Bibby, all right is sometimes pretty good. And he did not turn the ball over a lot. It was a workmanlike performance.

Pryzbilla did what he does...he altered some shots, grabbed some rebounds, set some screens, and generally did what the Blazers need him to do; be a tough, rugged presence on the inside and let their talented offensive players do the scoring.

I love Pryzbilla for this team. He does not demand the ball on offense, but can provide you a few points on rebounds and broken plays. He alters the game defensively with his ability to block or alter shots. Moreover, he is more than willing to be the defender and rebounder while Webster, Roy, and Aldridge take most of the shots. He is a good fit. He will probably never be an All-Star but he will contribute a lot to the TEAM and will never be a Me guy. Ironically, last year I thought he would not be as good a fit because the Blazers often lacked offense. They needed someone who could score and that will never be Pryzbilla.

Which brings us to the man who will make or break the Blazers season, Brandon Roy. I loved his game last year. He is a great floor leader. He can hit the medium range jumper and he is great at driving. This night, however, his timing was off. To be honest, Roy had an abysmal night. His jumper wasn't falling, his drives ended badly with missed, off-balance, frankly out of control shots or turnovers, he seldom found the open man off those drives, and he was a defensive liability. He clearly was not the same player we saw last year when he was the Rookie of the Year.

I think a lot of it has to do with getting game ready. While I love McMillan as a coach and agree with his philosophy that we would rather have Roy for the regular season than for a few meaningless pre-season games, I also love that Roy wants to play and agree with his assessment that he needs some game time to get ready for the season.

It did not look like his heel was affecting him which is a positive sign for all Blazer fans. I have seen enough of Roy to know this was an atypical game for him and I am willing to attribute it to the injury and lack of game action.

We also got a good look at Jarrett Jack, Channing Fry, and a few minutes from Taurean Green and Sergio.

I have never figured out why Portland fans don't love Jarrett Jack. He is not a flashy player, he will never be that guy who gives you 15 - 17 points a night and 8 or 9 assists. But he is a team guy. He does a good job of running the team, distributing the ball, playing some dogged defense, and making the shots he needs to take. On a team where Roy is going to (rightly) dominate the ball, he still gets 5 or 6 assists a night, does the grunt work of bringing the ball down the court allowing Roy to conserve his energy to initiate the attack, he makes sound decisions and is capable of knocking down the open mid-range jumpers. Again, he will probably never be an All-Star, but the Blazers don't NEED...or possibly have room All-Star there. The bulk of their points are going to come from Aldridge, Roy, and Webster. If Jack is trying to rack up 15 or 20 points a night there simply are not going to be enough shots to go around. He knows his role, he plays it, he works hard, does what is asked, he is coachable...what more can you ask for? I hope he is a Blazer for a long time to come because I think he fits the make-up of the team very well.

Of course, regardless of the starting five, you have to have depth. You can't run injury-prone Pryzbilla, Aldridge, and Roy 48 minutes a night, the improvement shown by Jack and Webster does not merit 48 the bench needs to show us something as well.

I think it starts with Travis Outlaw. He is a tremendous physical specimen. I have seen a couple games where he just exploded and dominated. He can do a variety of things. He has explosive leaping ability and tremendous timing, he is able to make those spectacular at the rim blocks such as Jerome Kersey used to occasionally break off, and at times he is a dominate rebounded. He also is developing a nice shot, both a mid-range jumper he can create for himself and even the occasional three point bomb from out top. He can score 12 - 15 points in a reserve role and play a variety of positions so he provides some nice flexibility. He is still inconsistent but will be a valuable back-up.

Channing Frye...well, it will be hard to say what we have here. He is more mobile and athletic than Magloire was last year but not as bulky. He will provide valuable front line minutes when Pryzbilla and/or Aldridge on on the bench for a rest or in what I suspect will be not infrequent foul trouble.

And point guard...what tremendous options! Neither Jack, Blake, Rodriguez or Taurean Green stands out as a top-tier NBA point guard but all have something to offer. Jack is the steady, disciplined floor leader, Blake is pretty interchangeable and you neither really gain nor lose much when either is on the floor.

Rodriguez has tremendous potential. He is lightning quick and can break down his defender with regularity. His drives into the lane are fun, exciting, and dangerous. Sometimes they lead to easy lay-ins or wide open shots, but other times they are complete train wrecks. He is fun to watch because he is unpredictable. He is not ready to run the team full time but in brief bursts of a few minutes here and there he can alter the flow and rhythm of a game on any given night.

Green was so good at Florida...but fell so far in the draft. It is hard to say what we have here. We will not see much of him behind the other three points, but McMillan is pretty excited about having him and we know he knows how to win.

It is an exciting roster and the game was entertaining, though it was pretty much a blow-out.

Read that last sentence again. Roy played terribly...and they blew out the Kings. Yes, it is just pre-season. Sure, the Kings are not the team that was contending for the title for a few years there. But they still have Bibby and Artest and a few strong role players...and the Blazers, on a night their horse was a Shetland Pony with a broken hoof, they still blew out a respectable NBA team.

I don't want to get too crazy here, but with the improvement shown by Webster and Outlaw, the addition of Frye, the return to health of Pryzbilla, if Aldridge and Roy stay healthy you could be looking at a team that could surprise people and win anywhere from 35 to 42 games or so, and I figure they will be close to a .500 club, and maybe even sneak into the post season. Maybe that is just me being an optimist, but I have to admit I LOVE the direction this club has gone. Trouble makers and malcontents are either playing elsewhere (Randolph, Wallace, Stoudamire, Wells, etc.) or not playing at all (Miles) and good character guys who WANT to play are now the team centerpieces.

And I will say this about Oden, too. I will admit, I wanted Durant more than Oden prior to the draft. But everything I have seen since the draft...including how he has handled this injury...have really brought me into his camp. I am ecstatic that the Blazers selected Oden instead. He has said and done things that make me believe that was the correct choice. I am excited to see someone like Oden who is saying all the right things...he WANTS to play in Portland, he is not disappointed to not be here instead of in a bigger market, he is sorry he got hurt and disappointed us..

Well, thanks, Mr. Oden, but I don't think you should apologize for getting injured. It happens. I just appreciate that you said you wanted to be here. I look forward to watching you play here for many years. I hope you are feeling loved and appreciated here and that people do not crack on you out of personal spite because they are little people. I am embarrassed by the morons who wanted to return their season tickets. What a slap in the face to the concept of team.

And Oden does fit with that team concept, that good character guy concept, that "hey, I get paid ridiculous amounts of money to play a game" concept that I believe these Blazers buy into.

Who knows, I could be wildly off...perhaps the addition by subtraction of Randolph will hurt. Perhaps not having Juan Dixon, Fred Jones, or Dan Dickau will prove to be devastating. Perhaps the improvement of Webster and Outlaw will be illusory, the role players won't complement Roy and Aldridge very well, and injuries will again strike Roy, Aldridge, and/or Pryzbilla and another promising season will end with 25 or 30 wins. Or perhaps it could go the other way...Roy becomes an MVP candidate, Aldridge avoids foul trouble and dominates, Webster shoots the lights out, Outlaw becomes a 6th man candidate, Rodriguez consistently provides a spark and they explode for 50 or so wins and actually win a playoff series or some equally unlikely yet vaguely plausible scenario.

Either way, I love the direction the Blazers have moved. they have actively sought to build a talented team of good character guys who want to play basketball and want to be in Portland and I am really looking forward to the season. Win or lose, this is a team I can get behind.

And if they score us a few "free" chalupas along the way, so much the better.