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.


Preview: Portland vs. New Jersey

4-7. Not the record expected at this point in the season. A team full of promise and hope. A team with 3 big stars and a roster of talented subs. 1 star injured.

This is the story for Portland and New Jersey both. They have identical records and similar stories. After the draft is was expected Portland would be driven by big-name stars Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge while New Jersey would ride the talents of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Now, a month in we know Oden is starting play next year and Carter is out for a few more games probably. Both teams could reasonably expect to come in with 7-4 records yet both are 4-7. Both teams have had problems scoring. The question is...are they headed the same direction?

New Jersey has started 8 different people. The only locks seem to be Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. at least until Carter returns. Krstic has started the next most, 8 times, but he is averaging but 16 minutes. The Nets are a team in turmoil. They scored all of 69 against the Boston juggernaut. The Heat held them to the low 90s. If they score 100 they get nose bleeds from the altitude.

How is this possible on a team where Kidd is averaging 10 assists a game? Easy...they shoot 43%. Well, Portland has given up 70% + shooting for a quarter (the 4th against Charlotte) and a half (the 2nd against the 76ers). So this might be a chance for New Jersey to get healthy.

Also, Kidd is exactly the type of point guard that has caused the Blazers fits in the last few games. He can penetrate at will which gets their defense scrambling, leads to open shots and then offensive rebounds. The Blazers have to adjust their defense to stop that penetration and must figure out a way to control the defensive boards.

At the offensive end they need to work more cohesively. Webster needs to be more aggressive at driving more and standing around in the corner waiting to launch 3s less. I am still a fan, I just hope he gets over his struggles soon. They need to be more aggressive in looking for Aldridge, also, and Roy needs to get involved in the offense earlier.

Portland should win the game...but it is not a huge upset if they lose and if their psyche is shot, they could even get blown out. But I predict a win, say in the 6 - 8 point range inside the last couple minutes.

Charlotte 101, Portland 92

The Blazers are a streaky team this year.
They lost their first 3 games, all on the road.
They won their next 4 games, all at home.
They lost their next 4 games, all on the road.

I figured they were not ready to beat Denver. I wrongly thought they were ready to defeat Philadelphia. With the confidence of their home wins against Dallas, Detroit and Charlotte I thought they would handily beat Philadelphia which would lead to further wins against Washington and Charlotte. All three of those were eminently winnable games against teams Portland was better than. At half-time, even after the third quarter against Philadelphia, I looked like a genius.

Then things fell apart. They gave up a blistering shooting percentage, gave back 21 points in the 4th quarter alone and lost a game they should have won by double digits. I instantly revised my prediction to having them lose every game on the road trip.

They did not disappoint. They went out and laid down to a bad Wizards team that was missing its best player, then went into Charlotte to face a team whose best player is out for the year.

And promptly had a horrendous game. They shot 42%. They gave up 19 turnovers. They got Aldridge only 6 shots...and he played but 20 minutes.

That is one move NBA coaches make that I often wonder about. Sure, Aldridge was in foul trouble...but would you not rather have him for 25 or 30 minutes and have him foul out than have him for 20 minutes and have a foul left? Let him play a bit more. Let him get that foul...or maybe learn how to play with foul trouble and still be effective. The Blazers need more than 6 shots from LA if they are going to win games.

The Blazers have talent, no doubt, but there is even less doubt that offensively they have Roy and Aldridge on one level, then everybody else. The difference is that big. And when Roy struggles and Aldridge is non-existent they just are not going to win.

I was able to listen to most of the first half. The Blazers were struggling mightily. They were careless with the ball, giving up turnover after turnover after turnover, they were not rebounding defensively...for the fame they gave up a whopping 13 rebounds...and they were not identifying their scorers and getting the ball to them. They followed up a respectable 23 point quarter with a woeful 13 point quarter...and 3 of those were a desperation half-court heave with time expiring.

Somehow Portland has to find a way to create scoring opportunities. 92 points is not going to win many games, particularly when you are giving up 47% shooting to teams like the Bobcats and putting them at the line almost 30 times. That is a path to numerous blow-outs.

This game wasn't. Portland even managed to take a lead early in the 4th quarter before allowing their defense to implode once more. 38 point quarters happen to the Suns, not the Bobcats.

Reports have surfaced of McMillan really unloading on the players behind closed doors. It is understandable why he would. This road trip is not the type of performance you would expect from a team that came together before training camp to work out together and build chemistry. It is not the type of performance you would expect from a team with players like Brandon Roy who is trying to build himself as a leader, with players like Blake and Przybilla who took less money to come here because they liked the direction it is heading, with players like Aldridge who typically play with a smile on their face because they are enjoying the game.

Portland laid down to Denver and Washington, did not even try to compete with either. They gave away a 17 point 4th quarter lead and lost to probably the worst team in the league. Then they gave up a huge 4th quarter to an improving but not yet good Charlotte team. It was a terrible, terrible set-back in their season that, at the end of the year, we will look back on as the time they lost their playoff spot. Sad.

I still like this team, I still think it has talent and possibilities, and there is still time for them to turn it around, win 42+ games and sneak into the playoffs. But I no longer am positive they will. Now it is more like a long-shot hope.

After the Philadelphia loss, I predicted they would lose every game on the road trip. I just hoped I was wrong. On the bright side, they are coming home, so they should win a couple now.


Portland at Philadelphia, at Washington

I thought the Blazers would defeat Philadelphia handily. Portland has the better players, better coach, and is just all around better. Plus, they should come out energized and angry after laying down to Denver.

They did. They built a 25 point lead. They held Philadelphia scoreless...not without a field goal...scoreless. Philadelphia backed up a 17 point first quarter with those 8 minutes and Portland built a 25 point lead.

They gave a bunch of it back in the last 4 minutes but then rebuilt their lead. The third quarter was more of the same...the Sixers would make a run, Portland would bring the lead back up. After 3, they were ahead by 17.

Everything was in place. Portland would get a comfortable win, then follow it up with nice wins over Washington and Charlotte and come home with a 3 game winning streak and a 7-4 record to start a home stretch. Buoyed by their success, they would again have a strong home stand and be about 10-4, maybe a little better, not much worse.

Until they fell apart. They got crushed. Creamed. Demolished. Obliterated. They gave back all 17 points and another 4 and snatched a 4 point defeat out of the jaws of victory.

I did not hear the 4th quarter. I don't know what happened. What I do know is that was inexcusable. It firmly planted a 5000 gorilla on their back. Now, not only are they winless on the road, they lost to a team they should have beat handily, gave up a 25 point lead, and gave up a 17 point 4th quarter lead. Now they will struggle mightily on the road all year.

That loss made it a foregone conclusion they would lose to Washington.

Washington is not a very good team and without Agent Zero they are even worse. Agent Zero...I like to watch him play but don't want him on my team. Like a John Starks or an Allen Iverson, he can single-handedly win a game if he gets hot. And like Starks and Iverson, he can single-handedly lose a game with numerous bad shots and bricks when he is cold. And like Starks and Iverson, he does not stop shooting or find the hot guy.

Well, without him Washington looked like what they are. A bad team without their best player. They shot poorly, under 38%, and had pretty porous defense. Fortunately for Washington, Portland was busy laying down. They gave up so many offensive rebounds that they gave up 19 more shots than they took and were never really in the game. As bad as Washington played, Portland played worse. This was a game of "Who wants it less". Portland was dispirited, disinterested in playing, rebounding, etc.

To be sure, there were flashes. Przybilla blocked shots maniacally, Outlaw had a solid, solid game as did J-Jack, and Webster, still mired in his shooting slump, showed some flashes as, no longer satisfied with hanging out at the three point line, drove to the basket and showed some aggression. That bodes well for him to continue improving.

But it was never a team effort. Przybilla would block a shot, 2 Blazers would watch, and 3 Wizards would crash the board, pick up the loose ball, and throw it down.

Had Portland not disintegrated against the 6ers, this game was theirs for the taking. Instead, they laid down and lost to a vastly inferior Washington team.

And therein lies the problem. Can Portland regain the chemistry and confidence that makes them better than many of the teams they face? Yes...but not on this road trip.

Normally, I would predict a Blazer win in Charlotte. Now? No, I think they lose, and lose by quite a bit...6 points or more, and don't be surprised to see a blow-out.


4 - 3 Portland @ 2 - 6 Philadelphia

Portland just did not compete against Denver. One suspects they will be a little more prepared in Philadelphia. And even though it is a weak Philadelphia team, this is a key game for the Blazers season.

Coming in, people will no doubt make much of their 0-4 road record. But look at who those teams have been and how Portland has played them: San Antonio, Portland had a shot at winning. Charlotte, they started slow but made a run. Against Houston and Denver they pretty much laid down. Still, those are 4 tough places to win and their performance against 2 of them was very respectable.

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.

Philadelphia, like Portland, is a young team. Philadelphia, unlike Portland, lacks the talent to go places, and Philadelphia plays in the weak Eastern Conference. They try to mask this by slowing the game down and minimizing the number of possessions to hide the talent discrepancy.

Starting Line-ups
Frye is coming off his season high. He will continue to get 4 - 6 points a night, then give way to the defense and rebounding of Przybilla. Samuel Dalembert is no stud, but he will have a slight advantage over Frye, scoring wise.

Aldridge had an off night against Denver and still shot almost 50% and went for 15 and 9. Philadelphia apparently plays a small line-up. I cannot even figure out who their power forward is. As near as I can tell they start Iguodala, Andre Miller, Willie Green, and Kyle Korver alongside Dalembert, with Reggie Evans logging heavy minutes. Of those, Evans is the monster at 6'8". The others are 6'6", 6'2", 6'3", and 6'6" respectively. Only 7'0" Jason Smith is hitting about 17 minutes a game and his statistical contribution is negligible, 5 points and 3 boards.

Meanwhile, Portland has more size across the board and more talent across the board. The Sixers will struggle to score and to keep up with Portland on the boards, a rare luxury for Portland who usually gets outrebounded.

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+

Denver 100, Portland 93

For Portland to win they need Webster to come out of his slump, Aldridge to have a monster game, Jack to continue his outstanding run of bench play, and Anthony and Iverson to have poor shooting games. If that happens, they will win. Otherwise, this could be a blow-out the other way. Portland has the talent to win any game on their schedule, the question is whether they have figured that out yet. I would not be surprised to see a Portland win...but I don't expect it.Denver by 8+ points

Webster: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4-10 shooting.
Aldridge: 15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 - 11 shooting, 5-9 free throws

Portland came out slow...they looked like they were moving at shoot-around speed or running half-speed. There was no energy. Sparked by an offensive explosion by Channing Frye...a season-high tying 8 points...they stayed close for a while and were only down by 5, but anyone could tell that barring a burst of energy they were going nowhere all night.

The Blazers never looked interested and could not buy a bucket. Coming into the night they had the 4th highest field goal percentage in the league. That will drop a bit after their 39% effort.

This is the first time I have seen this Blazers team not compete. Some rumored statements I heard indicated they were awed by Iverson and Anthony. This is unfortunate. They have played, and played well, against better players than either of those. I would rather have Duncan than Anthony, Paul than Iverson...actually, Iverson is another guy like Marbury or Francis. If he were a Blazer I would not be a fan of the team.

Meanwhile, Denver proved to be a pretty classless team. K-mart and Camby both delivered head-shots with their elbows and then yapped about it. Portland got into a complaining mode and even Aldridge went after Camby at one point.

Win or lose, this is a trend I hope ends. Portland has been real good about not complaining and about just having fun playing a great game. On a night where they just were not into it and their shots weren't falling, they momentarily deteriorated into a complaining team looking to the officials to bail them out. Hopefully McMillan jumps all over that and gets them back on track.

Portland showed early on they could play with Denver. Expect them to do much better on their next trip. For now, it is a disappointing game, but just one loss. Expect them to get it together and win out on this road trip.


Preview: 4-3 Portland at 5-3 Denver

Denver is a real Jekyll and Hyde team this year. They are capable of beating the top teams...or of losing to the worst. Portland falls squarely in between those. They are not a playoff series winning team (yet), but they are no longer low echelon, either.

This game is troublesome to forecast. Portland won 4 straight against 3 tough opponents and one weaker foe...but all 4 were at home. Denver, after a slow start, has won 3 straight and is starting a long home stretch with 13 of their next 18 at home. Will they overlook Portland?

Frye is consistent...4 - 6 points, then disappear. That is okay because Przybilla is playing well off the bench. Denver counters with Marcus Camby...he scores more and rebounds better than either Portland center. Defensively he likes to block shots, too.

Advantage: Denver

Power Forward
Aldridge is creating some buzz for Most Improved Player and "future all-star". Nene Hilario is out and Kevin Martin is coming back from injury. This should be another monster game for Aldridge as Denver tries to get in with guys who hustle and play hard but are nowhere near as talented.

Advantage: Portland

Small Forward
Webster is in a shooting slump, and those were home games. On the other side of the coin Carmelo Anthony is also shooting poorly...but he is putting up a lot more shots and hitting enough to score almost 26 a game. He also passes better than Webster.

Advantage: Denver

Shooting Guard
Roy is a stud and the Blazers are doing a better job of getting him more involved early. If that continues he will continue to put up good numbers and the win total will keep increasing. Opposing him is head case J.R. Smith. Smith will pull off eye-popping, athletic moves and score a little bit but he simply isn't in Roy's class. Not many players are at this position.

Advantage: Portland

Point Guard
I am becoming a believer in Blake. Sure, he does not score a lot (1 point against the Pistons) but he consistently gets 8 - 9 assists and seldom turns the ball over (1 against the Pistons) and does not need a lot of shots. On the other side you have shoot first, second and third Iverson...who suddenly has become a shoot first and third, but pass second point guard, averaging a very respectable 8.6 assists and shooting better than he has in many, many years. The career 42% shooter who shot too much and scored too few points for the number of shots he took is suddenly shooting a respectable 46% and that, in my eyes, means this is pretty much the best year of his career sans the one where he pretty much carried the Sixers to the Finals with essentially no help. Everything Blake does, Iverson is doing better.

Advantage: Denver

Portland has had a really good effort from the bench since Jack and Przybilla moved there. It only gets better when Outlaw plays well. Denver has time-absorbers who will hustle and try but simply are not as good as Portland's bench.

What needs to happen
Denver loves to run and this could be an opportunity for Portland to get out and get some easy buckets for Aldridge, Jack and Roy to counteract the firepower of Anthony and Iverson. However, it will be the 2nd night of a back to back with a night of travel between and Roy's heel is a consideration. Denver has been playing with a chip on their shoulder and will want to establish their home court.

For Portland to win they need Webster to come out of his slump, Aldridge to have a monster game, Jack to continue his outstanding run of bench play, and Anthony and Iverson to have poor shooting games. If that happens, they will win. Otherwise, this could be a blow-out the other way. Portland has the talent to win any game on their schedule, the question is whether they have figured that out yet. I would not be surprised to see a Portland win...but I don't expect it.

Denver by 8+ points

Portland 102, Detroit 94

I said, "Post-Sonic add: Detroit started fast, almost ran Seattle off the court, then gave it back, letting Seattle tie it with about 2:35 left in the game. Seattle, however, could not finish. Portland can because they have the talent in Roy, Aldridge and Webster to create the easy scoring opportunities they need to at the end of the game. I don't think Billups and Prince will both have the bad games they had against Seattle, but neither will Hamilton have the transcendent game.Portland should win this one, but it will be a close game."

So let's go to the scoreboard.
Early on, Detroit rode a 14-6 run that, except for a late 3 by Outlaw, would have given them an 8 point lead after one. The clutch shot by Travis, however, left it a reasonable 5 point deficit. Aldridge and Webster played well, combining for 11 points while Billups scored steadily and Wallace hit three late 3s and a deuce to give him a monster 11 point quarter on his own.

Portland outscored the Pistons by 2 in the second period led by 10 from Jarrett Jack and even Przybilla got in on the action, pitching in 6 points. The 53-50 half-time score was encouraging for Portland fans as Roy and Webster had yet to get going but Aldridge, Jack, and Outlaw were all having strong games.

The third quarter was all about the Blazer stars as Aldridge and Roy each scored 10 points in the quarter...the rest of the team combined for 8. Meanwhile, Portland put on the clamps on defense, holding the Pistons to 21 points after 27 and 27 in the first 2. Entering the 4th quarter it was all tied at 74.

The 4th quarter, the Blazers and the Pistons traded the lead for 3 minutes with 4 lead changes in that span. Portland took over with a 12-4 run that the Pistons never recovered from, never closing closer than 3 points with a shade over 2 minutes to go. Down the stretch the Blazers played tough defense and made 6 of 8 free throws to close out the game with an 8 point victory to go 4 - 3 on the season.

It was a great victory over a tough, talented team. They outscored a good Pistons bench 48 - 23 and their big guns for the most part played well. Aldridge hit 22 points and 10 rebounds against a tough defender in Rasheed Wallace and did it on solid 9-16 shooting while Roy added 20 points on an identical 9-16. Webster struggled again but he will get back on track soon.

This was a great, great home stand for the Blazers. They knocked off a formerly undefeated Hornet team most people have slotted for the playoffs, defeated title contender Dallas, handily beat the team they should (Memphis) and knocked off a strong Pistons team that had lost but 1 game previously. Well done, and let's keep the excitement rolling.


Preview: 3-3 Blazers vs. (4-1) Detroit

After tomorrow, the Pistons figure to roll in 5-1 to visit Portland. Their only loss was a choke job to the otherwise winless Bulls. Detroit looks to be in fine form.

Stop me if you have heard this one before...the Pistons don't rely on one or two big stars, they use balance to get it done. 4 guys score in double figures, none of them over 19.2 per game. They generate offense with team play and passing...2 guys are averaging 6.8 and 7.0 assists.

Rasheed Wallace is a familiar sight to Blazer fans. Averaging about 16 points and 7 boards, he figures to demolish Frye who seems to score 4 - 6 points a night and then go hide on the bench.

Advantage: Detroit

Power Forward
There was a time when Antonio McDyess was one of the most promising forwards in the entire league, back when he was with the up and coming Nuggets. Injury took its toll and now he is just a well-traveled place holder, though still capable of a big game. Normally he will get 10 - 15 points and do some rebounding. Aldridge, meanwhile, is playing very well. He has to have his confidence boosted by the last 2 games and should come out strong.

Advantage: Portland

Small Forward
Whither Tayshaun Prince? Is he the stud carrying the Pistons on his back and dropping 30+ point nights on people? Or is he the 5 point scorer of a couple nights ago? Both...and neither. Prince knows his role and this year, for whatever reason, he is struggling to mesh with the team. This is very unusual for him and I doubt it will last much longer. Meanwhile, Webster is coming off his worst night of the year. He took just 3 shots, missed half his free two struggling guys. It will be interesting to see which team involves their guy in the offense better. That team has a great shot at the win.

Edge: Even

Shooting Guard
As a general rule, this position is the Blazers biggest advantage. Roy does so many things well. He scores in the mid to high teens, he rebounds, he passes. Even when he runs into a shooting guard who outscores him, his box-score filling performances give him an advantage. The Pistons are one of the few teams that counter with someone who is his equal or perhaps even superior. Richard "Rip" Hamilton might be that guy. Roy and Hamilton have very, very similar stat lines. This should be a very entertaining battle.

Edge: Even

Point Guard
Steve Blake would need to be Brandon Roy to give the Blazers an equal to Chauncey Billups. Billups and Hamilton are pretty much clones of each other. This could be a long night for Blake as both guys he might face are solid, solid defenders.

Edge: Detroit

Detroit does not have anyone particularly explosive...but they have 4 guys who will each get 5 - 10 points, averaging about 33 points per game. Meanwhile Portland has the explosive Jack, the defensive Przybilla, and the up and down Outlaw. It depends on which Portland bench shows up. If Jack unleashes 20 again and Outlaw has his breakout game this could be a huge advantage for Portland. Conversely, if Outlaw gets lost and Jack comes back to earth it could be a huge advantage for the Pistons.

This game could go just about any way. Portland should come in confident and rested. Roy, Aldridge and Webster all need to have big games and they need to score when the opportunity presents itself. Detroit is, as they always seem to be, an excellent defensive team and points might be difficult to come by.

If Portland plays their best game they can run it to 4-0 at home, if they fail to box out and don't pass to the open man, it could be a long night. I will revisit this after the Pistons-Sonics game when I see where the Pistons head is at.

Post-Sonic add: Detroit started fast, almost ran Seattle off the court, then gave it back, letting Seattle tie it with about 2:35 left in the game. Seattle, however, could not finish. Portland can because they have the talent in Roy, Aldridge and Webster to create the easy scoring opportunities they need to at the end of the game. I don't think Billups and Prince will both have the bad games they had against Seattle, but neither will Hamilton have the transcendant game.

Portland should win this one, but it will be a close game.

Blazers 92, Mavericks 81

I will admit to being surprised. I thought the Mavericks might come in a bit fired up. And there was a fired-up team on the floor. They came out scoring and scoring and scoring...fortunately, it was the Blazers. They tallied 28, probably their biggest first quarter. How did it happen? Well, they went to Aldridge regularly and Roy did some shooting to. With their stars tallying 8 each in the first quarter, the Blazers took a 6 point lead into the second.

One thing I thought the Blazers needed to pull of the upset was a strong game from Outlaw and another was some work on the offensive boards. Outlaw had 7 first half rebounds and both he and Przybilla worked the offensive boards, though the rebounds seldom led to points. Even though they did not often score the second chance points, they made Dallas work on defense and psychologically, getting the stop, then seeing your opponent get a second chance is tough.

Meanwhile, Roy added 6 points in the second and Aldridge added 4. After a fast start, (7 points in the first 7:32), Nowitzki still had just 7 points. Portland took a 7 point lead into the half and for the second night in a row had 49 points at the break.

The third quarter was a good one for the Blazers as Roy scored, distributed the ball, and the Blazers extended to a 13 point lead, though it was again a slow scoring one. Somehow they were keeping the Mavericks offense in check.

The 4th quarter was all about Roy as he tallied 11 of the Blazers 21 points. For the first time in the game Dallas outscored the Blazers in a quarter and for the first time they hit the 25 point mark...but it was just too much Roy as he had a career high 32 points and another 7 assists. For those keeping track, that means (3 pointers and converted 3 point plays not included) he was responsible for 46 of the Blazers 92 points. That is some star power.

Meanwhile, Maverick studs Nowitzki and Terry had 11 and 16 points respectively, and both shot poorly.

I am again disappointed in my lack of faith. Everything was in place to predict the upset and I just could not pull the trigger. But Roy had a huge game, Aldridge had an "average" game (18 pts, 8 reb, 50% shooting), and Outlaw had a better game than he has recently (14 pts on 5-8 shooting, 10 boards, 4 assists). This was what needed to happen for the Blazers to win and they made it happen. 3-3 feels pretty good, especially entering a stretch where they can reasonably be expected to go 6-3 or even 7-2. Next up: the Pistons this coming Tuesday. We will see if they can keep their momentum going.

Preview; 4-1 Dallas at 2-3 Portland

Dallas is coming off an emotional road win over the team that upset them in last years playoffs. Portland is coming off a more difficult than expected win over Memphis at home. This has all the makings of an upset opportunity for Portland. Unfortunately, it is not going to happen.

For whatever reason the Blazers insist on running their first couple of plays for Channing Frye. These are also (thankfully) usually the last two plays they run for him. Fortunately, they only have to contend with DeSagana Diop, a guy who will play defense and rebound but pretty much only scores on broken plays and offensive rebounds.

Edge: Even

Power Forward
Dirk Nowitski was the MVP last year. His numbers are down a bit this year and he has struggled against Portland in the last few meetings. On the other side of the ball, this is one of Portland's strongest positions. Aldridge is coming off a huge game and this will be a good opportunity for him to step up and show he is a prime time player. On the down side, at times he is sometimes foul prone so that might be a concern. He is good enough to play it even on a good night or even outscore his opponent if Portland feeds him the ball, runs plays for him, and gets out in transition. Still, when you are up against the reigning is a tough night.

Edge: Dallas

Small Forward
I am not convinced Portland knows how good Webster can be. They hide him for far too much of the game. If they ran a few plays for him and looked for him a bit more often he could be a 20 - 25 point scorer. Instead he is locked in about 16 - 18 points almost every night. Across the way we find Josh Howard, the Maverick's leading scorer this year at 24 per game.

Edge: Dallas

Shooting Guard
As always, Roy is the Blazers best player. Stackhouse can score with anybody but Roy is a better all-around player. This will be a fun battle to watch.

Edge: Portland

Point Guard
Devin Harris reportedly will not be there so Jason Terry returns to the starting line-up more than likely. Terry, like Jack, has exploded in a reserve role. But whether starting or coming off the bench, he is lethal. Blake is a solid point guard who gets the Blazers into their offense well and does a good job of distributing the ball but he is not in Terry's class.

Edge: Dallas

Jarrett Jack has been tearing it up since being moved to the bench. He relishes that role. Unfortunately, the rest of the bench has been struggling. James Jones is out with knee issues (where have I heard that before?) and Outlaw is struggling to find his shot. The Mavericks are missing Eddie Jones and with Terry in the starting line-up they lose a lot of punch. But they do have solid players in Devean George and Brandon Bass and the rest of their team fills their roles well.

Edge: even

This is a good opportunity for the Blazers to pull off the upset. But to do so, they have to play their zone better than they did against the Grizzlies. Dallas simply has too many good shooters to get away with leaving them open. Defensively, if the continue playing their swiss-cheese defense they could see Dallas eclipse the 110 mark easily.

On the other side of the ball, Golden State showed the way. Dallas is susceptible to penetration. It gets them scrambling and they give up a lot of second chance opportunities when someone penetrates. If Portland's guards, Jack, Blake, and Roy, penetrate and their bigs crash the boards they can wreak havoc and put a lot of points on the board. This might be a game where Sergio Rodriguez can do major damage with his ability to get inside almost at will. Webster needs to hit his open shots, which he should get plenty of, and Aldridge and Przybilla need to work the boards.

If those things happen and Outlaw comes out of his funk you will see an upset win by Portland. Otherwise, look for Dallas to win by double digits.


Blazers, 110, Grizzlies, 98

Portland came out hot. Again they made the curious start...with Roy, Webster, and Aldridge on the floor they ran plays for Frye on the first 2 possessions. To his credit, he did score on one of them...

The Blazers were scoring early, tallying 15 before the 6 minute mark. Then they went cold. For quite some time. They ended the first quarter with just 24 points...and gave up 26 to take a deficit into the second quarter. Gausol was killing them, along with Gay. At one point the Grizzlies had 41 points...and 22 of those were by Gay or Gausol who seemingly could not be stopped.

For most of the second quarter their funk continued and the deficit grew to 15. And it was mostly on offense.

It wasn't that Memphis was playing exceptional defense. Portland simply missed shot after shot they normally make. Roy had a miserable quarter, missing several shots from his favorite foul-line extended. Outlaw continued his string of bad outings with a few misses and a lot of frenetic defense that ended with him badly out of position.

Portland made a bit of a run to pull within 7 points with the ball...and gave up a 5-0 run to end the half down 61-49.

The third quarter started poorly with a couple missed shots. The natives were getting restless. McMillan called a time-out. And it felt like Portland came alive. They went on a bit of a run fueled by defense. Roy had 2 or 3 steals, Aldridge and Przybilla blocked seemingly everything the Grizzlies put up and the result was a 10 point gain for Portland, pulling within 2, 76-74 at the end of the third quarter.

The 4th quarter was more of the same. Jack was scoring well, Roy took over, Aldridge scored seemingly at will. Meanwhile, at the other end they had slowed Gausol to a crawl, though Gay was still scoring time after time as he got wide open looks. However, the rest of the Grizzlies all but took the night off.

Finally a 3 by Jack put the game out of reach and the Blazers coasted home.

How did my predictions fare? Well...I headlined it "There will be chalupas" indicating I thought the Blazers would score at least a hundred and added "Look for both teams to score a lot of points...this game should see both eclipse the century mark and don't be surprised if they even top 110. It will be a fun game to watch with both teams making runs as their youth shows through. Portland will win by double digits.

I am pretty pleased with that. Memphis did miss by two, scoring "only" 98 points...but Portland did hit the 110 mark, both teams made multiple runs and Portland racked up a 12 point win. I also mentioned my fear this would be the game Gausol broke out. It was. Early on he was carrying the Grizzlies as Frye, Aldridge, and Przybilla took turns trying to stop him, all unsuccessfully. I gave the Grizzlies the edge at center, and from an offensive standpoint they indeed did.

I was incorrect about who would start for the Grizzlies at power was Milicic. As far as Aldridge...I said, and I quote, so look for Aldridge to have a big night. If tying your career high for points with 30, racking up 10 boards, having 3 huge, key blocks, and even dishing out 3 assists is a big night...then yes, I nailed it. He came up HUGE. He definitely gave the Blazers a huge edge at the power forward position.

I was right and wrong about the small forward. Rudy Gay started at the 3...and I wrongly predicted, "... Rudy Gay, coming off a big game against Seattle. One problem young players face is consistency, so look for ...Gay to struggle a bit." Whoops. Gay did not exactly struggle. Outside of Gausol, he was the only Grizzly that came to play. Every time the Blazers made a run Gay would hit a three or drop inside for a dunk, dropping in a game high 31. He and Gausol combined for 50 points...the Grizzlies only tallied 98. That tells you how well Gay played.

Meanwhile, Webster had a "quiet" 17. Early in the game he got a couple looks. He missed his first couple shots, but then started hitting. When the Blazers were struggling to find the bucket they seldom looked to him but when they did he delivered. He finished 5-10 from the field (including 3-6 from 3 point range). Why did he only have 10 shots? Good question.

I am not sure the Blazers realize what they have in Webster. All too often they send him to stand in the corner, then run the offense on the other side of the floor. He stands there wide open shooting 50% FROM BEYOND THE ARC and they never look at him.

When they are struggling for offense as they did from mid-way through the first quarter through almost the end of the second, they really need to run a play or two for him and/or on his side of the floor. He has the potential to be a 20 point scorer if they let him.

But this was an advantage for the Grizzlies as Gay was unstoppable and Webster was barely used. I would like to see him getting 15 - 20 shots a game. Take them away from Frye, whom I am less and less a fan of every time I see him.

Shooting guard was no contest. Roy had a typical night...slow scoring in the first half, but helping other ways, then in the second half taking over. He had several steals leading to fast breaks in the run that caught the Blazers up, hit a trey and gave Aldridge a couple of dunks. After a slow start shooting he finished 9-19 with 22 points, 8 assists. The best the Grizzlies could counter with was their third leading scorer, Lowry, with 14 points on just 3-8 shooting....and Lowry did double up Roy on rebounds but Roy did a better job of distributing the ball.

And at the point Blake had his usual efficient game, 7 points and 8 assists. He didn't take a lot of shots, but the ones he did take were key. I am becoming more of a fan.

I am not sure what to call the bench. Portland's bench struggled for the most part offensively. Outlaw was lost on defense, Przybilla didn't tally a point and Rodriguez could only add a deuce. Only Jack was much help...and he must love coming off the bench because he scored an explosive 21 points. But Memphis still outscored Portland from the bench, 31-28. So statistically it was almost a draw.

I did see one other thing that makes me nervous. Portland was running a zone most of the night. It was not particularly effective. Gay was having a huge night, yet again and again and again the Blazers would leave him open for a three and when they weren't letting him set up shop they were letting the Grizzlies inside for offensive rebounds. Lowry alone had does that happen? And the Grizzlies as a team rolled up 15, way too many. The zone was not particularly effective for most of the game. We will see if it gets better.

In the end it was a great game for the Blazers as they came back from a 15 point deficit to win handily with big performances from their stars and a second consecutive big game from Jack. If this continues they will be on the right track.

At the same time, Outlaw is going to be key to keeping the momentum going. If he continues to look lost on defense and struggle on defense it will be a huge blow to the Blazers as they are getting better but still have to have everything break right to beat the really good teams.

There will be Chalupas:1-2 Memphis at 1-3 Portland

Memphis could not win at home but they found the cure for their weakness; playing Seattle. And it did not really matter they were playing in Seattle...the Sonics, frankly, are terrible.

Memphis showed some fire in that game, coming back from a 14 point deficit to take the win. For the first time this season, they will come into a game with a bit of confidence. They are young, they are hungry...and they are over matched.

So far this year they are giving up over 107 points a game...and 2 of those 3 games were played at home! So Portland will have chances to score. Of course, Memphis is also scoring at a clip of a shade over 105 points, so defense will be needed as well. They even rang up 101 against the Spurs, no defensive slouches, and carried a 3 point lead into the 4th quarter before they finally were held under the magic 25 point mark. Portland has done a nice job of keeping people under the century mark but it will be a struggle against the Grizzlies.

Memphis follows the New Orleans pattern. They have skill players capable of going off for 25 or 30 points...Stoudemire, Gay, Gausol, Miller...but they do it with balance. 6 players are currently averaging double digits, led by Rudy Gay and his 18 point average, though that was boosted a bit by his 25 point explosion against Seattle.

So Portland is playing a team that competed well at home against the Spurs, got run off the court by the Pacers, and beat a bad Seattle team. It should be a high-scoring affair that will be fun to watch.

Channing Frye will get the start for Portland against Pau Gausol. Frye struggled a lot against New Orleans but will get another chance. Meanwhile, Gasol has been struggling all years, posting career lows in points, shooting percentage, blocks, and assists... he is too good a player for that to continue. Blazer fans will simply hope he does not pick tonight to make his coming out party.

Portland is better set to face him this year with a healthy Przybilla and Frye as opposed to last year's slow-footed Magloire and the cast of out of position players that Gausol ran rampant on last year. The bench battle will be interesting with Przybilla seeing a good dose of Darko Milicic, the player the Grizzlies hope has a breakout season.


Power Forward
Aldridge had a rough night against the Hornets, but that was largely because the Blazers did not go to him enough. When they did he was efficient and scored well. I like his game more every time I see him play because he not only does so many things well...from working on the boards to running the floor to knocking down the mid-range jumpers...but he does it with a smile. One play in particular stood out where he was called for a phantom foul. On a night where you are playing whiners and complainers like the Hornets, it is easy to fall into that trap...but LA just ran back up court with a big smile on his face. He loves to play and has fun doing it. I like that.

He will be facing up and coming Rudy Gay, coming off a big game against Seattle. One problem young players face is consistency, so look for Aldridge to have a big night and Gay to struggle a bit.

It is possible he will instead match up with Miller. If so, the edge gets bigger.

Edge: Portland

Small Forward
I probably should slot Gay here and Miller at power forward...I don't know Memphis well enough to be accurate. Either way, Webster is having a break-out year. When the team figures out how to get him the ball more consistently it will get even bigger. In a game like this, he could easily go for 20 -25 points, maybe even more if the Blazers keep feeding the ball to him. Against the Hornets he scored 3 quick buckets, then they stopped running plays for him for 2 quarters. When they went back to him, he produced. Portland needs to realize he is their third meal ticket after Aldridge and Roy and keep him shooting.

Miller will have his normal solid game, somewhere between a dozen and 20 points...I know that is a broad range, but he seems to fall in there pretty consistently.


Shooting Guard
There will be very few nights this year where this is not an advantage for Portland. Brandon Roy is the face of the franchise, at least until Oden arrives and shows he is what is expected. Roy scores, rebounds a bit, passes a bit, and just generally helps the team in a variety of ways. And at the end of the game when Portland needs a score, he is tremendous at penetrating and either scoring, getting to the line, or kicking out to a wide open shooter. Aldridge and Webster have both hit key buckets off his penetration-kick out action and this holds great promise for the future.

The Grizzlies have great hopes for Kyle Lowry but he just isn't on Roy's level. He will score less, rebound less, set his teammates up for easy scores less...he is a serviceable player, but nothing special.

Edge: Portland

Point Guard
Stoudemire has traveled a bit for someone as talented as he is. Now he is the team Captain for the Grizzlies. Make your own joke here about the leadership capabilities of someone using tinfoil to smuggle marijuana past airport security...

I admit to a soft spot in my heart for Stoudemire despite his problems. He came home to Portland, did some nice inner city work, and, while undersized, played his heart out. He is not the player he once was, but is still capable of explosions on any given night.

Meanwhile, Blake did a nice job of running the team against the Hornets and seems to fit the starting line-up better than Jack. He will probably never be an All-Star, but Portland does not need one here at this point. If Blake continues to play a little defense, distribute the ball, and make the occasional jumper or three to stretch the defense he will have done a good job.

Edge: Even

Portland has potential firepower off the bench. Jack had the game I have been waiting for all season, scoring 20 off the bench. Przybilla gets a few points off broken plays and offensive rebounds and Outlaw, when he is on, can give you 15 - 20 points. He has been struggling the last few games, but against a team like the Grizzlies that gives up points in huge chunks, he should get healthy.

Milicic and Swift are about all Memphis can counter with. Swift is having a down year so far but he can still play. Overall, the Grizzlies will have to ride their starters pretty hard.

Edge: Portland

Look for both teams to score a lot of points...this game should see both eclipse the century mark and don't be surprised if they even top 110. It will be a fun game to watch with both teams making runs as their youth shows through. Portland will win by double digits.


Blazers 93, Hornets 90

Ouch indeed. Why oh why did I change my initial projection? Basically I did not want to seem too optimistic, especially with the red-hot Hornets coming in. I really thought the Blazers should win...but I thought they should have won in New Orleans, too.

Portland started off curiously. With Aldridge, Roy, and Webster on the floor, they inexplicably went to Frye on the block. Blake was their next shooter. When they did go to Aldridge he produced 4 quick points.

Defensively, he was having trouble. The officiating was horrendous all night. Early on it favored the Hornets. There were some brutal, brutal calls and Aldridge ended up on the bench with 4 points and 3 fouls against Tyson Chandler.

Chandler, by the way, is the dirtiest player I have seen in a long, long time. He is forever taking cheap shots while running through the lane, while away from the ball, and any other time he can get away with it. His first Technical came on a bush league, punk play. He got called for a charge on Pryzybilla, an easy and obvious call for the officials. So with Joel sitting on the floor, Chandler dropped the ball on his head. It was a well-deserved T, one of many he will get this year, I am sure. He is also one of the whiniest players this side of Tim Duncan.

Meanwhile, with Aldridge on the bench, the Blazers ran three quick plays for Webster. He dropped in three smooth shots and was rolling. So the Blazers showed why they were 0-3 coming in...they played keep away from Webster. For the next few minutes the ball went to Frye, Przybilla, Blake...basically, anyone but Roy and Webster, the best offensive players they had on the floor.

A quick start faded down the stretch, though they still landed 26 on the Hornets. A lot of that came from Przybilla and his offensive explosion and Jarrett Jack coming out hot.

Then the second quarter came around. With Aldridge saddled with 3 fouls, Roy and Webster on the bench, the offense rested in the hands of Outlaw and Rodriguez. They were not up to it. Outlaw was cold, cold, cold. Rodriguez was a mess, heaving up 4 blanks and contributing turnovers at a frenetic pace.

Fortunately, the Hornets were fairly cold as well, though they did manage to match the Blazers first quarter total of 26 to take a 49-43 lead into the break.

The third quarter was huge for Portland. They got a few nice calls of questionable legitimacy from the officials...a nice relief after the brutality of the first half...and came out HOT. Webster was on fire, Roy was scoring, Aldridge was hitting. And they were competing HARD. Tyson Chandler seemed to be a focal point...they were tired of his dirty play. When he melted down and picked up his second technical, it was the Blazers biggest lead to that point, 12.

Shortly thereafter they crested at a 15 point lead...and then forgot where the offense was supposed to come from. Webster had 17...and would end with 20. Aldridge had a dozen...and would end there. And for whatever reason we got a heavy dose of Raef Lafrentz and Sergio Rodriguez.

All night they had problems with David West. On a night Stojakovich was a miserable 2-13 and Jackson was little better at 3-11, he stepped into the gap with a monstrous game, 34 points and 18 boards, 8 of them offensive, on 14-26 shooting. And he came up huge in the fourth, teaming with Chris Paul to pull them within 5.

But then Brandon Roy took over. He drove to the basket repeatedly, came up big on defense, and, at one point, with the clock running down, triggered a clutch try to build the lead to 7.

At the end of the game it was Jack going to the line again and again and again. Paul would score at one end, Jack would hit free throws at the other.

He finally had the game we have been waiting for. He was getting...and taking...his shot on offense, playing rugged defense, and ended up with 20 points.

It was a great night for Portland as they won their home opener, saw the stars shine, and turned back a surprisingly good Hornets team.

Oh, and as for my first prediction...Blazers by 4 -6 with a score in the low 90s. Final...93-90, though 3 of those Hornets points came on a buzzer beater 3.


Pre-view, Hornets at Blazers

The Hornets are looking good early this season, racing out to a 3 - 0 start heading into their Tuesday tilt with the Lakers. Blazer fans will note that game is just 24 hours prior to the Blazers home opener against those same Hornets, so there is some positive news.

The negative news is the Hornets seem set on playing defense. They went into Denver and shut down the high-scoring Nuggets, holding them to a mere 88 points on their home court...and over half of those came from Iverson and Anthony who put in 46 points on woeful 32.6% shooting.

The Hornets did not exactly shoot the lights out...they shot 38% as a team. Nor did they have a stand-out performer. Their leading scorer tallied only 17...but they have great balance as 6 guys made the dip into the double digit pool.

Portland struggled against the Hornets the first time they played but that was A) on the road, B) the middle game of a three game opening road stretch and C) sandwiched between games against the World Champion Spurs and the title-contender Houston Rockets.

Mentally, they should be more prepared at home for their home opener. With the Grizzlies on the horizon, there is no reason to "look past" the Hornets.

New Orleans plays a lot of defense and spreads the ball around on offense. Look for Aldridge and Roy to continue their hot starts to the season and Webster to keep looking for his shot. At home, the other guys might be a bit more comfortable. It seems likely Jack and Outlaw will play better at home than they did in Houston and add the scoring punch the Blazers need to be competitive.

Portland will come out jacked up from the home-opener festivities. It would not be surprising to see an 8 or 10 point lead early in the quarter, but New Orleans will buckle down and make up ground after that opening flurry...if the flurry ever occurs.

This will again be a defensive battle and it is doubtful chalupas are on the horizon for Blazer fans for this game, but they should still come away with a 4 - 8 point victory in the low to mid 90s.

Addendum: In light of the beat-down the hot-shooting Hornets laid on the Lakers, it might be time for a reassessment of the game tonight.

The Hornets were hot, no doubt, particularly Peja and his 10 treys and Paul with his assist machine rolling.

Against Portland they will be seeing a revamped line-up with Frye replacing Pryzbilla and Blake replacing Jack.

Pryzbilla backed up what I have been saying all along about him being right for this team; not only did he not complain, he agreed his move to the bench "is probably the right thing for this team". That is not an NBA attitude...most players insist on starting regardless of what the team needs. And the argument that Frye will work better in the starting line-up alongside Aldridge where he does not have to go inside and bang as much sounds good. It will also add a defensive presence to the second unit. At least, that is how the coaches are presenting it and I have to admit it makes sense.

Additionally, Frye looks for his offense a bit more than Pryzbilla who primarily scores on broken plays and offensive rebounds. Frye has better range and moves. Since Portland has had a hard time getting out of the box this year...well, under McMillan, to be honest, since this was a problem last year as well...this can be a positive move in several ways.

The other move...I am not a huge Blake fan. I do like that he wanted to come here and that his teammates like him. I just think Jack has a better upside. Blake will be what he has always been...a 2nd or 3rd tier point guard. The top guys run circles around him and the average guys match him. Paul is a top guy who will have another field day against Blake. Again, Blake has a bit more offense, at least so far this year, than Jack, so perhaps it will be a positive move.

Overall the Blazers are looking to start a bit faster which they will need to do against a red-hot Hornets team that I now slot as a slight favorite, maybe 3 - 5 points, over the wobbling Blazers. Ouch.

Blazers (0-2) v. Rockets (2-0)

It was the wife's' birthday so I had other things to do and did not see the game. My pre-view was pretty short and succinct...basically, in just one sentence, I predicted they would lose.

I was not surprised to see them lose...but I was surprised by the complete lack of offense shown. Roy, Aldridge and Webster had games close to average...actually, I would add Pryzbilla to that...but the rest of the team was pretty flat.

Aldridge and Webster were uncharacteristically off the mark, though had Aldridge made but one more bucket in the same number of attempts he would still have shot 50%. But once you got past those three players, no other Blazer scored more than 6 points.

When a team tries to solve this point deficit one way is for the most talented players to step up and have monster games. This relies on the point guards to recognize who is scoring and get them more shots. In this case, that means Roy (9-18) and Aldridge (7-16) were the threats. Give each of them another 8 - 10 shots and see what happens. Since I did not see the game it is not clear to me if Roy, Blake, or Jack was running things, but which ever one it was, they needed to get the ball in the hands of Roy, Aldridge, and Webster in shooting positions more often.

Though perhaps that is not fair...after all, those three guys did take almost 62% of the total shots and made almost 45% of them. But for the Blazers to take the next step and make that surprise appearance in the post-season that I still think they can take a run at, they need more consistency from their guys like Jack, Outlaw, and Frye. There is no excuse for Jack or Outlaw not to hit double digits, and for the 2 of them to combine for over 51 minutes of playing time but a mere 12 shots...what was going on?

I assume Roy and Aldridge took over and were taking the bulk of the shots as they tried to claw their way back. I wish they had taken over a bit more.

At this point both of them tend to be a bit too willing to pass when their teammates are unable (Jones, 0-4, Outlaw, 2-7) or unwilling (Blake, 3-3) to take the shot. In a game where 20 points was not attained in any of the first three quarters shot totals of 18 and 16 for your two best players and scorers are not enough, and with Jack and Outlaw not contributing, Blake was scoring but was not shooting much.

It was not as if Houston was setting the world on fire, either. They only totaled 89 points themselves with just three players in double figures. On a night where McGrady looked human...and beatable...shooting a woeful 8 for 23 from the field, they never really competed. The early hole was just too big to dig out of.

On the bright side, despite entering the 4th with a 16 point deficit (and a pathetic 46 points) the Blazers made a run to get within 8 deep in the 4th. That provides hope that they will not quit and will compete right up to the end, even when the shots aren't falling, they are on the road, and are up against a better team, which they were.

2 statistics really stand out to me:
First, the good. Roy, Aldridge, and Frye had positive +/- for the night. As a long-time hockey fan, I have a firm appreciation for that stat. Night after night Roy and Aldridge have positive numbers in those categories, even against world-championship caliber teams like the Spurs.

Then for the bad and ugly; Pryzbilla, 19 minutes, -20, and Green, less than 3 minutes, -9. Neither had anything that stands huge turnover issues or foul problems.

Now, I am a big Pryzbilla fan. I think he fits the team very well. He rebounds (8 boards in 19:40 is pretty good), doesn't demand the ball when the more high-profile guys are shooting and scoring well, and is happy to do the "little things" like set picks and rotate the ball. Is Ming just killing him? How did he give up a point a minute? And he is the common denominator...the second highest total was Green's -9. That one is also a curious number. He took 1 shot in three minutes and had 1 steal. So I can only assume he had a hard time getting the offense started to give up 3 points per minute.

Overall, it was just one of those nights for the Blazers. They were beat by a better team in that team's building, had a rough night shooting and still were only down by 9 when the buzzer sounded. They are not "there" yet...but they are moving.


Blazers Versus Hornets

I was at a poker tournament so was unable to see the game, though I did get to listen to it a bit on the way to the tournament. Early in the game it was fairly evenly matched, but a few key events happened towards the end of the second period.

It was particularly the last minute and change on the first half that really caused the Blazers problems. They were very close, had a chance to tying the game when the Hornets threw in 5 quick unanswered points. The Blazers had whittled a 10 point deficit down to a manageable 2 or 4 points when a quick bucket and three pointer in the closing seconds suddenly jacked it back up to a discouraging 8 points.

Ironically, they were in better shape than they had been against the Spurs at the half where they took a 10 point deficit into the half. But this one felt worse because they gave so much of that lead to the Hornets in so short a time so close to the half.

I did not see or hear any of the second half but it seems like 2 things were going on. First, it appears the Blazers came out flat in the third period. It was their first sub-20 point period of the year. In addition to not scoring, they gave up a whopping 30 points. The 8 point lead ballooned to a routish 23.

The Hornets did not have any stand-out offensive performances, they just got solid contributions across the board with 6 players in double figures. Meanwhile, young guns LaMarcus Aldridge and Martell Webster struggled offensively and only Jones stepped up to fill the gap.

It was a disappointing game and will lead to a tough start to the season. But never fear, the Blazers will be back.

Just not tonight...they are outmatched by the Rockets.


What Could Have Been...

Motivated primarily by the "controversy" over whether the Blazers should have taken Durant or Oden, I watched the Suns at the Sonics. This would be a chance to see Durant in front of his home (for now) fans.

I actually think it is...or should be...less controversial now than it was at the time, even though Oden suffered a couple of unfortunate injuries. He has also made clear he is ecstatic to be in Portland, he wants to be with the team, and he wants to PLAY. This is a pick that Portland fans will enjoy for many, many years. Meanwhile, Seattle got the one man wrecking crew of Kevin Durant.

Of course, one man does not make a team. If you have doubts, check out the Lakers as they lose game after game despite having the talented Kobe Bryant. Here is a guy who can score, rebound, pass, and defend and his scoring is virtually at will...yet the Lakers are about a .500 team.

And Durant will not get some of the advantages Bryant does. If he travels, palms it, or charges, he is going to get called.

Durant is exciting to watch and, for the Sonics fans, at times frustrating. He has prodigious talent. He can run the floor, jump out of the building, drive on anyone, get his shot, and he sees the floor very well.

However, he also tends to play out of control at times. Sure, he can drive on anyone, elevate, and take a short shot inside the lane. But, at least at this point in his career, he often does it out of control and his shots can be a bit wild.

He is not afraid to take those shots, however. He will keep shooting, driving, and making things happen. Will it work? It does for Iverson. On nights when his crazier shots are falling he will be unstoppable and will be able to carry the Sonics to victories in games they should not even be within 20 points. When his shots are not falling, he will shoot them out of games they might have won. Kind of reminds me of Allan Iverson.

Even though Lewis and Allen are gone, he does have some help. Wilcox is a beast on the blocks and can cause problems down there. Collison will grind, Watson can get hot, Ridenour can create a little bit, and they love to run.

In fact, that is their plan for winning...just plain score, score, score and hope the opponents miss a few shots. The Sonics offense looks a lot like playground pick-up games with lots of players leaking out early, lots of creating their own awkward shots, and very little setting each other up.

Seattle's defense leaves a little bit to be desired. Against the Suns, who last year led the league in three pointers, they played a strange defense that left the 3 point shooters wide open so they could not defend the basket.

Read that last sentence again.

The only reason the Suns did not score 140 points was their shooters were ice cold. Time after time they would have 2 or 3 seconds to stand wide open, load up their shot...and throw up something that rimmed out. If you leave their 3 point shooters that open that often you are going to give up a LOT of points most nights. Of course, letting Marion and Stoudemire catch the ball in the paint with nobody around them will lead to a few highlights as well...

Seattle is in for a long year. They will score a boatload of points some nights but struggle terribly on others. They will play a lot of teams close only to fade in the 4th quarter. Durant and Green provide hope for the future but they look like a lottery team again.

Phoenix, meanwhile, is going to be tough. They have so many weapons...when Grant Hill is no higher than your 4th or 5th can score points. They also have strong role players in Bell and Skinner, guys who will clamp down defensively. If anyone doesn't know how Nash improves a team they simply no nothing about basketball...and players like Stoudemire and Marion don't need a lot of help.

Nor can you relax against their second team as Barbosa and Diaw can explode on any given night and drop 15 - 20 on you in no time flat. They are fun and exciting to watch. At least twice less than 3 seconds expired between the Suns taking possession and finishing at the basket. You will need your track shoes against Phoenix.

But there are holes. Sure, they are a great 3 point shooting team...but they are too ready to dial from long distance when better opportunities present themselves. If they are getting open looks early they will stagnate, stop moving on offense and just pitch a tent outside the arc waiting for their turn to fire up a trey. If those aren't falling, it can take them a few minutes to get back in their aggressive mode.

Both teams will be fun to watch when they visit Portland. Phoenix because they are so good and entertaining and Seattle because Portland should win almost every game against them. Wow, I am starting to sound like Agent 0 here...