8-12 Portland at Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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