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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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