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.