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.