Milwaukie at Portland

Coming off the defeat of the Miami and the last second Memphis win, this is a game Portland should win, and easily. They are a better team than Milwaukie and Milwaukie is missing pieces like Simmons. Of course, Portland also should have beat Philadelphia, Washington, ....okay, you get the picture. I thought the Blazers were good enough to compete with almost anybody but they have also shown themselves capable of losing to anybody.

As usual, I thought going in the keys to the game were Roy and Aldridge having their "standard" type games...15 - 25 points each, Aldridge with 8 - 10 boards, Roy with 4 - 6 boards, 4 - 8 assists, both around 50% shooting with Aldridge above and Roy maybe a hair under that mark, and then for 2 other players to step up, maybe Outlaw and Jack, maybe Webster...as long as SOMEONE stepped up.

Well, Aldridge and Roy both scored 24+ points on excellent shooting...but Aldridge could not buy a rebound, ending with just 3. Fortunately Roy had not just an average or good game but a great game, missing just two of his 13 shots, pulling down 8 rebounds, and dishing out 9 assists.

How about the support? Well, 2 people stepped up. First, Steve Blake elected to score and score in a big way, dropping in 19. And helping out considerably was Travis Outlaw.

On the surface, his game looks rough...3-11 shooting, just 5 rebounds. But then you notice he also took 16 free throws...and made 14 of them...and suddenly his game looks better. Outlaw was making things happen. He was drawing fouls, creating havoc, and he was not afraid to take a shot. That means he was getting into the lane and breaking down the defense.

Defensively, the Blazers had an up and down game. On the bright side, Michael Redd was held to 5-23 shooting. That is a positive, promising start. However, Bogut, Williams and Villaneuva all had strong games with better than 50% shooting, and in one case 70%.

The first quarter was very back and forth with each team holding small leads. In the second quarter Portland started to pull away, building a lead as high as 10 points but the Bucks battled back to pull within 6. Aldridge and Roy both were in double figures and Blake added 8 in a fine 57 point first half. The Blazers were scoring and scoring well.

They built the lead back to 10 and maintained it for most of the quarter until a late burst by the Bucks narrowed it to 84-76 entering the 4th quarter. Portland was getting scoring from numerous quarters with Aldridge, Roy, Blake and Outlaw all hot and Webster making the occasional contribution. Everything was set for Portland to run away with the game. They avoided the third quarter collapse...they came back after scoring but 4 points in the first 4 minutes, maintained their lead and got some rest for their key players.

The 4th quarter started well with Outlaw scoring to extend the lead back to 10. Then something happened. Jack turned the ball over a couple times, they missed a couple of shots, couldn't stop the Bucks and all the sudden the 10 point lead was a 5 point deficit as the Bucks went on a 15-0 run.

Here comes gut check time. Portland has struggled not just on the road but at home lately. Early in the year I would have had no doubt they would come back and win. However, ever since that Philadelphia game when everything fell apart, they have not been the same team. They showed some life in the Memphis thriller and again when the Heat made a run. How would they react to this?

They went on a 6 point run of their own to retake the lead. Then it was back and forth with the Bucks taking 2 or 3 point leads and the Blazers catching up. But the Bucks started to pull away, building a 6 point lead with about 2-1/2 minutes remaining. Portland needed someone to step up.

Or several somebodies. Embodying the team concept, Outlaw, Blake, Roy and Aldridge all scored with the final two Aldridge free throws tying the game with 15 seconds left.

Neither team could score and Portland would see how they played in an overtime game. Early on it did not look good as the Bucks took the lead. Again with 2-1/2 minutes left they had a 5 point lead and things looked bleak. They looked worse when, after making a big jumper, Aldridge fouled out and Portland still trailed by 3.

But Outlaw hit 4 crucial free throws, Blake added a couple, and Roy hit a layup. Meanwhile, the Bucks could muster only one Bell free throw in the last 2:18 and the Blazers gutted out a clutch 117-113 win.

It is exciting to see because this seems more like the team I believed Portland had early in the season. Winning at home, competing on the road, and good enough to make the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if that swoon will be repeated. Hopefully not.

Portland 112, Miami 106

I actually was offered tickets to this game and turned them down because I so dislike watching Shaquille O' Neal play. He is a walking offensive foul. I get so sick of seeing him initiate contact with an immobile player, move them, and get the call it just isn't fun to watch. So instead of seeing it live I elected to watch it on TNT.

Now we can add dirty to that offensive foul reasoning.

49 seconds into the game he made his patented bowl someone over move. Przybilla took the charge, went sprawling, and wonder of wonders...they called the offensive foul! But O Neal wasn't done with the play. Somewhat off balance, he deliberately moved the basketball in line with Joel's head and laid all his weight on it, driving Przybilla's head into the floor. It was a dirty, dirty play with no place in basketball. It was a play that should have earned O Neal a huge fine and long suspension.

When you deliberately try to injure another player, take away his livelihood...and possibly worse, considering O Neal's weight and the delicate nature of heads...that is inexcusable and nigh on unforgivable. I have seen O Neal throw elbows and fore-arms before and have oft thought he was a fairly dirty player but this was about as bad an incident as I have seen.

Because he is Shaquille, however, he did not even get a technical. What a joke, and a bad one. He is one of the few players I think would be well served to have someone take his legs out from under him when he is doing one of his dunks, land him on his head and end his career. It would make the NBA a more enjoyable league to watch.

Meanwhile, Roy broke out of his slump and had a brilliant game with 25 points on 7 for 15 from the field...but a confidence-boosting 11-13 from the line...and 6 assists and 5 boards. In other words, he was back to his all-around game and reasonable shooting. He also overcame recent free throw woes nicely.

Aldridge continued his steady season, thought he had just 14 points...then again, when you only get 12 shots and don't get to the line, it is hard to score much more. He could actually learn a bit from Outlaw.

Outlaw is not as good a player as Aldridge. He is not as good a shooter, though his rebounding has improved, and at times he has bizarre lapses on defense. However, he is also capable of tough, on-the-ball, harassing defense and sky-walking, game-changing spectacular blocks from off the ball. In this game he got up 17 shots AND got to the line 5 times. In other words, he made sure to get enough shots to contribute. More on this in the Milwaukie game. Aldridge needs to demand the ball. He needs to get in position, demand the ball, and make his move. Portland needs him to score consistently while continuing to rebound and have an impact defensively if they are to live up to their potential. And this is the year he has to do it because next season will be acclimating themselves to Oden.

He did have a statement. In the closing minute of the game Wade drove the lane and tried a layup which Aldridge spiked it so hard it bounced over a guy and into the crowd. It was a fun block that definitely sent a message.

Overall, this was a game where all the Blazers contributed. They shot well, got key stops when they had to, withstood a huge run that erased a comfortable lead, had their prime-time guys of Roy and Aldridge have good games and got help from key role players, particularly Outlaw, Jack, and Jones...who went 4-6 from three point land, and at key times.

That is their formula for success. Hopefully it continues.

And O Neal breaks his leg.