Portland 101, Utah 111

All good things must come to an end. The Blazers' much maligned streak is over at 13. I am not sure how valid the complaints about their schedule were...they did have a pair against each Denver and Utah, including one of each of those games in the opposing buildings, and also had a game against the Hornets...oh, and they DID play the Golden State team that has looked like the team that took out the Mavericks last year now that they have Stephen Jackson it isn't as if they have played nothing but the bottom feeders. Sure, there were a couple...but they had a few games against teams that, at the least, are middle of the road or better, and not a few people have proclaimed both the Nuggets and Jazz as dark horse title contenders. I, it might be pointed out, am not one of those long as Iverson is a Nugget they will not win one and the Jazz are not there yet.

Be that as it may, I could not predict a 14th straight win because the Jazz are, hard as it is to admit, a better team than Portland right now. They are more consistent from night to night and beating them in Utah twice in the same season is asking a lot of this young team. But they gave it a pretty good shot.

They came out hot in the first quarter. Frye had 6, Roy had 7, and Aldridge 10 in route to a 29 point quarter and 6 point lead. But there was trouble brewing.

After building a lead of 11, Portland went cold. Aldridge continued to score, tallying another 7 in the second quarter, but Roy was mostly out of the game with foul trouble and could only muster a brace of free throws to close out the quarter. The Jazz won the quarter and the half...and things were about to get worse.

Roy continued to have foul problems. Aldridge carried the team for most of the quarter but did not get much help. Again the 3rd was a trouble spot for Portland, though this time, only to the tune of 35-29...they scored 29 points and lost the quarter by 6 points! Where was the defense?

Well, entering the 4th with only an 8 point deficit, a red-hot Aldridge (29 points), and contributing Jones (12 points) and Roy waiting to make his impact on the game, things actually did not look bad. If Roy could stay out of foul trouble and they could get a few stops, this was a winnable game.

That in and of itself is a major victory. This is a team that now competes, game in and game out. They fight through nights when their big guns are misfiring, they overcome off nights by their secondary scorers, they just find ways to make games competitive...and once the game is competitive, they more often than not find ways to win the game.

Roy and Aldridge came out firing, scoring the Blazers' first 14 points. Unfortunately, the Jazz were scoring 16 points in that stretch. It was essentially a 2 man team, though Outlaw scored a few points in the last couple of minutes and Jones added a meaningless trey when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

First, the good: Aldridge was an unstoppable force on the night, scoring 36 on 12-17 from the field and 12-14 from the line. Unfortunately, he was not rebounding, but he certainly did his part from the field.

This is the type of game where someone needs to step up on the boards, as Portland mustered only 31 (and lost that battle by 9). Portland shot 48% for the night, Utah 52%; what happens if we alter the possessions by equalizing the rebounds?

Well, if Portland gains 4 more rebounds, they are going to score about 2 points more. Utah, meanwhile, in losing 4 boards, will score about 2 points less. That makes it a 6 point game, all other things being equal...not good enough. On the other hand, if Portland picks up 7 rebounds for a total of 38, that brings Utah down to 33. Portland adds 3 - 4 points, Utah loses 3 - 4 the game has changed.

You don't play a 3 - 6 point game the same way you play a double digit game. By equalizing the board battle, Portland creates enough extra possessions to give themselves a legitimate shot to win the game. In truth, because they could not get key rebounds and the role players did not step up, the hot-shooting 4th quarters of Aldridge and Roy were doomed as they were never able to shrink the lead to a manageable margin. Controlling the boards in the 4th quarter would have led, if not to a win, at least a game that was closer than this one.

This was one of the few times this season the 4th quarter has not been owned by the Blazers. However, there is no shame in losing to an improved Utah team on their floor. It was a transcendent effort by Aldridge and I look forward to many more.

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