Portland 109, Golden State 91

Professional sports are tricky. Every so often a pro football game will turn on 1 or 2 plays...a vastly superior team loses when their punt returner inexplicably muffs a punt with no opposing players close to him, the other team scores, kick off and the ball bounces funny, they recover...suddenly the bad team has a lead and the good team starts pressing, the outcome is unpredictable. The same holds true for the NBA. Boston, one of the elite teams in the league...a team that wins pretty much all the games they should, wins most of the "toss-up" games, and even pulls out the occasional game you would think they would lose...had a night where one guy is injured, one guy misses a few shots he normally makes...and loses at home to a very pedestrian Charlotte team. Things happen.

All told, that makes it hard to be accurate in predictions. Sure, you can say what SHOULD happen...but will it? When the Blazers play Seattle, for instance, they are playing a team with weak interior defense. It is a team Aldridge should have a monster game against...but doesn't. Then against San Antonio, a team with great interior defense, he comes out and looks like the best player on the floor. Blake comes out one game and takes 2 shots. The next game he takes 14...and makes 10 of them. One night outlaw will take 10 of those drive/step-back foul line extended jumpers he loves and miss them all. The next game they will drop.

So when I make my predictions I typically leave a little bit of wiggle room. Here is what the Blazers PROBABLY need to do to win...though they could win if this doesn't happen but something unexpected does...say Przybilla taking and making 8 or 10 shots or Blake exploding or Webster showing his potential...but those possibilities exist. The difference between the playoff teams and the lottery teams is those unforeseen things and how regularly they occur.

With that said, I think perhaps the most accurate prediction I have ever made was in regard to the Golden State game. I was able to listen to about the first quarter and I was loving it. Portland was controlling the role players, forcing Jackson and Davis to shoot low percentages, and Przybilla was controlling the inside. It was textbook for beating Golden State.

Portland exploded out of the gate behind Przybilla. Offensive rebound, hit a couple free throws. Defensive rebound, dunk. Steal. That is the first three possessions of the game. All Joel, all the time. Then Webster and Aldridge each threw down dunks. Then, after an Aldridge post-score, Przybilla dunked. It was awesome. Portland was doing exactly what they needed to do...they were taking advantage of the weak interior defense of Golden State. That caused the outside to open up, resulting in wide open looks. For the quarter Portland had 5 dunks and 4 3s. That is about as good as inside out can get and the 30-14 lead looked like it might only grow. Meanwhile they were forcing Jackson and the Warriors into tough shots which were not falling.

And this was a game where the unexpected was happening. Roy was having a slow scoring night, one suspects due to his sore tailbone. Aldridge was having a typical night...9 first half points. They got a few from Jones, a few from Outlaw...but Przybilla had 8 and Blake 20. That is a couple good games for Blake in just one half.

And they would need it. One way to change a rocking Rose Garden enjoying a 13 point lead is to have your glue, Brandon Roy, fall to the ground in pain with a hyper-extended knee. But that is just what happened with a little over a minute left. The Blazers still pushed it to 15 at half-time but the worry was there. Portland without Roy or Aldridge for a game or 2 can survive. Portland without Roy or Aldridge for an extended period of time is going to lose a lot of games.

Good news arrived with the start of the second half. Roy returned to the floor. After Biedrins hit a shot Portland reeled off 10 straight points. In no uncertain terms they were telling Golden State the night belonged to Portland. The Blazers had an impressive 66-43 lead. By the end of the quarter they were up a sawbuck, 84-64. Roy wasn't scoring much...but everyone else was. Except Blake, out with a calf injury...not a good sight.

The 4th quarter was close-out time. Even Green got into the game and tried a few shots. It was a blow-out win and Portland showed they had what it takes to win a game wire to wire. It was among the more dominating performances I have seen since the glory days of Kersey, Porter, Duckworth, Williams and Drexler.

Davis and Jackson combined for 9 points on 3-15 shooting. Barnes was their leading scorer with just 14. They shot just 39% while Portland shot 46% and Portland out rebounded them by 8. When your best players aren't scoring, nobody steps up, and you can't keep your opponent off the boards (12 offensive rebounds for Portland) or make up the difference in squandered possessions somehow, the result is going to be a blow-out.

Portland, on the other hand, had their stars step up...sure, Roy only scored 8 points (on just 12 shots), but he also tallied 8 boards and 8 assists. Aldridge only scored 19...but Jones and Webster combined for 32 on 11-15 shooting...including an astonishing 7-11 from long distance. Well, astonishing except when compared to Blake's 5-6 from downtown...

In other words, everyone contributed. Przybilla had "just" 10 points...but he added 10 boards. Nothing that really "stands out" as being spectacular...he had a good but not unusual 2 blocks...nobody had a huge number of assists, and outside of Blake's' 24 points on 8-10 shooting nobody really had a transcendent game that made you sit up and take notice....nothing like Webster's 24 point quarter, anything like that. This was just a good team dominating another good team. It was beautiful.

Speaking of Webster, it was nice to see him have back to back good games. It provides hope that he has taken that next step in his evolution as a useful starter who has a valuable contribution from a scoring standpoint more than once a week into someone who night in and night out is in the low to mid double digits with occasional 20 - 25 point nights when needed. He has not often this season rung up a good night in the game subsequent to a good game so it was unusual...but welcome.

Oh, and...Portland is all alone in First Place. Even I, the most optimistic of fans, did not see that one coming.

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