The name is Jones...James Jones

The agate type is hardly impressive...18 minutes, 8 points on 3-4 shooting, 1 rebound and 2 personal fouls. His plus-minus stands at an unequivocally neutral 0. No assists. No blocks. No steals. But it belongs to one of the most important players on the Portland Trailblazers. Unlike Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge or Travis Outlaw it seems unlikely that James Jones will ever be an All-Star but he is something else. He seems to fill the role of the glue that holds together a Blazer team that is more talented than their rather pedestrian 31-28 record would indicate. To be sure, part of that record stems from having stars Roy and Aldridge miss significant numbers of games...but it could be argued the loss of Jones hurt equally as much. After all, Portland did win in Utah without Aldridge...but not without Jones.

With Jones Portland is 23-12...without him they are 8-16. How do you go from a .667 winning team to a .333 team when "all" you lose is a guy averaging 9 points and less than 3 rebounds? It is not as if Jones is a stellar defender. His paltry .07 assists per game indicate he does not create a significant number of opportunities himself. Yet his return to the team after a lengthy spell sitting out with injury showed how he helps the Blazers.

Facing their long-time nemesis the Lakers, Portland started slow. Aldridge could not buy a bucket...early on it looked like the Lakers would run away with the game as they built a comfortable 10 point lead. It was not the 10 points that were the was the way the lead was built.

The Lakers were getting contributions from their entire line-up and the Blazer defense was, to put it charitably, porous. Meanwhile, outside of Roy and an occasional 3 from Steve Blake the Blazer offense was non-existent. When they moved off the ball they got in each others' way, pulled Lakers into prime defensive position to create double-teams, and ended up taking shots against the clock. Adding to their problems was easily the worst job of officiating I have seen in a long time.

Referees have a difficult job. The home fans never think fouls called against their guys are the correct call and seldom think any missed shot was not the result of an opposition hack. With that said, more often than not the referees get it right. Sure, they miss a call here and there...they are just human. But overwhelmingly they get the calls right. This game was an exception. You expect Kobe Bryant to get the benefit of superstar is frustrating, but that is how the game is and has been for a long time. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan...they all got a lot of calls that a Jerome Kersey, Steve Kerr or Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant didn't get. So be it. But when even Sasha Vujacic is getting those calls it makes it tough.

Again and again Lakers sent Blazers crashing to the floor with no call while at the other end the merest breath would draw a whistle. With 5:30 to go in the game the Lakers had only been whistled for 13 fouls in a very, very physical game. Joel Przybilla was unfairly in foul trouble. He picked up two fouls when Bryant ran full-speed into picks that were reminiscent of the old Karl Malone movement, just a strong guy set. It was awesome watching Bryant crash to the floor knowing he was about to get called for the foul...only to have it go against Joel. What? Horrendous, horrendous calls that affected the game. With Przybilla in the game Portland was controlling the defensive boards. Without him the Lakers ripped 13 offensive boards. The calls were so bad that at one point Jarrett Jack grabbed a rebound, was surrounded by 3 Lakers trying to foul him and instead a jump ball was called. Even the Lakers were laughing. So the Blazers were struggling on offense, battling some tilted officiating, and had all of 18 points in the first 8 minutes and change. Then, as if to make up for their earlier blown calls, with less than a minute to go and Derek Fisher guarding air he was called for a couple fouls that were the classic "phantom call". The 7 fouls called on L.A. in the last 5 minutes left the number of calls almost even for the game (21-20) but don't show the impact the officiating had on the game.

It looked bleak indeed. The vaunted home court advantage enjoyed by Portland was falling to effective Laker offense, ineffective Blazer offense, and officiating.

Enter Jones. He had no points in the last 3:37 of the quarter...but the Blazers had 9. Okay, so they scored a third of their points in the last third of the quarter. Hardly impressive...except for the WAY they scored them. Suddenly instead of the fools gold of getting bail-out desperation 3s against the shot clock that somehow went in they were getting good looks with plenty of time left on the clock. They were moving freely, creating havoc for the Lakers defense, and getting good scoring opportunities even when the ball didn't hit the bottom of the net. This boded well for the remainder of the game. This was largely due to the return of James Jones.

Even after he returned to the bench the Blazers had a more effective offense than they have had in weeks. They were moving without the ball, their picks were timely, they were making smart decisions, getting open looks, and were hitting those open shots. Now it was the Lakers with porous defense. Jack was getting to the rim at will, Roy was finding people open from every angle imaginable, Aldridge was coming up with timely buckets and Portland ended up outscoring the Lakers 92-79 over the last 3 quarters. That offensive explosion by a team that was getting height-inspired nose bleeds if they scored 90 points in a game prior to the return of Jones was a wonderful thing to see and provides hope for the near future. With games against the Warriors and Suns in the near future Portland will need to top the century mark with some regularity if they want to finish the season over .500.

And to do that they need more of what Jones brings to the table. Leadership. Movement on offense. Timely defense.