LaMarcus Aldridge and Jerryd Bayless lead the Blazers past the Charlotte Bobcats

A couple weeks ago Portland shot 51% from the free throw line and gave up a game to Charlotte they should have won easily. Now Charlotte came into Portland fresh off a double overtime win over the Lakers. 

The Bobcats should be tired, the Blazers rested, and the Bobcats were missing key components in Gerald Wallace and D.J. Augustin. All signs point to an easy Blazer victory.

Early on it looked like it would be an easy win. Portland built a 32-18 lead after one quarter, largely behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Jerryd Bayless. 

It started with Aldridge. He got out and ran, he scored from inside, and he scored from outside. Actually, scratch that...inside was the location where the first 22 Blazer points were scored. They established early on that the Bobcats simply could not stop Aldridge on the blocks, Brandon Roy was scoring on his nemesis Raja Bell, and Greg Oden was cleaning up every rebound in sight that Nicolas Batum did not get to.

The paint belonged to Portland and it was in no small part due to the hot start of Aldridge. Then, when Portland needed a second scorer, in came fireplug Jerryd Bayless.

Bayless had a particularly impressive stretch where he seemed to be in the middle of every big play on both ends of the floor. He scored, he dished for easy buckets, he tipped balls, he defended, and just generally controlled the game. During that section Portland beat a lead that went as high as 18 points at 36-18 that was never threatened.

A look at the numbers shows how easily Portland dominated an outgunned Bobcat team. Portland out shot the Bobcats 45% to 41%, made more free throws than Charlotte attempted, crushed the rebounding battle 45-26, and won the game 88-74.

It was such a convincing win that forgotten man Channing Frye made an appearance (to a nice ovation) and moments later Shavlik "the Human Victory Cigar" Randolph made it to the floor, too. Unfortunately, Frye ended up with a suck differential of -1 and Randolph ended up with a Mario but at least they made the floor. But they were also indicative of a problem; they were not the only Blazers who struggled to score.

Think about it for a second. After a 32 point first quarter the Blazers could only drop in 56 points in the next three quarters against a Bobcat team playing without two starters. That is not even 19 points per quarter.

There are a lot of reasons that could be given for the poor offensive showing. The game became extremely slow-paced; the Blazers shot just 73 times and the Bobcats were even more anemic, just jacking up 70 shots.

But the upshot is, Portland stopped imposing their will on the Bobcats and allowed that slow, methodical, dare I say plodding pace to gain dominance in the game.

They can get away with that against a tired, short-handed team. They can't get away with that against the better teams in the league. 

They are entering a key stretch of the season. They have an opportunity in the next couple weeks while the Nuggets are entering a tough stretch that sees them play 16 of 20 games on the road. Portland needs to not just catch the Nuggets in the standings but actually pass them and put some distance between the two teams. 

This is a Blazer team that is more than good enough to win a playoff series or two, particularly with the continued improvement being shown by Bayless and Oden. However, to do that they will need the benefit of the home floor. The best chance to do that is to win the Northwest Division. 

They currently trail the Nuggets by a game and a half. Over the next couple of weeks they need to make a move, take over first place, and never look back.

That is easier said than done; Portland is home against the always-dangerous Jazz, then goes on the road to face the Hornets and Mavericks; after that, the schedule gets easier with a home game against the Knicks, a road game against the Warriors, and then home games against the Grizzlies, Hawks, and Clippers. 

A 7-1 or 6-2 record over that stretch is not too much to ask and would go a long way towards establishing Portland as a real playoff threat. 

However, if they are going to have that sort of success, they must learn to impose their will on the opponent. If they build a big lead against the Jazz, Hornets, Mavericks or Hawks and relax as they did against the Bobcats, they will not make their move and that will perhaps be disastrous.

Meanwhile, any double digit win is something to enjoy. Speaking of which...


Brandon Roy:Thief Extraordinaire wrecks the Wizards

Brandon Roy went nuts against the Washington Wizards, picking off a franchise record-tying 10 balls while scoring 22, adding seven assists and five boards. He was all over the place all night, blocking shots (two), defending, passing, penetrating, scoring, and generally doing whatever he wanted. 

Of course, it didn't hurt that he was playing a dis-interested team. The Wizards clearly did not want to be hear on this night. It was easy to tell. Just three incidents will demonstrate that quite clearly.

Exhibit A) DeShawn Stevenson missed the game due to lower back pain. He then was a regular feature on the Blazer's Jumbo-tron dance screen as he shimmied to the music in each time-out...including the celebratory time-outs in the middle of big runs when the cheerleaders run out and shake their groove thang. Yes, his shimmy was more interesting to the camera than the girls. Just sayin'

Exhibit B) A Wizard knocked the ball out of bounds into the lap of a mildly attractive woman, spilling her drink on her. He ran to his bench to grab a towel and ran it over to her before the Rose Garden staff could get there. 

Yes, he spent more effort on getting random fan a towel than he did on the game itself. Apparently he is unaware that the staff at the Garden is trained for these situations. While his courtesy is appreciated on some level, his lack of focus on the game pretty much says all you need to know. but I will tell you more anyway...

Exhibit C) During a third quarter time-out, the Blazers gathered around their coaches to listen to strategy. The Wizards stood around watching Blaze the Trail-Cat bounce numerous attempts at a half-court over the head backwards heave towards the basket.

Think about that. They were more interested in watching the at best mildly entertaining, uninspired antics of a pedestrian mascot than figuring out how to win a game.

This game was over early. The only thing keeping the Wizards in the game in the first half was the Blazers' horrific shooting. They checked in at 30% for the first half. It would be nice to say it was because of the ferocious defense the Wizards were playing. However, anyone who has seen them play this year would know I was lying.

Portland looked lethargic to start the game. They heaved up shot after shot that barely even grazed the rim. The normally reliable LaMarcus Aldridge was short on his money shot, the feathery mid-range jumper. The should-be All-Star Brandon Roy missed several point-blank lay-ins. Rudy Fernandez would have struggled to hit the broadside of a barn even if he were inside it.

Several times the Blazers scored on their third shot of a possession when all three shots were in the paint and virtually uncontested. At one point we had a debate over whether Greg Oden had blocked Roy's shot. 

Fortunately, the Blazers were able to right the ship and dropped in 61 second half points including a dunk parade in which they had at least 4 dunks that were better than any of the dunks in their "five best dunks of the first half of the season" highlight reel. 

Even against a poor team the game had its entertaining moments. Oddly, among the most entertaining was a missed shot. Some Blazer bounced a ball long off the back rim. Travis Outlaw elevated over everyone, extended one hand as far as he could and nearly made the put back. Even his missed shot had the crowd roaring to their feet.

Meanwhile, Greg Oden had another outstanding game. I don't mean his scoring or rebounding, though his 18 points and 14 rebounds were certainly nice.

No, the parts of Oden's game that mattered were his continued development. Defensively, he moved his feet. Several times he got caught on the perimeter. Using his returning quickness, his length, and returning agility he was able to cut off the path to the basket and force a pass without being whistled for a foul. 

On the boards he was very, very active. He does not just occupy space, he is getting better and better at chasing down rebounds that are bouncing away from him. He is so big and getting so quick that he can be a real handful for anyone trying to keep him off the boards. 

He is not active every night yet, but we are seeing those nights more and more often. True, on this night it was against Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila...but he was active. He has not always shown that energy against sub-par competition. It was very nice to see.

On the downside, an old glitch reared its ugly head with a vengeance. The Wizards dialed up 10 three pointers. Even more telling, they did it in a mere 16 attempts. For those keeping score at home, that is 62.5% three-point shooting.

Portland is talented enough to get away with that against bad teams. When they play the Suns or Celtics, the Cavaliers or Jazz of the NBA, they will end up looking up at a lot of big numbers on the score board. Somehow, they simply have to find a way to defend the perimeter better.

Overall, it was an entertaining game that had the expected result; the Blazers coasted to victory. 

I feel for the Wizards fans. Yes, they have lost several of their better players for significant portions of the season. However, they deserve better than they are getting. The Wizards show no heart, no interest in putting a quality product on the floor. They ignore Coach Ed Tapscott. They lack focus. 

Yes, it is a long season when you are playing for the lottery long before the mid-point of the season. But that is no excuse. The fans deserve better. Here is hoping the Wizard fans start seeing some progress soon. If not, the 100-87 Portland win will look like a great game for the Wizards really soon.


LeBron James and Mo Williams torch the Blazers

Portland started the game off well. They went in to LaMarcus Aldridge and he responded, scoring seemingly at will. But then something happened; they forgot he was having a really, really good night and elected to look for offense elsewhere.

Or, more accurately, they heaved up wild shots, gave the rebound to the Cavaliers and let them look for offense.

The formula the Blazers selected for the night seemed pretty clear; figure out who is scoring for you and make sure they don't get the ball. Meanwhile, double team LeBron James and let the other Cavaliers take open shots from wherever they want. If they should miss, don't bother getting the rebound, you will get the ball back soon enough.

That is not entirely fair; two Blazers tried to rebound. Joel Przybilla snagged 15 rebounds in 21 minutes and Greg Oden added 8 in 25 minutes. The other seven Blazers who played combined for a whopping 12 rebounds. 

Meanwhile, since they weren't going to rebound, defend the three point line (Cleveland went 11-19 from three point range), make free throws (under 60% until late in the third quarter), make lay-ins, or open jumpers, the Blazers looked for something truly epic to demonstrate how they were playing. The answer is 15-14.

15 would be the number of assists the Portland Trailblazers had for the night. 14 would be the number James had to go with his 34 points.  With the Blazers double or triple teaming him at times, James took advantage of the rules and passed the ball to open team mates. 

Portland, however, found that cheesy and elected to hold the ball, try to create their own shot, and not use their teammates as outlets. Why pass when you can toss up a brick yourself?

The results were predictable. Cleveland controlled almost the entire game. Portland kept it close, but any time they got to close the Cavaliers would go on a run of anywhere from five to 10 points and regain control.

There were some bright spots, as usual. Nicolas Batum continued his development as defensive stopper. True, James had 34 points but he shot just 14-30 and even many of those 14 makes were just pure, unadulterated talent.

Again and again Batum, Brandon Roy or Travis Outlaw would stick right with James, force him into a tough shot and watch the ball bottom out in the net. When great players make plays like that, sometimes there is nothing you can do. This is particularly true when they get help as James did from Mo Williams, who dropped in 33 points of his own.

Batum also looked for his shot a little more. This did open the offense a bit and gave the Blazers even more open looks. Unfortunately, they would not take advantage of those looks on this night. This was a night when Steve Blake and Martell Webster were sorely missed for their shot making abilities.

Another bright spot was Greg Oden. His statistics hardly overwhelm. He had just 10 points and eight rebounds before fouling out. But he was 3-4 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line. Additionally, his points came almost exclusively off offensive rebounds and put-backs with the exception of I believe one play the Blazers posted him up on. Otherwise, it was just Oden working to get the rebound and put it back in.

As an aside, I would be interested to see the officiating marks from this game. This appeared to be an exceptionally poorly officiated game. For example, at one point Mo Williams grabbed a rebound. Jerryd Bayless was a couple steps behind him, immobile. Williams stumbled a bit, fell backwards into Bayless...who still was not moving...and Bayless drew a foul.

This, meanwhile, was NOT considered a foul on Anderson Varejao. 

Those are just a couple of examples. Cleveland plays a very, very aggressive brand of defense with a lot of clutching, grabbing, shoving, and bodying up on people. 

The Blazers, on the other hand, often fear to touch the opponent. As a result, they get called for a lot of touch fouls. 

As a result, the calls reflect these respective methods. Credit the Cavaliers for adjusting to the officiating while the Blazers got involved with the officials. I do not believe the calls changed the outcome; the Cavaliers were the better team on this night beginning to end. But there were a lot of calls that had some head-scratching going on. Well, head-scratching and crowd profanities...

Be that as it may, it was entertaining to watch a great player put on a very good performance. I wish it had been Roy, but since James comes to town just once a year until the Blazers meet the Cavaliers in the Finals next year, well done King James. You deserved this one. 104-98 was a sad score, though. Just two more Blazer points would have "earned"us a Chalupa.


Can Greg Oden make Joe Freeman shut up?

The morning Oregonian, the local poor excuse for a newspaper, had an article by Joe Freeman  on the Blazer progress at mid-season, with the game against the Milwaukee Bucks being their 41st of the season.

 They had four pictures spread across the front page, including Nicolas Batum as the surprise 
and a picture of Greg Oden. That picture was labeled, "The Disappointment."


Uncalled for. 


That was as far as I made it into the article because I consider it a cheap shot. Oden is still an NBA rookie and a basketball neophyte. He is in his first year playing after microfracture surgery, a surgery that established All-Star A'mare Stoudemire took over a year after returning to the floor to get right from.

And with all that, he is averaging eight points and seven rebounds in just 22 minutes a game. Those are some pretty nice numbers, but they don't tell the whole story. He has had a huge, game-changing impact on the Blazers.

Last year they were a poor rebounding team. This year they win the battle of the boards by almost five rebounds per night. That change can be laid at the feet of Mr. Oden. It is not just the boards he gets, it is the way he draws opponents and allows other Blazers to get rebounds that would have gone to the opponents last year.

It would be easy to point to his 24 point, 15 rebound night against the Bucks and make hay with it, but that is just one game. He has had bigger impacts on games where he has scored less.

More importantly, he has also showed continual progress. He is getting better about putting the ball on the floor before taking his first steps, thus reducing the traveling calls against him. He is showing some hook shots and has even shown some nifty up and under, finger-roll type moves. His offensive game is developing nicely.

Additionally, he is showing much improved lateral movement and quickness. There were moments against the Bucks where he was caught against wing players on defense. He did not make any steals, but he did a great job of controlling the space and forcing them to pass off. 

His quickness is starting to really change the nature of the game for Portland, allowing them to stay closer to the opposing three-point threats, a real weakness early in the season. 

But Freeman doesn't seem to see any of that. His low-blow against Oden would be enough reason to cancel my Oregonian subscription had I wasted money on one previously. I guess you can tell my low opinion of the rag and extrapolate how likely it is I would have a subscription to cancel...not very. 

Meanwhile, this game was about far more than just Oden having an outstanding, dominating game. He had help on the inside from LaMarcus Aldridge who seemingly scored at will, including a 6-for-7 first half. 

He had help on the wings from Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw. It was particularly gratifying to see Outlaw have another spectacular night. He is a game-changer when he is on.

Outlaw is one of the most maligned Blazers at a lot of Blazer sites. Calls for him to be traded are matched or exceeded only by calls for Steve Blake and/or Sergio Rodriguez. The fans simply do not comprehend how valuable Outlaw is to the Blazers.

He is so talented athletically that he is one of the few guys outside of Brandon Roy who can create offense for himself off the dribble. He can elevate so high that double teams are irrelevant as he simply rises above them. Rising it what he does best, such as rising to the occasion in the fourth quarter of close games when teams are able to put the clamps on Roy.

Against Milwaukee, he did not often need to. The Blazers completely controlled the boards, winning the battle by a total of 58-30.  The extra possessions let them pound the ball inside to Oden and Aldridge which created open looks for everyone else. All night the Bucks were simply overpowered, staying in the game due to 12 first-half Blazer turnovers and far superior free throw shooting.

Once Portland stopped turning the ball over, they took control of the game and most of the second half was spent with a double digit lead, though the Bucks made a few runs to get within about eight points before Portland took control again.

Overall, a very entertaining game, but I always have something to complain about, so here goes.

 LaMarcus Aldridge had a tremendous game. He shot 8-13 from the field (one of them an end-of-quarter half court heave, so really he shot 66% on reasonable shots), 6-6 from the line. He dialed up another nine rebounds. He played defense. '

He just didn't play for the final 9:16. 

Part of that was because Oden was controlling the inside and his post-up game wasn't needed. Part was because the out-manned, foul-plagued Bucks were playing small-ball. But as a huge Aldridge fan, it was hard to watch. 

Fortunately, the Blazers franchise provides diversions.

And wins, 102-85.


Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge lead the Blazers to victory over the Warriors

It felt like the Blazers were reeling. Brandon Roy had missed four consecutive games with a mid hamstring injury. The Blazers had scored hardly any points in the second half against the hated Lakers and gotten blown out. They lost at home to the Hornets.

Of course, somewhat overlooked by many fans was they also beat the Celtics and Pistons. Going 2-2 against those four teams would have been a huge week last season. This season it was disappointing. What a positive step!

With Roy returning and facing the hapless Golden State Warriors, all signs pointed to an easy Blazers win. But then something happened...the ball went in the air, Don Nelson's system went into action, and the ball wouldn't go in the hoop for the Blazers. 

 They jacked up a respectable 21 shots in the first quarter but only seven bottomed out. Additionally, they dialed up three turnovers and missed half their foul shots. The Warriors are noted for great offense and a complete indifference to defense, yet Portland had but 16 points after the first period. They needed someone to step up and put the ball in the bucket. Enter LaMarcus Aldridge.
He scored on the blocks. He scored with a mid-range jumper. He scored on follow dunks. When Portland got the ball in his hands, good things happened.

Indeed, that has often been one of the flaws with the Blazers this year. Too often they forget about Aldridge and the only points he gets are from offensive rebounds and broken plays. When they dedicate to pounding the ball in to Aldridge, good things happen.

First off, he draws the attention of his defender who cannot afford to leave Aldridge to help on double teams. Second, he commands double teams. When this happens, Aldridge has the court vision to rotate the ball to the open man. When this continues, it results in numerous open looks for the Blazer perimeter players.

Fortunately, with the return of Roy, Aldridge was going to get his looks. He got 18 shots and scored 26 points. This is not a coincidence. When it comes to Blazers you want to see putting up shots, the pecking order is pretty clear; Roy should have the most shots, Aldridge the second most. 

Of course, they cannot carry the entire load themselves. Fortunately, the Blazers are developing some excellent secondary options. In the starting line-up, there is a surprising answer.
Early in the season Greg Oden possessions were terrifying things. They consisted of Oden getting the ball on the block and then traveling or running over his defender in an attempt to throw down a power dunk. It was all brute strength.

Lately, however, he has been working with Portland favorite Maurice Lucas and, much as Aldridge has done, has started to develop a post game. Oh, to be sure, it is not there yet. He is not a David Robinson by any means, but he shows flashes. 

He has a jump hook as shown above. In his back downs, he now gets his defender moving left to right which opens up the baseline or key for moves that show a bit of finesse. He is also showing more and more quickness and agility. 

When he is effective like that, it gives the Blazers a second solid post option which again opens the offense up and gets them points in the paint.

That is a huge step forward. Early in the season the Blazers fell in love with the three-pointer. The problems with that strategy were masked by them hitting a huge percentage but lately there have been nights where their shot was not falling but they kept launching from downtown. 

On this night, against a Warriors team that encourages you to jack threes, they took just 17. That is largely because with Oden and Roy working the blocks and Roy penetrating, they get numerous opportunities in the paint.

Portland also has nice scoring options off the bench. Rudy Fernandez has been well-documented, but another player who deserves a great deal of credit is Blazer 6th man Travis Outlaw.

Outlaw is a gifted offensive player. He has the ability to create his own shot at will. When he gets into the lane and elevates, it takes someone with the unreal athleticism of a Dwayne Wade to even contest a shot.

With the excellent scoring options they now possess, Portland has the firepower to outgun a team like the Warriors and that is exactly what they did over the next three quarters. Following their embarrassing 16 point output, they dialed up 39 second quarter, 28 3rd quarter, and 30 4th quarter points.

The Warriors pretty much only win when they score more efficiently than the opponent. They tried on this night, but simply could not stay with the waves of scorers Portland threw out there. 

After trailing by as many as 12, Portland came back to lead by as many 14. The Warriors made a few runs, but every time they did a Blazer would step up; Aldridge with six consecutive points, Roy with  five consecutive points...and ultimately, they ended up outscoring the Warriors on a night when defense was all too often "let him shoot so we can hurry down court" or trying for steals.

In the past, Portland might not have had enough offense. With Roy back and Aldridge getting the ball, that would not be the case this night and all that was left was the celebration. Now, if only we had someone to celebrate with...


Travis Outlaw reutrns to 4th Quarter Role as Blazers defeat Pistons

The names are impressive. Brandon Roy. Rasheed Wallace. Richard "Rip" Hamilton. 

And those are just the guys who did not play in this game. The guys who did play weren't half bad either. 

Allen Iverson has had a Hall of Fame career and isn't done yet. LaMarcus Aldridge is doing damage down on the blocks to go with his silky smooth mid-range jumper. Rodney Stuckey has shown enough to make trading away Chauncey Billups seem like a good idea. Tayshaun Prince and Travis Outlaw are outstanding role players who fill key functions on their respective teams. Greg Oden is showing some flashes of developing an offensive game to go along with his defensive presence.

With all that talent, it seemed like a pretty good game might break out. 

Instead we were treated to a slow-paced game that looked much worse in person than the shooting percentages of 50 and 48.5 would indicate. That had a lot to do with the Pistons getting off just 72 shots and the Blazers going six better....worse? by hoisting just 66 shots. 

It got worse. From the charity stripe, the Pistons managed just 56% while Portland was marginally better but still embarrassing at 63%. 

The third most entertaining portion of the game occurred outside the confines of the shot clock.

One one possession late in the second quarter, Joel Przybilla attempted a lay-in and missed. He got the rebound and went up again...but missed. This is newsworthy since he is shooting 75% from the field for the season. Fortunately, he was fouled on the second attempt.

He grabbed the ball as the players shuffled around and flipped it up...only to watch the ball rim out. So he did it again...and missed again. So he did it a third time after the whistle...and fifth time counting the two attempts during actual play. When the ball went in, the Rose Garden erupted with cheers.

And then he missed the free throw. It caromed to Channing Frye who promptly laid it in to "take the lid off the basket' before handing the ball to the official to allow Joel's second free throw. This also drew a cheer.

These types of moments are spontaneous and highly entertaining.

Entertaining and memorable describes the second most entertaining portion of the game. That would be the Jerryd Bayless show.

Prior to the season, Blazer fans were in love with Bayless. He can get into the paint seemingly at will, has the defensive tenacity of a bulldog, and a driving, forceful personality. Then, however, the season started and he could not penetrate the guard rotation of Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Sergio Rodriguez, and Rudy Fernandez.

When Roy went out with injury, he started getting his chance. It has not been a smashing success. He has struggled offensively, including shooting 1 for 14 in his last three games. 

In this game his line was little better...he dialed up six shots and hit just two. But what a game he played en route to a career high eight points. In a key second half sequence, he was everywhere. He was stealing the ball on defense, passing to LaMarcus Aldridge for dunks on the fast-break, and providing his signature moment of the year so far.

A steal defensively saw him leak out. A long pass was stolen by Iverson. Somehow Bayless stole it right back and in one smooth move went up for a two-hand dunk that electrified the crowd. 

During that section of the game, lasting about five or six minutes, he provided the spark that took Portland from a seemingly unovercomable deficit into the most slender of one point leads.

But the most entertaining portion of the game was the end.
When Portland went down by three at 83-80 with only 1:19 left in the game, it was crunch time. Normally this year, Portland in this situation puts the ball in the hands of Brandon Roy and wins. They are pretty good at it...9-1 in games decided by five points or less. However, with no Brandon Roy, Portland would need scoring from somewhere else.

Enter Travis Outlaw.

He was being defended by Tayshaun Prince, the Piston's do-it-all stud.

 All night Prince tortured the Blazers on both ends of the floor. He had harassed everyone he defended into tough shots. This time, Outlaw managed a tough, rolling hook shot. Portland was within one.

But then came a crushing possession as the Pistons ran the shot-clock down and got a contested three attempt from Prince. It missed, but Antonio McDyess grabbed the offensive rebound. There were only 46 seconds left. 

The Pistons are a smart, disciplined team and they did what good teams do. They ran the shot clock down and got a shot from their best offensive player, Iverson. Fortunately, it missed and Fernandez knocked the rebound out of McDyess's hands to gain possession.

After a time-out, Portland looked back to last year when Outlaw was hitting so many key 4th quarter buckets that Blazer fans fell in love with him. Once more he got the ball, foul line extended. He drove on Prince, spun into a double team, spun back, elevated, and over the outstretched hands of two defenders put the Blazers back up by one with just eight seconds left.

It was deafening in the Rose Garden for the entire ensuing Pistons time-out. Yet there was nervousness, too. Roy, the best wing defender, was out. Batum, the second best wing defender, was on the bench. Iverson, the Hall-of-Famer in waiting, had the ball and the last shot. 

Aldridge came off his man at the last second and forced the shot to arch higher than Iverson wanted. Blake grabbed the carom and eluded the Piston's attempts to foul him long enough for the clock to run out on their improbable win.

How did they do it? Inside, inside, inside.

Aldridge was a beast on the blocks. When he set up on the right block, he punished everyone sent against him with sweeping hooks across the lane or spins top the baseline. 

Greg Oden scored just four points, but they were authoritative. 

And everyone else pounded it inside. Despite having success from long range, Portland did not fall in love with the three pointer. They took just eight on the night, hitting a ridiculous six of them. 

Despite going inside, they were badly outrebounded on the night, 40-28. I am still shocked they won this game. But I am also highly entertained.

Sometimes, the slow, plodding game works. Hard to watch, but the game goes in the W column just the same. And no matter how ugly the game, wins always look good.


Hornets overcome Cheap Shot Chandler's Ejection to beat the Blazers

Coming off their big win against Boston, the Blazers had every right to feel confident. Instead, the pre-game show, pre-game blogs and so forth were all talking about the danger of a let-down, calling this a trap game.

How does a game with a team that should be your rival for years to come become a "trap game"?Looking at the Hornets and Blazers, there are a lot of similarities. LaMarcus Aldridge and David West are both excellent power forwards. Aldridge has a slightly better back to the basket game but West is slightly better from mid range. The differences on that end are pretty negligible. Defensively Aldridge is a little bit quicker but West is a better post defender. No team would be disappointed to have either player on their roster. 

Both teams have defensive liabilities who can crank up threes at a high percentage. For the Hornets it is Peja Stojakovich and for Portland it is Steve Blake. 

Both teams have potentially explosive 6th men who provide energy and scoring punch off the bench. For Portland it is Travis Outlaw and for New Orleans it is James Posey. 

Both teams have offensively limited centers who score mostly on dunks and offensive rebounds but who provide solid defense and rebounding. For the Hornets that would be Tyson Chandler and for the Blazers it is two guys, Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla.

Both teams have superstars who can score, create, and who make their team better. For the Hornets it is Chris Paul and for Portland it is Brandon Roy.

Both teams are young, talented, and on their way up. Based on last year the Hornets have the advantage and are not going anywhere. They are too good defensively and too good at creating their preferred pace to play at. They seem to have been built on the San Antonio model. 

Looking at either the Spurs or Hornets roster, there are only maybe 3 players that scare you but somehow they crank out victory over victory over teams that appear, on paper, to have vastly superior talent.

The first quarter largely set the tone. After throwing a 13 point first quarter at the Celtics, the Blazers followed up with a 16 point first quarter against the Hornets. But the signs were there that this was going to be a difficult game indeed.

The Blazers were struggling to score. David West was bodying up on Aldridge and keeping him from getting to the spots he wanted, Oden was encountering the same thing in Chandler, Steve Blake seemed non-existent, Rudy Fernandez is uncomfortable in the starting line-up, and Nicolas Batum last shot sometime in pre-season, or so it seems. For whatever reason he has lost all confidence in his shot and when the ball comes to him, he looks to pass it as quickly as possible.

When you give top defensive teams like the Hornets the opportunity to play 5-on-4 defense, your results may vary. Sometimes they will be awful and other times they will be horrific.

Meanwhile, the Blazers defense was...well, to be polite, we will say porous. The entire first half seemed like one continuous loop of open Hornets launching three pointers. The amazing thing was they were missing so many.

It isn't often you can see a team shoot 47% from three point range for the game and still think they had an off night. They were that open. Only their poor three point shooting was keeping Portland in the game.

It is no accident the Blazers give up such high percentages of three point shots. It has to do with their defensive philosophy. They are willing to drift away from their man if he is on the side of the court away from the ball. 

The problem is, they then do not close that gap when the ball rotates to the top or baseline. This presents the offenses with clear passing lanes and a quick-releasing shooter will have the ball in the air long before the Blazers can close out. As a result, they give up numerous open looks. NBA shooters with open looks have a habit of knocking those shots down.

Take teh above picture. Batum is defending Stojakovich. It will take him too long to close out on Peja to prevent an easy open look which, in fact, is what happened on this play. Yet this is where every Portland defender plays his man. Clearly, this is how they are being coached. Just as clearly, it is not working.

Somehow Portland limped into half time in better shape than they did against Boston, trailing by just two at 45-43.  This was their chance to overcome the "trap game" start to the game.

The start of the second half was bizarre. Typically, Coach McMillan goes with his starters for at least 6 minutes a half. Somewhere between the seven and four minute marks he replaces Batum with Travis Outlaw and then spaces his substitutions out about two minutes apiece. On this night, Joel Przybilla started the second half in front of Greg Oden.

With the injury history Oden carries with him, this had the Rose Garden crowd buzzing and nervous. There were several reasons it might have been the case, however.

On occasion, when a starter is having a particularly bad game, he has shown a willingness to replace that player for the first few minutes. Normally it is Batum who suffers this fate. On this night, however, it was Oden who was replaced. That would prove key to the events to follow.

With the game moving along at a pace best described as somewhere between methodical and glacial, it led to some interesting conversations in the stands. The conversation between Josh and myself had to do with who was the dirtiest player in the NBA.

I always come back to about three players and one of those is always Chandler. He elbows, grabs, pushes, and just generally takes a lot of away-from-the-play cheap shots. In this game, he would get caught.

After an Aldridge dunk at the end of a 30 second, three offensive rebound possession, the Hornets took the ball down court trailing 54-51, their biggest deficit since early in the first quarter. 

Chandler was in the middle post area, away from the action when Przybilla extended a hand to put on his back as post defenders regularly do. Now, a little background on Przybilla.

He was listed as questionable for the game due to an avulsion to the scapula on his left hand. To protect it as much as possible, he was wearing a wide wrist band. 

Chandler, ever the classy gentleman, saw his opportunity to severely injure Przybilla and took a massive, intent-to-injure hammer blow at it. What happened next is debatable.

One of us thought Przybilla responded with a shove, the other thought it was a swing.  There was no question about Chandler's response; he took a massive roundhouse left hook at Przybilla''s head. 

After an official review, the foul on Przybilla stood, Chandler received a Flagrant 2 and an ejection.

I kind of thought Przybilla should have been ejected as well. From where I sat it looked like he threw a punch, albeit a soft one. Either way, Chandler had to go for that humongous swing. And the referees did spend quite a while looking at the monitor whereas I saw just one replay. Even ESPN pretty much glossed it over.

By the end of the third quarter, Portland had tied the game. Sadly, it was tied at 61. That is the downside of good defensive teams. The games tend to be a bit boring to watch for those who enjoy scoring. 

This one was a slug fest. Portland spent a lot of time trying to pound the ball in to Aldridge or Oden. It was not a hugely successful strategy as Aldridge shot just 5-for-18 and Oden just 2-4. 

That is right...on a night Portland more or less featured him on offense for most of the second half, Oden got off four shots. Four. 

Meanwhile, the backup for Chandler, Hilton Armstrong, went off with 6-for-6 shooting. Armstrong was NOT the feature of the Hornets offense, by the way. Just in case you were curious.

The problem with the Aldridge possessions had a lot to do with position. He is far better on the left block. He can spin either way, but when he spins right it gives him a big, sweeping, virtually unstoppable right-hand hook. 

Instead, he kept finding himself on the right block which limits him primarily to turn-around jumpers.

On this night, with Aldridge struggling, Oden invisible, Blake quiet, only Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw were scoring. It wasn't enough. For the second time in the game Portland dialed up a 16 point quarter. For the third time in the game they scored 18 or less. 

Meanwhile, Chris Paul was showing why every other team in the NBA is jealous the Hornets have Chris Paul. CP3 was having a rough night for three quarters. The fourth quarter was all Paul.

He scored on drives. He scored on a trey. He dropped pretty passes to Armstrong for dunks. He dropped a gorgeous pass to Stojakovich for an open, crippling three. He had nine points and three assists for the quarter and they all mattered. He personally ripped out the Blazers heart, stomped on it, then wrapped it up in a ball, tossed it to Armstrong, and watched Armstrong dunk it uncontested.

Blazer fans are used to seeing that in the fourth quarter. Problem is, they are used to seeing it from Brandon Roy, the sharp-dressed guy sitting on the Blazer bench watching the team implode.

Portland simply needs Roy to have any consistency. He can create the shots the other Blazers sometimes cannot get. He can motivate the team, guide them past the rough stretches, and when they need a stop of a point guard, he is usually the guy Portland counts on.

There were some bright spots to be sure. Outlaw had his second consecutive strong game. Fernandez had one of his best games of the year. Bayless shows flashes of promise. 

But overall, this game was about watching a superstar take over a game and having no answer. On this night, the Hornets were simply better. The onus is now on the Blazers to find a way to win in New Orleans, to show them that the Blazers can compete with them. 

And next time, to keep an eye out for Chandler.