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."
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.