Game 1 Preview: Blazers vs. Sonics

Welcome to the opening of the season!

We'll preview each game as it comes, listing some things to watch for and other semi-interesting facts.  I'll leave the business of predicting wins and losses to you guys but occasionally I might share a gut feeling or two.  I imagine the format of the previews will evolve over time so if there's anything you'd like to see added let me know.  As always, feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

A Look at Seattle:

The offense revolves around Ray Allen, who has the quickest, deadliest release in this generation of the NBA.  Like 7-11 he's always open.  Rashard Lewis plays Robin to Allen's Batman.  He's turned his burgeoning athleticism into true production the last couple of seasons.  Luke Ridnour is crafty and likes to break down a defense then dish to one of the aforementioned two.  You cannot relax against this trio because they are capable of scoring equally well with 20 seconds or 2 left on the clock (and they'll do plenty of both).  Seattle loves to up-tempo the game and you must be ready not only to stop their initial thrust but the secondary attack with the trailers.  If all else fails they will dump it in to Chris Wilcox or one of their young centers in the post, though they prefer their big guys to score off of hustle rebounds.

Seattle has big time problems defensively.  Their backcourt won't stop anyone anywhere.  Despite his athleticism Lewis' talents run more to the offensive end.  Wilcox can rebound the heck out of the ball but he's not a defensive superstar either.  Their centers are unproven.  They won't block shots so you can drive it down their throats.  They will try to poke the ball away but this can lead to as many easy opportunities for you as for them.  If you do not give effort they can rebound you right out of the game but if you throw your bodies around they don't have the team commitment to keep you off the glass.

Their main bench guys are Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins, Nick Collison, and Johan Petro.  Petro and Wilkins are the ones to be worried about because they're usually more athletic than their counterparts and can explode on you in any given game.  Nevertheless, getting deep into Seattle's bench is usually a good thing.

What I'd like to see tonight:

  1.  Our big guys need to win, or at least tie, the battle of the boards.  Seattle has some darn fine big man rebounders but they're young and they probably won't hurt you too much in other ways.  If you can rebound with them you nullify most of their frontcourt advantage.  Zach equaling Chris Wilcox's production on the boards would be a very good sign.
  2.  This will be a clash of tempos.  The Sonics will want the Blazers to get impatient on offense, put up poor shots, and then they'll look to rebound and run.  Our best chance to win will come by keeping them in a halfcourt game, which means good timing, good execution, and remaining calm.  We shouldn't turn down obvious fast break buckets, but if it's not there we better not be jacking 20 footers with 18 seconds left on the 24-second clock.  A corollary:  we need to take care of the damn ball.
  3.  Ray Allen is going to get his, especially against our young guards.  20 is a near lock and it wouldn't surprise me to see him go for 30.  The only experienced backcourt defender is Dixon and does anybody think he'll stop Ray-Ray?  (You might see Ime Udoka get a shot at it though.)  I want to see Allen get his points by himself off the dribble though, not by receiving the ball off passes and hoisting.  This means the whole team must take responsibility for individual defense so Allen's defender isn't tempted to leave him.  As long as he's creating his own shot with a hand in his face I'll live with his points.
  4.  The guys I want to see shut down are Rashard Lewis and Damien Wilkins.  Both are high-flying penetrators and Lewis can also ring it up from range.  If either goes big it probably means the defense has broken down in both the transition game and the halfcourt.  I do not want to see them at the rim unless Przybilla is stuffing it back in their faces.  (Przy staying out of foul trouble will be another indication that things are going well.)  If we can hold Lewis to 15 or below and keep Wilkins under 10 we should have a shot even if Ray lights the joint up. A Dave tidbit:  Most will call Allen-Roy the key matchup of the night.  Others will cite Zach and Chris Wilcox.  I think the pivotal matchup is whoever is guarding Rashard.
  5.  I want to see Jarrett Jack abuse Ridnour with drives and dishes, drives and jumpers, drives and layups.  I don't mind if Ridnour puts up a fair number of shots himself--we're better off with him as a scorer than a passer--but Jack needs to outscore him if we're to hang close.
  6.  In EVERY game we need to outhustle the opponent to have a chance.
It's a little far-fetched to call for a Blazer win in any given game, but I will say that if you believe there are games we can steal in November, this one ranks high on that list.  It's not that I don't give Seattle credit.  In some ways they have a far more balanced and proven team than we do.  But as Miami showed us last night you never know how teams are going to come out of the gate.  That randomness plus the fact that most think Seattle to be a weaker sister in the league gives some hope.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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