As many of you have already mentioned, we went 4-2 on the road trip and are 10-14 overall. To say we're good is going too far. To say we're better is probably safe. One thing's for sure, this is a lot earlier than most people would have predicted us to hit double-digit wins. It is an accomplishment of which this young team should be proud.
Blazers 85, Grizzles 79
--I know this game wasn't televised locally but I hope a lot of you got the chance to see it on League Pass. Specifically I hope you got to watch the first quarter. That was as good of a period as we've played all year. The best thing hands down was the way the offense was running. We were setting up plays for Zach but Z-Bo was catching it on the move and everyone else moved around him. We weren't just dumping the ball in and watching. Since he was moving and the ball got to him early the double-teams didn't have time to set. Since he was moving in the general direction of the basket he got deep position almost immediately. The upshot was he hit a lot of shots and when he didn't hit he was fouled. On the occasions when the double-team did get there he had open lanes to pass out of and we made the Griz pay. It was a great job by EVERYONE, and exactly how the offense should run...centered around Zach but still both sensible and unselfish. We got tired (at least I assume that was the explanation) and we didn't keep up the energy, movement, or unselfishness all game long, but for the first twelve minutes it was great to watch. It's no accident that we scored 27 in the period, nor that we shot 50% for the first quarter, nor that Zach had monster stats, nor that we led the game by a ton at that point. Nor was it an accident that the Grizzlies came back on us and the scoring stalled when we stopped playing with that energy and unselfishness.
--Another magnificent first quarter feature was the defense. They scored only 14 points against us. Granted some of that came from their missing point blank shots. But they missed some of those shots because every time they got penetration in the first period somebody was there to help. It was wonderful! Huge, huge props to Joel Przybilla for the early game showing.
--The Griz made a run in the first half but we responded calmly and immediately slapped them back into place. Granted we lost the lead later on but this is one more serious run than we usually repel. Perhaps we're learning.
--Outside of a couple fine individual efforts the bench really had a rough time tonight. They weren't bringing their usual energy and you were holding your breath the whole time they were in there. It's funny how that works. Some nights the starters are flat and you think we have the best reserve squad in the world. Other nights the starters excel and the bench players look like they were doing good just getting their sneakers tied right. I'd love to see a game where both fired at once.
--We came out early in the third quarter with energy, which was nice to see. We renewed our active movement without the ball. And on defense our feet moved quickly and I even saw a hand or two up! Zach Randolph drew some early fouls though and him going to the bench precipitated the Memphis comeback.
--The biggest reason for the comeback was our interior defense crumbling. Joel didn't play most of the second half and Jamaal and whoever played next to him (Travis, Raef) couldn't cover the way Joel does. Our perimeter defense remained weak and it was exposed.
--That said, I did like how Jarrett Jack especially, and the other guards somewhat, were dealing with picks tonight. They didn't just freeze when picked off. They at least tried to pick up the defense. The big guys showed pretty well too, and that helped. If our screen defense improved it would take away at least 40% of our perimeter defensive woes.
--The last few minutes of the fourth quarter made up for everything that had slipped in the earlier minutes of the second half. Ime Udoka hit a cold-blooded shot with one minute left to put us back up by one. He was the guy the Grizzlies left open and he made them pay. Way to step up. Travis Outlaw stuffed Rudy Gay 1-on-1 on the ensuing possession. It was a magnificent block. Memphis recovered the ball but then Travis blocked Damon Stoudamire's shot. That one might have been goal tending, especially since a very questionable call had gone against Memphis earlier on when Stromile Swift blocked a Magloire hook that looked to be still on its way up. Travis' block was obviously at the apex or just past, but either way was far later than Swift's had been. Nevertheless we'll take the call and give Travis enormous credit for helping on that defensive stand. After that we forced a Memphis turnover and hit our free throws (Zach again mostly) and that was that.
--Despite a relatively similar final score, this game bore little resemblance to that Philadelphia eyesore the other day. With apologies to `Sheed, both teams played hard. There were some fine individual efforts and the game seemed to fly by.
--Let's mention again Zach Randolph's nice shot selection early on and his contribution to the ball movement and effective offense. He had a couple nice passes to cutters in the lane. You can usually tell exactly how into a game Zach is by how quickly he gets back down the court on defense. He was running back tonight. No complaints about him overall. It wasn't a perfect game but the mistakes were of the "This is just Zach" variety, not the "How stupid can you be?!?" variety. He really played quite a nice game out there. He looked like a real star, not just a great stats guy.
--Ime Udoka, in addition to hitting the go-ahead shot, had a really, really nice game. His defense on Mike Miller was pretty darn good. In fact Miller torched the Blazers when they put anybody else on him. He also shot 6-of-9 en route to 15 points. This was one of his best all-around games of the year.
--Jamaal Magloire, despite not being able to fill Joel's shoes on defense, logged some nice backup minutes, especially when Zach went down. He was getting great low post position . He scored efficiently and contributed 7 rebounds to the cause.
--Juan Dixon was another spark plug off the bench. His game was up and down, as he took a few shots way too early in the shot clock. But when it came to crunch time he was all gold. He had 3 assists to go along with his 11 points and though his heroics came just before the critical minutes, we still wouldn't have won the game without him.
--Travis' shot looked very nice and confident again. We've already talked about his blocks (4 total for the game including the two critical ones). It was a nice, helpful effort from him. The guy seems to be gaining confidence with every week that goes by. He's starting to contribute without pushing. That's great to see. He may quietly be the most improved player on the team the last few weeks.
--Tonight we saw what a difference Joel can make. It was one of those nights where he alone made a relatively poor defense passable, and at times even great. He only got 6 boards but he also only played 22 minutes. And hey...he actually hit the two shots he took!
--Lamarcus got confused and gummed up in the defense. Four minutes total playing time.
--The Grizzlies paid attention when Sergio came in. The trap-double teamed him immediately in the halfcourt to confuse him and get the ball out of his hands without him having any effect with his passes. It worked. Three minutes total playing time.
-- I wonder what's going to happen to Martell when Socks returns. He had another one of those games when he was active for the first two minutes and then kind of disappeared. I noticed a nice individual defensive stand or two but no real impact other than that. If you look at Ime when he doesn't have the ball his hands are up, he's into the play, and he's ready to shoot as soon as the ball is delivered. If you look at Martell he's pretty passive. The guys just aren't giving him the ball either. It's like they know he's lost confidence or something. Once again back to the drawing board.
--Damon had a nice game. 15 points, 5 rebounds. I was half afraid for a while he was going to dump 30 on us because he had that look of being into it. But I don't think he has that kind of mojo anymore.
--Rudy Gay has HOPS! (Outlaw has more though...or at least more length.)
--The other really, really impressive Grizzly was Alexander Johnson. He played 19 minutes and had 7 rebounds and 6 points. The stats don't tell it though. This guy is BIG and STRONG and ACTIVE. He also guarded Zach pretty darn well...maybe as well as anybody this season. His energy out there tonight was wonderful. He seemed to single-handedly lift the Grizzlies out of their funk. It's only one game, but if he continues that kind of effort they have a keeper. It's really too bad we can't get a big, muscular, energy-giving tough guy like that for our frontcourt! Oh wait, we had him. He was our second-round draft pick this year. We traded him away for a future second rounder. Hmmm. (Insert requisite head-scratching here.)
--Former Blazer announcer Pete Pranica does the Grizzlies' games. I like Mike Barrett just fine but I also never understood why we got rid of Pete. He has a nice, understated, and very smart way of calling games. And once again it was refreshing to hear a guy who obviously boned up on the opposition before calling the game. His summaries of our players were both current and dead on. Nice job.
10 and 14. Once upon a time we would have hung ourselves if we had that record, but for a team that's struggled so much that sounds pretty darn good. It'll be interesting to see how we come out against the Clippers on Friday.