Well, that lottery ticket came up bell...BELL...lemon. Oh well, it was fun anyway.
FINAL SCORE: Portland 89 Orlando 91
--We stayed close in this game for three reasons. First we managed to rebound right there with them. Except for a few stretches they were one and done all evening. Second we pounded them on the free throw line. Third our transition defense was pretty decent so they had to work for their points. That ALMOST was enough.
--Our help defense was also much improved from recent outings. If you want to see a couple of examples of what I mean (and if you have the game taped) go to consecutive defensive possessions from 8:22-8:11 in the 2nd and again from 7:44-7:33. That first one was particularly impressive. The weak-side help was there most of the night. It made a night and day difference.
--Our bench just plays really, really well most nights. It's impressive to see a bunch of guys who know they probably won't be getting a lot of minutes or shots still sharing the ball with each other and playing hard. Seldom am I uncomfortable with our second unit out there against enemy reserves.
--We stayed close most of the night, but this was another one of those "wave on the shore" games where we tried and tried but the more experienced team just wouldn't let us over the hump.
--We had some very interesting lineups out there late in the fourth. For one of the first times all year we saw Sergio and Jack in the same backcourt, which I think gives us more options. Aldridge was in there most of the time too, as was Outlaw. Nate showed some confidence in different players tonight.
--To nobody's surprise (or nobody who's read this blog anyway) we lost on...a pick. The final Orlando play went like this: Grant Hill set up near the top of the key with Ime Udoka on him. When the inbounder received the ball from the ref Jameer Nelson hooked out from the lane and set a pick on Ime. Jarrett Jack was Nelson's defender and was right behind him. Grant Hill ran past the pick. Jack took one step out like he was going to keep following Nelson instead of switching onto Hill. Udoka expected Jarrett to switch and so he stayed with Nelson too. Jack realized the mistake a split second after he took the step towards Nelson instead of Hill but that second was enough. Hill blew right past him and went wide open into the lane. The inbounder lobbed it to Hill, easy layup, game over. How many times have I said our guards in general and Jarrett in particular have trouble figuring out what to do against a screen? This time it cost us. However, this is all part of the growing pains of youth, so you can't get too excited about it.
--This game showed us everything that is wonderful and horrible about Zach Randolph. He started out the game pathetically. He got blocked a couple of times by Dwight Howard and stopped being aggressive with his shot, rushing it and trying a lot of finesse dipsy-doodles. He shot very poorly for the half and didn't draw a single trip to the line. Through most of the half he was a total ball hog too. The more he missed the more he'd try to make up for it. After he sat down to rest, though, the second unit shared the ball very well. He seemed to take notice and when he came back in the game in the second quarter he started moving the ball too. He had a couple of nice passes and looked fine.
The second half Zach came out very aggressive. It was one of those things where he was still hogging the ball but you didn't mind because he was putting the Z-Bo moves on. He seemed to single-handedly keep us in the game. He scored 16 points in the third quarter alone. He was also drawing a lot of fouls and made 11 trips to the line in the second half. However as the fourth quarter started winding down he showed absolutely no discernment in which shots to take. This also was classic Zach. The ball stopped with him every trip down the court and every time a shot was coming. The Magic started keying on him pretty hard and he ended up shooting only 40% for the game after 25 shots. He did grab 6 offensive rebounds and 13 overall.
So do you love Zach's game or hate it? There were plenty of reasons for both here and probably doing only one or the other doesn't do the guy justice. Maybe that's part of why he's such a polarizing figure.
--This was a very nice game for Travis Outlaw. He shot 4 for 6 and scored 13 points. Even better he grabbed 8 rebounds, blocked a couple shots, and didn't stink on defense. He chooses his spots so well on offense and he brings a lot of energy out there.
--Jarrett Jack had an amazing start to the game. He was tearing up the Magic left and right for a few minutes. He lost his shooting touch later and he probably didn't get as many shots up as he should have given his aggressiveness and production. He notched 5 assists, drew and hit 5 foul shots, and even had a couple of swipes.
--Lamarcus had a four minute stretch where he could do no wrong either. He hit three beautiful long-range jumpers tonight...just pure and easy as could be. He needed a few more boards and he got muscled up on defense a few times, but who didn't?
--Sergio and Juan Dixon (that's right, Juan Dixon) each had the passing bug tonight. They made some really nice moves and netted four dimes apiece. Juan was a big reason that second-unit offense moved so well. Sergio was making opposing defenders look non-existent off the dribble. On the downside, the two combined for just 2 of 11 shots they tried (hitting one apiece). Sergio only had one turnover but it was a game-changer, very late in the 4th and leading to a Magic fast break. (He was like a quarterback who threw an interception for a touchdown.) Sergio also took what would have been the go-ahead shot on the Blazers' penultimate possession. I don't think that was the designed play. It was a short layup attempt and he hit only backboard. That aside, you noticed his contributions out there.
--Przy and Magloire both grabbed a few rebounds and shot unusually well, but they got used up by Dwight Howard and neither stayed in the game for long stretches.
--Martell played only 18 minutes and attempted only three shots, two of which looked awful. However you have to give the guy credit tonight. He came out really energized tonight. His teammates mostly ignored him. He also moved a lot quicker on defense and looked at least marginally better. That piece on him is coming on Monday for sure.
--Dwight Howard is the REAL DEAL. Have mercy! The guy looks almost like Shaq used to out there, except without the need to resort to cheap forearm fouls. Plus he can run the court. He's aggressive, his moves are sweet and pure, his body is well-nigh unstoppable, he blocks shots like a monster, and don't even get me started on his rebounding. Plus you need a freakin' turn signal and a map to get around one of his picks. On one play in the 4th Magloire was guarding him and Howard dribbled past him. Jamaal knew he was beat so he just hung on Dwight's arm and shoulder. Howard went up and DUNKED ANYWAY, with Magloire hanging onto him. This guy shows you the difference between a real superstar and the players we have. I mean, Zach's our best guy and he's plenty good, but he's nothing compared to this kid. Even with the better scoring stats for Zach, there's not a GM in the universe who would take him over Howard right now, and Howard has only begun to tap his potential. That's no knock on Zach or anyone else on this team, it's just a reminder that there's a difference between guys we hope will be good and guys that are going to be great no matter what.
--The Garden crowd got really energized as the night went on but early in the game you could literally hear echoes reverberating around the building. Honest to God, it came across the broadcast microphones. That ain't good folks. Besides, do you know how devastating a Dwight Howard slam sounds when you hear it four times in succession? "BAM...AM...am...am..."
--The Orlando camera loved the Blazer Dancers tonight. And...well...so do I.
If anyone was at the game and wants to send in a report, just e-mail it along.