Ohhh...another nice, NICE win! Even without McGrady that was a pretty good team out there. And truth be told, I'll keep taking short-handed teams if we'll keep racking up the wins. I don't think I was on pins and needles twice all of last year, but I had them all through the second half of this game. That's what you pay your money for!
Rockets 87, Blazers 89
--This wasn't the best executed game we've played (that may have been last week against the Clippers) but it was hands-down the highest energy game I've seen in years. Make no mistake...that's exactly why we won. We got every loose ball, most contested rebounds...I just can't explain how nice it was to see the team play like that. I took notes on individuals so I could give credit where it was due, but my note sheet just ended up looking like "Randolph...ENERGY! Outlaw...ENERGY! Dixon...ENERGY! Magloire...ENERGY!" Fuggetabouttit, it was the whole dang team.
--From the preview:
I need to amend that Joel actually did a credible job on Yao most of the game, but in the large picture Yao scored 34, the rest of the team...53 combined. (Turns out that my 55 combined would have yielded overtime. Nobody's perfect.)
--We won the battle of the boards against the best rebounding team in the league!!! That's got to make people proud.
--Our interior defense was marvelous. When the guards got beat off the dribble or Houston got the ball in to Yao on the pass we collapsed and came up with our fair share of stops, blocks, or forced misses and rebounds. Simply GREAT help defense tonight! We held Houston to 30% shooting and 34 points in the first half. To help matters even more, we also got back in transition.
--People were attacking the basket and almost nobody put up contested long-range shots. We really are starting to move the ball marvelously on a regular basis.
--We were flat-out RUNNING down the court for significant stretches of the game. It wasn't like we were getting fast breaks, we just pushed the offense harder. I liked it because it allowed us a few more seconds to explore the offense. It didn't seem like we were up against the clock as much tonight as we often are.
--The only criticism I can offer isn't criticism, just a matter of perspective. We played one of our best games of the season tonight, but we could only open up a 10 point lead and nearly lost it at that. That is still the difference between us and really good teams. When a playoff-level team plays their best (especially when the opponent is having a sub-par night like Houston was) they blow people out and never look back. Again, that's neither a complaint nor a criticism, rather an observation and perhaps a moderate reality check.
--Never mind that though, five in a row??? I wouldn't have thought that possible.
--Z-BO! Z-BO! Z-BO! I said before the game if he went 8-of-20 we were probably in trouble, and that's exactly what he shot, but it didn't end up costing us. In fact I couldn't argue with very many of his shots tonight. He has developed a LOT more trust in his teammates pretty quickly. Either that or something just got to him. Either way he's really a functioning part of the offense right now. Also (and more importantly) he was one of the leaders in hustle. He only let things sneak by him a couple times. For most of the night he was hustling back in transition, moving without the ball, and really CLOSING OUT in the halfcourt defense! I loved his energy tonight...loved it!
So since we're dreaming about Zach and this being the baby steps of a long-awaited reformation/maturation, let's dream big. Assuming he's able to keep up this style and level of play, here's what I want next: I don't want to hear any more crap about the All-Star game. There are a hundred great power forwards in the West and will be for years, so the odds are long of him ever being anything but a bit player in that world unless and until he carries his team to something significant. Even a playoff berth would only net him eight minutes in the thing, and really, once you're introduced for the first time what does it all mean? Besides, it's a nice honor and all, but it doesn't get you anything besides that rider in your contract (and Zach's got enough money already). I suppose you could argue that it gets you more respect from refs, but Zach's already in rarified air for free throw attempts and he gets to travel every other play. So enough of that. I want him to start talking about rings. When somebody asks him what his goals are I want to hear four words: "Portland Trailblazers, NBA Championship". I know it's a long way off, but if you're going to be good, that's what you should be shooting for.
--The behind-the-scenes game balls go to Joel Przybilla and Travis Outlaw. Joel had only 5 rebounds and 4 points, but he had 4 blocks while leading the magnificent, helping interior defense and he also played a darn solid game against Yao. He didn't stop him or anything, but he did make him work for his points, tired him out some, and mostly kept him away from the offensive boards. Joel was a linchpin tonight. Travis was the energy king. He also had four blocks and was helping out on the interior as well. He was a huge inspirational lift for the team and the crowd. And hey, he got 12 points on 5-of-9 solid shots too.
--Jarrett Jack had the worst first half I've ever seen him play. His shots were missing badly (and I mean embarrassingly so), he turned the ball over, he committed a stupid foul on a 3-point shot at the end of the first quarter...it looked like it wasn't his night. To his credit he came back in the second half with focus, fire, and smarts. He ended up playing 40 minutes, which means Nate noticed it too. Way to recover. (And if that hadn't happened you can be sure we would have lost the game.)
--Dixon had a really tough game shooting (2-of-8) but provided some nice energy in the 22 minutes he played. I expect he's one of the guys who will gradually start to lose playing time now that the team is basically healthy again.
--Jamaal Magloire: 9 points, 6 rebounds in 20 minutes. He wasn't as effective against Yao as Joel was, but this is exactly the kind of game we need from him.
--Martell hit a three-pointer and grabbed one good rebound. I still don't know quite what to say about him.
--Everyone will want to know how Roy did. The answer is pretty well, at least in limited minutes. He looked a little shaky out there, vaguely unsure maybe. There was a fair amount of excess dribbling and a couple unnecessary turnovers. However he made some fantastic drives, including one late to help seal the game. He shot 4-6, had 9 points, 2 assists, and 3 boards in 24 minutes. Nobody on this team penetrates quite like he does. And nobody plays perimeter defense one-on-one the same way except maybe Ime, and sometimes I think Roy is even better than our much-heralded small forward. You could see the difference in the defensive sets when he was out there.
--The crowd was WAY jazzed up from the very outset of the game. They cheered like heck when Joel won the tip-off. Way to represent tonight people!
--I've read a fair amount of speculation over the last couple years that we'd have been a better team had we retained some of our more notorious players despite their troubles. One of the players often mentioned is Bonzi Wells. It's time to put that assertion to rest for good. Bonzi Wells sucks. If we had Bonzi Wells we'd suck. Sure he's managed a few memorable games with fantastic scoring outputs, but in a nutshell he's run through everybody's patience on every team he's been on, he's only played well or long enough to get the next contract, he's now injury-prone and fat in addition to being an idiot, and I hope he's enjoying every single second of getting his junk smacked back left and right by the likes of Travis Outlaw. (2-for-10 shooting tonight, by the way.) Hey Bonz...for years you screwed over Portland fans, took us for granted, flipped us off, and called us fools. Now here's some back atcha buddy. See, the thing is we usually get the last laugh, because NBA careers are short and players with less than full dedication slide pretty quickly, but fans stick around a long, long time. And now we get to watch your slow, painful march to obscurity. 12.7 points a game. That's what your career average is going to amount to, superstar. That's not even a footnote to an asterisk in the annals of NBA history. And that's provided, of course, that you can't find some GM stupid enough to let you hang around long enough to drive it even lower. (It ain't goin' up, sparky.) I hope you saved plenty of that money you earned, because you won't be trading much on your legacy. At least Rasheed, for all the antics, had a credible, solid all-around game, knew when it was time to play, and helped lead a team to a championship. What do you have to look back on besides what could have been? And despite your assertions to Sports Illustrated long ago, no, I wouldn't change my mind about all this if I saw you walking down the street. I wouldn't change my mind if you signed an autograph. In fact I wouldn't change my mind if you gave me half of your paycheck...which, by the way, would still leave you grossly overpaid. Way to waste a career, big guy. Enjoy retirement. Have fun lying to all your friends about how good you used to be, just like the rest of us average Joes do.
Been waiting four years to say that. Feels good.