So, I spent much of last night live-blogging from the Rose Garden and, for once, I really don't have a defense for all the questions and concerns posted here at BlazersEdge.
This was the definition of "winnable game," even for a young and inexperienced squad but the Blazers were once again doomed by a 12-minute stretch of absolutely terrible basketball. The worst part of it is- this stretch came when our starters were on the floor.
It was the first time in two years that Nate McMillan has actually removed his starters (read: Brandon Roy) because they were playing poorly. Normally, as most of us have seen, he lets them take their lumps and figure it out. Last night, we would've lost by 20 if he would've stuck with his core.
For all the Sergio fans out there, this is your shining moment. Travis Outlaw stole the show by scoring 26 points (on 21 shots but we'll get to that in a minute), but Sergio had arguably the best game of any Blazer. The Pacers had absolutely no answer for his quickness and his ability to break down the initial press and first line of the defense. He also played relatively within his means, which is a huge step in the right direction, and his +/- reflected this (+9).
My biggest concern coming from last night, and it's already been reflected in another post, was the play of Brandon Roy. Earlier this season, I compared him to a young Jason Kidd, but for right now, Brandon Roy is Jason Kidd without the ability to lead a squad. If you take away Jason's court leadership, he's pretty much a bad jump shooter who rebounds and passes well for his size. That was Roy last night. Whenever Mike Dunleavy has a hand in shutting down your star player, you have some serious issues.
We, plain and simple, need Roy to score. It gives the rest of the guys additional motivation and it provides a security blanket for anyone else who is struggling (especially Jack and Blake). When Blake and Jack know that Roy is scoring, they don't put as much pressure on each attempt.
Mike Dunleavy doesn't deserve much credit for Roy's struggles. Frequently, the Pacers threw 3 defenders at him (including Dunleavy, Granger, and even Jamaal Tinsley) and when they weren't double-teaming him, they just clogged the lane with Jeff Foster and whatever other scrub was playing the baseline and dared the Blazers to beat them from the perimeter.
Right now, you can expect pretty much every other team in the league to follow suit, because we're not good enough to beat opposing teams from deep. We're not built that way. This is especially evident when Roy is off.
After last night's effort, it absolutely wouldn't surprise me if we hear about Roy's heel flaring up in the next couple of days. I'm not one to question another man's pain, but there just has to be some explanation why his shot isn't falling because he's never had these types of problems scoring. Also, I don't think the Blazers psyche can afford to watch their star struggle much longer. It may just be safer to shut him down for a couple weeks, as much as that sucks to say...
Moving on... Did Channing Frye get a DNP - Coach's decision last night? Is he really too soft to play actively against THE PACERS? Joel Przybilla did a nice job of attacking the glass, but the Pacers sent 3 guys to surround him and box him out, because no one else rebounds with any tenacity. The Thrilla did have a couple nice dunks and hit a couple free-throws, but I can't say he had a good game. The Blazers let JEFF FREAKING FOSTER grab 17 rebounds. JEFF FOSTER. Is Maurice Lucas available? Even at his current age, I still think Lucas keeps Foster from grabbing 17 rebounds.
Oh, and for those that were claiming LaFrentz should see more burn (which wasn't very many people on BE, but it was definitely a popular sports radio opinion), would you please kindly and quietly exit side left? LaFrentz is a shell of his former self. At this point, LaFrentz makes something like $14 million a year and we'll be lucky if he grabs 14 rebounds on the season. In 4 minutes, he missed 2 wide-open jumpers, let Jeff Foster (a real BEAST FROM THE EAST) grab 2 rebounds when they both had a chance at the ball, and totaled 3 fouls.
Where do players go when they've lost all the touch on their normally feathery jumper and are flat out too slow and unathletic to be of service to an NBA team? That's right... LaFrentz belongs in New York.
LaMarcus Aldridge has filled the shoes of Zach Randolph in basically every fashion except one. Last year, Randolph would face double-teams and still find a way to score (for better or worse). We accepted this. How come Aldridge never attacks a double-team? He's more athletic, quicker, longer, and flat-out more dangerous than Randolph was/is, but he gives it up quicker than Paris Hilton when faced with a double-team.
It makes me think that both Roy and Aldridge are a little timid and neither one of them knows who the "main man" is. Also, who taught LaMarcus how to fade? Rasheed Wallace? HE'S 6'11" and he's up against JEFF FOSTER. There's absolutely no reason to EVER fade against the Pacers front line. Lower your shoulder, take it strong, and hit your free-throws. STOP FADING LIKE YOU'RE A 6'11" VERSION OF MICHAEL JORDAN.
Along the same lines, who taught our front line how to draw a charge? The way Aldridge, Webster and Przybilla fell over last night, you'd think our big men were giant bowling pins. Twice, it worked, and the Blazers got the ball. But the thing is- when you draw a charge and make the grand "flopping" gesture, it makes the ref feel like you're baiting him. Each time the Pacers attacked the basket, someone would fall over. Each time the Blazers attacked the basket, a Pacer would challenge the shot. Even if they did hack the stuffing out of both Roy and Webster, the refs gave Indiana the benefit of the doubt because they didn't fall over.
Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. Neither should the Blazers.
Steve Blake... 0 for 5... Jarrett Jack... 4 for 11... Sergio Rodriguez... 1 for 3. This wasn't even the most frustrating occurrence in our backcourt. Jamaal Tinsley has ONE FREAKING MOVE and yet, he torched the Blazers in crunch time. He either backs you down or faces up, but the result is the same - a step back jumper from 18 feet. Can someone make an adjustment? Honestly, Sergio played the best defense on Tinsley even though he gave up the most size. Sergio just decided to frustrate Jamaal with his energy and it worked. Jack and Blake just gave him the step back jumper all night and it cost us 6 crucial points down the stretch.
Now, on to the shining star of the night - Travis Outlaw. Let's be honest, when Travis goes up for a jump shot, everyone in the arena holds their breath. It just looks funny when he shoots and one of these days, it's going to give Nate McMillan a coronary. Besides this, Outlaw was by far our most aggressive player, WHICH IS NOT A GOOD THING. If Roy and Aldridge shared Outlaw's passion for firing up a jump shot, we'd probably have 3 more wins this year. Instead, we get to see Outlaw fire up 21 shots for 26 points.
That's a great game for Outlaw, but we still don't have to like it.
By my count, when in the scoring position (which for Outlaw is anywhere below 20ft from the basket, because he loves that one dribble pull-up jumper) Outlaw passed the ball ONE TIME for a LaMarcus Aldridge dunk. His other assist came on a fast break. Actually, it was kind of funny, because everyone in the arena was so surprised that Outlaw passed it, the ball almost flew into the first row of the stands. Aldridge wasn't even trying to get in position to score, HE WAS BATTLING FOR THE REBOUND.
Come on, T.O., you're the third cog in our offensive machine. At least part of your job, especially on a night when most of your teammates are struggling, is to CREATE OPPORTUNITIES for other players. Outlaw saw about 7 minutes of loose double-teams towards the end of the game (most of which came when he tried to drive to the basket). In 7 minutes, he found ONE OTHER PLAYER for a basket. I've heard of tunnel vision before, but Outlaw had the blinders on last night.
Still, Travis had a great offensive game and he played well defensively, despite being over-matched by Danny Granger and out-weighed by Troy Murphy. His monster block late in the game energized the Rose Garden crowd more than any other play and whenever he turns in 11 of 21 from the field, we have to give him a pat on the back...
I left this game feeling legitimately worried. Could Taureen Green have frustrated Jamaal Tinsley a little bit more than Steve Blake did? I'm pretty sure Green could've handled going 0 for 5 from the field... Will Josh McRoberts ever see time? It's not like we're going to be blowing teams out anytime soon... What's with Channing Frye getting a DNP? Outlaw could've easily shifted to the SF spot to create space, unless Frye's psyche is too wounded for him to contribute... How good is James Jones? Last night, we needed perimeter shooting and active defense/rebounding (which is where Jones excelled last year in Phoenix). Can Jones contribute a little more than Webster's 4 of 12 and 8 rebounds?
Worst of all, I feel terrible for Coach Nate McMillan. He's in quite possibly the toughest spot in the NBA. Basically, everyone is expecting a "dynasty" out of this young core, but what if the games like this continue? Do we fire Nate? Where do we draw the line between player and coach accountability? Hopefully, Nate develops this core into its full potential and sticks around long enough to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, it's almost just as likely that Coach McMillan will be replaced because his record with the Blazers has been less than stellar. It's tough enough for a coach to bring 1 rookie along, let alone a roster full of them...