There's no doubt this was an ugly game but this was a beautiful win. We needed to show we can compete on these kinds of nights, where everything is going wrong and we can't escape our opponent. Winning teams get through the first three quarters on nights like this and then settle for locking down in the fourth. Guess what we did? Exactly. This was not the best of Blazer basketball, but this was one of the better signs so far that Blazer basketball could start to mean something again really soon.
It seems appropriate on an ugly night to describe the ugliness first. We came out lacking energy. Of course the convenient explanation was the back-to-back with travel. I'm sure that had something to do with it. But then again the Blazers have played back-to-back on the road before and not looked this slow. I think those who predicted that the team would have trouble gearing up for tonight were probably correct. When everything is a breeze the night before it feels like the breeze will blow forever. Something was blowing tonight alright, but it was like standing downwind from a paper mill. The Hornets, Tyson Chandler in particular, brutalized us on the boards. For much of the first three quarters we could not grab a defensive rebound to save our lives. I don't care if we don't get many offensive rebounds. That probably just means we're getting back in transition. But if you don't grab the enemy misses you never get a chance to open a scoring advantage. We've been allowing offensive rebounds in the high teens lately. It's a symptom of the zone defense, but it has to stop eventually if we want to keep winning.
Many would probably point to shot selection on such an offensively-strained night but truth be told we weren't shooting anything different than we have been. In fact if anything we became too tentative at certain points, passing up shots that have been routine for us. The shots just weren't falling.
But here is where the good stuff comes in. Through it all, no matter what happened, we never fell apart and we never panicked. We kept playing our game. You never got the sense that this game was out of control. Indeed, we made New Orleans lose control. We watched them fight among themselves and get "T"'ed up by the refs, both of which are hallmarks of inexperienced teams in these situations. Except we weren't the ones acting inexperienced. Brandon Roy has to be given major credit for this.
Another great sign: we turned the ball over only 9 times all game. This is a MAJOR stat for this team. I feel pretty confident saying that we'll have a chance to win almost any game where we take care of the ball that well. We can go with you blow-for-blow on offense most nights but we can't absorb giving you easy points and not getting enough shots ourselves.
But the best aspect of the night, hands down, was the defense. There were individual defensive collapses but as a team we stayed pretty tight. Whoever designed and explained the zone to the players should get a shiny medal, a nice raise, and a two-week loan of Paul Allen's yacht. It's not that the principles are that revolutionary. It's a zone. But our guys seem to have bought into the concept so well. One of the major problems with zones traditionally has been that the players consider it a "less responsibility" defense. They tend to get lazy and satisfied with protecting their area. You'll often see guys help less and move slower in the zone. Right now we are moving our feet, throwing our bodies around, lifting our hands and arms, and generally being real pests when we defend. There were a couple of plays out there tonight when from the zone positions we actually moved to cut off New Orleans options before the Hornets seemed to recognize them. When you see a guy cutting off the passing lane and he's a help defender who's not involved in the play primarily you know something is going right. The end result was we forced the Hornets to shoot a ton over the top and they simply didn't make enough. It will be interesting to see how we fare against a team that finally gets hot from the outside. But then again that's going to happen rarely enough that I'll take it. Hopefully we can finish this cycle through our conference opponents before other teams figure out how to crack it. It is so nice to see us making life tough on guys like Deron Williams and Chris Paul.
--The one guy who needs to be lifted up above all others is Brandon Roy. Just forget his stats (24 points, 10-17 shooting, 8 assists). Forget them. He is the core of our poise. With Aldridge out Brandon has been revealed as the heart of this team. And that's not taking anything away from Lamarcus. I think Lamarcus may well end up being the more dominant player of the two...perhaps widely being considered the "better" player. Oden will probably end up overshadowing Brandon as well. But never forget that Brandon is the reason this team will win. Brandon is the reason that this team is winning more than it should right now. He never let this game be in doubt. That intangible "it" he has is something we have not seen around here since the Drexler days. He makes this team look far more experienced than it is.
--Joel Przybilla got a standing ovation as he left the floor, and deservedly so because he was battling in there. But the guy who really deserves a round of applause is Raef LaFrentz. That's right, I said RAEF LAFRENTZ. We've noted here that his play has started to sparkle a little the last few weeks and that he's provided us some quiet, key minutes in reserve. There was nothing quiet about what he did tonight. He snagged 11 rebounds in 18 minutes, had 2 blocks, and seemed to put himself in good positions on the floor on both ends. He's an experienced big man. That's what we've been longing for. He's not going to be a single-handed game-changer and he's not likely to be good for much more than 12-18 minutes a night, but we shouldn't miss the way he's filling a huge void on this team right now.
--Steve Blake also had a quiet, yet productive, evening. For one thing he was one of the few guys hitting shots. He also kept the game at the right pace and in control.
--Speaking of, we haven't spoken enough of Sergio lately. He's found a new streak of offensive aggressiveness which makes him fit better into those minutes he's getting. He's getting to the hole and getting shots now instead of passing exclusively. Once he becomes a credible threat to defenses his passing game will open up again, wider than it was before. At that point we'll see the true dangerous guy he could be. Just as important: Sergio is limiting his mistakes out there. I have not noticed any major blunders from him in a long time. For a guy who was habitually making two a game (which at his rate of play meant one every 4-5 minutes) that's a big deal. He's not getting a really extensive shot right now because we're winning and you don't mess with a winning formula. But he is definitely in the point guard rotation steadily now. We're not going to win forever (or maybe we won't stay healthy forever) and he's going to get a chance to play 20-25 minutes a game at some point. I am curious to see how he takes advantage of that chance now. My in-game comment was that it seemed like it took 15 games or so for him to get back in the swing. He seems more comfortable and ready now.
--Travis was missing everything tonight. He was constantly hitting the back bracket on his jumper. It wasn't even close. To his credit he still drew some fouls and played a little defense. Also he only took 12 shots instead of 19. He was a big culprit in the rebounding fiasco though. He was flat-footed out there.
--In another surprising turn of events James Jones had trouble hitting his shots. That'll happen though. You think the guy's going to shoot 60% from three-point land all season? We'll settle for 55%. I wonder how scary he will be with a low-post threat like Oden in the middle?
--Predictably as Jones declined a little bit Martell Webster rose again a little bit. He couldn't hit his threes but he drove a little, shot a few free throws (most off of twin fouled three-pointers), and had one NASSSSSSTY dunk that brought the house down. It was more than we've seen out of him in the last week. Hopefully the flu thing is getting better.
--Channing Frye pained us on defense and was a little less energetic than last night's miracle output. He got in massive early foul trouble though and never got a chance to play regularly. We'll give him a pass for this game with a couple bonus points for hitting some jumpers and making one or two nice passes.
--Jarrett Jack continues to struggle in spots and shine in others. He'll hit a great shot, make a great pass, then commit an ugly turnover. Maybe it's my imagination, but Brandon seems more comfortable with Jarrett out there beside him than any of the other guards. If true that's probably enough reason to stick with him.
One Sentence Game Summary
It don't matter if you're the fanciest dancer at the prom as long as you score in the back of the limo afterwards.
First time over .500 at this point in the season in forever. First winning month in forever. First 8-game win streak in forever. It's a good night, folks.