Just to be clear: LaMarcus Aldridge is fully aware that his jumper is completely off right now. He knows it. You know it. He knows that you know it. No, he doesn't know what's up. Yes, he's working to correct it. Indeed, he was out there 90 minutes before the game shooting jumpers, trying to get his stroke back. By my count, during one stretch, he went 2 for 20, unguarded from 18 feet out, with the ball rotating haphazardly, too much to the left on one attempt, too much to the right on the next. He then went out and went 3 for 14 during the game, hitting nothing but a few layups and a jump hook. He hit the side of the backboard. He hit the front of the backboard. He hit everything, pretty much, but net.
So there's that to worry about. There's also this: Greg started his first home game but barely played in the fourth quarter as he struggled his way to 3 points and 6 boards in 19 minutes. I snapped this picture with less than 2 minutes to go and with the Blazers in a dogfight down the stretch.
I'll put it this way: I didn't just catch Greg in between smiles. He didn't look like he wanted to be there. He didn't really look like he was paying attention. Think I'm putting it too strongly? Watch his reaction to his very first starting lineup introduction. It kind of makes me cringe. As far as I know, he didn't take questions after the game (I didn't see him in the locker room). These are tough times. He is hard on himself. Wish the big fella well.
The nice thing about having a big three though is that even when one can't hit a shot and another just needs a break from life, there's always Brandon to put up 28, 4 and 3 and carry the team with two clutch shots down the stretch. It wasn't Brandon's best game from start to finish but his 28 points were a season high. His lefty layups in the lane are getting to be routine; we should never take them for granted. Too dang pretty.
The Blazers only won this game because their 18 offensive rebounds (12 more than the Kings) led to 84 field goal attempts (13 more than the Kings) and because John Salmons could only draw back iron on his last second runner. In fairness to Salmons, who had a heck of a game (20 points in 41 minutes), Travis Outlaw was going zergling all over him in the lane. Say what you want about Travis's inconsistent defense. He can bother shooters when he wants to.
What's the takeaway tonight? Our shiny 9-6 record shouldn't have you too high: we've got some serious consistency and mental issues to work through if we want to beat the really good teams. Remember: the Kings played without Martin and Garcia. It's hard to feel too good (or good at all) about this one.
Nate's Postgame Comments
On that note, Nate was not feeling too hot after the game. He was on edge, talking briskly through questions, rushing out of the room after just a few minutes. Nate is still not the type of coach to be outright angry after a win (after all, it's a win, he'll take it) but this was just about as negative as I've seen him after a win. Here's what he had to say...
Nate on the result: "We dodged a bullet. We know we dodged a bullet tonight. Again, you need some of those during the course of the season but we can play much better than that. We got to. Each night we talk about improving. And as we get into the season right now towards the end of November, teams will get better. Teams are going to get better and we've got to get better. Tonight we dodged a bullet."
Nate on what was missing: "The scrappiness. I think we've got to work hard. In this game it's about bringing it every single night. On both ends of the floor and there's no reason why we can't get that. No one should have to worry about saving themselves as far as minutes, we are playing 10 guys. We should be able to get after guys. I didn't think that we were the aggressors in this game. We had to make some plays down the stretch to pull this out. We've had a couple of those this year but we won't continue to win games playing that way. We are much better than that. We gotta show it."
Nate on Greg's play: "Well, I want him to be more aggressive. Defensively, making the calls. And the pick and roll sets. Dominating. I think both he and LaMarcus can dominate that paint, on the boards. If we're dropping it, being more aggressive. Tonight, Joel stepped up once again and I think the good thing about our team is, again, you don't have to save yourself. Go out and leave it on the floor. We'll have another group come in and it's about the team playing well."
Nate on going with Joel instead of Greg down the stretch: "Joel was doing some good things defensively. Offensively he was underneath the basket and able to put the ball in the hoop. Defensively he really did a nice job giving us a lift."
Nate on getting used to playing with Greg: "We gotta play basketball. We can't forcefeed the post. If it's there, we take it. If not, then you gotta shoot the ball. If they are committing two to defending him in the paint, somebody else is open and you've got to knock down some shots. We're not going to force it to anyone. If you do get it, you gotta make good decisions with the ball. It's not playing with him and playing off of him, once Greg, Brandon, LA and Travis, all the guys who get the ball, once they receive the ball, then everybody has to play off of each other. But we're not going to force the ball to players if the defense is taking that away, we have counters that we can go to."
Nate on whether there was a letdown coming home: "We should have that energy. We gotta learn from this. We have to come out and we have to play. We made some breaks tonight, enough breaks to get this one. The good thing about it was that we got it. We gotta learn from it and we gotta get better."
Nate on the team's last offensive possession (Outlaw missed shot): "I think they had about seven seconds difference [between the shot clock and game clock]. We had to get ashot up. We knew they would double team Brandon. We wanted to get Travis in the middle of the floor, anyway. So when they denied Brandon, Travis had Mikki Moore. You gotta look at the clock and know the clock, spread the floor, we'll take that matchup. We'll take that matchup and we want to get to the basket. We're in the penalty. He missed the shot. Whether you play it to the last second or not, they still going to have 5 or 6 seconds on the clock."
Random Game Notes
- First things first: What's up to Courtside Errand Boy (Zach) and NateInAloha. Thanks for saying "hi" guys. And thanks for reading. If anyone sees me at the Rose Garden, I always enjoy putting faces to screennames, so get at me.
- Greg was warming up before the game two hours early. He was working on the things that I'd like to see him working on. First, he was ball faking above his shoulders, making sure he kept the ball high. Second, he was working on moving quickly off the entry pass, either drop-stepping to the baseline or power moving through the lane for a jump hook, without hesitation. Last, he was working on catching passes off of high screens, when your body is at a 45 degree angle facing the hoop. This is a tricky spot for a big guy to be in: Do you dribble? Do you pull up? Do you think that you've got to pass the ball immediately? Do you take it at someone, which can lead to a charge? Do you shuffle your feet? It's a situation that happens a lot in the pick and roll game. Greg was working through various reactions to it for awhile.
- Rudy had to do an interview pregame. He looked nervous and had to be reassured by the reporter. "It will be easy!" Then Bayless walked nearby behind him, messing with him a little bit. Rudy made it through the interview unscathed. He practically ran away from the camera and microphone, looking for the nearest basketball. He looked like an elementary schooler the minute after school lets out.
- Fun pregame exchange between Martell and Kevin Martin -- two talented wings currently beset with injuries. Martell came over to the Kings side of the court while Martin was doing the high jog (pictured below, basically you lift your knee to your chest and throw an arm in the air with each step). Martell said what's up to Martin but the Kings trainer that was working Martin out said quickly, "Martell is not your concern!" Haha. Martell just smiled at that as Martin finished his reps. Then Martin came over for some daps but, eying the trainer, quickly retreated back to his workout. Martell looked at the trainer and said, "It's his left ankle isn't it?" The trainer said yes. Martell was like, "I knew it. I could tell." Martin was favoring the ankle but, prior to Martell pointing it out, I hadn't been able to tell just by looking which ankle it was. If this professional basketball thing doesn't work out for him, maybe Martell can become a rehab specialist.
- More Martell pregame: Michael from the Portland Observer told Martell, "we can't wait to get you back, man." Martell smiled and said simply, "I'm coming."
- Even more Martell: He was shooting 3 pointers pregame. A ball bounced over to me. I threw a picture-perfect Steve Nash sidearm pass to Martell, who missed the jumper. Come on, Marty, you're killing my dime stats. Next time.
- I was worried at the outset of the game that Jason Thompson would be too much for Batum, as he was bodying him around pretty good on the glass. So much for that. Thompson finished with 0 points and 6 boards.
- Credit where credit is due: Spencer Hawes is a great 3 point shooting specialist 4/5. You don't see that every day (for good reason). But seriously, he had a nice game racking up 15, 5 and 3.
- When Greg checked out of the game at the 6 minute mark in the first, the only teammate I saw go up to him was Joel, who had a fist bump for him. Joel is a pro's pro. Loved to see that.
- Mikki Moore's legs look like pipe cleaners.
- Had the pleasure of sitting next to and picking the brain of the Sacramento Bee's Sam Amick. Dude is the man. He breaks literally every single Kings story. But you probably already knew that.
- Ric Bucher was in Portland tonight. Rocking a leather manpurse. Do you, Ric, do you. I ain't hatin.
- Did you know that former player Haywoode Workman was one of tonight's referees? They probably mentioned that on the television broadcast. But that's pretty sweet. I would love to see Sheed refereeing games a decade from now.
- A number of the signs tonight were Beavers/Ducks related as the Civil War is coming up later this week (you might have heard about that). The best Blazers sign I saw was "B Roy plus Joelzilla = Rip it Up." Not sure what that math equation means but Joelzilla is tight.
- Word is Mikki Moore and Brad Miller are the Kings most likely to move before the trade deadline. Thanks but no thanks.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Kevin Martin enjoys the color black. And is good at prancing.
-- Ben (email@example.com)