Ahhhh...what a difference a night makes. The team that was headed straight into the depths of oblivion 24 hours ago is now showing a bright spot or two. 9-5 was completely unacceptable. 10-5? Why that's pretty good.
The game started off well enough. Portland forced the issue inside defensively as usual. Minnesota only hit one shot within 10 feet of the hoop all quarter. The Blazers, meanwhile, were hitting their mid-range jumpers and later expanded that range to the three-point arc. They tried to enter the ball to the post but Minnesota, having watched the game in Oakland, was having none of that. Portland either turned it over or got no good shot when passing to the interior. But as we said, the jumpers were falling well enough so it was no problem. 23-14 after the first.
LaMarcus Aldridge started the second period with the reserves but picked up his second foul 12 seconds in. That took him out and brought Juwan Howard in. As you might expect, the Howard-Przybilla combo created some offensive problems for the Blazers. Oddly enough, though, it caused Minnesota to stop guarding the lane like the crown jewels were hidden therein. They switched tactics, choosing another Warrior favorite: trapping any legitimate scorer who touched the ball. (There were about two in at the time.) The Blazers countered by sending in another scorer in the person of LaMarcus Aldridge, but he picked up his third foul 30 seconds after re-entering the game. There came Howard again. The downside to all of this was that the offense stalled and it took a barrage from Greg Oden in the second half of the period to even get the tally to 17 for the quarter. The upside was that Minnesota never regained their turf inside. They did regain 6 points in the period though and Portland went into the locker room up only 3.
It got even more nerve wracking as the third period commenced. Portland came out with energy, getting the ball to Oden and then scoring on a Roy drive. But Minnesota responded by packing and trapping again. When that happens the Blazers have one direct counter: hit the open shot from outside. Pressured time and again Portland got it out to the perimeter. And guess what happened. No, go ahead. Guess! If you said Steve Blake missed a ton of threes you'd be wrong. If you said Rudy Fernandez worked some step-back Spanish wizardry you'd also be wrong. Instead Martell Webster got a burr under his behind and started shooting and hitting threes like nobody's business. He hit three straight. Minnesota then had to play honest defense. Here came Roy and Oden again...PA POW! Ooops! Better stop that! Get the ball to Blake and Fernandez for threes. Ooops! Better stop that! You already know Minnesota isn't fleet of foot on defense. As it turned out forced to choose between two evils they couldn't stop either. Portland gains 10 in the quarter and heads into the fourth up 13.
Having learned a lesson from the last couple of games (and honestly, probably because the offense was easy at that point) the Blazers continued to pour it on in the fourth. It was much the same as the third. Any shot, any pass...it was all good. Meanwhile Przybilla and friends shut down the interior, forcing the ‘Wolves to shoot over the top. They weren't very good. The only place they got points was the free throw line. Minnesota scores 15 in the period, Portland 30. Ballgame.
Portland shot 50% from the field, 42% from three, and drew 10 more foul shots than the ‘Wolves (though they missed those extra 10 in an uncharacteristic display of wooziness from the stripe). They killed the ‘Wolves on the boards, dished 28 assists to Minny's 11, didn't turn the ball over, and allowed only 4 fast break points for the game. It was pretty much total destruction, as indeed it should have been. But it's nice to see what happens when things click at both ends at once. Now we have to take it from practice to an actual game.
Click through for individual observations and IMPORTANT NEWS about the JERSEY CONTEST.
Brandon Roy appeared to be battling the refs as much as the ‘Wolves but despite the perceived lack of foul calls he still scored 18 on 8-15 shooting. He passed up a lot of extra points going 1-4 from the arc and 1-5 from the line. He did make a concerted effort to penetrate though, committed only 1 turnover, and got 5 assists. It wasn't classic Roy but it was decent Roy.
LaMarcus Aldridge had an ouchy game with those 4 fouls in 22 minutes. It was like he was channeling Greg Oden v1.0. He had 10 points off of 5 shots. People are complaining about him being soft and not getting inside but there are other things going on when LaMarcus gets the ball. Watch when he gets in that side post position. Greg Oden cuts down and brings his man through usually followed by a guard. This clogs up the middle something fierce, making it all but impossible for LaMarcus to get down there unless he waits 10 seconds for everyone to clear. On the possessions when everybody just backs off and lets him work he actually does a decent job of getting into the lane and scoring. As I've said, my vote is for LaMarcus to be the continuity guy between the first and second units even more than Roy is. In every second-unit situation, and probably in more of the first-unit ones as well, they should let LaMarcus operate. He's not a natural passer. Oden actually sees the floor and gets clearance to pass better. Let LMA be the scorer he is and everybody will be happier.
Martell Webster, back in the starting lineup, scored a game-high 21 off of 4-7 three-point shooting. He also grabbed 13 rebounds, and that's not a misprint. The Blazer broadcasters announced that this was his first career double-double. I think he wanted to show he belonged out there. He opened up the offense for everybody by hitting those shots. The table is set for him if he'll just sit down and eat.
Greg Oden both set up the three-point shooters and benefitted from them by scoring copiously (for him, anyway) inside. When it works this offense is about synergy and he's the hub of one end of it. The guy shot 7-9, including hitting a jump hook finally, made both free throws, and ended up with 16. He had 3 blocks and kept folks out of the middle for the most part. I'm actually impressed with the growth he's made knowing when to go for a block and knowing when to just let a driver score. There are some times when he just seems to tell the guards, "You let that guy go. I'm not getting benched trying to clean up your mess." That's a positive step. He still intimidates enough inside that he's more than earning his keep.
Joel Przybilla picked up where Oden left off tonight, grabbing 11 rebounds (6 offensive), blocking 2 shots, and hitting 5 of 10 shots for 14 points. That's not a misprint either. Joel really benefitted from the spread defense, feasting on offense boards and less-than-attentive defenders. Say what you want about his offense, he knows what to do with it when he's near the rim. I swear Minnesota is going to make a run at him when his contract expires. He always seems to stick it to them.
Steve Blake played 29 minutes and hit 4-6 three-pointers himself. His didn't come grouped as tightly as Martell's and thus they weren't as dramatic, but once he started stroking them he spelled doom for the ‘Wolves defenders just as much as Webster did. If Steve can do this every night he more than justifies his court time. Oh...he got 9 assists to go with his 14 points as the passing lanes were just as open as the shooters. He didn't spend a lot of time dribbling tonight, which is one sign of a good Steve game.
Andre Miller got 20 minutes off the bench. He did have 4 assists but that second-unit offense as such still looked pretty brutal. It's hard to run an offense when you don't really have offenders by your side. What's he going to do? "Here, Rudy! Heads up, Rudy! Comin' your way again Rudy!" I'm thinking that as long as these injuries persist the Blazers don't really have distinct first and second units. They play their best five players and everyone else shuffles in and out depending on the situation. Miller is part of that shuffling. But they haven't got the shuffle down yet and that means Miller is up in the air.
Rudy Fernandez had the best 1-9 game I've ever seen him have. Him making his threes would have been too much for the poor ‘Wolves anyway. But he was all over the court (in a good way) with 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. It seems odd to say on a night where a guy shoots 11% but Rudy has been passing up shots he should take lately. If he'd go ahead and finish a couple drives and pull up for the easy mid-range shot he'd have a better overall percentage. He's being unselfish but he's also limiting himself to the most difficult shots. I don't think that's the idea of the offense.
Juwan Howard played 21 minutes and got 6 rebounds, 4 offensive. Except for those offensive boards I didn't notice him much on the court. That may be a failing, as there's some esoteric thing I'm not picking up on. On the other hand, that may be Juwan.
Dante Cunningham got 9 minutes, made 2-3 shots, scored 4 points, and made Mike Rice utter the same words that Larry Steele once uttered about Jerome Kersey in his infancy: "This guy is going to be a player."
Jerryd Bayless played 8 minutes, dished an assist, had a turnover, and got lost in the second-unit mire. He's completely misaligned as the weak-side guy standing in the corner. Nothing good is going to happen for him there.
Final Thoughts and Links
Check out what it feels like to spin "bell-lemon-kumquat" on a slot machine over at CanisHoopus.
The Jersey Contest scoreboard is screwed up because somebody inverted the Minnesota and Portland scores tonight. Ignore it for now. I'll not even link to it. It'll be fixed soon. However you can enter Monday's game here.