Well...hmmm. As far as losses go this was a better loss than the last two. The Blazers didn't get obliterated because of lack of effort. They got bitten by injuries again and suffered from the resulting lack of continuity and scoring options. But having to say that is so 2007 it might as well be a pair of Crocs. The truth is the Blazers lost. They made a few runs at it. They didn't let the game escape them entirely. They didn't give up. But they lost. Nothing supersedes winning percentage right now. This is not a developmental team. This is a team accelerating on the runway and trying to take off. They need momentum to achieve V1 speed. Going into this mini-break they don't have it. There's a ton of runway left but this isn't the most pleasant part of the ride for us passengers.
The news of the night was LaMarcus Aldridge sitting out the game with a knee bruise. Along with the absence of Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw that's three of our top four forwards gone...every player who played significant minutes at any forward position last season. We were left with Martell Webster, Dante Cunningham, and Juwan Howard to fill those spots, plus whatever guard we could shanghai to play small forward while Webster sat. Cunningham started the game alongside Martell with Blake, Roy, and Oden. Immediately the Portland defense got exposed. It wasn't so much that individuals were playing poorly, rather everybody sported their usual weaknesses but the rotations were confusing and slow because of the change. That's not Dante's fault. He was hustling as usual. It's just hard to snap together when you haven't had court time under pressure and it showed. The Blazers couldn't get out to cover Miami's shooters. Once they started hitting the interior defenders were obligated to move a couple steps out, in turn allowing the perimeter defenders to play up tighter against the jumper. That freed the middle for Miami's mismatches: Wade and Beasley. It would begin a litany of scoring from each. One of them or the other was abusing us all night as we just didn't have the men to shut them down. Every time we sent help the jump shooters reared their heads again. And that was it. The problem in this game wasn't offense, though that could have been better. It was Miami approaching 30 points in every quarter that mattered.
Naturally the thinned-out bench didn't help much defensively. Three of the four main guys off the pines--Howard, Miller, and Fernandez--are problematic defenders...and not in the good way. The fourth is Joel Przybilla but he got so turned around trying to cover for everybody and their uncle out there that he picked up 5 fouls in an almost totally ineffective 14 minutes. The Blazers got no reprieve. The Heat faced little serious defensive challenge.
The offense was a mixed bag, hot and cold. The initial plan was to run the offense through Brandon Roy. The backup plan was to run the offense through Brandon Roy. If those didn't work there was an emergency audible: running the offense through Brandon Roy. As plans go, it's not the worst one in the world, especially with the starting lineup featuring two non-scorers and four guys who can't create for themselves. However the Tri-Fold Brandon Scheme does suffer the drawback of being slightly predictable. Within about a nanosecond the Heat had figured out it might be a good idea to send three men, a popcorn vendor, a blow-up Santa doll, and Blaze the Trail Cat at Brandon every time he touched the ball. He still scored and after Andre Miller came in he was able to move the ball around to teammates better but we just weren't able to generate enough consistent offense without a full slate of options. Add to that the fact that until midway through the fourth quarter Roy himself was the only three-point shooter connecting with even a shade of consistency and you start to smell the trouble the Blazers were in. (Remember the Heat are scoring near 30 a quarter at this point.)
This begs the question: What happened to Greg Oden offensively? Well, maybe the question isn't begged but I begged a little for them to get him the ball while watching the game. Greg did draw 2 fouls in the first 3 minutes of the game and sat out the rest of the first quarter, so there's your early answer. After he returned they got him the ball every once in a while, but not enough. Granted, his non-rebound-generated offense pretty much consisted of three missed jump hooks and no makes so you can argue he wasn't getting the job done. But one intentional shot per quarter does not a job make. Also as you notice the misses notice how many players are occupied not only guarding him but having to back up the initial defender to prevent the spin move and dunk. Oden's misses free up opportunities for offensive rebounds because of the attention he draws. It's a fairly high percentage move to involve him. My druthers would be to feed him first and let everybody else take easier perimeter shots as a result. Even after he was available the Blazers continued to do it the other way, working from the perimeter first. It wasn't enough.
Portland destroyed the Heat on the boards and as a result of 21 offensive rebounds generated 87 shot attempts to Miami's 75. They attempted and hit more free throws than the Heat did. They hit one more three-pointer than the Heat did. Assists, steals, turnovers, and points in the paint were pretty much even. The Blazers scored 11 fast break points while the Heat managed only 3. So far this sounds like a win. But Portland ended up shooting 39% while Miami topped 53. Wade scored 22, Beasley 27, and the returning Quentin Richardson 20. The only guy north of 20 for the Blazers was Roy with 25. And those latter numbers trumped all of the former ones.
Click through for Individual Notes, Links, Jersey Contest Results, and Final Thoughts
Brandon Roy did what he could tonight. I liked his energy. He was taking the game seriously. He just had to battle uphill with the defensive pressure being thrown at him. He didn't receive all of the help he needed and he probably didn't take full advantage of the help that he got. But things were a bit chaotic out there and Brandon battled through the center of the storm. He mixed up drives and jumpers and came away with 25 points on 25 shots plus 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Andre Miller was no help defensively but he looked pretty natural playing off the ball, slicing the Heat with a couple of nice cuts, receptions, and scores. When he did dribble he drove, drawing 12 foul shots and hitting 10. He did miss two free throws late that had the potential to keep us in comeback position but the full comeback was unlikely at that point anyway. 18 points and 6 assists off the bench.
Juwan Howard had a strong offensive night, hitting 6-8 in 27 minutes and providing 14 points off the bench. He proved he could still hit his jumper when called upon. He had 5 rebounds and 2 assists as well. Unfortunately he was powerless to stop Beasley or really anyone. Still, had Miller and Howard not scored big off the pines this game would have been a rout of epic proportions. Geezer Power!
Greg Oden hit only 4 of 13 shots but he managed 13 points by virtue of 5-8 free throw shooting. Oh yeah...he also got 20 rebounds, 11 offensive. Oh yeah...he also had 4 blocks. I wasn't thrilled about the two early fouls, especially since the second was of the variety the refs had to call. (He was hanging on to Jermaine O'Neal's wrist forever after tangling up with him.) He needed to remember both his situation and the team's. But despite still being as raw as tuna tartar the guy keeps bending space around him and warping the game. As long as he works at his craft he's going to be a devastating force someday. Possibly next year even.
Dante Cunningham got the start in place of Aldridge. I liked the early energy he provided. He was not always in the right position but he worked his tail off. He looked a little aware of his new situation when he shot, as he hit only 2-6 shots which are normally makeable for him. But I was pleased overall with his 19 minutes, understanding that we're talking about a rookie in his first start here.
Martell Webster just couldn't hit a shot tonight and we really needed him to. He scored 11 points in 31 minutes. Steve Blake scored 9 in 25 minutes but he didn't score at all until the final period. You just can't have that from two of your starters when you're also short-handed. You end up handing the opponent a Get Out of Defense Free card. I guess I'll amend that...you can have it if a guy is doing everything else right: rebounding, hustling every minute, playing lockdown defense, affecting the game in other ways. That's not Martell and Steve though.
Joel Przybilla got neutered out there. Between the leaky defense and the refs (quite appropriately) blowing whistles he just never had a chance.
Rudy Fernandez hit 1-5 shots in 18 minutes. Maybe there's a complaint to be made about the 18 minutes. There's also one to be made about the 20% shooting though. We needed him so badly tonight. If his shot were falling, even if his shot had been falling consistently this season before this, he'd have played a ton. I want to argue he should be given a chance to play minutes like Webster and Blake did but at this point it looks like a lateral move, which in this case is not a good thing.
Jerryd Bayless got 3 minutes. He didn't look worse than anyone else. The short run probably had something to do with the Heat packing it in all night which doesn't allow him to take best advantage of his gifts. Then again, he actually hit the only shot he took and it was deep. I'd say it was the defense but nobody else had any either.
The good news is that the Blazers now take a three-day break. They badly need to regroup. The bad news is that Houston is next up. If you haven't regrouped they'll be happy to clean your clock. They don't have to play fancy, they'll just lunch-bucket you to death. The hurdle isn't impossibly high or anything, but there's no chance of it lowering just because you're having a bad run.
See if Miami has anything to say about us over at PeninsulaIsMightier.com.