Wednesday Practice Report

Santa Przybilla. c/o Ben Golliver (Blazersedge)

Blazers Make It Better

Just about every media outlet in town was at St. Mary's Home For Boys this morning, documenting the Blazers' open practice in front of the school's residents.  The players went through a few plays briefly before engaging in a full court scrimmage against the school's basketball team.   The kids played hard and the Blazers enjoyed themselves: Przybilla was launching threes, Patty Mills went up and down the court, and Juwan Howard and Jeff Pendergraph tried a little bit too hard in competing for scrimmage MVP honors.  Pendergraph threw down 3 consecutive dunks, much to the crowd's delight, while Howard blocked a child's shot, which drew some good-natured heckles from his teammates on the sideline. Howard then traded place with a St. Mary's player, giving the child an opportunity few kids will ever receive: sharing the court with four professional basketball players.  You better believe he was excited.

This morning's practice was the most genuine, well-received interaction with the community that I've seen the players participate in over the last two years.  The St. Mary's students were hanging all over the Blazers, clutching their arms as if they didn't want to let go, cheering their every move during the game and looking as excited as you might imagine when the team emerged from a hallway with hordes of presents -- a gift bag for every single resident -- and larger gifts like a flat screen television, Playstation 3 and a Nintendo Wii for the school's recreation room.  School officials happily pumped the players' fists, the players looked at ease and relaxed in their Santa hats, and a number of adults choked back tears or smiled ear-to-ear.  

In terms of positively impacting the lives of children, doing the right thing for the right reasons, and executing a complicated event flawlessly, you couldn't ask for anything more.  The Blazers' Make It Better staff is consistently excellent and this morning's event was a crowning achievement.  

Here are a few pictures I took from the event. Certainly there will be much more written and photographed from various media outlets shortly. I'll link when available.

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Update (8:00PM):
  • A great photo gallery from Blazers.com is available here.  A must view.
  • Here's Brian T. Smith's report.
  • Here's Joe Freeman's report.

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Lessons From Last Night

After everything was said and done, I chatted briefly with McMillan about what lessons he took from last night's game.  With a night to reflect and watch tape, is he still comfortable with continuing to transition from a rigid rotation to a looser approach?  How did he gauge Bayless's impact on the game?  Is the team's three guard lineup a viable option defensively down the stretch?  Here's what he had to say.... 

Did it surprise you how well the team performed defensively down the stretch with Blake, Bayless and Roy as the three guards?

That's why we stayed with it. I felt like defensively that team got us back in the game. They had a good rhythm. It's not a team that we go with or we had gone with. We stuck with it. We were going to try to finish it out. We made some adjustments defensively with putting Brandon on Evans who was hurting our small guards. It worked out for us, we had scoring, defensively we were a little better.

When you start to think about combinations, you had to make adjustments earlier in the year when you went with Blake, Miller and Roy together. Do you have to make different adjustments when you go with Blake, Bayless and Roy?

It just depends on the game. And depends on the team that we're playing. Right now we're so shorthanded we could be going through this a lot. Where the lineups are different at the end of the game. It's like, whoever has a rhythm you may ride that lineup and stick with it. That's just the flow of the game, feeling the flow of the game and trying to make your adjustments as you go.

Is it fair to say you haven't done that a lot in the past few years, in terms of riding who is hot rather than sticking with set rotations?

Normally you would get back to your starting lineup. Even though the second unit would have something going we would normally get back to our lineup. 

Do you think the team's increased effort and hustle maybe helped pull Steve Blake out of his recent slump?

The thing Blake has to do, as I told him, is keep shooting. That's the only way you're going to get out of it. I thought Bayless got him a good look, he was ready, he shot it and knocked it down.

Tomorrow you are facing another high-tempo team with solid guards. Do you stick with the same strategies and lineups from last night?

Well, you know, we want to run but we don't want to run and gun. We want to attack. The big thing that we need to see is our guys attacking the basket.  Last night we shot 26 free throws and made 19 or something like that. I like the fact that we got there 26 times. That tells me that we were aggressive going to the rim. 

Is Bayless's ability to get to the free throw line developing into one of your better offensive weapons?

That added to the free throws. Bayless shot, I think, 10 free throws. He was definitely a big part. Normally it's Brandon, Miller a little bit, penetrating. We need more guys attacking the rim.

Honestly today wasn't really about chalk talk.  With the general sense of uncertainty about the future caused by the team's rash of injuries, McMillan seemed extremely happy to get away from the pressures of coaching and expectations for the morning.  McMillan has enjoyed a years-long relationship with St. Mary's and was beaming as he addressed the assembled students and faculty after the scrimmage, pledging to continue that relationship into the future.  In what's been a tough few weeks for McMillan -- he coached the scrimmage while seated, his leg elevated to help relieve the pain from his recent Achilles surgery -- it was clearly an emotional high point.    

While the St. Mary's children will likely be on cloud nine for days and weeks, if not months, the Blazers are forced to snap back to reality tomorrow night against the Phoenix Suns.  The children obviously didn't want the event to end.  I got the feeling the Blazers didn't either.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter
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