The Portland Trail Blazers are seeking an energetic, motivated, team-oriented individual to fill the position of CENTER in their rising, competitive organization. The successful candidate will be a minimum of 7-feet tall,
have a discernable basketball skill, and be able to start on short notice. Luggage carrying experience a plus. Note: Anyone with knees need not apply. A pre-employment test will be administered to ensure compliance.
As you have read below the annoying and capricious injury fairy paid yet another visit to the Blazers tonight, this time in the form of Joel Przybilla rupturing a knee tendon and dislocating the knee. His absence is termed "indefinite", which is to "might be back soon" as Mary Jo Kaperski's "maybe" when you asked her to the prom was to "might actually go with you". What can you do at this point but shrug your shoulders and laugh? Not a funny laugh, mind you. It's the laugh you laugh when your house burns down and the fire truck that came to save you tips over on your new car. Yeah, that figures.
Given all that, it was a freakin' Christmas miracle that we won the game. It's not like the Mavericks came out to win this one. They were sloppy, lazy, and unfocused from the start and, one good quarter aside, Joel's injury only seemed to confirm that tendency in them. But even so you'd have thought they'd have enough advantage to pull it out. They didn't and they didn't. That's a credit to the Blazers.
It was apparent the game would be low-scoring from the start. Portland went through LaMarcus in the post early, Roy soon after, keeping things methodical. Przybilla intimidated anyone who came in the lane, encouraging the Mavs to toss the ball around looking for a scorer. The Blazers played the passing lanes and got their hands on some turnovers. Portland's offense wasn't thrilling with 18 points in the period but Dallas was more anemic with 14.
Dallas wanted to run more in the second period and they succeeded for a while. They had 4 dunks and/or layups in the first 6 minutes of the quarter after managing only 1 in the entire first. The second unit really butchered their usual run at the end of the first and the beginning of the second. It was horrific all the way around. But then the starters came back in and LaMarcus Aldridge went crazy, scoring 12 straight and smacking the Mavericks back down into the hidey-hole from which they had crawled. The Mavs scored 4 points total in the final 6 minutes of the period and the Blazers held an 11-point lead at half.
You knew Dallas would be talking strategy in the locker room during the break and it showed. With no interior defense and chances for a rebound pretty sad the Mavericks immediately began driving, posting, and crashing the offensive boards. And boy howdy did it work. Erick Dampier and Jose Juan Barea looked like superstars. Whenever the Blazers tried to help the Mavs just threw the ball to Dirk to remind us where our concentration should lie. The Blazers couldn't sniff anything near the paint on offense until Jeff Pendergraph dunked for his first NBA points off of a sweet feed from Steve Blake. Dallas obliterated Portland 32-14 in the period and led by 7 themselves as the final period approached.
A combination of things happened going down the stretch. Dallas eased up on the attack, content to shoot from farther and farther out on the floor. The Blazers manned up on the boards big time. And finally some threes started falling, 2 for Blake, 1 for Bayless. Jerryd's corner three seemed to snap him out of the chaotic funk he had been in theretofore and he injected the squad with a deep dose of energy as the final 6 minutes of the game approached. All of a sudden the defense was alive, the rebounds were coming, the ball was flowing on offense. The Blazers were up 8 with 3:15 left when Bayless was whistled for a charge on the break. That sparked a 2-minute run which saw the Mavs cut the lead to 2 behind Nowitzki's shooting. Though the Blazers would only score once more (a pair of Miller free throws with 6 seconds left to ice the game) they swarmed, rebounded, fought, and clawed. The Mavs never scored again. Having left it on the court the Blazers could walk off with their heads held high. The Mavericks have their 9th loss and the Blazers ensured this road trip will be remembered as good at the minimum with a chance for amazing.
The Blazers held Dallas to 38.8% shooting tonight, clearly the stat of the evening. Rebounds were dead even despite Joel going down. Assists were also even, another major accomplishment. Portland attempted nearly as many free throws as Dallas did and actually made more. Scoring in the 80's is not the Mavericks' comfort zone. All in all you couldn't have asked for better as far as the results. It was exactly the type of game the Blazers had a chance of winning. And they did.
Click through for Individual Observations, Links, and Final Thoughts on the future...
Roy and Aldridge both did similar things: pick the team up on their backs at different points of the evening and assure them that the game was still afoot and not all hope was lost. Brandon scored 23 to lead the team. LaMarcus scored 19 and added 12 rebounds. He really manned up. We needed the shot in the arm from both.
Juwan Howard also showed his colors after Joel went down. He wasn't as demonstrative or explosive as the two stars but he logged 34 minutes, shot 5-10 for 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished 4 assists. When the Mavs reverted to shooting jumpers and didn't even think about making Howard pay for being out there on defense his presence became pure gold. Credit the guy with making this win happen.
Andre Miller shot 4-11 for 12 points in 22 minutes but he also showed veteran presence in playing his game no matter what. He was one of the guys who triggered that second-quarter run.
Jerryd Bayless scored 9 in 26 minutes. He pushed way too hard in the first half and up until he hit that three in the fourth it looked like this would be a game where he literally did everything 180-degrees opposite of what he should have. But when it went right for him it went really right. He drove, made a couple nice defensive stands, and built up the team's confidence again. It wouldn't seem like an injury to a center would affect a combo guard but Przybilla being out of the rotation is going to make anybody who's reliable quite valuable to the coaching staff. This is his chance to stick but he can't overreact to it. He needs to do what he can do, depend on his teammates too, and provide that energy we need.
Steve Blake had another difficult game until the fourth quarter when all of a sudden he was dishing and hitting threes. He and Bayless worked pretty well together, feeding each other. 6 points, 4 assists.
Martell Webster went 1-6 for 3 points.
Tolliver and Pendergraph got a couple minutes each. Both looked a little overwhelmed.
Joel had 5 rebounds and some sweet defensive play in what will likely be his final 9 minutes of the season.
Obviously the ramifications of the evening go far beyond the simple victory. The Blazers showed heart but I don't take a ton of future comfort in coming away with the win tonight. Dallas exposed the likely future of the team in that third period. A nearly empty interior on the defensive end is not conducive to winning streaks. Every win the Blazers get from here on out is going to be like this one...the result of a ton of hard work, energy, and intensity rather than talent. That's hard to sustain when you're short-handed. The Blazers are now missing 5 of their top 10 players. They are missing all three of their best defenders. They are missing both of their best rebounders. They have lost everybody over 7-feet tall. Brandon Roy is already playing more minutes than everyone in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge's workload just doubled. Eventually the league is going to catch up with what's going on. It's not hopeless, of course, but the Blazers better have their hard hats on and not plan on taking them off until the summer.
We will really, really miss you Joel.