Media Row Report: Blazers 120, Bucks 108

It was one of those nights. One of those Shavlik Randolph nights. picture c/o Ben Golliver | Blazersedge

It has been awhile since the Portland Trail Blazers have had a night like this.  A media member falling asleep in his press row seat during the first quarter night.  A get out on the break and let 'er rip (even Steve Blake!) second quarter night.A potential for Chalupas in the third quarter night. A "Come on Nate, get the starters out of there!!!!!!" fourth quarter night.    A send the crowd home early because this win is getting boring and not even the wave is keeping this interesting night.  And, yes, a Shavlik Randolph finally sees some court time night. It was all of those things and more tonight in the Rose Garden as the Blazers built a 33 point lead and cruised to a 120-108 victory over an overpowered Milwaukee Bucks. 

If there was a single takeaway from tonight's big 31 point first quarter and 66 point first half, it was the truly promising flashes from a posting-up Andre Miller, who used his size and craftiness to bully his way to the basket against Brandon Jennings. The Bucks rookie could only throw up his hands in frustration or get out of the way as Miller accumulated 19 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field and 7 of 12 from the free throw line.  

While Miller has long been known as an effective back-to-the-basket player (I wrote earlier this year about how he practices turnaround moves from various post locations after practice), it's not a situation that the Blazers have gone to on offense much this season.  But after the game it was clear that Nate McMillan liked what he saw from Miller in the post.  "I thought he did a really nice job," McMillan told me. "We felt like we could post their guards so we wanted to put their guards in the post with Brandon and Miller."

McMillan was looking to force Milwaukee's team defense to make a decision: double-team Miller or Roy to force the ball from their hands or single-cover the bigger guards and take their chances.  "I thought [Roy and Miller] did a good job in that first half of taking advantage of [the size advantage in the post-ups], making their reads. If [Milwaukee] didn't double team they scored, if they did they made good kickouts."  The Blazers shooters responded knocking down 4 first-half 3 pointers to make life even more difficult for Milwaukee.

While the degree of success Roy and Miller found in the post tonight might be new, Roy noted that the Blazers have focused on developing this post-up offense for its guards for some time.  ""We've been trying to add that. Coach has been trying to make sure that we continue to be aggressive," Roy told me after the game. "We're adding some sets where me and Andre can go right in and post. Since we lost Greg and LaMarcus went out with that ankle injury, that was something we looked to. That's something we want to keep. Me and Andre pounding guards and when they put smaller guards on me, we make sure we go inside on them."

Although tonight's win was a relatively forgettable blowout, it will stand as perhaps the best example to date of how effective this year's Blazers can be when they are able to establish their guards inside.  The overall team offensive numbers --60% from the field, 42% from distance, 42 points in the paint -- were the marks of a physically dominant offense creating high percentage looks even without its two best centers. A dominant offense that Nate McMillan surely hopes to see again (and again and again).

Random Game Notes

  • Update: Roy left the game near the end due to a hamstring injury. "Hamstring was pretty sore during the third quarter. I made a move going to the middle, I passed it and kind of grabbed it. I just told Coach if you can keep me out, please do... it got tight, I asked Coach could I go back in, the trainer said, 'nah.'  I had came and iced it right after the third quarter, I had to put ice on there. Yeah I expect [to play Friday.]"
  • I asked Roy after the game whether he expected to move back to the 3 spot for stretches now that Rudy is healthy and working his way back into the rotation.  Roy said, "I don't know. I haven't even thought about it really. I think Coach wants to get back to having those two lineups where Rudy plays with that second group. I'm sure as games get tougher and Rudy gets his legs back me and Rudy will definitely play some minutes together."  
  • Against teams with undersized guards utilizing a three guard lineup of Blake, Rudy and Roy makes a ton of sense.  Even Bayless, Rudy and Roy has the potential to cause match-up difficulties.  McMIllan's experimentation process for setting his guard rotations will be the most interesting thing to watch play out over the next month or two, especially with Nicolas Batum working his way back. 
  • Hypothetical question: If fully healthy, could the Blazers have played Bayless, Rudy, Roy, Batum and Aldridge for stretches tonight and gotten away with it?  Shouldn't we probably be rooting for that to happen at some point, if only for the sheer novelty?
  • The last two Bucks on the court for pre-game shootaround were 7 footer Francisco Elson and 6'11" Dan Gadzuric, two bigs buried on a bench (they average 5 and 10 minutes respectively) who might stand to benefit from a change of scenery.  Coincidentally, Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn and Mike Born were sitting in courtside seats as the two centers went through a vigorous pregame workout, which included everything from pull-up jumpers to some light perimeter ball-handling. "Juwan Howard????", you can almost hear the players thinking, "I'm better than Juwan Howard!!!!"
  • For you local hoops heads you surely remember Brandon Jennings facing off against Kyle Singler at the Les Schwab Invitational.  Jennings played for Oak Hill and Singler was busy dominating at South Medford.  As luck would have it, the Rose Garden jumbotron was showing Singler's Duke team laying the wood to Boston College as Jennings shot warmup jumpers under the tutelage of Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson. It was an interesting artistic parallel between Jennings and Singler, who could not have traveled more divergent paths since their match-up at Liberty High 3 years ago.
  • The scouting report is getting out on Jennings, who was punished mercilessly on defense, had trouble finding his stroke going 4-11 from the field and watched from the bench as his team play its best basketball during the fourth quarter.  Let's be careful not to set current expectations too high though.  Sure his pedestrian 12 and 7 in 29 minutes wasn't nearly as mercurial as some of his performances earlier this year but he's a rookie playing on a talent-deficient team.  During warm-ups he displayed arguably the softest touch on a midrange jumper I've seen this year.  His shot nestled into the net as if making itself comfortable.  I overheard a member of the Bucks coaching staff describing a potential summer workout shooting plan to him and Jennings seemed more than receptive to the idea of spending hours a day fine-tuning his stroke. It's been a treat watching him transform his game from high school showman to NBA point guard.  He's the kind of player you want to fast-forward five years just so you can see where he ends up. (I say that a lot, I know.)
  • Steve Blake sure looked healthy again.  Best stroke he's shown in months?
  • Bayless minutes watch: 17 minutes total, 7 of them coming in the fourth quarter (garbage time).  As I joked earlier today on twitter, if he gets bumped totally out of the rotation now that Rudy and Blake are back healthy, he should get Conan O'Brien to write a protest letter for him.  I think Bayless has done enough over the last month to find a minimum of 10 minutes a night in McMillan's rotation.  But when Batum comes back things will get even further squished.  Time to step up.
  • If you check out this picture taken by @rach_f_5 you'll see the lights are off at The Agency Sports Bar.  The bar, where Talkin' Ball is taped, is shuttered indefinitely.  Talkin' Ball taped tonight's show in the' Rose Garden but word is that the Blazers' studio might only be a temporary home for the Comcast-produced show.  Hmm.
  • Ilyasova is a beast.
  • Bucks rookie Jodie Meeks went for a career high 21 points in 31 minutes off the bench.  Here's his pre-draft workout report from back in June. No question he can shoot it.  Showed some nice explosiveness off the bounce during pregame warmups and the first half, when he ran Jerryd Bayless around the court a little bit.  Jodie Meeks = Chubby Bunny Von Wafer.
  • Turns out Dante Cunningham really is learning a lot from wise old man Juwan Howard! 5 personal fouls in 4:55 of gameplay.  

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

What did you think of the offense tonight?

I thought it was good. I love our energy. I love what I saw with both groups tonight. Trying to slide Rudy back in the rotation. We looked at that in practice and they practiced that way yesterday. I thought they came out very aggressive. Blake, Bayless and Rudy and really went after the first group. And basically I told them that's how we want to play. I thought that first half we were really good. I thought throughout the game was really good. We started to get a little loose late in the ballgame when they started trapping us but I love our energy tonight.

Were you nervous when Milwaukee made the fourth quarter run?

 I'm always nervous. We knew they were down 24 in the Phoenix game and they're going to play. That team plays hard and they play for 48 minutes. We knew that we were going to have to put them away. It was a very similar game to the game they played in Phoenix being down 24, they actually took a 2 point lead with that very trap, that was something that we had seen, we just didn't execute well, attack it when we had opportunities.

Were you upset you had to put LaMarcus back in for awhile to stop their late run?

Hey, whatever we have to do. That happens sometimes. We got control of the game and we won the game.

Pulling Roy was precautionary?

Yeah, his hamstring looked tight, tightening up. I got him out early, not early, about 3 minutes to go. He made a move or did something and felt it so we just took him out of the game.

Rudy seemed to play well despite not scoring

Oh yeah. He came in and I thought he fit right in. The flow was good. He knocked down his first shot. Spacing and having those 3 guards out there again, I just liked the movement that we saw and I thought defensively they did a nice job.

Was there a carry-over of energy from the two big opponents over the weekend?

Well, you know, we're starting to get some guys back. That game against Cleveland was a tough one. We dropped it. We try and put things like that behind us. And come out and play much better basketball. Tonight this is a team that just beat us a few weeks ago and we knew they played hard and we needed to play a good game and we did.

Did the earlier loss in Milwaukee provide motivation tonight?

It was still in their minds. It was just about 2 or 3 weeks ago and we felt like we had that game. Tonight, before we meet up with Orlando and go on the road we really needed to take care of business here.

Blake looking better

I thought he really pushed the ball tonight. The energy he came out with kind of setting that tempo for that second group and it was good to see him knock down some shots.

Andre and Brandon establishing themselves physically 

I thought he did a really nice job. We felt like we could post their guards so we wanted to put their guards in the post with Brandon and Miller. I thought they did a good job in that first half of taking advantage of that, making their reads and if they didn't double team they scored, if they did they made good kickouts.

LaMarcus

I liked the way he played too. He did a nice job of establishing us in the post, rotating over, he had two blocked shots tonight. Some boards. Six assists. Just a well-rounded game. I thought he was solid the entire game.

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

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