In a Nutshell
Unable to compensate for a paucity of big men the Blazers mess around with the Nets for three quarters then mess up the fourth, allowing a Devin Harris bomb to put them on the ropes and New Jersey free throws to finish the job, posting another disappointing loss.
The Blazers came out with a solid defensive plan, bum-rushing Devin Harris when he touched the ball in position to do damage, daring anyone else to beat them. With Harris the only Net capable of consistently getting his own shot (and the New Jersey offense somewhat stale even when he does) the tactic kept New Jersey on the wrong side of the scoreboard even when Portland struggled to score. Kris Humphries, with girlfriend Kim Kardashian looking on from the sideline, did early damage but it was nothing the Blazers couldn't handle. The technique went out the window when Marcus Camby pulled his second foul at the 6:40 mark of the first. All of a sudden New Jersey center Brook Lopez started posting points inside and out. LaMarcus Aldridge, tasked with defending Lopez, picked up his second foul with 33 seconds left in the period, all but ensuring that the Blazers would be short of bigs all evening. The Blazers led 26-23 after one but it should have been far more.
Portland employed heavy doses of zone defense for the rest of the game to cover for their missing pieces. New Jersey obliged in the second period by shooting jumpers and missing, often badly. A little rebounding and some nice defensive hands on the part of the second unit were sufficient to keep the Blazers above water. Brandon Roy, playing minutes with the subs, contributed a few drives and jumpers of his own. LaMarcus Aldridge tried to take the ball inside, making several trips to the line. Portland manufactured 26 points in the period to New Jersey's 21 and the Blazers took a nice 8-point lead into the break.
The big news to start the third period was the promotion of Wesley Matthews to the first brigade at the expense of Nicolas Batum. Matthews played aggressively on offense in this game. Batum drifted. Wesley did some of his best damage in this period connecting on jumpers. He also damaged his own credibility a little by over-dribbling and taking loopy shots after his initial looks went in. But early in the period Matthews and Roy were a near-unstoppable duo for Portland. New Jersey obliged by ignoring Brook Lopez, once again guarded by Camby. For the first six minutes the Nets scored from the foul line or not at all. At the mid-point of the quarter, however, Portland's game began to fall apart. It started as it often does, with some missed shots and an offensive slump. Forced possessions led to Blazer turnovers and Nets run-outs, letting the home team back in the game without a fight. Free throws morphed into layups, dunks, and open jumpers for the Nets. When Roy went out for his mandatory rest New Jersey collapsed on Andre Miller, much as Portland had on Harris in the first. Without a comfortable 'Dre at the helm Portland's offense got even shakier. The Blazers did manage another 26 in the quarter but New Jersey put up 29.
The offensive drought of the third became a full-fledged famine in the fourth as Portland put up contested shot after contested shot, many rattling in and out of the rim. Glass-half-full folks will look at those shots and wonder how they didn't go in. In reality those shots weren't really open, inside or out. Portland was forcing shots, often against multiple defenders, always over fingertips and icy stares. It's quite possible that rattling in and out was the best outcome, better than turnovers or huge bricks. The Blazers scored only 3 buckets inside of 10 feet in the period. Everything else was a long jumper or a runner. New Jersey wasn't much better, feasting on threes themselves. But the Blazers haven't shown themselves good at covering distance shots and the lane at once and the Nets got their swishes legit. The game was tied at 89 with 1:12 left when Harris hit a chest-hair-growing three. The next two Portland possessions were a Brandon Roy turnover and a badly-missed Andre Miller trey. After that the Nets just had to hit their intentional free throws, which they did. A couple of bombs from the Brooklyn Bridge by Matthews in Portland's last possessions made the score look close but they didn't matter much. By 2 or by 6, this was a loss.
There weren't all that many in this game from a team perspective. The Blazers showed again how much they need another center (and need Camby to stay out of foul trouble, though that's difficult considering how much pressure the team puts on his defense). Dante Cunningham had a nice game but he can't defend like a true big. The zone can mask the deficiency for a while but it was pretty clear that even the semi-incompetent Nets offense compensated well enough for it after the half. Except on the rarest of occasions no NBA team is going to suffer against a zone for an entire game.
The more interesting development might be the (presumed) message to Nicolas Batum. Most of the night he wasn't even trying to move on offense. He'd simply drift to the weak corner and stand. On the occasions he was open his teammates ignored him. Feet in the paint would be a good thing for Batum's offense. Defensively he was so-so...not horrible but not bending the game at all. The Blazers desperately need Batum to step up. If he has to get slapped upside the head to do it then it's a good move. If this doesn't work, something had better.
Brandon Roy looked predictably good against a weak set of Nets defenders. He tattooed them with step-back jumpers all night and even drove the lane a couple times, never particularly elevating but scoring anyway. He finished with 21. Roy also had 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
LaMarcus Aldridge shot only 6-17 from the field but got to the line 10 times, making 8, on his way to 20 points total. It was about an average game for him, maybe a bit shy on the boards.
Wesley Matthews led the team with 25, shooting 9-14, 5-6 from distance. Two of those threes were late-game miracles but it's still nice to see him hit a long shot. Let's hope he didn't blow it all in one night.
Marcus Camby had 10 rebounds and 4 fouls in 26 minutes. He shot only 3-9 on an array of semi-ugly jumpers.
Andre Miller played surgeon tonight, stepping in only when the illness was dire, shooting 4-8 for 13 points and 5 assists in 41 minutes. Anyone want to bet he explodes against Philly?
Nicolas Batum played 26 minutes, shot 0-3 from the field, and ended up with 2 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls, and a steal. It's one way to fill up a stat line. I don't like to play coach but I think I'd sit down with him tonight and say, "Whatever you have to do to prevent that from happening again--even if it's a little ball-hoggery--make it happen. Also rebound and play defense."
Dante Cunningham had 5 rebounds and a steal in 25 decent minutes. His shot was covered and therefore missed 3 of 4 times. He also committed 3 fouls.
Rudy Fernandez played the passing lanes well, grabbing 2 steals in 11 minutes. He had 6 points, 2 assist, and 2 rebounds.
Armon Johnson got 6 minutes but again had trouble running the offense.
Luke Babbitt got 3 minutes after Camby sat early. He didn't get to show much on offense but his defense was...not ready.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 28 points in the paint. Trying to get another 72 or so outside of the paint is a daunting task.
- Nets shoot 52.5% from the field. That's wrong.
- Blazers finally break out of their three-point slump, shooting 7-13. But it's all but wasted as they let the Nets shoot 7-14.
- Brook Lopez scores 13 and gets only 4 rebounds and the Blazers still lose.
Odd Notes and Links
Mike Rice and Mike Barrett went pretty ga-ga over Kardashian and her entourage of over-dolled-up wingpersons sitting in the front row. Meh.
The Blazers reportedly held a players only meeting after the loss.
Read about the win at NetsDaily