Media Row Report: Blazers 97, Raptors 84

The Portland Trail Blazers dissected a weak Toronto Raptors team, 97-84, in a Saturday night snoozer at the Rose Garden. While the action on the court was mostly forgettable, Brandon Roy gave the night a little life during his post-game interview.

Asked an innocuous question about Marcus Camby's decision to play through migraine headaches, Roy told reporters that the team needs everyone's contributions and hinted that he is already feeling the weight of playing 40 minutes per game just seven games into the season. "We just need everybody," Roy said. "Whether or not you're at 100% we need you. LaMarcus [Aldridge] is a little bit banged up, I'm playing more minutes than I've ever played, I thought it was big that [Camby] stepped up and came out there and tried to give us a body. We just need the guys to do that, if you can play through it, we need you to."

One guy who didn't play through pain tonight was Rudy Fernandez, who sat for the second consecutive game due to a back injury. Fernandez's absence, combined with another disappointing night for reserve guard Wesley Matthews, left Roy, who finished with 26 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 bocks and 0 assists, on the court for 37 minutes in a game that saw the Blazers lead by as many as 23 points.

Roy told me he is already making adjustments to his game and schedule given the heavier minutes load and some mental attention he's paying to the miles that are already on his body. "I think now my practice time is going to cut down a little bit. In the games, I'm just trying to pick my spots a little more smarter. I think just with some of the injuries I've had in the past, just trying to make my reads, be a little bit smarter, attack the basket, try to get guys in the air."

While observers have been calling for Roy to settle for his jumper less and attack the basket more, Roy made it sound tonight like his new perimeter-first approach has been by design. "I'm just playing a little bit more of a ground game," Roy told me. "Some of that is just trying to continue to understand my body and how I can get my game off. Pick my spots about when to go to the basket. I'm not jumping as high as I was. Tonight I thought I finally got the pump fake off in the paint, got the foul. Try to do things like that to keep opening my game up."

Roy has never been a whiner. Indeed, he is the opposite. He has played through injuries and pain too many times to count. But here we have a new look for Roy: apparently healthy but cautious, acknowledging some slippage in his athleticism and actively looking to evolve his game away from situations that could lead to injury. His mind is that of a chess player's, his thoughts multiple moves ahead. But this is a 26 year old man, who should still be a year or two away from his prime, openly stepping into a new chapter of his career.

Get ready to settle for Brandon Roy settling for jumpers.

Given these statements, the story to watch over the next week is whether Blazers coach Nate McMillan reacts by changing up the playing time, and how. Portland plays three road games against Western Conference playoff teams in the next seven days (with a home date against the lowly Detroit Pistons squeezed in there as well).  Roy is already talking about his minutes. Fernandez has already gone down to injury, Camby missed time during the preseason and had to fight to play tonight. It feels like something has to give.

McMillan doesn't have many options with so many injuries and/or inexperienced players. His best bet is likely to rely more heavily on the trio of Armon Johnson, Matthews and Dante Cunningham, but each of those players comes with associated risk. Johnson had six turnovers tonight (more than Jerryd Bayless has ever had during his career) and, while he's played very well to date, can't be expected to change games on a consistent basis as a rookie. Matthews, who acknowledged that he is still adjusting back to a reserve role, is frustrated with his play and has displayed Martell Webster-likeoffensive inconsistency. Cunningham has played his solid brand of ball, but struggled in match-ups with larger players and becomes a defensive liability that can be exploited without too much difficulty against an organized, quality opponent.

Another potential saving grace is Nicolas Batum, who had a splendid night tonight, going for 20 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block, and looking like the starting small forward everyone had hoped he would be. His ability to take Raptors forward Linas Kleiza off the dribble during the first quarter opened things up both himself and his teammates, as he finished at the basket, got to the free throw line and collapsed the Raptors' pathetic interior defense.  

The aggressiveness from Batum was good to see because McMillan had singled him out on Thursday night for an inability to get to the free throw line. "Our guys are looking for [Batum]," McMillan said after the game. "For the most part he would settle for the jumper, but I thought tonight he looked to be aggressive and get to the basket. That's what we need. We need for him to read the defense and not settle for those jump shots, use that screen and see if he can get to the basket." 

Aside from Batum, a stellar play-making effort from Andre Miller (13 assists) and solid-as-always work on the boards from Marcus Camby (16 rebounds) made tonight a laugher.

It was good, albeit a little dull, to see Portland take care of business against one of the league's worst teams on its way to improving to 5-2. But tonight was one of the rare instances, given Roy's comments, that a blowout home win felt a bit foreboding. The undefeated Lakers await the Blazers in Los Angeles, surely eager to help provide some answers tomorrow night.

Random Game Notes

  • There was an Indonesian photographer sitting on press row tonight that snapped more than 100 pictures during the Canadian national anthem. Seriously. Strange.
  • Did you catch that monster block shot by Blazers rookie Luke Babbitt? I had to ask him after the game when the last time he had managed such a fearsome display of defensive prowess. "Probably college," he smiled. "I mean, I just tried to come over help side and make sure I was doing the correct rotation, it's what we've been taught in practice." Honestly, I can't recall a swat like that from Babbitt at Nevada but I do remember -- back at our 2004 Fourth of July family reunion -- when he checked Aunt Kathy's weak runner so hard Uncle Bob had to tell him to take it easy.
  • Wesley Matthews chose the pre-game music: a sensual ballad called "The Power (Remix)" by Kanye West and Jay-Z.
  • I joked on Twitter tonight that the Raptors protect the rim like the guy on your street that puts an ADT sign in his front lawn but doesn't actually pay to have a security system installed. Andrea Bargnani is a $50,000,000 ADT sign standing there with his hands up, but no alarm bells are going off and he's definitely not going to notify the police if you let yourself in the front door.
  • Raptors fans are basically Blazers Fans East so watching this one tonight was psychically painful. Last year, observing Chris Bosh's body language, it was clear he was long gone. Watching the team this year without him, it's hard to fault Bosh's decision in the slightest. If anything, we should strip Pat Riley of his future NBA Executive of the Year crown because he actually paid to sign Bosh, when it's clear Bosh should have paid for the privilege of joining that team. Did we ever figure out how he conned Dwyane Wade and LeBron James into liking him so much? 
  • Anyway, back to the Raptors, they're really at a crossroads. Bargnani is obviously not a No. 1 option. They drafted wing DeMar DeRozan to be that guy but it's clear he isn't ready to handle that responsibility in the immediate short-term. What is clear is that everyone else on the roster is eminently replaceable. While Raptors coach Jay Triano isn't really in a position to do this, the organization would be best served by encouraging DeRozan to take 25 shots a game in the faint hope that he turns into an elite scorer, and when it doesn't work out, they just hand the keys to 2011 No. 1 pick Harrison Barnes and call it good. 
  • The only problem with my theory is that DeRozan's jumper is really bad. And not just the 1-10 he put up during the game, which was an off night. Watching him during warm-ups, he struggled to consistently hit uncontested 15-18 foot jumpers from every single position around the arc.  He just couldn't do it. Most starting twos can hit a 15 foot shot at least seven out of 10 times during shootaround. DeRozan was not close to that. He's said to be an amazing person, he has an amazing life story and his vertical leap is out of this world, but he's so easy to defend because his perimeter game lags far behind his ability to finish at the rim. Here's hoping he figures it out. Toronto deserves a new star.
  • Sean Marks' debut consisted of 3 fouls in 8 minutes, no other stats registered, and a whole lot of confused running around in circles on both offense and defense. Unintentional comedy at its finest.
  • Patty Mills was greeted with raucous applause when he entered the game. A few minutes later, though, the boos rang down when Mills correctly did not attempt a three-pointer at the buzzer with his team up 13 points. His decision left the Blazers at 97 points, three short of the 100 necessary to trigger free Chalupas.    

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Initial thoughts

We got off to somewhat of a slow start again, but I thought we did a good job with our gameplan defending these guys, making them go over the top. We need to do a better job rebounding the ball, we're still giving up way too many second opportunities. 17 [second-chance points] tonight. But I like the defense, I like the movement in our offense. It wasn't any as many isolations tonight. We got the ball from side to side and were able to score.

LaMarcus Aldridge defensively

He picked up some quick fouls but he wanted to stay on him, we thought about moving him and putting Camby but we left him there. He did a good job of forcing him out, keeping a hand in his face and not allow him to get clean looks. I thought he did a nice job. We didn't have to go down and double-team a lot. We did a good job of defending these guys we just didn't finish the play with a rebound.

NIcolas Batum more aggressive offensively

I thought he went to the basket. He's been doing a good job of coming off of screens. Our guys are looking for him. For the most part he would settle for the j, but I thought tonight he looked to be aggressive and get to the basket. That's what we need. We need for him to read the defense and not settle for those jump shots, use that screen and see if he can get to the basket.

The Raptors got back into it in the third quarter

We got loose with the ball. The second half, the third quarter, it started with a turnover, back-to-back turnovers, and then Armon came in and he had a few turnovers. I don't recall how many turnovers we had in that third quarter but any time you're giving them possessions that's an opportunity for a team to get back in the game. And they did.

What was the key to putting this game away?

This will be every game, every fourth quarter. You've got to make plays and you've got to get stops. We got stops and we started to make some shots. We got the momentum back by making a bucket. But it started defensively by getting stops. You've got to get stops whether you're up or you're down. We had the lead, we needed to get control of the game again and we settled down and made some plays. 

What did you like defensively?

We made them miss shots. We need to do a better job of rebounding the ball. Teams are still pounding us on the boards. We've got to get everybody in the paint rebounding the ball.

Did you do a double-take seeing Sean Marks out there?

No. We brought him in because he has experience. Even though he was thrown into a tough situation, we ran maybe two plays where he didn't know where to go. Because of his IQ, his feel for the game, he was able to adjust and just make a play, react to the situation out there. I think he's going to be good. He's going to be able to help us. Giving Camby, LaMarcus a few minutes at that five spot.

You were able to limit your starters' playing time a little bit tonight

Some of it was due to foul trouble. I wish we had been able to keep control of that game in the third quarter and try to cut their minutes even more. But we got the W. Now we'll get down to L.A. and play those guys.

Andre Miller

Good job of moving the ball, distributing the ball. He's picking his opportunities and his moments to score and be aggressive. That's what he has to do, get everybody involved, when he has his opportunity, don't pass it up and be aggressive.

Marcus Camby

We didn't expect that guy to play tonight. He was battling the migraine and he got a little dizzy during the game. He just wanted to continue to play. What a trooper. A warrior tonight. We needed him and he came through for us.

Do you expect Marcus Camby will play against the L.A. Lakers?

We'll have to say. I do. As of now. I don't have anything from the trainers that he wouldn't play.

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

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