Media Row Report: Blazers 102, Pacers 79

The Portland Trail Blazers demolished Danny Granger's Burden (formally known as the Indiana Pacers) 102-79 and, truth be told, there were as many yawns as cheers from the Rose Garden tonight.  

Tonight's game was memorable if only for its unusual imbalances.  Through the first half, Granger had the same number of field goals (8) and more points (21 to 20) than all of his teammates combined.  Granger shot 72%; his teammates shot 33%.  I'd like to make the excuse that this is what happens to a lottery team dumps talent and salary at the trade deadline in order to rebuild for next year... except the Pacers didn't make any notable moves besides waiving Travis Diener, which only qualifies using the broadest possible definition of "notable."

Granger valiantly kept up the competition with the rest of his team through three quarters (entering the fourth he had 30 points and everyone else combined for 32) but soon after that, down huge, the Pacers waived the white surrender flag and Granger retreated to the bench. 

Credit the Blazers for smacking a team that was eminently smackable coming off a big loss to the defending champion Lakers in Los Angeles last night.  "Business," Nate McMillan called it after the game.  Business, indeed, from top to bottom.  Five Blazers in double figures, a dominating rebounding edge (45 to 32), an overwhelming free throw disparity (30 Blazers attempts to 11 Pacers attempts) and some hot shooting from outside (Rudy Fernandez had 5 3s by himself) were all difference-makers.  Fernandez and Bayless combined for 26 points off the bench, torching the thin Pacers back-up backcourt and ensuring that the garbage time would begin early.    

Afterwards, the general sentiment is that things are coming together, that the team is right to feel as confident as it has at any point since Greg Oden went down.  The locker room was very loose with Jerryd Bayless and Juwan Howard (unintentionally?) wearing matching old man sweaters and cracking up during interviews. This one was all laughs and little else.  There wasn't much to dislike or overanalyze. I feel kind of empty.  

This was just a smacking, plain and simple. A much bigger test comes in Denver on Sunday.

Random Game Notes:

  • Both Jerryd Bayless and Nate McMillan said the ankle injury Bayless sustained in the fourth quarter that caused him to leave the game is not serious and isn't expected to cost him any practice or game time.
  • Top to bottom I don't think there is a less talented, less promising roster in the entire league than the Indiana Pacers.  In an ideal situation, you would not have more than 1 of the following group: Earl Watson, Luther Head, AJ Price, Josh McRoberts and Solomon Jones.(Throw in Troy Murphy too if you consider his contract.) Through shrewd roster management, Indiana has acquired all 6.  Also in an ideal situation, you wouldn't start Brandon Rush or T.J. Ford.  Indiana starts both (and Murphy and Watson too). Aside from the always-impressive Danny Granger, mildly promising Roy Hibbert and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. are the only two players I can even defend as worthwhile.  I include Dunleavy entirely out of sympathy as he used to endure heckles of "Squarehead" from Beaverton High School students who mocked the angularity of his dome by wearing cardboard boxes on their heads back during his Jesuit High School days.  So you're left with a number two masquerading as a number one guy, a young center who put up 4 more points and 3 more rebounds than Greg Oden and "Squarehead."  Man, that's tough.
  • And yet, when given the opportunity to sit anywhere in the entire arena before the game, the newest Blazer Travis Diener decided he would rather converse with his former Pacers buddies than his new Blazers teammates and coaches. One last, fond farewell. Or something.  Maybe he was asking AJ Price for his laptop back?  OK that one wasn't necessary at all, my fault. 
  • As penance, I'm adding the Pacers to my original list of ideal John Wall landing places.  That list previously included only one team: Sacramento. For the Pacers, sheer pity. For the Kings, sheer Tyreke/Wall terror. 
  • For you twitterheads interested in the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference this weekend, follow along using the hashtag #SSAC.  Preliminary jokes, inspired by this week's Wingcast, are already flying among some of the Basketball Nerd Elite.
  • Brandon Roy was out of the locker room before the media swarm could engulf him.  Perhaps the first time that that has happened at a home game this season.  Roy had showered and dressed and was hanging with his family in the back hallway prior to the conclusion of Nate McMillan's comments.  Roy fnished 6 for 16 from the field, getting 10 points at the free throw line. Roy seems to have most of his explosiveness back (he tried to bang on someone's head during the second half and then laughed about it) but he also seems to avoid pushing off his right leg when initiating his dribble moves. During warmups, his balance didn't quite seem right.  Nate McMillan left Roy in deep into the fourth quarter despite a dominating lead.  He surely did this to ensure that Roy's "Shake" would not needlessly increase.  Roy finished with 22 points (15 in the second half), right on his season average. 
  • Bayless: 5 of 6 including 2 of 3 from the perimeter.  That's a great start.  Nate McMillan singled him out for praise below.
  • Roy Hibbert and Jeff Pendergraph were whistled for offsetting technical fouls after a late-game scrum.  In the aftermath, both Rudy Fernandez's beard and Josh McRoberts's 5 O'Clock shadow were also whistled for offsetting techs.  Dante Cunningham's reaction in holding Pendergraph back was priceless.  His wide smile and playful chest pats screamed, "Duuuuude we're up by 26 brooooo."
  • This Batum dunk got my blood pumping.
  • Yesterday, while getting my hair cut, I had a pleasant surprise: Brian Berger of Sports Business Radio entered the shop just as I was leaving.  Berger is a really nice guy and the host of a great program. His ability to eschew trite radio controversy for substantive topics and analysis is greatly appreciated. Today (Thursday) is the 20th anniversary of the death of Hank Gathers. Having been through two heart surgeries, Gathers has always been a personal hero.  Check out this link to Berger's look back at the life and death of Gathers, including audio from the game during which Gathers passed away.

Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments

Happy with that win?

I was. Just nice job. This is a tough game to play after being on the road for so long and having success and then coming in a day, it feels like another road game. I thought our guys was business. Right from the start. We won every quarter. Both units I thought played well. 

Gaining a rhythm?

It's starting to come together. They're starting to get a feel for one another. Camby seems to be getting a little bit more comfortable with where he needs to be out there defensively. A team like this is a challenge because they can shoot the ball. Only one guy tonight was able to score for them. I thought we forced them to do what we wanted them to do and that rhythm on both ends of the floor seems to be coming. I like what the second group did tonight. Bayless, Rudy, that group, Howard, DC came in and was on Granger. So yeah we are getting a rhythm and a rotation that we're comfortable with.

Ball movement to find the open shooter

Yeah it is a good sign to move the ball, set screens. Don't ball fake an open man. We've got guys that can put the ball in the basket. Once we understand our spacing and we understand giving guys opportunities to play. Brandon and LaMarcus and Miller for the most part then you're going to have open shots and it is up to us to knock them down. 

New Orleans and Houston lost tonight

Yeah, I think it's going to be a tight race. For us, our focus is on us. We're in the driver's seat regardless of what they do. If we take care of our business we're going to be OK. To start watching the standings like that, we know where we are. It's like watching the market. It goes up and down and you can go crazy with that. The focus for me and the team is on ourselves. Making sure we take care of business and try to have a strong finish.

Good energy throughout after a slow start

What you need in situations like that is for your bench to come in. Those guys who are coming off the bench and have them play a lot of minutes to give you a lift. That's exactly what happened. I thought Bayless was great on the ball, pressuring the ball and setting the tone. Rudy got to running around. DC came in and kind of helped us with Granger. He didn't score when DC was guarding him. I thought our second unit came in and did some good things. First group came back in the third and fourth quarters and did a nice job. You need everybody in situations like that. The fact that we were able to get every quarter tonight, did a nice job of taking care of the ball, rebounding the ball and not turning it over.  A great effort by the entire group.

3 days off

We don't know what to do with ourselves. No, it's the schedule. We've played a number of games and we're going to take tomorrow off. The guys definitely need that. We've got two days to get ready for Denver.  A day that we really need. We really think about 3 or 4 games ahead of most of the league as far as games played and this is the time to start trying to allow some of these guys to rest and recover.

Won 5 of 6. 

Hopefully the streak is not over. I think we're going to need another streak somewhere in the next 18 games. We've done a nice job. I feel like we're starting to get our rhythm. To get a feel for each other and we've got Denver coming up in Denver. On Friday we'll start focusing on those guys. 

Can you compare this year's stretch run to last year's?

No. You can't. Different group of guys. Different team. Almost a totally different team. Lineups are different. Bench is different, different situations. What we are trying to do though is get hot. I thought last year we got hot and was the best team the last 20 or 25 games. We want to get hot going down the stretch here.

Bayless tweaked his ankle

I think he's going to be ok. He was walking ok going into the locker room.

Can you use what you learned last year to make a push this year?

We're taking it one game at a time. We know we can do it. This team has to create its own identity. That's a different team. Travis and Blake are gone. Greg and Joel are not with us. It's a total different team going down the stretch. 

What lessons did the core guys from last year learn during that run?

That every game is going to count. We're going to need them to play well. Brandon seems to be getting his rhythm back, his legs back. LaMarcus is playing good basketball for us. We're going to need everybody playing well. One thing about last year, not only was Brandon and LaMarcus were playing well, our bench was playing well, everyone was playing well and we're going to need that.

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

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