The Portland Trail Blazers once again handled an undermanned opponent, pulling away in the second half to beat a Minnesota Timberwolves team that was without lottery pick Wesley Johnson 67-60. Portland improved to 3-1 on the week despite another night of cold shooting.
Although this was a fairly routine victory there were a couple of match-ups that added to our knowledge base.
Johnson on Ellington
First, the defensive work that Armon Johnson did on Minnesota two guard Wayne Ellington jumped off the court like we were all wearing three dimensional glasses.
Ellington was selected near the end of the 2009 first round after a successful stop at North Carolina. He was a highly-rated prospect coming out of high school although his lack of NBA height to star as a two guard caught up with him during his rookie season. Nevertheless, the talent is there and he's been electric in Las Vegas, putting up 24 against Sacramento and hanging 25 on Memphis in back-to-back games.
Ellington really isn't a combo guard stylistically, but he is size-wise. He's a difficult cover for larger two guards because he has good quickness. If you try to throw a point guard at him the court opens up and he can elevate, shoot over the top or bully an undersized defender. Tonight Johnson pretty much ate him up. Ellington finished 3 of 12 for 8 points and settled for 5 threes, none of which he made. He also turned the ball over four times.
"I thought Armon was fantastic tonight," Portland's Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan said. "I think that was a major bright spot of our play tonight, him guarding Wayne. He just has such good feet laterally that if guys want to break you down off the dribble they have a hard time getting separation. I think you saw that from Armon tonight. I thought he did a great job of keeping him in front, making him shoot tough jumpshots. I think every shot felt like he took, Armon was in his area contesting it. You could just sense Wayne a little frustrated tonight dealing with Armon."
Johnson's coach, Kaleb Caneles, agreed. "Wayne's a really good player. We talked about that before the game, accepting the challenge.I think he stepped up and accepted that challenge. He did a great job on defense today."
Johnson finished with 13 points on 9 shots, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and just 1 turnover.
Pendergraph versus O'Bryant
The second big match-up didn't go quite as well for Portland. Jeff Pendergraph's frustrating summer continued with a technical foul and countless shot attempts getting blocked and he struggled getting over or around Minnesota center Patrick O'Bryant, who is nothing to write home about. Pendergraph finished with 7 points on 3-11 shooting, 12 rebounds, 0 blocks and 3 turnovers against O'Bryant's 16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 turnovers.
Robotic. Inefficient. Reckless. Wild. All of those words can fairly be applied to his post work although he is making up for his offensive struggles by hitting the glass and playing with passion, which the Blazers scouts seem to view as enough to call this a successful week. Sometimes that's hard to see. There have been stretches -- too many -- that Pendergraph hasn't looked like an NBA player.
Coming in, this week was about experimentation for him: trying new things, being tested in new situations, asked to do more than he's shown previously in the NBA or in college. The results didn't pan out. Experiments don't always work. One scout called this a "reaffirming" week for Pendergraph, in that it will serve to remind him what his strengths are, how he found a way onto an NBA roster and to provide chip-on-the-shoulder motivation that fringe NBA players can't lose if they hope to stick. I think he's received that message.
Random Game Notes
- Chris Bowles, once seen as a rising star in the organization after a cross-country move brought him back to Portland from a career in Georgia politics, told me today that his time with the organization ended on July 1st. Bowles was the team's Director of Player Programs before he moved to the organization's business side when Hersey Hawkins was hired last fall. Bowles said he is doing some consulting work with the University of Oregon Athletic Department and the NBA and is "plotting my next move." Bowles had been a team employee for five years.
- It really makes you wonder.
- Back in 2008 we ran a two part interview with Bowles (here and here), which remains one of my favorite interviews we've ever done. His work with the players was also featured on ESPN.com during Black History Month in 2007.
- As you surely noticed on the television broadcast, Brandon Roy showed up tonight to support his teammates and take in the action. He did his best Kevin Pritchard impression, doling out handshakes to reporters and cracking jokes in between media spots. Speaking of Portland's former GM, Roy said, "I still have a relationship with KP. I talked to him the other day." Asked about the team's next GM, Roy played the "It's a business" card and mostly left it at that.
- Roy was asked multiple times about his potential plans with Team USA and he was vague in providing reasons for not participating, although he did say that he was invited. Roy said he's been in the gym and his body is feeling good. He said he's seen Greg Oden a few times and is looking forward to having "Big Greg," as he calls him, back on the court.
- One of the funniest scenes of the week occurred when former Laker Rick Fox, clad in a t-shirt that says "Mr. Happy" and looking like he just stepped out of a sunscreen commercial, approached Roy to say, "You're a warrior, man," before pitching him on a television appearance. Do you, Rick.
- Roy was joined by former teammate and current Timberwolf Martell Webster, who had his kilowatt smile going in full effect. Webster seemed just as happy to see everyone from Portland as they were to see him. If the crowd of Blazers fans in Las Vegas was any indication, Webster is set to receive a big time reception during his first trip back to the Rose Garden.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter