It's out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Portland Trail Blazers, as they try to block out the memories from a resounding defeat to the Boston Celtics last Thursday. Tomorrow night, it's the San Antonio Spurs,who hold the league's best record at 40-7 and are the NBA's second-most efficient team on offense and seventh-most efficient team on defense.
The takeaway theme for the Blazers last week was a neutralized LaMarcus Aldridge, as both the Sacramento Kings and Celtics were able to mix up their defense against him, rotating in a number of bodies, providing a lot of team help and forcing Portland's shooters to beat them, which, of course, didn't happen.
In case you missed it: Here's the Kings game recap, here's a look at Aldridge's struggles during that game on video, and here's the Celtics recap, which includes some comments from Aldridge in which he essentially asks for help from Portland's shooters.
Speaking with Blazers coach Nate McMillan today, he defended Aldridge's play last week and continued to put the losses on his team's poor shooting. "As long as you shoot that poorly from the perimeter a good team is going to collapse. The big thing is, you've got to make shots to force the defense to play the rest of the team honest and try to loosen up the defense on LaMarcus. Every team is going to come in with a game plan of taking LaMarcus out and make other guys make shots."
McMillan maintained that Portland had the looks that it wanted despite the historic and staggering number of misses they threw up. "I thought we had shots, we've gotten shots, matter of fact we had 90 attempts in one game, high 80s in another, so you're getting the shots. You've got to knock those shots down. We had some guys who were 2-9 and 1-10, you're getting looks. Defenses are going to make certain guys shoot until they prove themselves."
Aldridge's inability to get to the free throw line was another aspect of his ineffectiveness last week but McMillan attributed that to poor shooting and disciplined defense by Portland's opponents rather than a failing on Aldridge's part. "If you're double-teaming you don't have that opportunity to attack. Defenses are well aware of [the importance of free throws] also. You don't bail a guy out by fouling him, you make him shoot over the top. The last two teams -- Boston and Sacramento -- have had long defenders who are good defenders. You've got [Samuel] Dalembert, who is pretty good, [Kevin] Garnett, [Kendrick] Perkins, who are pretty good defenders. You can't force a guy to foul you."
McMillan also noted that Portland's poor shooting makes it difficult for Blazers guard to collapse a defense off the dribble, setting up opportunities for Aldridge to receive a pass on the move that might more easily lead to a late rotation and a possible trip to the free throw line. "Being able to drive and penetrate and take double teams away [only happens if] you're making shots. You can do all of that if the defense respects your shooting. If they don't respect your shooting, it's like you're driving against a zone. Everybody is sitting in the paint. You've got to make a shot to get them out to give yourself space to penetrate, to give yourself space to post up."
Portland expects Aldridge to see a slightly different look on Tuesday night, as McMillan believes DeJuan Blair -- an undersized but powerful power forward who you might remember from the 2009 NBA Draft, when the Blazers passed on drafting him 7,219 times -- will front Aldridge, with Tim Duncan providing help defense underneath.
"For the most part we expect them to put Blair on LaMarcus and double-team from the weakside with Tim. Save Tim's legs and front LaMarcus," said McMillan. "[Duncan] plays smart defense. He's not taking you out. He plays position defense and they play good team defense. He's not a stopper. They're going to make [Aldridge] work. They will double-team off of Joel [Przybilla] and Dante [Cunningham] and [those guys have] got to make shots. They're going to have to make some plays."
McMillan also made some interesting comments about his team's mental approach and results against Boston. "I thought the Boston game, I thought we showed too much respect," McMillan said. "I think you respect all of your opponents but sometimes you can show too much respect. We kind of came in and we weren't the aggressors. San Antonio is going to be the same time of team tomorrow night. Very good team. A lot of options. We've got to win the game of being aggressive."
He continued: "Sometimes you can give too much respect to certain teams. You don't play them, you end up watching them. Those teams are very good, you're going to have to play, you're going to have to hit. You have to expect to get hit. You've got to be the aggressors. You're not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with teams as good as Boston and San Antonio. You've got to create something extra and take advantage of it."
- Small forward Nicolas Batum did not run in practice today but is expected to play tomorrow night.
- Guard Wesley Matthews participated in portions of practice, but not the whole thing. He is also expected to play tomorrow night.
- Nate McMillan says he doesn't expect center Marcus Camby to play on this upcoming road trip. Camby does note on Twitter that his rehab is "coming along."
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter