Nobody said that this series was going to be easy. Most of the national media pegged the Blazers to win the first round due to the Mavericks being a favorable match-up. What nobody pegged was the match-up also working in the Mav's favor. These have been a very close 3 games thus far with the momentum able to be shifted by just the slightest of things. So with that in mind, let us break down the Blazer roster to see how everybody is doing.
#24 Andre Miller: Nothing if not consistent. Dallas was the team in which he dropped 52 on last season but nobody is even close to expecting that kind of production out of him in this series. Right now, I think, Dre is playing the perfect game; playing a meaningful role with consistency without standing out enough to demand extra attention. Now Dre has never been one to look for his shot first, and when he does that normally means something is going wrong. So with him being a steady player who is seeming to fade into the background every game, he is doing just fine with nothing more being needed.
#2 Wesley Matthews: We all know that Wes is a rhythm player and once he finds it he's almost unstoppable. So after going through the first 2 games not being allowed to find that rhythm, we started thinking the worst. Then game 3 happened. With LMA being heavily pressured in the post, Portland desperately needed somebody to step up and spread the D. Matthews delieverd perfectly, going crazy in the opening minutes with a barrage of 3's. The down side to this showing is that Matthews has a habbit of being great one night and then disappearing the next. If we get another 2-point, 1-3 night from him tomorrow, I don't expect the Blazers to win. But as long as he can at least be able to rattle off 10-15 points a night and be a threat from distance, that is all we need.
#3 Gerald Wallace: After watching him drop 40 on the Thunder in the last part of the season, most of Portland expected great things from Crash come playoff time. So far, he has been a mixed bag and sometimes looking unsure of himself on the offensive end. The thing that most people forget is that even though he is a veteran of the league, these are only his 5th, 6th, and 7th playoff games of his career. Last year was his first trip to the second season so the pressure may still be playing with his mind. He knows he needs to step up and get the Blazers some much needed scoring but he appears to be in his own head a little too much. I think game 4 will see him go off and contribute a little more, much like he opened up for us after the shock from his trade wore off.
#12 LaMarcus Aldridge: We all read the stories of how he was disappointed with his performance in last years playoffs and that being his motivation for his off-season work. So far this year he has been nothing if not steady. As the focal point of Portland's offense, the fact that he is still putting up very good numbers is just a statement to the type of player he has become. Now last night, he put up his worst stats of the series thus far but I am fine with that. As much as I believe he has at least one 30+ point showing in him, I'm not sure if I want to see it. The nights that LMA has gone off like that have normally meant that nothing else was really going Portland's way. The only thing I think is left to be wanted from his game is for him to spend a little more time guarding Dirk. The matching height and skill set might be just enough to slow Dirk down enough for the Blazers to get a statement, blowout win.
#23 Marcus Camby: I read a story yesterday about Camby meeting with the team doctors and training staff about injuring his right hand during game 2. It was so swollen, apparently, that it resembled something of a mango. The article continued with reports of Camby yelling at the trainers that it didn't matter what was wrong, he was gonna play hell or high water. That is the kind of attitude this team needs, especially from its veterans. Camby has only been to the promise land once in his long career and he was robbed of the pot at the end of the rainbow. He knows that with the possibility of a lockout, this may be his last shot and he'll be damned if anything gets in his way. His game, thus far, has left me wanting nothing more. His purpose on this team is to rebound, disrupt, and boost confidence...and that is exactly what we are getting.
#88 Nicolas Batum: The regular season was a roller coaster for Batum. He went from starter, to bench guy, back to starter, and has now returned to the pine at tip off. After finding his stride at the end of the season, I think we are seeing a Batum that is, once again, unsure of himself. Right now Portland needs nothing more than about 10 or 12 a night from him, except maybe for him to find the 3-ball with a little more regularity. After making a 3 in, I think, about the third quarter, Batum looked up to the sky and appeared to thank God for the ball finding net. He is also somewhat of a rythme player and seeing that ball fall will probably restore his confidence for Game 4. The only gripe to find with his defensive game is his inability to handle Dirk. As much as Dre lights up against JJB, Dirk smiles whenever he sees Batum. I've noticed he has the tendency to play a little more euro-D on Dirk and not really body him up. If Nic can just get a hand on his waist to follow his movements, we should see a major impact.
#7 Brandon Roy: I don't think I have to go into much history with how this series has gone for him. In fact, it has been a major highlight of media attention and was pretty much the only thing discussed before Game 3. The look on his face last night gives me hope, and a lot of it. Even with his few and far between showings in the regular season, this is the playoffs and with that comes more pressure. Add to that that he opened his mouth a bit too much following Game 2 and the pressure increased ten-fold. The fact that in that huge spotlight shinning down on him he was able to put together a solid performance is a wonderful thing. I think last nights confidence boost was bigger than any he could have had during the regular season. And I think, just like the other shooting guards, any showing of about 10-12 points a night will be good enough to win a series. Anything more than that, from Roy especially, would take away from the rest of the offensive flow.
#5 Rudy Fernandez: Did he even get on the plan to come back from Dallas....or head there in the first place? During his career, he has been billed as nothing more than a shooting/scoring specialist. So far this year, we have seen none of that. Sadly, that means Portland's already thin bench has been hurt drastically. McMillan, though, was very good with Rudy and his minutes during last night's win. Even though Rudy isn't filling up the box score like some of us expect him to, it's hard to fault him when his fundamentals are sound. He's brought energy, played the passing lanes extremely well, and boxes out and scraps when needed. But, I think, most of us who have played basketball during our lives could do those things just as well. If Rudy wants to have a future in Portland after this year, he needs to have a breakout game to show he belongs. Normally, I don't want anything more than one or two 3's, a steal, and some assists from Rudy with a few flashes to the basket. After his past three games, I am going to need to see at least a 15-18 point outing for him to prove his worth. If he can't deliver, there are other guys on the bench that can run really fast and outstretch their arms just as well that would love to see minutes.
#8 Patty Mills: We have only seen him once in the series and I've come to think that can only mean things aren't going according to plan. Mills has always been an energy player, able to up the tempo and push the offense when Nate so pleases. The one time he made his way to the floor, the Blazers were digging themselves into a hole and coach was desperate for something different. Unless the Blazers are playing a less veteran team, I don't think Mills has a place during the playoffs. On the other hand, I would be interested to see what a line up with Dre playing the point and Patty playing the 2-guard would do as far as scoring options.
#17 Chris Johnson: If not for last night, Chris wouldn't have made this list. But because of last night, I have nothing but praise for him. When I first noticed he checked into the game, I thought that Nate was going with the "Hack-A-Haywood" game plan down the stretch and needed a non-starter that could afford to pick up the fouls. Now if that was his initial plan, it didn't work but I am more than happy with the result. Most people hear that he was the 'Defensive Player of the Year' in the D-League and think that's nothing worth a damn. In game 3, Chris didn't let his nerves get the best of him and in one awesome, momentum shifting block of a Dirk fadaway did something no other Blazer has done this post-season; inspire the team. Credit where credit is due for Nate turning to a rookie in a pressure packed game with everything riding on it and I hope last night helped us find a suitable backup to Camby for the remainder of the series.
Everyone Else: This has been a pretty tightly run ship thus far with Nate not really having to look far down the bench. But if one thing can be taken away, those guys hogging the pine at the end of the row NEED to be ready in case their moment comes. Chris was ready, and they should be to. Because who knows who is going to come up with the big play when we need it....it could be one of them.