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Quick Chat Recap 11/15/07

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Here's our recap of Oregonlive's Quick Chat hosted by Casey Holdahl.  As always this is a paraphrase of the questions and responses.  You can listen to the entire chat here.  

Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick joins the chat from Philadelphia.

Q:  What's the story so far?

A:  Last night was a bad game.  The Blazers were just thoroughly handled.  You could tell they were tired.  They got in very late and didn't get to bed until four.  They were playing the second game of a back-to-back and looked sluggish.  They didn't have that "it" that we saw in the homestand.  I thought Brandon Roy put it perfectly saying that the team wins with its energy and by outworking people and they just didn't have it.  You could tell from the start when Brandon missed a couple of shots badly and Lamarcus was off.  You're just going to have a handful of those nights.  The good teams keep them to a minimum, the average team have about ten of those, the bad teams have about twenty.

Q:  So let's say the team wasn't playing back-to-back and didn't get in late, what happens?  What are their chances?

A:  Certainly better.  You need energy to play against Denver because they put pressure on you from so many different angles with Iverson and Anthony and Kenyon Martin looking rejuvenated.  They can hit you from different areas.  If you don't have your legs under you you're in for a long night.  That's a talented team.  I don't know that the Blazers have anybody who can contain Carmelo Anthony.  He's a beast.  He can take you down low, his jumper is money.  Martell's defense has been pretty solid this year but he's no match for Carmelo.

Nobody is.  The key for someone like Martell is first to hustle, second to grab rebounds and do other things to help the team, and third score as many as he can so as to diminish Carmelo's scoring advantage (and make him work harder on defense).

Q:  Talk about the four-game winning streak.  What was different in those games?

A:  Their defense stood out.  Nate had these guys buying into defense winning games.  It started in the first practice after that 0-3 road trip.  Brandon called them the most intense practices he's had with the Blazers.  Nate felt that the team answered the call and decided to go to work.  It reminded him of his last year in Seattle.  On opening night they lost by 30 to the Clippers and it looked like it was going to be a rough season.  They came back and got to work and dug in and they won 50 that year.  I'm not saying the Blazers are going to win 50 but Nate has seen this before where weaknesses are identified and he goes to work on those.  His moves to start Blake and Frye really paid off.  It was a smart move.  It's not so much who's starting...it's a complete thing.  Jarrett Jack is more comfortable playing the off-guard and now that he's looking to score he's flourishing.  Joel...it doesn't matter where he plays but he's shored up their defensive deficiencies in the second unit.

Q:  Is Jack's emergence as a bench scorer the reason the Blazers are winning?

A:  It's part of the reason.  They have really good balance right now.  Steve Blake is playing excellent basketball.  His assist-to-turnover ratio is phenomenal.  He's running the offense perfectly...getting people the ball in the right place at the right time.  Also he's playing better defense than any guard on the Blazers and that's helping them.  Plus the second unit has several options now.  They were relying heavily on Travis to be the go-to guy and he's had a slow start so far.  Having Jack in there alleviates that pressure.  I like Jarrett playing the off-guard.  He's more aggressive and relaxed.  We've seen him be very effective.  It's still a transition for him since he sees himself as a point guard and that's what he's played his whole life.  But he is embracing the lack of pressure put on him from being a point guard and making all the reads.  He's finding he's playing more at ease now.

Don't underestimate Jarrett Jack!  It's not just the scoring, it's the emotion and energy he brings.  That doesn't come easily to every player.  And he appears to bring as much coming off the bench as he did starting, maybe even more.  He's been the one guy who's been consistently energetic the last 3-4 games no matter what.  That is valuable and hopefully contagious.  All of you Jack fans should have your heads high about now.

Q:  You mentioned that the assistant coaches told Nate to get Sergio in more during the Detroit game.  What did they see that Nate didn't see?

A:  First of all Sergio has practiced well in the last week and his shot has been on in practice.  Sergio even made a comment that in practice his three has been feeling good.  I love Sergio and he's a fun player to watch but he still makes critical errors defensively and even offensively.  Nate gets caught up in wanting to play Blake a lot because he's being efficient and with Jack playing well that's a lot of minutes there.  Sergio is a tough topic to wrap your hands around because he does so many things well offensively but defensively he's such a liability.  If you just watch him the things he does really hurts the team.  Nate admitted that he almost gave him the quick hook in the fourth quarter when Flip Murray drove right by him for a lay-in.  That was still a game in question and you couldn't have too many more of those but he made up for it on the offensive end.  I think we'll see this throughout the year where Nate will get a read on Sergio and if his jumper is going and he's changing the tempo he'll stick with him.  It's a matter of getting him in the game though.  I don't know what the assistants saw specifically in that game but I think it's a matter of him practicing well in the past week.

Does anyone else want to see what Sergio could do in the D-League for a while?  Of course he basically laid an egg in Summer League compared to what was expected of him, so maybe he's the type of guy who rises to the competition.  But I'd like to see him getting 30 minutes a game somewhere where his mistakes could be worked out without affecting things so much.

Q:  What has happened to Lamarcus Aldridge's inside game?

A:  When he gets inside a lot of teams are double-teaming him so he's kind of floating out.  Also Rasheed is a good defender and did a good job of keeping him out.  I still like Lamarcus' position in that game though.  He got the ball at 7-8 feet a lot and hit his turn-around jumper over Rasheed.  I think it's more the personnel he's going against.  I think he's finding he's not as strong as he thought he was.  He's added strength and weight but he's not as phsyical as a lot of the power forwards and centers out there.  His aspiration of being a more grueling inside player is still a season or two away.

I'll tell you what's happened to Lamarcus' inside game:  he's not a true inside player and never will be.  He can score in deep but his game isn't backing down and shoving his way into position, nor is it holding ground.  Lamarcus' game is covering ground and escaping into open territory.  He will be something of a low-post player this year because we desperately need one.  But Jason is right in saying his body isn't ready.  And frankly I don't think he's ready mentally either.  He is going to get beat up in there and getting beat up throws him off his game and will also wear down his body over the course of the season.  Either he'll avoid that naturally or the coaches will eventually give him permission to avoid it.  Greg Oden is going to be the low post guy and then Lamarcus' more eclectic offensive game will look much better.  In fact it will be an asset.  

Q:  Did he mention anything about the little altercation with Marcus Camby last night?

A:  No, he didn't.

Would you?  "Um...he got a free whack at the back of my head and my friend yelled at him for it.  I jawed at him a little too but, you know..."

Q:  That game seemed like it had some bad blood.  Did you notice any of that?

A:  No I didn't get that feel.  There was obviously that little blow-up where Joel came to Lamarcus' defense but I haven't heard of any long-standing bad blood between these teams.

Q:  How has Channing Frye's game seemed to you?

A:  He's another hard one to evaluate.  Overall you have to count him as a disappointment so far but you also have to cut him some slack because he's playing out of position.  He's feeling his way at center.  He's obviously been most effective at the top of the key shooting the jumper.  Any time he tries to do something inside it looks awkward and off.  We won't see the real Channing Frye until next year when Oden comes back which will allow him to fall back to his regular power forward position.  He'll be more comfortable as the back-up four.  Right now he's undersized and doesn't know what to do as far as going inside or outside.  Defensively he's been poor, which was an eye-opener for me.  Overall it's been a little bit of a disappointment but again he's playing out of position and feeling his way.

Yes Channing is out of position but it's more than that.  How many times has he been caught at a flat-footed standstill?  That's just about the #1 rule of defense, isn't it?  Keep moving?  I don't think anybody would complain if he were giving even a Martell/Travis level of hustle even if he got burned by streaking guards or knocked around by bigger guys.  It's his lamppost impression in the middle of the lane that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Q:   How about Martell?  His shot has been off but he's helping in other ways.

A:  Yeah...I still think Martell is encouraging.  His shot has cooled a little bit but the thing I like is that when his shots isn't falling he's finding ways to contribute.  One night he got nine rebounds and played good defense.  He's still getting in there for steals and playing hard.  He's still the best-conditioned guy on the team right now, which is allowing him to stay on the court for extended minutes.  He's made huge leaps this season.  You'll see peaks and valleys with any young shooter's shot.  But he's still got confidence and is shooting when open and that's a good sign.

Q:  Did Dallas, Memphis, and Detroit underestimate the Blazers or is the team more competitive this year?

A:  Well, I don't know that they underestimated them.  I still think Dallas didn't play a very good game.  Several of the Blazers gave me flak for writing that.  They were upset with me and Nate was a little upset as well.  They felt they made Dallas look bad with their defense.  Yes the defense was active and they doubled Nowitzki and caught the Mavericks off-guard with the game plan.  But still there were a ton of open shots Dallas didn't make.  That's the NBA.  If you don't put the ball in the basket you don't win.  You have to give the Blazers credit in that regard.  They outplayed them on that night.  You can say the Blazers outplayed their opponent every game on that homestand.  None of those wins were flukes.  Part of that was getting rest and practice time.  Part of it was also the incredible energy from playing in the Rose Garden.  The crowds have been phenomenal...near-sell-outs and very energetic.  That's something that Nate has dreamed about since coming to Portland...making the Rose Garden a special place.  He's said that over and over.  Slowly we're getting there where the Rose Garden is becoming a special place to play again.

Q:  So would they win those same four games on the road?

A:  I don't know.  They probably wouldn't have won all of them.  Playing at home is a huge thing in the NBA.  All you have to do is compare home and road records.  Travel is tough.  I don't have to play and I'm tired on the road from the flights and the abnormal sleeping patterns.  You're out of your comfort zone.  Me as just a piddly writer, I'm tired at the road games.  I can't imagine what these guys are having to go through playing and exerting themselves in addition to traveling.  Playing at home is a huge, huge advantage.

Dallas did underestimate us, but that only carries through the first half.  By the book they should have come out in the third quarter and closed the gap, then blown us out of the water in the fourth for an easy win.  That's probably what would have happened the past couple of years.  They couldn't do it because we worked harder and because we were just that good that night.  I expect them to come out much harder from the outset the next time we play them and then the story will likely be different.  New Orleans and Memphis just got beat, straight up.  Detroit came out hard (except for Sheed after the first quarter, but then that's such a hallmark of his game you pretty much say they deserve what they get).  That was the game we flat-out took and the one I'm most happy about overall.

Q:  What are you looking for against Philadelphia?

A:  This might be their best chance for a road win.  Philadelphia is really struggling right now.  They've lost four straight.  They're having a heck of the time scoring the ball.  During their last three games they haven't scored 90 points and they've been averaging 77.  It's a funny team.  It's one of the smallest starting lineups in the league yet they're a good rebounding team.  They hit the offensive rebounds pretty hard.  They have an active lineup with Reggie Evans, Andre Iguodala, and their center Delambert.  They're active but they have struggled offensively.  They won't get any more help either.  Kyle Korver probably won't play.  He re-aggravated a groin injury and only played six minutes against Memphis.  That's good news for the Blazers not having to guard that outside threat.  Philadelphia and Charlotte will be the best chances for victories on this trip.

Q:  Wings like Andre Iguodala have killed the Blazers.  What will they do to try and stop him?

A:  One benefit will be that the Sixers' inside guys, Delambert and Evans, are not offensive-minded so they won't have to double down low.   You might see them do a little more trapping on the perimeter with Lamarcus Aldridge waving his long arms and disrupting the perimeter play.  But I haven't talked to Nate about the game plan.  They stayed in Denver to practice and won't arrive in Philly until tonight.  But it'll be a big benefit that they won't have to fret about Philly's inside game.  As we all know that's the Blazers' biggest weakness...their interior play.  They don't have the size and depth to combat big, powerful teams.  We might see a more active, trapping Blazer team against Philadelphia.

We'll probably get burned doing that too but Iggy doesn't have enough help to make us really pay.  We can be beaten, for sure, but it doesn't seem likely.

Q:  Any injury updates?

A:  Josh McRoberts is with the team and is going through extensive workouts during practices and before games.  He sounds like he'll make his debut on the active list sometime during this road trip.  The hold-up is Nate's uneasiness with how well Josh knows the offense and the defensive rotations.  With one more practice today he might feel a little more comfortable.  Nate also said last night that it's become evident that James Jones is nowhere near ready to play.  They continue to be baffled by his knee injury.  They'll need an active body in there and Josh will fill that spot.  Greg Oden is making his first trip with the team.  He sat behind the bench during the game.  I think that's a good idea for him to see it up close and first-hand.  He might pick up tendencies from players and get a familiarity with all of these road arenas and the environment he'll be facing next year.  One thing I can tell you about Oden that has struck me as he's become more visible around the team:  he has gotten absolutely huge in his arms.  He's been spending a lot of time in the weight room.  When they were drafting him this summer and he was going through workouts--he was always a big guy but you couldn't see a lot of definition and bulk in his arms.  Now he's not quite Karl Malone but he's getting that way.  His arms are enormous and his shoulder muscles are puffing up.  By this time next year he's going to be an incredible beast.  If he continues to work with Bobby Medina and continues to put on the results he's shown so far, look out!  He is markedly bigger now.  He hasn't been able to do much lifting with his legs other than toning but his arms and shoulders are ballooning.

Q:  Can Brandon or Lamarcus make the All-Star game this year?

A:  Probably not.  Brandon isn't going to have the eye-popping stats in the mid-20's like most All-Star guards will.  Brandon is more of an acquired taste, a basketball-junky's player.  You have to be around him every day to appreciate his greatness.  He's such a heady player and has a bunch of nice moves but he's not incredibly flashy.  He's just money!  The other coaches and players in the league know how good he is but he won't be on SportsCenter highlight reels or lead the league in statistical categories.  He'll just be solid across the board.  Lamarcus is curiously on the All-Star ballot as a center along with Amare Stoudemire, Tim Duncan, and Yao.  I don't think there's room for him there.  Even though he'll have All-Star-type stats I don't think he has a big enough name yet to make it.  I think he'd have a chance at power forward.  He does play a lot of center for the Blazers with Travis at power forward, especially late in games, but he's definitely a true power forward.

It won't matter the position as he won't be voted as a starter anyway.  Coaches get to fudge the line between positions when picking reserves.  I doubt they could or would replace a center with a guard but they'd have no problem voting a PF-C like Lamarcus to either position if they felt he warranted it.

Q:  Any chance Portland becomes a trading partner for New York and Stephon Marbury?

A:  I put a call in to Kevin Pritchard today and haven't heard back but I assume his answer would be, "No way, we're not touching that."  Stephon Marbury quite simply doesn't fit the culture of this team and I don't think Paul Allen is prepared to make another buyout.  The Blazers would like to unload Darius' and Raef's contracts but I'd put the odds at about .9%.

I know it saves money in the long run but this just seems too expensive right now after that Francis buyout.  The only way I could see them doing it is if they felt it opened up critical cap space in '09.  Even then you would expect New York to look for ANY other offer than that, as LaFrentz and Miles are both considered completely untradeable.  It would also leave us three roster spots short.  I don't think that's a huge deal but coaches tend to hate any options being taken away from them without return, even bad options.

Q:  Say more about your experience at the Harvest Dinner that you wrote about.

A:  It was a cool event.  Basically all of these homeless people and people in need are there.  They open up the Rose Garden and when they open the door people come running.  They have three stations with players and broadcasters and whatnot.  They come up to get their food and they're thankful.  I can't tell you how many times I heard these people--many without teeth, dirty, black eyes, scrapes, bruises--all of them saying, "Thank you very much, Blazers.  This is really cool."  A lot of them look forward to this every year.  It was also neat to see the players interact with them.  And nobody got more attention than Greg Oden.  These people know who Greg Oden is...every single one.  A lot of them asked where he was.  Others would see him and nudge their friends, "Look!  There he is!"  They'd stare wide-eyed at how big he is.  Greg was great.  He talked to them, joked with them, took pictures with them.  It was neat.  All the players were like that--Lamarcus, Brandon, Joel, Raef--they were all gracious and had smiles.  It sounds corny but it puts things in perspective.  As I wrote in my blog I was having a bad day and was in a bad mood.  As I came I was thinking, "I don't really want to do this.  I have a bunch of other things on my mind."  When I left my day had completely changed.  I just felt better.  And all I was doing was spooning beans.  I wasn't buying the food or providing shelter.  That was all the Blazers.  This organization has gotten so much heat over the years for being out of touch with the community and being bad guys.  But you know what?  They do a lot of good things for the community.  They build houses, refurbish gyms, feed the hungry, do coat drives.  This really opened my eyes to how much a part of the fabric of this community they are and how important they are to the community.  It's really neat to see the players embracing that.  That was my first time to have done that.  I'm sure the players are just as gracious in years past but it really struck me how well they interacted and accepted their duties there.  It was a really cool event and I'll never miss it again.

I don't often preach here but since Jason opened the door let me say that as a person who basically does this kind of stuff for a living I wholeheartedly agree with what he said about how giving can change attitudes and lives.  I can't count the number of times I've walked up to a place thinking, "I'd rather be somewhere else" and left thinking, "Why can't we do this every day?"  A lot of people struggle with how to make their lives better or happier or have more meaning and this is a huge issue around the holidays.  Tons of money is spent on books trying to fix or change the self and achieve these things.  The line of reasoning goes, "Once I get myself straight I'll get around to caring about others."  In my experience that never works because you never get yourself straight that way and so you never get beyond the self-absorbed "fixing".  All you do is make the latest wise-seeming doctor (or faux doctor or shrink or preacher) rich from publishing.  You want to really feel better and happier and like your life has more meaning?  Go visit a nursing home and listen to a friend you make there for a while.  Bake some cookies for a neighbor who doesn't have anybody around this holiday season.  Rake an old lady's leaves or go somewhere and feed hungry folks.  Oddly enough caring about others fixes a lot of stuff for yourself too, not by changing it necessarily, but my moving it out of the central spot in your universe.

</unsolicited advice>

Q:  What's in the hopper for this week?

A:  There are a bunch of games!  We're back-to-back again with Philly tomorrow and Washington on Saturday.  For Sunday's Blazer Page I'm doing a little feature on Steve Blake and what makes him tick.  At the time I interviewed him his assists-to-turnover ratio was something like 26-3 and I asked him if he remembered what those three turnovers were.  He said, "Oh heck yeah!  I threw too high to Brandon, I got stripped by Rudy Gay..."  I can't remember what the other one was but he could rattle them off right off the top of his head.  He said, "I go home and I'll be sitting with my wife and staring off into space.  She'll ask me what I'm thinking about and I'll say almost ashamedly, `I'm thinking about the turnovers that I made.'"  That's what makes Blake great.  He's such a perfectionist and he cares so much.  That's why I wasn't worried about him when he didn't get the starting job.  That will just make him work harder.  That's what he's done all his career.  He's never emerged from a training camp as a starter but he's never pouted and never sulked.  He's just gone back to the practice court and worked harder.  It's always paid off for him.  He always ends up the starter.  A big part of that is because he goes home and kills himself over the few mistakes he's made.

Ah yes...nothing like a little compulsive neurosis to improve your play!  (C=

Insightful chat again today.  Thanks to Casey and Jason for the entertaining half hour!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)