This is one of those games that probably feels worse than it really was. That's the way it is with most fall-from-ahead losses.
I thought we did a magnificent job on defense in the first half and mostly held our own even when things were going sour in the second half. We said in the preview that you had to pick your poison with Orlando and choose to concentrate on Dwight Howard or their perimeter shooters. We chose the former option which is also the one I thought was most sensible. We held him to 9 points (off an average of 23.4), 2 free throw attempts (average 11.6), and 40% shooting (average 61.5%). As a team the Magic average 47.3% shooting. We held them to 41.3%. They average 104.1 a game. We held them to 85 (with two quarters scoring 17, one of 25, and one of 26). Not being able to hold them in the fourth shouldn't obscure the great effort that came before. This was one hell of a showing and had the offense been a little more on form we could have easily come away with a victory.
The offense, however, was not on form. In fact it was so far off of the form it might as well have been in the next office. Our greatest sin was not taking advantage of Dwight Howard's foul difficulties. We should have driven the ball repeatedly when he was on the bench. Instead we worked for jumpers most of the night, as has been our habit all year. This phrase should be written on the Blazer chalkboard in bold letters and underlined: No Penetration = No Easy Jumpers. We also continued our disturbing habit of missing from the foul line. Plus we'll have a hard time winning if we only draw 13 shots from the charity stripe. But then again the refs weren't sending anybody there tonight.
Another not-so-bright spot was making the Magic look like world-beaters on the glass. Nobody on this team outside Dwight Howard rebounds a lick, yet I'm staring at a boxcore that says Rashard Lewis had 6, Keith Bogans had 7 (!), and Adonal Foyle had 10 in 17 minutes. Not nice.
--No matter what any stat line says, this game belonged to Joel Przybilla. He returned to the starting lineup and played the first quarter with such vengeance that I thought he might win the game all by himself. He did an amazing job on Dwight Howard, probably playing him as well as anybody has all year. He also set tons of great picks on offense to free up all kinds of shooters and drivers. He deserves a standing ovation.
Both the announcers and the fans have been wondering aloud why Joel didn't play more in the middle stages of the second half. He played 32 minutes overall, which is twice what he's been playing. He may not be in game shape to play more than that. But that's only part of it. Some of it rests on Lamarcus Aldridge's shoulders. Lamarcus was in pretty constant foul trouble and spent a lot of time on the pines. Since he's a key to any hopes of victory Nate had to protect him for the stretch run. The Blazers only have two legitimate options at center: Lamarcus and Joel. If Nate leaves Joel in and he picks up a couple quick fouls against Adonal Foyle, what is Nate to do? He would either have to leave him in there and risk losing him or put Lamarcus back in and risk losing him. That's a bad spot to be in. So Nate made a strategic decision to save Joel's fouls and minutes for when they mattered most--playing against Dwight Howard. Because he couldn't re-insert Lamarcus he had to risk going center-less for a while and he chose to do that against the Magic bench in the middle of the second half rather than against their starters in crunch time. Had Lamarcus been able to play more Nate would have been able to risk more time for Joel in those mid-half minutes, knowing he had a back-up plan for later. So don't point the finger just at Nate, ask Lamarcus to keep his hands to himself a little more. And don't forget Nate put Joel in the starting lineup to begin with (which looks like a brilliant move at this point) and gave him 32 minutes of playing time to boot. He can't play all 48.
--Speaking of Lamarcus, he had a very good shooting night at 8-15. His 16 points wasn't bad for 28 minutes. But he must stop picking up those ineffective fouls. We cannot lose him and still win. He also needs to get to the free throw line more. He's depending an awful lot on a turn-around move that just isn't working in the post. He needs to be able to spin around guys, not just fade away from them. He should have the speed to do it. When in the post he never gets any closer to the basket than when he originally catches the ball and that's a problem. Also we needed more than 5 rebounds from him tonight.
--Brandon Roy shot an eye-searing 4-18 tonight but let's face it, when LMA doesn't play Brandon is going 1-on-3 every time he makes a move. He hit most every shot he took when there was space around him, he just never had much space.
--I thought Martell Webster did a good job of being aggressive with his shot tonight. He shot 50%, scored 13, and grabbed 8 rebounds. You don't expect as many free throws out of him as you do Lamarcus but still a few would be nice. Martell finished strong on the break a couple times tonight. He's made great progress there.
--Steve Blake didn't shoot well (2-9) but he had 10 assists and played some of the best individual defense I've seen him play. He was one of the really active guys. Loved it.
--Jarrett Jack had 5 assists in 22 minutes but only had a couple drives that I remember. He wasn't bad but we do need more than 4 points from him at this point.
--I don't know what to say about Travis. When he's on he looks good and you cheer every shot. When he gets tired or just starts missing his shots look horrible. Do you love his ability to get shots on anybody 1-on-1 or do you hate it? It depends on the half you're watching. 6 rebounds was a nice contribution though.
--Sergio was more aggressive tonight than usual. He looked for his shot and grabbed some rebounds, both in short supply from him usually. He needs to keep coming out with fire under him. He also needs to try and make more layups when he gets into the lane.
One Sentence Game Summary:
The defense-offense juxtaposition tonight was like biting into a creamy, chocolate-covered Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and finding it filled with vinegar-soaked Brussels sprouts.
For all that, though, if we continued to win at this exact percentage we would come out with 29-30 wins for the season. That's not horribly far off target. And we have been playing some pretty tough teams.