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Game 1 Recap: Blazers 76, L*kers 96

Well, that was not pleasant.




But then again, it was not wholly unexpected.  Maybe we didn’t foresee getting creamed that bad but Portland has always had a harder time in Los Angeles than they have at home and blowout losses to the L*kers are not unheard of, even in otherwise good years.  If you want the long and the short of the game, look more to L.A. than you do to Portland.  They know exactly what they’re shooting for this year.  The last game they played, though a loss, was in the NBA Finals.  I’m sure they heard some of the talk about Portland getting better and eventually rising to their level.  They came out to show that it hasn’t happened yet and that if you’re going to talk about anyone it should be them.  They did it too.  You could twist, turn, shuffle, and caffeinate the Portland lineup all you want…it wasn’t adding up to a win tonight.


Obviously the story of the night is Greg Oden’s foot, which goes well beyond the game.  I haven’t heard any concrete news, inside or in public, other than what you have:  some kind of foot pain, probably a sprain, X-rays inconclusive, MRI tomorrow.  People are already beginning to jump off bridges just as they did with the Brandon Roy surgery this summer.  I don’t know what to say other than I can’t go there anymore because it’s just too crazy and exhausting.  It’s probably a minor deal.  If it’s not a minor deal the worst case scenario is probably that Greg is out another few weeks, misses the devastating early part of the schedule, and returns when things get easier for us anyway.  Until we hear more it’s impossible to judge more.  I can already hear the cries of “injury prone” which I don’t buy any more than I buy that the team is somehow cursed by the fates.  You can’t call a guy injury prone based on a couple years.  Also Oden’s injuries have all been different:  wrist, knee, foot.  This is not a Yao Ming situation where his body is so big that it rips up his feet in the same way every season.  That’s a chronic injury.  Wandering maladies to different parts of the body aren’t predictable so there’s no reason to assume they will continue throughout a career.  That said, if there’s a broken bone in his foot it won’t be great news as the feet bone of big men take a notorious pounding.  But until it’s proven to be something besides a sprain why not assume it’s just that?


As far as the game goes, we came out tight, switched to flat, poked our heads out like a post-winter groundhog for the predictable NBA “trailing team takes a stab” run, then faded faster than Gilligan’s hopes of getting lucky with Ginger.  Much of the credit has to rest on the shoulders of our stalwarts, Lamarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, both of whom had subpar games.  Be careful how much blame you assign and in what areas though.  I think it’s fair to say both of them looked jittery.  This is not entirely unheard of from Lamarcus but it was a shocker to see Brandon missing shots he hits in his sleep.  Fans might not have been the only ones placing too much importance on this game.  However the L*kers also knew exactly what they were doing, and what they were doing was pinching our two main players like a drunk businessman after the behind of a cocktail waitress. 


Here’s what happened:


The L*kers locked down on Brandon with Kobe Bryant, giving him help whenever Brandon made a move to the basket.  He was double and triple-teamed on the way to the hoop.  They doubled Lamarcus immediately on most possessions.  Brandon didn’t have enough momentum to finish strong even when he got close to the rim and Lamarcus was forced into a variety of jumpers, some with spins included for free.  The guy they elected to single-cover was Greg Oden.  Oden got plenty of short jump hooks but he can’t hit that shot yet.  The L*kers’ aggression thus went unpunished.  The Blazers’ fourth and fifth options couldn’t put together enough offense to take the pressure off of Roy and Aldridge either, as the L*kers usually recovered.  They were helped in this by the Blazers’ inability to move the ball back to Roy and Aldridge once it had left their hands.  The stars had usually used up too much of the clock trying to get their own shots and when the ball went to someone else it was shoot or bail out desperately.


Now, here’s what’s going to happen pretty soon:


Opposing teams will try this dual-pronged assault against Roy and Aldridge.  First of all it won’t work that well against Brandon as most teams don’t have a Kobe to throw against him.  So they’ll have to commit to true and early double teams against Roy as well as Lamarcus.  This will ensure even more single-coverage for Oden.  But eventually that jump hook will come, which will also open up the possibility of him spinning around the other way against that coverage for a monster dunk.  Not knowing which way Oden is going to turn and having to respect the short shot as well as the hook, a single defender is going to be overwhelmed.  So the opponent will have to start sending two men against Oden.  At that point the whole “double team Roy and Aldridge” scheme is going to fall apart completely, as there aren’t enough defenders covering enough ground to make all of that work.  Lamarcus and Brandon are going find easy shots.  Instead of being somewhat covered the Blazers’ fourth and fifth options are going to be completely free.  At that point it becomes a string of dominos.  You won’t be seeing sub-80 point nights anymore.


The key there is a little better offense for Oden, which means a little patience from all of us.  It’s going to come.  You just saw tonight that it obviously isn’t here yet.  Even without that Oden offense we still could have compensated better tonight if the players understood better how to set each other up when they, personally were stymied.  This is one of the perils of having a younger team, though.  When things go south it’s hard for them to find a way out.


The offense really was the story of the game.  Other than some inattention to getting back, letting a few transition buckets go and frustrating Nate, the defense really wasn’t that terrible.  The Blazers did not commit a ton of fouls.  46.8% field goal percentage allowed isn’t great, but considering how the night was going it could have been 52% without much provocation, so you have to be satisfied with that for now.  The one area where Portland fell apart was rebounding.  We were shaky for much of the game.  I can’t overstate how important it is that we become a very good defensive rebounding team especially.  It’s hard to break down opposing defenses when you can’t get the ball. Turnovers were surprisingly low for a game where we got hammered this badly, which is good.  We also shot well from the three-point line at 42%.  (Of course the L*kers shot 70%...)  Again you have to point a finger at the horrific 34.5% overall field goal percentage though, for reasons described above.  When you see more dunks for your team in two seconds of an NBA Live commercial than in 48 minutes of actual game you know you're in trouble. You’re not going to win games shooting that poorly unless you somehow dominate the boards or turnovers.


Individual Notes:


--Brandon Roy had the stinkiest start to a game that I can ever remember him having.  He came back to score 14 with 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals.  Even in semi-failure mode he’s decent.  The whole team needs to learn that NBA goals can’t be achieved or lost in one night.  The cliché is right:  it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Brandon will relax and rebound.  Unless and until the Blazers are actually competing for a championship there’s no pressure because there’s nothing they can lose that can’t be regained.  By the time they are competing for a championship they will have learned how to play in situations like this.  That goes for Brandon too.  Brandon did get the chance to play point a little tonight but it didn’t improve his performance or the team’s.  We’ll see.


--Lamarcus Aldridge came out with a ton of jumpers.  He does have to play on the wing more with Oden in there but that doesn’t mean he has to finish every shot there.  4-12 and 8 points while letting Gasol go 7-10 for 15 isn’t the matchup we needed.  Remember again:  our guys are young and haven’t learned how to score consistently while under full, intense, NBA-level defense yet.  We saw that tonight.


--Rudy Fernandez had 16 points on 5-10 shooting with 3-5 from beyond the arc.  He also had 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals.  He looked great.  But understand this also…he looked great in part because of the defensive attention that was being devoted elsewhere by the L*kers’ first unit and because the defense wasn’t as intense in the L*kers’ second unit.  That is not to degrade Rudy’s performance at all.  Rather it’s to say--lest anyone be tempted to crown him the best player on the team because he had the prettiest performance tonight--that had he been in Brandon’s shoes with that kind of attention being paid to him he probably would have had a more Brandon-like showing than what he did.  Rudy excels specifically when he’s the complementary guy who slips through the cracks.  He played that role to a “T” tonight.  (You can say, however, that Rudy is far more capable of helping in this way right now than Oden is.)  Probably the favorite part of Rudy’s game for me is the speed and confidence with which he shoots from distance.  I absolutely love it when he fires because the time between him conceiving the shot and him executing it is minimal, which means he’ll always be hard to defend.


--I thought Oden’s game wasn’t bad…what we got to see of it anyway.  5 rebounds and a block in 13 minutes is OK.  He looks slow out there but recall again the story I shared in the pre-game interview at ForumBlueandGold.  I saw Amare Stoudemire recovering from his knee surgery at Summer League and he looked horrible.  He was slow, heavy, and couldn’t jump an inch compared to normal.  He’s pretty darn good now.  The hard part about dealing with Oden’s game right now is his tardiness getting back, which puts even more pressure on our wing players to sprint down the court to prevent opposing fast breaks.  However when Oden is in front of somebody they do have to go a long way to get around him even if he doesn’t block their shot every time.


--Travis Outlaw was exactly Travis Outlaw, no more…no less.  On the bright side he scored 18 on 8-15 shooting and had 4 rebounds and 2 assists.  He was one of the few semi-reliable offensive threats tonight.  On the other hand it was Travis offense all the way, which means a lot of jumpers outside the flow of the team offense.  Also, even though it’s not fair entirely to judge a guy on his ability to watch Kobe Bryant, I think Travis is showing he’s not going to be a great perimeter defender.  This puts a serious crimp in the plans to feature him at small forward.  You have to wonder if maybe he’s a combo forward off the bench, which puts him in direct competition with Channing Frye, which brings up even more questions about long-term futures on this team for those two players.  We’ll have to watch and see how much success Travis has, if any, guarding threes.  As far as starting him instead of Batum, this was an amazingly poor game to make judgments about in that regard.  If anything I’d say this shows that when facing really good opponents we might not have any perfect options at small forward right now.


--Steve Blake played his usual game:  9 points on 3-6 from distance, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, only 1 turnover.  He had trouble defending the perimeter and trouble getting his own shot when he was forced to.


--Joel Przybilla stepped in heroically for Greg Oden after the latter went down.  This is just what you’d expect.  He had 10 defensive rebounds and 11 overall.  However you could see the offense just melt as the L*kers zeroed in even tighter on our main scorers with Joel in.  It’s a cost-benefit thing that I think we’d come out on the winning end of for 20 minutes a game but not so much for 30-35.  I will go on record right now saying I love Steve Blake and I love Joel Przybilla but I’m not so much in love with them in there together anymore.  Teams are paying attention to us this year and the offense is going to get exposed.  This also holds true to some extent for Sergio and Joel.  It’s just hard playing two players out of five who have trouble getting their own shots.


--Channing Frye came in to make a difference but never got off the launching pad.  It looked like he had worked on his jumper over the summer and wanted to come in and show it.  He ended up 0-7 and 0-3 from three-point land.  Personally I am comfortable with him not shooting three pointers even if he can hit them occasionally.  Our team needs other things, like competent midrange play…and defense…and rebounds.  Frye had 3 rebounds and 4 fouls in his 17 minutes.


--Jerryd Bayless got 15 minutes of garbage time to spread his wings.  He got back on defense pretty well and had a couple of rebounds plus he was aggressive with the ball.  He also had a couple of turnovers and missed 4 of 5 shots though.  You get some slack in your rookie year so we won’t evaluate too much based on this one game.


--Sergio Rodriguez only got 5 minutes.  He got a rebound, committed a turnover, collected a foul, and missed his only shot.  I think maybe he wasn’t entirely diligent about his defensive positioning, which could explain his lack of minutes when the game was still in doubt.  I’m a little surprised Bayless got all the garbage minutes though.  It might not hurt to play both of them together if you’ll let Jerryd just be a scorer.


--Nic Batum, despite losing the starting nod, came in at the end of the game and played hard.  He had 3 rebounds and a steal and hit his only shot in 4 minutes.  We’ll see more of him.


--Ike Diogu was Ike Diogu:  couple of minutes, couple of free throws, couple of rebounds.  He just isn’t moving that well.


Random Thought:


A serious, withering pox on TNT for making us miss the starting tip of the season.  Seriously, has any first game of a double-header ever finished on time in the history of their broadcasts?  Can’t we just stagger the starts a tad more?


One-Sentence Game Summary:


Now that that’s out of the way, can we start the real season?


--Dave (