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Game 17 Review: Blazers 101, Hornets 86

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Ahhh…that was sweet.

 

Boxscore

 

General Observations

 

The Blazers started out this game in perfect form, sharing the ball on offense, staying in front of their men on defense, rebounding well.  Spearheaded by Brandon Roy’s poetic drives plus some nifty three-point shooting Portland score 31 and left the period up by 5.  The way momentum was in our favor you thought it might be an easy night.  No such luck as the Hornets’ bench generally outplayed Portland’s reserves (a rarity) and the offense--a victim of forced shots, unrepentant jumpers, and one-and-dones--dried up.  New Orleans showed why they’re a good team, never panicking or wavering.  The Blazers clung to a thin 2-point advantage at the half.  Thinking back to the contest in New Orleans, in which the Hornets let the Blazers play for a while before reeling them in, you wondered if this was going to be a long night instead of an easy one.

 

The Blazers came out re-energized in the third period.  Their starters carried the day and the reserves were sprinkled in as spice rather than subbed wholesale.  The driving returned.  The passing returned.  The Blazers busted out with 27 and re-built the lead.

 

At this point it was time to cue the Hornets for the typical veteran, playoff-bound team comeback.  That was the theory anyway.  I haven’t seen a more obviously blown entrance since the Von Trapp family skipped out on the Nazis.  Part of it was playing in the fourth-quarter on the second night of a back-to-back.  A bigger part of it, though, was the Blazers staying in front of both Chris Paul and David West, refusing to let them get any kind of rhythm.  The point guards and power forwards did a marvelous job individually and the entire team switched on screens and bothered New Orleans’ dynamic duo to no end.  Meanwhile the Blazers’ offensive continuity continued unabated.  The end result was a 15-point win against a good team.

 

The Blazers employed the press off of made shots tonight with some degree of success, particularly early.  They also pushed the tempo during selected possessions.  We’re beginning to see the door open on a faster, more aggressive style overall.  We saw tonight, though, that bread-and-butter basketball is the foundation of success because you can rely on it even when the running and harassing isn’t working.  Portland has spent the last couple of years learning to jab.  Now the uppercut and cross are being added.  When they come they’re a surprise to the opponent, thus achieving greater effect than if (as some people have argued for in the past) we just ran around throwing haymakers all day.  One of the fatal flaws of those great early-90’s teams was that they weren’t always the smartest team with their timing.  This team is growing up right.  It’ll serve us well down the road.

 

Portland shot the lights out tonight (53.6%) but interestingly enough did not end up winning the three-point battle.  Both teams made 8 threes but New Orleans was 8-16 while Portland was 8-23.  I’m not glorifying missed shots here but I will say it’s good to see the Blazers win by other, more reproducible means.  The Blazers crushed the Hornets in free throw attempts, 25-10.  Home cooking maybe, but mostly the Blazers were driving hard.  Rebounds, assists, and blocks also went firmly in the Blazers’ favor, as has become the norm in our good games.  Those three stats are soon going to be considered hallmarks of the Blazers’ play.

 

Chris Paul scored 16 points in this game with 6 assists.  David West scored 10.  That would be 14 points and 6 assists under their combined averages.  Do you think the Hornets are going to win much when that happens?  Me neither.

 

Individual Observations

 

Composing epic love poetry to a non-French player is borderline creepy, but I’m close with Brandon Roy tonight.  The guy outplayed everybody on the court tonight with 11-16 shooting, 25 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds.  The Hornets didn’t have anyone who could stop him off of the dribble.  The Hornets didn’t have anyone who could stop him after they came over to help the guy who couldn’t stop him off of the dribble.  He just broke them down.  That created so many opportunities for his teammates it wasn’t even funny (thus the 10 assists and the team’s 54% shooting).  The frosting on the cake was when David West collared him hard on a drive and Roy stared him down and jawed at him.  Here’s the deal.  If Joel Przybilla gets into a scrap people will just let it go because he’s Joel Przybilla and should be able to take care of himself.  But if Brandon Roy gets into a scrap that’s your captain and leading scorer and everybody has to follow him into it.  You saw an immediate reaction from the Blazers along the lines of, “You touch that guy and there’s going to be a whole lot of trouble.”  This is exactly the message they need to send.  A+ game tonight from Brandon for a whole host of reasons.

 

Lamarcus Aldridge also stayed under control and pounded the Hornets.  His 8-13 shooting clip was slightly more modest than Brandon’s but he scored 17 and grabbed 7 rebounds, 3 offensive.  More to the point, he helped shut down David West, which was by far his greatest contribution.  In winning the battle with West Lamarcus’ shots were well-timed and graceful.  He attacked the lane tonight instead of moving farther away from the hoop to set up his shot.  More please!

 

Nicolas Batum only played 20 minutes but he was a catalyst again tonight.  Guys like Peja Stojakovic are good matchups for him.  Yes, Peja scored 21 but that wasn’t all Nic’s doing.  In fact some of that was by design, forcing the ball out of Paul’s and West’s hands.  But Peja didn’t bruise Nic, post him, or outrun him.  When he’s in his comfort zone Batum has flair.  He hustled up and down the court, stole the ball, grabbed rebounds, passed, and hit shots.  He ended up 5-8 for 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal.  Not bad for 1.66 quarters, eh?

 

Steve Blake hit the open shot again and ended up 5-9 for 14 points.  His role increasingly is being the outlet for shooting, playing off of others instead of handling the ball himself.  He seems to be comfortable in it and it’s crucial to the Blazers’ success.  As we’ve said many times before the Blazers’ offensive equation is a simple one.  Portland has a couple guys you can’t single-cover and five guys you can’t leave unguarded.  Solve that one if you can.  The thing is, that offense is only as good as its weakest link.  Blake’s target shooting makes sure there isn’t one.

 

Greg Oden’s stat line probably isn’t going to jump out at you.  He had 1 point, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block in 24 minutes.  Somebody is going to say, “One point?  And he got stripped once too and missed another shot right at the rim!!!”  Doesn’t make a difference to me.  I was too busy watching him catch and then pass the ball.  First off, how many passes to Oden have you seen not actually get to Oden, either because they were intercepted or because he dropped them before controlling them?  I’m sure there have been some, but I’m hard pressed to remember them.  He presents a big, soft target in there.  The Blazers don’t always hit him at the right place or time, but that will come.  The point is, you can get this guy the ball.  Second, were you watching how he was passing it tonight?  He’s pretty good at the outlet pass already and he’s darn skippy moving the ball in the halfcourt.  He’s patient enough to pass out and re-post.  It almost looked like the Blazers were running the L*kers triangle from the Shaq days out there.  That re-post concept took a while for Shaq to learn.  Oden already has it.  Also you should circle those three assists in the boxscore.  He is moving the ball effectively.  Offense is quick to learn for most centers but passing takes forever.  Greg can pass!  That means when his offense does come around he’s going to be doubly dangerous right away.  Finally, and most importantly, watch what happens to the defense when Greg catches it.  The Hornets were committing at least two and sometimes three guys to prevent Oden from finding the rim.  That’s what opened up those passes and those shots.  How many times tonight did we see Oden post on the strong side, get the ball, get the defense to commit, then pass out for a whip-whip-whip ball rotation over to the weak corner for an open three?  Pure gold.  This will only get better.  It’s good to see that even now Greg is contributing and changing the game even when he’s not scoring.

 

Rudy Fernandez had another rough shooting night, going 3-9 for 10 points.  He had plenty of energy though, especially in the second half.  He contributed 2 rebounds and 2 assists.  I think we’re beginning to see the more normalized Rudy now.  I don’t think he’ll always struggle with his shot, but I do think his final production this year will end up slightly north of where he’s been the last couple weeks instead of up there in the stratosphere where he started the season.  Teams have learned how to guard him, which is basically shutting him off and making him put the ball on the floor.  It’s to his credit that he is contributing even when the shot is off.  In fact he’s one of the best Blazers at doing so.  He’s also one of the more emotional Blazers, which we need.

 

Stop the presses!  Joel Przybilla had more points tonight (7) than rebounds (6).  Wait!  Stop them again!  He got those 7 points off of 1 shot attempt.  Hold on!  Burn the presses entirely!  He got the extra 5 points by going 5-5 from the free throw line.  If he had hit a three-pointer too I wouldn’t be typing this game review.  I’d be under my desk munching on some Reese’s Pieces and waiting for the apocalypse.  Joel also did a fine job on defense, of course.

 

Channing Frye played 11 minutes, hit a two and a three, and got a rebound.  He looks more confident out there the last couple games.

 

Travis Outlaw played 21 minutes, missed 4 of 5 shots, and looked about as confident as a pimply high school freshman asking Rebecca Haarlow to dinner and a movie.  (By the way, serious bemused chuckles directed at Rebecca for just casually mentioning that she, too, was on her homecoming court in response to the Aflac trivia question which informed us that Greg Oden was homecoming king at his high school.  Especially since she said something along the lines of “embarrassingly enough…” as if to downplay the achievement even as she was telling us all about it.  Major awkward moment.  Anyway, back to Travis…)  Outlaw did grab 3 rebounds and net an assist to go with his 5 points, but he’s sticking out farther than Carmen Miranda at a Shriner’s convention right now.

 

Sergio Rodriguez did a great job staying in front of Chris Paul tonight.  His defensive confidence seems to be growing each game.  Just about anybody with athleticism can play defense, it’s just a matter of whether they will.  Sergio is giving us some will.  Serious applause.  He did pick up 3 fouls but again, look at the defensive assignment.  He had 5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals in 18 minutes.

 

Ike and Jerryd got 1 courtesy post-chalupa minute apiece.

 

Final Thoughts

 

The Blazers added another line to their résumé tonight, capturing a quality win against a serious Western Conference opponent.  That’s the first time this season.  Many more need to follow, of course, but hopefully this will be a confidence booster next time we play the Suns, for instance.  Now it’s off for a tough road swing and then some.  As has been the case all season, though, Portland has a cushion between themselves and disaster.  Being 11-6 makes it a little easier to play these games.

 

Check out the Hornets’ recap AtTheHive.

 

The final form for the November Jersey Contest can be found here.  The correct scores for the New Orleans game are coming.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)