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Game 4 Recap: Blazers 96, Jazz 103



This is one of those games where as a Blazer fan you shouldn’t let the fact that it was a loss get you down.  Yes, it sucks to still be saying things like that, but take away two of your starters and line up murderer’s row to play against and you’ll have some of that.


That’s not to say this was a perfect game.  Far from it.  But for the Blazers right now against the Jazz in Salt Lake this was a well-played contest with several things to recommend it.


Team Observations


First and foremost among the bright spots was the generally high energy level.  We haven’t seen this sort of sustained effort for 40+ minutes in a game yet this season.  We saw a ton of offensive rebounding.  The team continually looked to force turnovers.  The Blazers played an aggressive team offense, by which I mean instead of one guy being aggressive by driving it into three opponents Portland set up their basic play and then kept moving and kept looking for open lanes and passes for open jump shots.  We made the Jazz work defensively tonight which is a serious step forward.  We drew a ton of fouls.  We even ran a little.  Portland kept the game close throughout and didn’t cave at any point.  If we continue to put that kind of game together it’s going to translate into wins.


There are a few things that kept this from being a victory (besides the Jazz being pretty good at home, that is).


--It’s a small point, but even though we came out aggressively we left points on the table in the first quarter.  We missed some layups and short shots that should have fallen.  I only mention this because I remember thinking, “It feels like we’re going to need those later” and we did.  It also shows that even with a decent attack, there are still cracks in this team’s continuity.  Certain quarters (or stretches at least) everything is just a half beat off and the team doesn’t yet know each other or the game well enough to compensate.  They need that confidence that comes with battling through adversity and winning.  They’re long on the former right now, short on the latter.  But it will come.  Let the Blazers rattle off 8 of 10 sometime in January and February and you’re going to see those cracks patched up.


--Pursuing that point, the Blazers don’t know how to hold a lead yet.  This was true most of last season and it remains so.  One reason is that their offense is still more gamble than surety on any given possession.  The easiest way to hold leads is simply to score right along with the opponent.  The Blazers can’t do that yet with a perimeter-oriented game sprinkled with heavily covered drives and posts.  The trust and experience mentioned above also factor in.  No matter how potent the weapons are, guys going into battle for the first time together trying to take objectives that are new to them also will hesitate and question.  When Utah made a run tonight to get back from a double-digit deficit you could feel the team (and indeed the whole fanbase) thinking, “Is this a run where they get back and take the game?”  The proper response is, “We’ve seen this before and they don’t have a chance.”  The Blazers can’t make it.  Too young and unsure.


I mention these psychological aspects first because, though less tangible, development here would win games like this for us.  Yes, there were technical reasons that we lost but technical mistakes happen every game.  The difference between those becoming temporary obstacles and game-finishers usually involves confidence, poise, and the resulting execution.  The Blazers are mostly past the point where their talent and technical mistakes are flat-out losing them games.  They have the ability, they have the talent, they have the game plan.  There was nothing wrong with any of those tonight.  They just can’t put them all together under pressure on a consistent basis yet.


As far as the technical shortcomings…


--Above all, you cannot let teams keep shooting above 50% on you and expect to win.  The culprit tonight was our defense on Utah’s big men.  Boozer is always a tough matchup but the attention we spent trying to control him allowed Okur to have a field day.  We need help in the middle on defense, plain and simple.  Joel Przybilla is a good defender when he can play goalie but when he’s moving he’s not as effective at the point of attack.  Lamarcus Aldridge gets better on defense the farther he moves away from the bucket (and the more he can use his quickness versus his bulk).  Channing Frye and Travis Outlaw don’t help much defensively.  We’ve got plenty of players, yet we’re still thin in this aspect of the game.  We need to hope Oden comes back healthy and gets into shape, meaning able to move around that body.


--The perimeter defenders don’t get away scot free.  They let their share of guys by.  But we seemed confused about where and how to help out our bigs which left open shots for Utah’s wings when we tried.  Nevertheless this was where you wanted Utah’s shots coming from, so it probably wasn’t a deciding factor.


--We had trouble getting back in transition and getting set up.  The most obvious example was the play which Barrett and Rice pointed out where Rudy penetrated with the ball, Roy followed him into the key, Utah grabbed the ball, and neither of our guards were back.  Those looking for a steady diet of Rudy-Roy in the backcourt should note this.  In order to accomplish that you’re going to need to keep one or the other out on the perimeter a fair amount of the time for just this reason.  Both are slashers and Rudy is a corner shooter as well.  That leaves nobody out top to get back.


--I’ll live with 16 turnovers but the ones right in Utah’s lane after we got the ball hurt.


--The mixed-guard lineups looked choppy.  Nate didn’t leave Rudy in at the small forward very long either.  More experimentation is necessary before we start calling for lineup switches.


--The game got tough and feisty in the second half and we didn’t respond well.  Our aggressive rebounding stopped, our offensive movement slowed, and we looked to be wearing down physically.  Utah won this game, in part, by popping us in the chops.  18 points in the fourth quarter in a game we led.  That can’t happen.


Individual Notes


--He scored 5 points and had 2 turnovers, but Nicolas Batum added 6 rebounds and 2 steals to the mix and had me thinking “Jerome Kersey” in his 18 minutes.  Obviously he doesn’t have Jerome’s body but I loved the way he slashed and rebounded and moved.  I’ve noticed his rebounding before but it made more of an impact in this game.  I’m not ready to say the kid’s a better NBA player than Outlaw, because he’s not yet.  But he brings different things to the table that Outlaw is missing entirely.  That makes him a far better fit in our starting lineup than Travis.  Tomorrow night will be a chance for him to cement himself very early on.  He goes up against Ron Artest and the Houston Rockets.  I fully expect life to be hell for him, but if he can even come close to holding his own it’ll be hard to ignore him thereafter.  If he doesn’t it’s no big deal though.  He just has more cooking to do.  This would be an extraordinary thing, not an expected one.


--I thought Lamarcus played a good offensive game in most respects.  His shots were basically under control and he got good position on many of them instead of always spinning around on the perimeter.  We need that from him badly right now.  I wasn’t fond of his turnovers nor his rebounding.  He wasn’t out on the wing tonight on defense.  I know guarding Boozer is a job in itself and Lamarcus was clearing space for Joel but I need more than 1 defensive rebound in 36 minutes.


--Brandon Roy had some spectacular drives but still looks out of synch compared to last year in the team offense.  Part of it is new players.  Casey Holdahl suggested in the podcast today that part of it may be the recovery process from his surgery still going on.  Also it’s quite evident that opponents see Roy as the key to the Portland attack, evidenced by them squeezing him every time he thinks about making a move. Brandon’s hallmark is the ability to contribute even when he’s not hitting on all cylinders.  18 points and 6 assists (he was seeing someone evidently) testify that he hasn’t lost the knack.


--Steve Blake was sick with the catch and shoot tonight.  16 points on 50% shooting is great production from him.  However I’m still not feeling him setting up the offense.  He seemed to get stuck out there, most notably in the closing seconds when he attempted (and missed) a critical shot that the Jazz loved him taking.  They begged him to try scoring off of the dribble tonight and he couldn’t.


--Joel Przybilla:  16 rebounds and 7 points.  He’s a monster and a savior on the boards.


This brings up an oft-repeated point.  I love and appreciate what Joel and Steve bring.  They’re irreplaceable to the team as it’s constituted right now.  I just wish Steve had a little more ability to create his own shot and Joel had better hands and even one dependable offensive move.  I can’t shake the feeling that even as they’re sustaining us with rebounds and distance shooting they’re also part of the reason opponents are able to make life hell for our stars.  And we need those stars as much as we need the rebounds and shots.  More to the point, we have to find a way to get all of those things together against the better teams.


--Rudy Fernandez played exactly the game he was supposed to:  make himself available, cut and dive, push the tempo, hit open shots.  He also drew (and made) six free throws tonight.  If that becomes routine he’s going to be on the short list for Sixth Man of the Year before too long.  He did miss a crucial three-pointer to tie the game late but I’d suggest ignoring that aspect of the play since he’ll hit plenty of those.  Instead consider this.  The guy has played all of four games in our uniform and on the most critical play of the game the coach and the team’s clutch All-Star put the ball in his hands for the shot.  That tells you all you need to know about their confidence in Rudy.


--Travis Outlaw had 10 points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes.  He was the stopgap measure to try and stem the Jazz tide in the second half.  It was marginally successful, as he did score.  He took a couple of Froot Loop shots though.  (Read:  everything going to his left.)  I did notice that he is passing quicker and more effectively, which is to the good.


--Channing Frye drilled some long jumpers and had 2 blocks in addition to his 8 points in 20 minutes.  Once again he had 3 fouls in that short stretch.  He can’t stay out of foul trouble anymore.


--Sergio had 3 assists but no points in 7 minutes.  With the lineup mixing the second unit really didn’t have enough continuity to help him much.  Sergio and Travis together is something of a waste for both parties.  One argument for not starting Batum would be that potent and (at least so far) cohesive second unit of Rodriguez, Fernandez, and Batum.  Martell…coming back soon?


One-Sentence Game Summary


Talent made the game close, lack of experience and poise lost it.


Looking Ahead


Games like this, followed the next night by a tough opponent, usually lead to one of two things happening.  Either the team comes out renewed and inspired and plays out of their minds (about 20-30% of the time) or they come out flat and get destroyed (the rest).  Cheer extra loud if you’re in the crowd tomorrow.


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--Dave (