It's a beautiful day to be a Blazers fan, isn't it? We've got a cozy little corner of the universe all set up just for us. Loving that. And I'm loving this....
If you check the standings, the NBA's 30 teams have solidifed into four tiers...
- Tier 1: Boston, LAL, Cleveland.
- Tier 2: Led by us and Orlando, consisting of the next 10 teams or so.
- Tier 3: The 6-8 playoff seeds in both conferences plus a few stragglers that are right on the cusp. I include Indiana here as well because I have faith that they are simply underperforming right now and will turn it around somewhat (ok, ok, there are courtesy points in there for Jarrett Jack fondness).
- Tier 4: The dregs of the league. These 8 teams (some by their own admission) are already busy weighing the relative merits of Rubio, Jennings and Curry: Charlotte, Washington, Minnesota, "Oklahoma City", Golden State, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Memphis.
It's for a good cause, and our readers are scared by sports, so it's probably a good Christmas gift for a Blazers fan who reads your site.
Some teams would have folded up, but Nate McMillan got his players to fight through and now they finish the trip 4-1. The last time the Blazers went 4-1 on a road trip? The 2002-03 season, which also happened to be the last time Portland made the postseason.
I won't say this was an ugly win, but they did shoot 43% on the road and allowed 49%, and you shouldn't win either when you're outshot or when you shoot under 45%. On the other hand they were 12-24 from downtown, which was part of the reason they won, and they also pulled down 18 big offensive boards, to four for the Raptors (who have some big dudes but don't hog the glass all that well). Both of those definitely came into play on the winning shot, so it's fitting.
Portland just continues to impress the taste out yo' mouth. They could have given up several times over the course of this comeback win, even after Toronto appeared to stave off comeback after comeback, but the Blazers wanted to make sure they ended a five-game Eastern swing the right way. And it ruined new Raptors coach Jay Triano's (pictured, dude avec clipboard, above) home debut.
You have to love the way Portland is playing. Have to. Sure, wins over Detroit (reeling), Washington (stinking), New York (Knicking) and Toronto (changing) may not seem like a whole lot, but a trip's a trip. It ain't easy, and Portland took four of five. Now go home, work on Greg Oden (10 and 10 on Sunday), and work on that defense. Have to.
Yet with Webster getting reacclimated with minutes here and there- briefly now and logically a lot later - perhaps this is the time for a change in whom - along with Travis Outlaw - helps back up LaMarcus Aldridge. Maybe it's time to get Diogu in the fold before long?
Think about it.
Portland has missed a rugged bruising forward since the days of Brian Grant. Channing Frye isn't going to provide that presence anytime soon, and since it appears he'll have his minutes cut the most with Webster back, why not see what Diogu can give you with more than mop-up minutes?
Anytime the Denver Nuggets come to town, it's worth grabbing a minute or two with George Karl - who coached Nate in those days - for a good McMillan story alone. Heck, even guys who played sparingly with McMillan still rave about what he was able to do on the floor.
Take Jerry "Ice" Reynolds for example. Talk about a blast from the past. "Ice" spent eight seasons in the NBA as a 6-8 swingman and still remembers fondly his lone season in Seattle (1988-89) playing alongside a then 24-year-old McMillan.
"He was always into the game both mentally and physically," Reynolds, who now coaches the Jersey Express in the ABA, told me recently.
All McMillan asks is that his team puts defense first.
"Their mindset is 'if I get my offense going first, then I'll worry about the defensive end.' We try and reverse that. We think if you get going defensively it will put you into a rhythm offensively."
Fernandez admits that the frequency of the NBA games has been an adjustment. But he says he has been holding up well because with the Blazers he has been averaging 26 minutes a game, whereas in Europe he averaged close to 35 minutes a game. Plus, in the NBA, the intensity of the games has revved up his adrenaline, making it easier to play through fatigue.
"I feel like I prepare my body, so I don't need the rest," Fernandez said. "But it is true sometimes I'm tired in games. The back-to-back ... some days I need the rest. But now, I feel good. But maybe in say, game 64, I feel different. We'll see."
"I'll be honest, these flights on these road trips we've had this season have been some of the worst flights I've been on," Randolph said. "Some of the turbulence we've had has been like, 'I've never done that before,' like when we flew in and out of Utah. Had to have been the two worst flights I've ever been on."
By now, the Blazers have become so used to Randolph's panicked flight antics that nearly all of the players can imitate his routine.
Joel Przybilla and Travis Outlaw give the best renditions, which start in the normal seated position. Once turbulence starts, the torso starts sliding down in the seat, like a limp noodle. The more turbulence, the farther the body slinks down. Usually, Randolph ends up on the floor of the plane, with his feet raised above him.
"I don't know if he thinks laying closer to the ground will help, or what, but it's hilarious to watch," Przybilla said. "I don't like flying either, and I used to be the worst one on the team, but he takes it to another level."
I know as a reporter, I often unconsciously overlook Blake in stories because he is ... well, boring. I find myself usually writing about a lob pass from Sergio Rodriguez to Rudy Fernandez, or a big block from Joel Przybilla, or of course, the late-game heroics of Roy. But there Blake is every night, putting up his solid numbers while never doing anything crazy or out of character -- just doing his job like a professional. This season, he is averaging a career-high 11.4 points while also adding 4.2 assists. He is shooting a career-best 43.3 percent on three-pointers.
I also find myself passing Blake up in the locker room. Even though he is one of the most friendly and enjoyable guys to shoot the breeze with, when the notepad and tape recorder come out, Blake becomes the master of the cliche.
"I'm not cocky," Blake says when I ride him about his politically correct quotes. "I'm about the team. That's the only way I know how to talk."
So, when it comes time for headlines or attention, Blake is often found right where he wants to be -- in the background.
Jason Quick overlooking Steve Blake is the definition of white-on-white crime. Zing.
In case you missed it over the weekend, Dwight Jaynes really let KG have it...
And seriously, the next time the Blazers play Boston, somebody's got to make some sort of statement with a hard foul on Garnett. It's great to say you're going to laugh it off or ignore him but the guy's not showing you any respect at all and someone's got to get his attention. At some point, doesn't an elbow have to be thrown? Or can't you at least hammer him on a shot attempt? This is enough to make you appreciate hockey, where you can take care of things like this.
Yeah - I'm old school. But come on - the guy's just begging for it. You wouldn't let that stuff go unanswered at any level in any sport. In baseball, acting that way toward an opponent would get you a fastball in the ribs, if not the noggin. In football, you're taking a chance on receiving a nasty crackback.
If Garnett doesn't get fined for it, the league has no balls. And I'm not talking about Spauldings.
An Eastern Conference Scout had this to say about Greg Oden over the weekend...
"Guess what? They're only going to get better. And even though Brandon Roy is playing even better than he did last year, I think the No. 1 reason is the coach. Nate McMillan is really good. Everybody says they should be out running, but they're so young. He's keeping things under control and emphasizing defense, and they're not turning the ball over as much as they would be if they were running.
"[Greg] Oden has helped a lot, by the way. He's enough of a force defensively at this point in his career that people shouldn't pick on him for his lack of offense. And now Joel Przybillaonly has to play 20 minutes; Oden and Przybilla together give you a pretty good center combo. But the one thing hidden in all this is that Utah hasn't been healthy. When Utah gets healthy, I think they pass Portland up and win that division."
Paul Forrester of Sports Illustrated flips some generic about Oden...
Maybe it's the jitters of playing actual games or the luxury of being part of a deep team. Regardless,Greg Oden seems more tentative than authoritative early in his NBA career. That's why he can be bullied by smaller power forwards or miss two-handed dunks. Time will undoubtedly polish Oden's repertoire and teach him how to better leverage his size. Until he learns to impose his will, however, Oden will leave Blazers fans, and all of us, wanting.
Coup at Rip City Project got behind the scenes with the team in Boston...
Sitting on press row, before the game got out of hand, a number of media members remarked at how good Roy is. As for the crowd, they seemed to enjoy Greg's failures -- seemingly just because they didn't land him in the draft. It's not Utah fans booing Derek Fisher, but still not very necessary.
TheBigLead has this one liner about the Blazers...
After the Lakers, Celtics and Cavs, the Blazers have been the most impressive team in the league this season.
Another new Blazers blog just started up... one of your fellow commenters, Joelor, is one of the writers over at Kobe Stoppers.
Remember 1 month ago when I dubbed Randy Wittman "The Coach that Most Overcoaches a Crappy Team" and wrote...
Other than that, it is truly remarkable the number of scrubs that are on Minnesota's roster. That's really a testament to Kevin McHale's diligent effort. Every time Randy Wittman digs deep to get 4 points in 19 minutes from Ryan Gomes or motivates Corey Broomstick Brewer to 5 points in 17 minutes, McHale should be right there next to him, ready to share the standing ovation.
Kevin McHale apparently heard that message loud and clear. Wittman got axed today. His replacement? Kevin McHale, of course! Now he can have the cheers all to himself. Look for this team of mentally tough players to rally around their new, tested leader and produce an undefeated rest of the season. Great move, great timing. Great sarcasm font.
Apropos of nothing: Happy Birthday to Storyteller.
This Week's Power Rankings...
Oh, almost forgot: T-minus 9 days until Terry Porter gets Honored. Can't wait!
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)