Blazer Broadcasters Mike Barrett and Mike Rice took some time during this road trip to sit down and discuss a few matters with us. Enjoy!
Blazersedge: Let's dive right in. How much does this team miss James Jones? What effect is that having on the offense?
Rice: This team already had a thin line between losing and winning on most nights. James Jones' outside shooting was something they badly needed, and when they lose that they lose one of their weapons they need to win games. It gave Nate McMillan another option to go to in case he needed outside shooting. Now, they have to depend on defense, and rebounding, two areas they aren't strong in. What it will do is give an opportunity for someone else to step up, or fail. It will let the Blazers know, if they need more help in that area in the future.
Blazersedge: Is this team just worn down at this point? Many of these guys are playing more minutes than they ever have...
Rice: I would have to agree that they are tired. These guys have never had playoff pressure on them like it is now. It was easier last season during the second half of the season, because they were just playing to impress the coach. When you're playing for a playoff spot, everyone is watching your every more. That becomes mental pressure, as well as physical. Everything this team has gone through this far, has been successful. The problem now is, will that be enough to satisfy some of this guys- that this season has been enough of a success as it is. It's up to Nate to show them that success comes at the end of the season in wins and losses.
Blazersedge: The Blazers continue to take very good care of the ball compared to the rest of the league. They're 6th overall in turnovers. How is such a young team managing that?
Rice: I agree with that. Sometimes turnovers show you're playing tentative basketball instead of aggressive basketball. Early in the year, the Blazers weren't afraid to turn it over, trying to make things happen. Now, it appears, the turnover is in their minds more than offense. Some of the best players in the NBA- Nash, Wade, Deron Willams, Carmelo- are guys who make players on their teams better players because they get them shots they normally wouldn't get. When Przybilla gets a lay in, it's usually because someone has given him a nice pass around the basket, and takes a chance by creating off the dribble.
Blazersedge: Nate McMillan has said he wants to play Travis Outlaw exclusively at power forward. Lamarcus Aldridge is in the midst of one of his better runs of the season at that position. What is going to give in that equation? Can the two find enough time when both are playing the four?
Barrett: Travis does mostly play at the four, but has shot the ball well enough, and has defended well enough, to play the small forward spot. And, we've seen the Blazers use a zone defense at times, and that allows you to get away with a smaller unit on the floor. I still want to see Travis become more consistent from night to night. He was so very good during the month of December, and confidence is so vital to his game. I think if Portland decided to play more of an up-and-down game, he'd be tremendous at the three, because of the way he runs the court. I think the reason we've seen him play more four, is because that's where the team has needed him. I agree that his natural position is still the three.
Blazersedge: Speaking of Lamarcus, is the difference the last couple of weeks simply aggressiveness or are the Blazers doing more to feature his offense?
Barrett: Early in games, Nate always wants to force feed the post, and we've seen LaMarcus do a lot of his damage in the initial possessions of games. I like that they've forced him to be more aggressive by putting him in those situations early in ballgames. In other words, that's by design. He'll continue to hit the weights, and is only going to get better. He's still so young.
Blazersedge: We seem to switch a lot on screens, often leaving Joel Przybilla (for example) out on the perimeter watching a small guy while one of our guards struggles to stop a giant rumbling down the lane. What's going on there? Is the defense designed that way?
Barrett: I agree that everything will change when the big guy is in the paint swatting shots into the stands. The Blazers tend to switch on picks on the perimeter, but usually don't try and leave little guys on an island with a mismatch inside. When it does happen that way, it's always nice if Joel is on the weak side, and that's where he gets most of his blocks. He's a tremendous off-the-ball defender. The Blazers tend to play more zone with the second unit, when Joel isn't always in the game. The defensive adjustments were so sharp during the winning streak, and the reason it hasn't been as good lately, is that teams have game planned around it. The Blazers have been thoroughly scouted, after catching many teams by surprise with their defense in December.
Blazersedge: As we near the All-Star break share with us what things have surprised you most over the first half of the season. Obviously nobody expected the December winning streak, but in addition to that...
Rice: For me, the surprise was the confidence shown by Nate in the improvement of the young players. Because Nate was not always thinking about winning games, but had a plan to improve the confidence of his whole team. Because the young players were not always looking over their shoulders at the bench, or waiting to be taken out of the game, they started playing with a lot of confidence. Now that the playoff picture is here, we hope the young guys continue to play this way.
Blazersedge: What does Brandon Roy's All-Star nomination mean to him and this team?
Barrett: It's such a great accomplishment for him, in just his sophomore season. As he will say, it's due to the play of the entire team. The winning streak brought so much attention to the Blazers, and therefore to the team's best player. The fact that he was voted on to the team by coaches was maybe more impressive than if he would have been voted in by the fans.
Blazersedge: How do the recent trades in L.A. and Phoenix affect the balance of power in the West? Do either of those teams have a legitimate shot at a title this year?
Barrett: I agree with my partner, in that the moves were as much for the future, as for the present. Phoenix knows that the best big men in the NBA play in the Western Conference, and they know Greg Oden is set to hit the scene next season. I, like most people, was scratching my head immediately after the Shaq trade. But, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it, and admired Steve Kerr for rolling the dice. Only a newcomer to that job could have that kind of perspective. Long-time GMs in the league would never have pulled the trigger. The Suns have been a good team for years, but didn't feel they could win it all with the roster they had. The Lakers have fallen into a couple of very fortunate situations. First, they had Derek Fisher fall into their lap. He's been huge for them. Then, they were able to put on ski mask and absolutely steal Gasol from Memphis. The Grizzlies are just having a garage sale, preparing for a probable sale of the franchise, and simply were after the most attractive expiring contract. This move wasn't made by a team trying to put itself in a position to win. Phoenix is on a more immediate timeframe. The Lakers now find themselves in a terrific position for a few years to come.
Blazersedge: How do the good Eastern teams like Detroit and Boston match up in terms of quality with the West? What kind of chance do they have to take it all?
Barrett: I still like Detroit out of the east more than Boston. I think the Pistons would beat the Celtics in a 7-game series right now, and certainly have the edge in experience. KG has been deep into the playoffs once, and Allen and Pierce have some playoff experience, but nothing like the Pistons have. The pool in the east obviously isn't nearly as deep as it is in the west, but I think Detroit will have a great chance to beat a playoff-weary team from the west. Rice makes a good point about what would happen if the seeding situation every totally changed in the NBA, but that's not going to happen.
Blazersedge: Joe Freeman did an article in Sunday's Oregonian about how hard it is for the players to be away from their families and children on road trips. It can't be any easier for broadcasters. How do you cope?
Barrett: My response, obviously, is a little different. I've got two small children at home, and am in a much different stage of life than my partner. Still, we lean on each other a lot on the road. The team, and those in the travelling party, turn into your second family. You spend so much time with them, and you're all going through the same thing. If you've got stresses going on in your life, the people travelling with you know about it. If you're sick, they get sick. If someone is having a bad day, everyone knows about it. Fortunately, we travel with great people, and we all try and help each other. I don't hear the players complaining, but I know it's very hard on them. It makes you learn how to be flexible. If you're someone who needs consistency in your life, every single day, you're not going to make it. Different hotels, different beds, eating at all hours, and never getting enough sleep, are all part of it. You get to know the players very, very well. I see pictures of their children, and they see pictures of mine, and we all share stories. You tend to slice the season up into road trips. When we finished the 7-game trip, it was almost like we had really accomplished something- just getting through it. I know the wives and girlfriends get together at the practice facility sometimes to watch the games on TV, while the kids play on the court. They're all going through the same things as well. On the road, the memories pile up, that's for sure. I could write a book, and it's just my sixth season travelling. Rice is on his 18th. He's numb.
Thanks to both Mike Barrett and Mike Rice for taking the time to speak with us. I learn something new (and get plenty of food for thought) every time they do this. I think you'll agree that this is some of the best stuff out there, period. We are lucky to have two broadcasters that are both knowledgeable and passionate.