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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?

Barrett:  He did so much for this team, and I think fans realize that.  He's got such a great mentality, and is such a calming influence.  But, he's also got a killer instinct on the floor, and knows how to win.  As we've said many times, it's no coincidence that the winning streak started when he got healthy in early December.  He's such a deep threat, and just having him out there changes opposing defenses.  Some of Brandon's best games came when James was also hitting.  His ability to spread the floor, by just sitting in the corner, was really huge for Brandon.  Roy is so good at collapsing defenses and kicking to the open man.  Many times during the streak, Jones was that open man, and he was consistently drilling threes.  He's also a better-than-average defender, and we saw him become a solid rebounder as well.  They really miss him, and not having him for, potentially, another five weeks, will hurt this team.  

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...

Barrett:  I think everyone around the team saw this coming, once the hot streak ended.  The team rebounded well, after having the 13-game winning streak ended, and went on to win 17 of 18, as you know.  One of the biggest losses, I think, was the double-overtime loss at Toronto, which kicked off the 7-game road trip.  The team did bounce back the next night and routed New Jersey, but after that things got more difficult.  I do think they are mentally worn out, probably more than physically tired.  The surge was so exciting, and they were bound to cool off.  The heart-breaking losses at home to Cleveland, and Denver, following the long road trip, were huge blows.  I was talking to Raef LaFrentz the other day, and he was telling me that the final week of January, and first couple of weeks of February, are always the dog days of the season.  And, he acknowledged, he was sensing this team's fatigue.  He did, however, say that he believes the team will come back refreshed following the break.    

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?

Barrett:  I do think that stat is impressive, but I'm not as concerned about turnovers as some probably are.  I think on some nights this team plays tight, and we've seen that result in poorer shooting.  While the turnover numbers have stayed steady, the shooting percentage, and scoring, has seen a huge drop.  I think turnovers are sometimes the result of trying to make things happen, and I don't mind that.  The Blazers have been too conservative lately, in my mind.  I'd take a few more turnovers and not mind it at all, if it meant rolling the dice offensively.  

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?

Rice: There has to come a time when Travis develops into a multi-faceted player, and not just a power forward.  In the future, Travis will really be a weapon when he can play two different positions.  If he continues to progress the way he has, he should be able to play his best at the three.

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?

Rice: LaMarcus has done something that a lot of starters in the NBA don't do- he works on his game before regular-season games, and not just on practice days.  He's smart enough to realize that you don't get a lot of individual practice time in the NBA, but he has sacrificed on game days maybe a little energy in the game, for picking up individual moves before hand, with Monty Williams and the other Blazer assistant coaches.  Most of the time, he is working on his post moves to score more inside.  This is smart on his part, and will benefit the Blazers in the future.  When it comes to LaMarcus, Nate has always looked at the big picture.  They continue to go to him so he can experience success in some of the moves he's working on outside game situations.

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?

Rice: It is, at times.  In the NBA, you always have three or four different ways to defend the pick and roll.  Nate usually starts games not switching on the pick and roll, but when the young Blazer team is having trouble in their early defense, he sometimes changes it and tries to stop the opponent by using something else-  like a zone.  This will all change when Greg Oden starts playing.  Oden is such a defensive presence, he takes away a lot of what other teams will try to do in the paint.  Everyone always tried to attack guys like Bill Russell, but all you got out of it was a blocked shot.

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...

Barrett:  We were all shocked by the 13-2 record in December.  The Blazers were the best story in the NBA during the winning streak.  I mentioned several times during the streak that it was something we'd probably only truly appreciate much later.  I still think that's the case.  I was surprised that James Jones had the immediate impact he had, and clearly, that's when the team was playing its best.  Travis' development has been a bit of a surprise, especially his ability to shoot from the outside late in games.  Even though the team has come down from the high of December, the 8-6 record in January was a surprise, given the strength of the schedule.  I think the biggest surprise is that we're at the all-star break, and the team is just a few games out of the final playoff spot in the west.  

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?

Rice: Being an all-star is almost as important to NBA players as making the playoffs.  It gives you tremendous respect from opposing players, by referees, and it just makes you feel, night in and night out, that you can compete against anybody in the NBA.  It means to the team, that they're on the right track to becoming an NBA power.  You now have the personnel that show you are among the elite.  

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?

Rice: In the west, unlike the east, if you don't improve your team every year, you move backwards.  With young players, like Rudy Fernandez, and Greg Oden set to join the team next season, the Lakers and Suns were making their moves as much for next year, as for this year.  Everybody in the west, unlike the east that doesn't worry about big guys, has to cover both athletic ability and bigness.  As for the title talk, I think right now there are six teams in the west that could win the title.  It has to do with playing with confidence, and staying healthy.  The NBA season is a long one, and the teams that think about the playoffs more than the regular season, like the Spurs, will come out the winner.

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?

Rice: Because the playoff structure will not be as difficult in the east, they should be able to do much better than the east has in the past.  Boston has developed a bench now, and they can compete against the west in a 7-game series.  The west overall, still has the advantage, but until they make the playoffs the best 16 teams, instead of west and east, the east might have an advantage there.

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?

Rice: When you go into the NBA, travel is just part of the job.  Anyone, player or announcer, who lets it affect them, won't be able to do their job as well.  Anyone who complains about the road won't be in the NBA long.

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.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)