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Apparently there are still a couple of hitches in Ben's admin privileges so I'm posting this for him...

February 19, 2008 vs. Kings

Anytime you lose five straight, there's something wrong.  Exactly what is ailing this Blazers team, however, is something of a mystery.  As the team's struggles continued tonight in a home loss to the Sacramento Kings, the players seemed more miffed than upset.

All the pregame signs pointed to a likely win: the Kings were fielding a patchwork lineup of former Hawks recently acquired for Mike Bibby, Ron Artest was back on the trading block so he would hopefully be volatile, and the tired, young Blazers had had the All-Star break to enjoy some rest and relaxation.  As the game unfolded, however, it quickly became clear that Beno Udrih was more than comfortable in his new starting point guard spot, Ron Artest was having one of those all-around dominating performances that he is occasionally capable of, and the Blazers, despite a solid night's worth of hustle and effort, were not going to be able to match the Kings' execution on both ends of the floor.

After the game, which ended with the Kings pulling away thanks to a 35 point 4th quarter outburst, the Blazers grasped at straws for what caused this defeat.  Jarrett Jack, who struggled from the field, particularly early in the game, scratched his head when asked to explain the defeat, "I don't know.  I hope it's not mental fatigue."  Channing Frye similarly was at a loss for words.  When asked what's wrong with the team, Frye stated with a smile, "If I had that answer, I think I'd probably tell everybody."  Although he meant it as something of a joke, he wasn't laughing and the reporters listening could only muster sympathetic smiles.  

Whether or not the Blazers are now in the midst of losing their chances at the playoffs is an honest question.  The fact that Coach McMillan is counting down the number of games until the end of the season is a bit troubling.  The fact that Brandon Roy continues to take a pounding, suffering a bloody lip during an in-game collision and receiving a post-game chest X-ray thanks to yet another illness, is even more worrisome.  If this team has taught us anything this year, however, it's that questions, troubles and worries can evaporate almost instantaneously in the face of collective effort.  Let's hope back-to-back games against the Sonics can kick-start the evaporation and bring some clarity back to this Blazers season.

Post-Game Reaction

Reggie Theus on the result: "The Blazers are a playoff basketball team. With the excuses we had, our travel, our new players, coming in here and getting this win was a big thing.  We pride ourselves on playing hard.  Our guys played hard for 48 minutes at every position.  We weathered an 11-0 run, we called time out, our guys didn't hang their heads, they kept digging in and we made big plays down the stretch."

Reggie Theus on Ron Artest: "[The Blazers] are a unique team because of their size, they can switch on everything.  But we have a balance guy and that's Ron [Artest].  Tonight, he was making great decisions; he was very much a leader on both ends of the floor. He guarded the toughest man on the floor and he had the ball in his hands on offense.

Reggie Theus on the Blazers defense:  "Portland is a great shot-blocking team.  We had 3 or 4 shots going to the rim that I thought were sure layups that they took away from us.  Last time we played them, they had 8 blocks.  Francisco is able to stretch the defense, with Kevin Martin out on the floor and Ron Artest down on the block, they've got to deal with it."

Nate McMillan on Ron Artest:  "We tried to front the post.  He's strong, he's physical, he did a nice job of quarterbacking out of the post."

Nate McMillan on his new lineup (starting Jack, Blake, Roy, Aldridge and Przybilla, bringing Webster off the bench): "I like my rotation, I like being able to have a balanced attack.  Martell came off [the bench] and gave us something. Travis came off and gave us something.  I thought we had the balance we needed but we just didn't execute.  We had a couple of turnovers late in the fourth quarter and they were pretty crucial.  We did a good job of taking care of the ball but the turnovers we did have were late in the ballgame and that kind of cost us."

Nate McMillan on the sequence that led to Martell's technical foul:  "I mean what can you say?  I definitely thought they were moving on some screens, hip-checking our guys, but that's not going to change anything now."

Jarrett Jack on tonight's offensive struggles: "You don't want to put it on the All-Star break and being away from basketball for a few days, [but] I think it did have a little effect upon it.  We weren't knocking down shots today, nobody shot particularly well outside of Martell and Travis."  

Jarrett Jack on Ron Artest: "He's a tough cover for everybody.  I haven't seen anybody [like him] that can match up 1 through 5 and that can physically match up with every person.  He's quick enough to guard somebody on the perimeter and strong enough to guard somebody down low on the post."

Jarrett Jack on the team's mojo:  "It seems like we're searching a little bit.  Everybody knows what's at stake, with us on the outside looking in at the playoffs.  If we're going to strike, the time has to be now with the way teams are playing, especially in the Western Conference.  We definitely have to steps our level of play up."

Jarrett Jack on the lineup change and the team's goal of not settling for jumpers: "I can't speak for everybody, but I thought I did a pretty good job attacking tonight, trying to get guys shots, I got to the foul line 5 or 6 times.  [Coach Nate] just wants us to be more aggressive."

Channing Frye on the losing streak: "We are a solid team, we're just not an elite team... especially now that we're missing a couple guys.  I know everyone wants to say, "oh gosh, it's the end of the world."  But it's not.  I think we still have an opportunity to do some good things here.   You never know... we'll probably win 10 of the next 11, that's how you have to look at it."

Channing Frye on the reasons for tonight's loss: "It wasn't because there was no energy, it wasn't because we played selfishly, it was just the little things, little loose balls, little fouls, not executing on the defensive end, when you're going on a streak like this, you've just got to break it down to the simplest of things."

I read the Media Guide so you didn't have to:

-- The Maloof family is the only ownership group to guide two different franchises to the NBA conference finals (Rockets in 1981 and Kings in 2002).
-- Everyone knows the Maloof family runs the Palms in Las Vegas, but did you ever wonder how they got together the money for such a venture?  Turns out that in 1994 they invested 10 million dollars to purchase a plot of land in Las Vegas, on which they built the Fiesta Casino.  In 2000, they sold the Fiesta for 185 million dollars.  Yes, you read that right.  They then took that money and plunked it down immediately to build the Palms.  
-- But that's not all.  If you find yourself in New Mexico drinking a Coors, Miller, Corona, Heineken, Tecate, Boston Beer or Guiness, you are helping to further line the pockets of the Maloof family, as they have exclusive proprietorship rights to the distribution of all the aforementioned beers in the state.  Writing this bullet point made me thirsty.
-- Last fact about the Maloofs: were you under the impression that we had a young front office?  Not so much.  Gavin Maloof was named President of the Rockets at the tender age of 24.  
-- In case you didn't know: Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie remains the highest scoring Blazers rookie in franchise history.  Something for Greg Oden to aim for, maybe.
-- While we are talking about Petrie, did you know only 3 guards in NBA history scored 2,000 points as a rookie?  Petrie, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.  
-- By all accounts, especially his stint as the coach on Saturday morning television's "Hangtime," Reggie Theus seems like a straight shooter.  Glad to see his time playing for Coach Tarkanian at UNLV and coaching under Rick Pitino at Lousville didn't have any ill-effects on his personality or coaching philosophy.
-- In addition to polishing the 3 championship rings that Michael Jordan won for him, Kings assistant coach Randy Brown is "particularly fond of Sudoku puzzles."  
--   Remember one-time Blazer Fat Lever?  He is now the Kings director of player development.  If he does his job properly, none of the players under his tutelage will wind up with his nickname.
-- Shareef Abdur-Rahim was the only unanimous selection to 1996-97 All-Rookie team, the year in which both Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury were rookies.  
-- Bob Barker must be scratching his head: Ron Artest is "slated to sponsor the spay and neutering of pitbulls" at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Sacramento this past November year.  Yikes.
-- Francisco Garcia's nickname is "flaco," the Spanish word for skinny.
-- Mikki Moore was given his nickname Mikki for his childhood affinity for eating Life cereal
-- Mr. Moore also owns a pair of Columbian Red-Tailed boa constrictors, a Burmese albino snake and two American alligators.  I wonder if Ron Artest has had them spayed and neutered?  Is that possible?

Random Game Notes

--Prior to the game, Ron Artest came over to give Darius Miles a big hug.  Would the Earth start spinning the opposite direction if Artest, Miles and John Canzano were locked in a room together?  Probably.
-- Speaking of Canzano: after his rip job on Darius in last week's paper, I didn't see him at the Rose Garden tonight.  Portland Mercury writer Ezra Caraeff, who wrote a pretty stunning rebuttal to Canzano's piece, also wasn't in attendance.  I had hopes for fireworks, maybe Thursday?
-- Steve Blake chose the warm-up music tonight: Lose Yourself by Eminem.  Upon consideration of this fact, I can only conclude that there is a side of Steve Blake that we may never know.
-- Before the game, the Blazers played "The boys are back in town," quite appropriate after the long All-Star layoff.  Later, they played the Smashmouth "All Star" song while showing highlights of the All-Star game and Rookie/Sophomore challenge.  The crowd was generally pretty quiet tonight but did get excited over some of Brandon's all star game work
-- During pregame warm-ups, the hitch that was haunting Martell's jumper the last few weeks seemed to be gone. This is very good news.
-- Beno Udrih seemed to relish the starting role that was thrust upon him thanks to the Bibby trade.  He is super-quick off the dribble and was killing Blake when they were matched up
-- Brandon, Jarrett and Sergio are all sick with a virus.  Brandon skipped the post-game interviews because of the illness and he was scheduled to get a chest x-ray
-- Nate went to the bench early and often in the first quarter as he started small with the 3 guard lineup but apparently wasn't satisfied.  A total of nine guys got into the game in the first quarter (although Sergio was only in for the last 4 seconds)
-- Wondering if the Kings watch game tape?  As soon as Sergio checked in, Reggie Theus immediately pointed directly at him and yelled at one of the refs, making a motion with his hands that said, "Watch him, he carries the ball."  The ref just nodded
-- Kings assistant coach Kenny Natt must be the most active, vocal assistant in the league.  On the sequence in which Ron Artest got a technical foul for arguing a non-call on, Natt was on the floor and it originally appeared like he was the one that was whistled for the tee.  He was standing up coaching side-by-side with Theus almost the entire game
-- Blaze the Trail Cat donned a Dwight Howard Superman cape for his 4th quarter dunking escapades.  It was pretty funny but, like I said, the crowd was pretty dead tonight
-- The Blazers coaching staff seemed to react more aggressively than usual during the 4th quarter, jumping up off the bench on a few occasions.  They looked particularly frustrated with the team defense down the stretch.  Nate, ever composed during his postgame comments, simply said the execution could have been better
-- One play that really stuck in my craw: the Jack/Przybilla high pick and roll with about 1:30 to go when we are down by six, which resulted in a turnover.  I really hope that play was not called from the sideline
-- On the bright side: back to back games against the Sonics are up next.  If that doesn't break this losing streak, I don't know what will.    

--Ben Golliver