If this game were like a NASCAR race the Blazers car would have been fighting the track all day long. We started with engine trouble from the get-go and were forced to use our back-up motor. Then the timing was off and the car was misfiring. We blew a tire and had to get it replaced but that side of the car never felt right. Through all of that we managed to battle it out, stayed on the lead lap, and even took the lead for a while. Then there was a huge near-crash where we bumped fenders and one of the opponents crashed into the wall and out of the race. It looked like clear sailing from there through the last quarter of the race. We were thinking how that victory lap would feel when all of a sudden a guy jumped out of the infield with a crowbar, busted up the windshield, pounded us over the head a half dozen times, ripped us out through the window, and left us lying there on the grass while he drove off in our car to get a Slurpee at 7-11. All you could say in the end was, "What the hell happened there?" That's about as good of a description of the game as any.
We lost this game in plenty of ways.
1. We let the Hornets outrebound us without making their centers do it. Chris Paul had 7 boards, James Posey 9. Some of this was from our long (and poor) shooting. A lot of it was our wing players just not being active on the glass. Let's put it this way...David West and Tyson Chandler had just 4 rebounds each and you still got beat on the boards. That is wrong. I understand there were more Blazer misses to be rebounded but we let the Hornets hang close in offensive rebounding too. That's also wrong.
2. We seemed to save our turnovers for the most inopportune times, like when the Hornets were making a comeback or when we wanted to get a good shot. They weren't entirely forced turnovers either. We just belched up some God-awful passes. This was inconsistent with our usual style of play.
3. After Tyson Chandler got ejected for throwing a forearm at Joel Przybilla (Side Note: A forearm? Really? It got you ejected the same as a punch so next time you might as well get your money's worth. Either that or at least throw an open-handed chop so we can all yell, "WHOOOOO!") the middle should have been WAY open for the Blazers. Instead we did nothing in the paint offensively. A couple of abortive Greg Oden posts don't really count. Greg scoring on those doesn't really depend on who is defending him. He could make or miss against a point guard or Shaq equally well. But come on...Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, any guard at all...couldn't somebody get in there with no shot-blockers any closer to the floor than the visiting locker room? The entire fourth quarter was an utter offensive failure because we didn't recognize who we were playing.
4. The Blazer perimeter players have got to take enough defensive responsibility that we don't have to switch on every play involving a screen. When the big men do jump out to help against the dribbler they actually have to stop or contain the dribbler long enough to allow the guard to recover instead of just making a silky-smooth transition into guarding a guy 10 inches shorter with lightning quick speed. The Hornets created so many mismatches off of simple screens it was almost laughable.
5. The Hornets knew enough to stay out on our three-point shooters most of the game. We did not return the favor. Peja Stojakovic and James Posey are two of their best and most prolific three-point shooters. I guarantee you that their names and positions were all over the scouting reports and that the pre-game drills all involved our guards staying home on them. Time after time our guards and forwards sagged down to offer ineffective and unnecessary help on the Hornets' big men and/or drivers and left these guys open. Huge mistake.
If you're looking for something that went right in this game you'll be searching for a while. We had intermittent spurts of good basketball but outside of one burst near the end of the second quarter we never strung enough winning plays together. We managed not to send them to the line at all. We had decent bench production. We played hard enough to hang tough for most of the game when things weren't going right. From a team standpoint those are about the only things to hang your hat on. That said, the Blazers were playing a ton of unfamiliar lineups out there again, so disjointed play is not unexpected.
Lamarcus Aldridge had a horrible shooting night, going 5-18 for 13 points. He wasn't taking bad shots. In fact he avoided the turn-around fade-away more than usual. His stroke just wasn't there. It didn't help that the Hornets were keying on him, as they should with Brandon out. To his credit Aldridge had 10 rebounds (5 of each flavor) plus 5 assists. It was going to be hard to win with David West scoring 25 to Lamarcus' 13 though. If there was any game where you would have taken 20 points and nothing else from LMA, this was it. Didn't happen that way.
Rudy Fernandez started out poorly again, keyed the aforementioned flurry in the second quarter with some running and a couple three-pointers, then ended the game somewhere in the middle. He scored 19 and was the only game-altering offensive spark tonight. Give him credit for that. He also had some energetic individual play on defense, forcing some bobbles from the Hornets. He couldn't stem the tide of suckiness in the fourth though and he didn't fare any better than the other Blazer guards with rotations out to the shooters. I liked his game well enough but I still want Brandon back badly.
Greg Oden grabbed 4 rebounds and scored 4 points but also committed 4 fouls in 16 minutes. They were not good fouls either. Three of them, at least, were near inexcusable. After he collected his first 3 in very limited minutes in the first half Nate elected to start the second half with Joel Przybilla. It was a good message. Honest errors are allowable. Effort fouls are more than allowable. You can't keep making mental error fouls, however. Greg is too important to this team for that.
About somewhere in the third quarter when we were ahead I said to myself, "This is going to be one of those extremely rare times when we win even though Steve Blake isn't shooting well." Guess what? As we said, New Orleans stayed home on him tonight and it killed his offense and a decent portion of the team's as well. 2-8 shooting, 1-4 from distance, 7 points, 6 assists in 37 minutes. Blake moved well enough on defense and was probably our smartest guard defender out there but that doesn't mean he was effective.
Nicolas Batum did what Nicolas Batum always does. I can just cut and paste his description nowadays: decent hustle, good defensive effort, a few mistakes, no shots made, 2 rebounds, 1 assists, 18 minutes of time.
Joel Przybilla was one of the stars of the game. He had 10 points and 7 rebounds in 33 minutes with a broken wrist, as Mike Barrett pointed out to us on multiple occasions. Plus there was that whole face-off with Chandler. Chandler tends to the punk-ish side anyway and I think Joel brings it out in him, which is a good thing. On the play in question Joel was defending down on the right block, trying to ward off Tyson with his left arm, the one with the broken wrist. Chandler chopped his arm away, hitting the splint as he did so. Joel apparently felt the pain because he gave Tyson a good, hard shove-off with the arm. Chandler whirled on him and threw the infamous Forearm of Doom. Joel took it in the chest and then squared off to box before the refs jumped in and broke it apart. Chandler was ejected with a Flagrant 2. Przybilla even hit the free throws. It was the high point of the game. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there.
Travis Outlaw had a good shooting night, hitting 7-13 for 16 points in 30 minutes. But the shots were all of the "dump it to Travis and watch him work" variety, which makes a nice side dish but a pretty poor main course. Travis is the artichoke dip of the Blazers. We tried to make it go too far tonight and left unsatisfied. This impression wasn't helped by Travis' 4 turnovers. All of the ones I remember were pretty egregious.
Jerryd Bayless got some more burn tonight...15 minutes' worth. He was aggressive driving to the basket. You have to give him that. Unfortunately he shot 1-6, including some seriously open misses. He had 2 assists and a steal. I felt the same way about his defense as I did about Rudy's. He had a couple nice, active individual moments but the team defense just didn't flow, nor did his part in it. He doesn't look quite ready for prime time yet.
Sergio played 10 minutes, hit 1 shot in 3 attempts, and left the game with 2 points and 2 fouls. He never really got rolling off the dribble either. He's slumping a little.
Ike Diogu had 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers in 7 minutes. I'd love to see him attack the rim more given his size and determination. He needs to get his feet in the paint more all around.
Give credit to New Orleans. They had plenty of excuses to lose this game and they didn't. That's why they're a contender and we're still trying to figure out how to be a playoff-ready team.
Read the New Orleans perspective on their gutsy performance at AtTheHive.
Get your Jersey Contest results (hint: everybody scored poorly) and enter the form for Sunday's game here.