Bullet point style tonight because it's super-late and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. A few thoughts...
- This was the second time in two nights when Andre Miller's ability to dominate during his second unit play 10 points, 6 assists) pushed the Blazers to a comfortable victory. A point guard of his caliber and intelligence in the second unit is a total luxury. Teams gameplan for your top 2 or 3 options: they find ways to bother Roy, they push Aldridge around, they double-team and harass Greg Oden. There really is no easy gameplan to guard against a backup point guard of Miller's skill level. What do you do? Demote your own point guard for the evening? Play your starter super extended minutes? Although the Blazers don't have a single excellent point guard, their 3 points together comprise one of the very best rotations in the league. The setup currently being used is maximizing that positional depth very well. When teams travel far to play the Blazers, catch the Blazers on the back-end of a back-to-back or simply are thin in the backcourt thanks to injuries or poor personnel, the Blazers are able to press that advantage quickly and ruthlessly. This all boils down to effort and mindset from Miller. If he brings it, expect the Blazers' already impressive margin of victories to continue.
- But here is the million dollar question for McMillan: is Miller in the backup role your best playoff option? Will this strategy carry over if you give a quality team and a playoff-quality coaching staff time to prepare for you, multiple games to make adjustments, with the intensity and scrutiny going full tilt and the refs swallowing their whistles? There's no way to know, yet. It's a long way out but it's an important question to ask now. In my opinion, that question hangs over Steve Blake's head every night. He's playing every game defending his starting role and angling for a major role in the team's playoff rotation. If he shoots well, it's his. If not, it gets sketchier. It's quite possible that if Blake falters he could remain the starter but simply see his minutes shrink. Tonight Blake and Miller each played 25 minutes. Could we see a situation where Blake is at 18 minutes (or less) as a starter during the playoffs, with Miller picking up the rest? Maybe Blake gets a looser reign if he comes out hot and a quick hook if he doesn't? I can imagine worse ways to play things.
- Travis Outlaw or Dante Cunningham? I'll take Cunningham and not think twice. I know it's early. I know teams will start forcing him to do things on offense other than shoot his favorite face-up 15 footer. He definitely could hit the rookie wall. But if you're Kevin Pritchard and you're weighing your options for next year -- Cunningham at less than $800,000 or Outlaw (even a discounted Outlaw taking into account the long-term injury) -- you go with Cunningham. Even more minutes (17) for Cunningham tonight and even more production (6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal). Watch the game tape and focus solely on him. It's darn near everything you want from a backup power forward in the Blazers' system, rookie or otherwise. It's a circular peg in a circular hole. Solid defense, effort, good hands, readiness to shoot, knowledge of his offensive limitations, pick-setting. It's a long list of positive attributes. Throw in Rudy Fernandez's increased touches and shot-making ability now that Outlaw is no longer in the lineup, and I dare say the Blazers have been better off without Outlaw, at least to this point. That could change drastically once the competition increases and minor injuries start taking their toll on the rotation. But as of right now? They're not skipping a beat.
- Watching Brook Lopez tonight reminded me of watching another talented youngster, one that might surprise you: Jonny Flynn. Flynn is quickly becoming case study A1 for what it looks like when you throw a talented point guard into a system that he has no real desire to take part in and with players who are below-replacement level players. Lopez, similarly, is an uber-talented big men surrounded by players who, although they try hard, don't make his life any easier. No three pointer shooters to stretch the floor, no players (without a fully healthy Devin Harris) that can break a defense down off the dribble, no accomplished rebounders to flank him. Both Flynn and Lopez are in nightmare scenarios given their respective talents. Sure both are free to star individually, as they have, but life in those spots, with so much expected from you night in and night out, is bound to get tiresome. Credit both players for being intelligent and responding to the adversity well. Tonight, Lopez was out extremely early before the game working hard on his game and he took leaps forward from last year. Not the best shooting night for him but he's a stud. Huge-dollar contracts will be the eventual payoff for both players.
- I've been looking for an analogy that properly fits Nate McMillan's handling of Greg Oden's minutes. I think I've got it: Tresselball. Ohio State's football coach is notorious for controlling the ball, working the clock, being as conservative as possible on offense when protecting a lead and, when in doubt, punting the football and living or dying with his defense. With Oden, McMillan has adopted a rather radical playing time strategy that is similar to the punt-punt-punt that drives Ohio State fans crazy. He plays Oden just six minutes in the first quarter, regularly pulls him if he picks up a second foul in the first half and lives to fight in the fourth quarter. The reasoning in both cases is simple: try to be in a position to win at the end of the game and expect that a more disciplined team with all its weapons ready to go has a better probability of winning games than a team that takes risks early in a game that might compromise its ability to compete at full strength late in games. In Oden's case, it's depressing (nauseating?) watching him play just 9 minutes during the first half, especially with Lopez schooling Przybilla time and again. Buckeyes fans certainly feel the same anguish watching Terrelle Pryor handcuffed in a conservative offense. Tonight, when all was said and done, Oden was very effective when on the court: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and he was able to avoid fouling out. He was in the game when he needed to be. On this night, those results, along with the victory, prove McMillan's strategy effective. Similarly, Ohio State rarely loses to schools like Toledo and, over the long haul, are very solid when protecting a lead, even if it their incessant punting gives their fanbase heartburn/heart attacks. The true test comes for OSU when they play a team like USC of years past. A team with equal or greater firepower, that doesn't dig itself a ditch early and that forces OSU from its conservative approach. There are some USC's in the NBA (Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, Los Angeles) and the Blazers haven't faced any of them yet. It will be interesting to see if McMillan feels like he has no choice but to Oden play more if the Blazers get behind early or if they find themselves in a full 4 quarter dogfight against a truly top-class team.
- I don't know who could get more out of the New Jersey Nets than Lawrence Frank. Then again, I thought the same thing when New Orleans fired Byron Scott. If only Frank had a Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton hiding on the end of his bench.
- Nate has a hilarious quote about turkey that you should read below. He also was dead on the money complimenting both Oden and Aldridge's passing abilities tonight. Oden is an extremely underrated passer. When the ball is in his palm above his head, even with his back to the basket, he's a true weapon. When it's down at his waist not so much. I hope at some point his reputation as a turnover-machine gradually morphs into that of a dime-minter. If that ever happens, it will stand as the moment that his public perception evolution is complete. [Insert Jurassic Park reference here.]
- Shout out to the guy who called Courtside Errand Boy before he woke up Tuesday morning to excitedly make sure CEB was aware that he got a shout out in Monday night's Media Row Report. You're hilarious, bro, and I'm not even sure who you are.
Another game where you didn't have to rely on Roy?
We're going to need other guys to make shots and play off of those guys. Greg, LaMarcus and Brandon, some nights, probably most nights they are getting double-teamed and forcing other guys to make shots. When you get those shots you got to take them. When we knock them down we're a tough team to guard.
I thought we looked like we had heavy legs. That third quarter was kind of slow motion. We missed our free throws tonight. Shot 58 percent from the free throw line. The fourth quarter we had some guys who had some legs, Dre and Dante gave us a lift and we was able to have a 31 point quarter. We did what we needed to do to get through this game.
Again, he's doing good things. He's in the right place offensively. The same on the defensive end of the floor. Making plays, rebounding the ball. If there is a concern with a rookie it's feeling comfortable taking shots and knocking those shots down. He's doing that. He's getting shots in the offense and he's taking the right shot and knocking them down.
He's probably one of the most skillful centers in the league. He's scoring from everywhere. He's a big body that can face up from about 15 feet. On the block he's patient. He takes his time. He gets to the rim. He's a tough match-up.
He's a big shot taker. Two of those shots it looked like he was flipping them up but he shoots the ball like that. Big shots. I think the team at the time was making a run and those were threes. That's Rudy. What can you say?
They come in winless. Is that a scary situation?
Well, of course. You don't want to be that team that is the first to lose. As I told our guys, our focus needs to be, regardless of that team's record, we need to play as if they are 12-0 and not 0-12. You know they're going to give an effort. They're going to try to play their way out of it. It's similar to losing 3 or 4 in a row, you kind of lose your confidence and what you don't want to do is give a team confidence. I thought that first half they were able to run their stuff, score, they just buried us in the paint. The first half, really for the game. They had 52 points in the paint tonight.
You adjust to what happens in a game and it took us four quarters to get control of the game. And put it away. And that's what we had to do tonight.
Best passing team you've had?
We're good when we move the ball. What we're going through now is LaMarcus and Greg learning to make decisions with the ball. Teams are trying to double-team them, front them and making the right reads. You've got to become a point when you play with the basketball on the post or at the high post. Those guys are learning to make the right reads, the right passes. For the most part, the rest of our guys are pretty good passers. We've got shooters. The defense can't take everything.
The assist-to-field goal ratio is very high
Yeah, when we're moving the ball and not trying to make the home run play it's tough to defend us.
Favorite Thanksgiving tradition
Oh, I carve the Turkey. I'll cook the turkey tonight and I'll carve it tomorrow. Sit down and enjoy a big turkey dinner. On gameday, I leave the turkey alone because it is some chemicals in that thing that will make you fall asleep. That's what I was told by the doctor.
-- Ben Golliver | (email@example.com) | Twitter