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Media Row Report: Blazers 107 Nuggets 96

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An abbreviated report tonight.  For the who, what, when and why of tonight's 107-96 Portland Trail Blazers victory over the Denver Nuggets, scroll down or click here for Dave's recap.

Random Game Notes

  • The Blazers' fourth quarter defense was superb as Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless and Steve Blake once again played together down the stretch.  The Blazers held the Nuggets to just 20 fourth quarter points and limited JR Smith to 6-16 second half shooting and held Carmelo Anthony to 2 of 6 fourth quarter shooting.  Impressive stuff, made easier by the second-half absence of point guard Chauncey Billups due to injury/precaution.  Down the stretch, the Nuggets looked to shoot early in the clock and over the top of the Blazers' defense and were not rewarded.  Tonight's win reminded me a bit of November's home win over San Antonio, when Tony Parker went down and the Blazers cruised to a double-digit victory.  A slower start this time around but the same edge in execution on both ends of the floor when it mattered.   
  • It's no accident or coincidence that Brandon Roy puts on his best shows when the lights are brightest.  His biggest explosion -- 52 points against the Phoenix Suns last year -- came on national television.  Tonight, he had 41 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal on Christmas, the biggest non-All Star Weekend event of the NBA's regular season.  After the game, Roy said it was a statement performance brought about by months of preparation. "I was focused tonight. Last year I felt like I didn't prepare this team to go into a Christmas day game. I thought we had a letdown. I took it personal all year. 'If we get another game on Christmas I'm going to make sure I'm ready.' And even today I woke up, opened presents and then I was back in my room, saying, 'hey, I've got a game tonight.' And that was my approach for the entire day. I wanted to play well tonight and I wanted this team to get a big win tonight.."
  • What did Brandon Roy's son get for Christmas? "Guitars, basketball hoop, golf clubs, bunch of toys," Roy said smiling. "A bunch of toys I had to put together, I still got some work to do tonight.."
  • With vet Juwan Howard playing such heavy minutes (29.5 mpg during the current four game winning streak) and rookie Jeff Pendergraph back from injury and contributing, promising rookie Dante Cunningham has played just 32 minutes total over the past 9 games, earning a DNP-CD tonight despite being one of just 10 healthy Blazers.  After the game, I asked Cunningham how he's adjusting to life back on the bench. "It's just day to day, you know. You just gotta take it in stride, you really can't get down or something. I just go out there every day expecting the best, preparing for the worst."  Has Nate McMillan talked to Cunningham about what he wants to see or what the rookie might need to improve? "I mean, not really," Cunningham said. "I just go out there and continue doing what I'm doing. Shooting jump shots. Everyday getting better doing something... You gotta keep that game mentality, game shape."
  • LaMarcus Aldridge, the subject of scorn in some circles for his supposed lack of toughness and less-than-expected rebounding numbers, wore a shirt today that read "Seeking No Popular Applause" on the back.  Interesting.
  • Patty Mills, Rudy Fernandez and Greg Oden (and maybe others too?) had "Get Well Soon" signs in their lockers.  Oden's had a picture of him on it with a band aid taped over his left knee. Well-intentioned, sure.  But it made me wince.
  • Martell Webster confirmed that he is the latest Blazer on Twitter.  Here's his page.  Webster plans to update his followers on his life and activities with his foundation.   

Nate's Postgame Comments

Proud of the way you're playing?

No doubt. This team is playing basketball the right way. They're playing together and they're playing 48 minutes. Tonight 26 assists by these guys. You know defensively we tightened up. The weakside we ran a lot of different schemes early. We felt we wanted to just keeping Carmelo in front of us but I thought it was enough to just keep him guessing. As far as defensively what we wanted to do. We had to clean up our rebounding, they really pounded us the first half on the boards. We're much smaller without our centers. I thought our guys tonight did a good job of coming back and helping on the boards in the second half. Offensively, I thought we did a better job of moving the ball in the second half. Brandon was hot but we didn't have a lot of ball movement in that first half. We got better movement in the second half and it opened up some offense for Bayless and Blake and those guys.

Brandon's Game

He was good. He looked fresh. He was making some tough shots. He was getting to the basket. The defense started to commit and trap both he and Bayless, which opened up some opportunities for other guys. And it was just a matter of those guys giving up the ball. I thought Bayless made some mature plays late. When they tried to trap him he got it to Howard and Howard was able to make the right plays.  Brandon, he wanted this game. He really did. We knew, you know, when we got back that he was going to play and he came out tonight, he was aggressive, he looked fresh, we just played off of him.

Blake

I thought he did a great job of just reading and getting to the open spot. Denver does a lot of zoning, they trap and they zone. You've got to move but you've got to move the ball also. Tonight, late in that fourth quarter, 33 point fourth quarter, you don't get that if you don't have good ball movement. I thought Bayless and Roy, those guys who were playing with the ball did a nice job of giving up the ball. Blake got himself open. When he's spreading the floor like that and knocking down his shots it just opens up our offense.

You're playing with guts, determination...

It's all of that. I think Howard has really stepped up and kind of been that veteran leadership we need. He's not allowing these guys to give in to all the adversity that we've been facing. He's playing good basketball. Our guys are feeding off of that. Bayless has stepped in and has really given us a lift. Coming off the bench as well as starting. The rest of the team is just playing good basketball. Now we're starting to see guys play up to their potential. Brandon is playing at his level. Jeff, we needed another body, a big body, he's given us some good things. Miller got off to a good start tonight. We've got guys playing well and we're going to need that. It's still a huge challenge for us. We've got this home stretch that we want to take one game at a time. We've got to come out with that type of business approach.

Did you think Howard had this much left?

We looked at him and we thought experience. We thought he would be a guy, if somebody, if we didn't need him until February, he would keep himself ready. If somebody went down late in the season he's a pro that would keep himself ready. It happened sooner and he's playing good basketball. We don't win this stretch of games if Howard is not doing what he's been doing.

You said this stretch was going to be hard. You've played well.

It was. But we got hot at the right time. We started to come together at the right time. Because those are tough teams, some of the toughest teams in the league, and we've been able to win this stretch of games. But again it's still early, it's a lot of basketball to be played and our guys, we just keep doing what we're doing. Guys stepping up and playing.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter