Hey, give Philadelphia full credit for their win tonight. This game was a tale of two defenses. Or rather a tale of one defense and some intermittent bothering. Philly was the "defense" part. They figured out how to play the short-handed Blazers perfectly. Bring energy to prevent easy, relaxed decisions. You know that whatever the Blazers run it's going to take a while to develop. Use your quickness to get to the play before it unfolds. Guess that the first option is going to be the strong preference and stifle it. If Portland does manage to find a second option it's not going to be nearly as good. They may survive a quarter or a half, but not 48 minutes. The Sixers moved their feet, brought it hard, and won the game exactly they way they should have.
That's not to say the Blazers played horribly. In the first quarter they were particularly active on defense and generally did well throughout the first half. They suffered a little in transition and they were occasionally overmatched in size but they compensated well thanks to some sterling individual effort on the part of supporting players like Webster, Pendergraph, and Cunningham. But Portland couldn't sustain the energy through the second half. All of a sudden the Sixers were rebounding, running, and getting to the rim at will. If they weren't dashing and dunking they were feeding Elton Brand in the post or driving guards through the lane. Portland had no shot blocking and their rotations ranged from poor to none. Where they had managed only 22 and 21 in the first two periods the Sixers posted 34 and 27 in the final two. I think everybody in the universe knows that unless the stars align in perfect fashion the Blazers aren't going to be able to generate enough offense to compensate for 30-point quarters right now.
The Sixers ended up shooting almost 58% for the game. The Blazers shot 42%. Neither team put up a lot of threes but Portland was sustained by some early threes going in...shots that missed badly later in the game. The Blazers nabbed 15 offensive rebounds to Philly's 8 but the teams were all but equal in second-chance points because the quick-reacting Sixers were all over the offensive rebounder whereas the slower-reacting Blazers either left the rebounder in single coverage or just watched him score. Portland dominated at the line but couldn't hit a high enough percentage (18-26 or 69% on the night) to make the difference tell. The Blazers withstood Philadelphia's pressure and committed only 7 turnovers for the game...no small feat given the active defense. But Portland doesn't force turnovers either so that didn't help as much as it could have. It kept the Blazers from flat-out losing but didn't really help them win. Philly scored 16 fast break points to Portland's 7, which was somewhat expected. The Sixers scored 60 points in the paint to Portland's 40, which was a massacre. That's the most telling stat of the evening. It shows you how porous the defense became in that second half. Philadelphia scored more points in the paint out of their halfcourt offense than the Blazers did for the whole game. Overcoming that is a tough order.
The offense was not clicking for either of the Blazers' stars. That was evidenced from the start of the game when both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge missed shots they've been hitting with ease recently. Right now that's almost guaranteed disaster for the team. LaMarcus in particular eschewed the lane completely, passing up a couple of open invitations to get in the paint in favor of jumpers or the pass-off. Roy tried to drive but the Sixers were lying in wait for him. If he could have popped the "J" the pressure would have eased but outside of a couple of threes it wasn't falling, which means Philly had no incentive to play him for anything but the drive. Both players missed free throws also. LaMarcus gave the team 12 rebounds but couldn't keep Elton Brand from doing everything he wanted. Roy didn't have the team mojo going. On those nights he needs 44, not 24, to be successful. To be fair the Sixers encouraged all of this, as any team with half a brain would do right now. It just so happens that they had the athletes and commitment to make it happen whereas some other teams recently have lacked one or the other. Roy: 24 points. Aldridge 17 and 12.
Andre Miller played a nice game. His offensive attack was smart and controlled. Andre is at his best when you don't notice his offense. If he's standing out it's either because he's missing jumpers or taking un-veteran-point-guardish shots. Tonight he mixed post-ups, jump shots, and drives into his 7 attempts, keeping the defense at least somewhat off guard. He hit 4 of those attempts and converted all three of his free throws for 11 points total. He also had 7 of the Blazers' 19 assists, threading some legitimately nifty passes.
Martell Webster came out energized at the start of the game, threw himself around early, hit some shots, and then faded away. The spurts of energy are great and overall I think Martell has been playing solidly lately, but you need more than 6 points and 5 boards from a starter playing 36 minutes. Mike Rice mentioned during the broadcast that the Sixers got away with guarding Martell with Allen Iverson for long stretches. That shouldn't happen without Webster getting shot attempts.
Juwan Howard played 20 minutes and had 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 personal fouls. He was giving everything he had and his shot remains impressive. He was just physically overmatched and he shouldn't be called upon to do as much as the Blazers have to ask of him right now.
Steve Blake got 24 minutes and, like the rest of the team, hit early to give Portland a lift. But the promising spring turned into a wilted autumn for him as well as the jumpers stopped falling. 4-10 for 10 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds.
Jerryd Bayless had another rough night, going 0-7 from the field and managing 2 points and 4 assists in 16 minutes. Mike and Mike mentioned something we had picked up on last game: the league knows about him now. As they did with most of the critical Blazers, they defended him perfectly. They knew to not do a thing with him on the dribble drive, as that would probably result in a foul. Just shadow him and wait...wait...wait because once he starts his forward progress he's not going anywhere but down the lane to put a shot up. When he tries to score, strike and block the shot. After he got capped early he tried to compensate with the jumper. It wasn't falling. And without Bayless producing that bench scoring gets pretty thin.
Two guys who did have good nights, though, were Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham. Pendergraph had a career high 11 points on 4-5 shooting, 3-4 from the line in 19 minutes. He also provided 5 rebounds, a block, and a super-sized cup full of energy. I loved watching him scrap in there. Cunningham only went 2-6 for 6 points but he was moving his feet as well. The 6 points in 7 minutes was nice, but then again Dante has often been the shot-a-minute man this year as well. With the weak bench that's fine but at some point he's going to have to moderate. That, or start hitting everything. In any case both guys provided a lift. They are great examples of what good bench players can do. Neither one is a threat to score 20 on a regular basis (at least not at this point). Neither one will make anybody's fantasy team or dark-horse breakout list. But you don't need a Maserati to mow the lawn. Both of these guys are straight-up John Deeres who are going to do the job and then head back to the garage. This is one of the difference between depth on paper and practical depth. Let's hope they can continue to provide the latter.
You had to know a loss was coming sometime. In fact as I've said a couple times on the podcast you seldom worry about the short-term effects of season-ending injuries as the team tends to compensate and the league hasn't adjusted yet. You worry about January, February, March not being up to snuff. But those months aren't here yet and this loss to a 7-win team doesn't hurt you much unless you succumb to a second loss in a row without much of a fight. The cavalry's not riding over the hill yet. From the top two players down the Blazers need to figure out how to get the most out of the guys they do have, which means keeping efficiency high, energy up, and trust intact. There's no other choice right now. It starts with simple things like always getting back in transition and always covering the boards. You don't worry about getting more shots for people, rather making the shots you're already getting better. You depend on your best players to hit and let everyone else feed off of them. And you pat guys like Pendergraph and Howard on the back for doing their part every bit as much as you praise Roy and Aldridge. Let's hope that takes hold again for the Clippers game, allowing us to put this loss behind us.
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