That was better.
Two things were impressive about this game. First, you never got the sense that the Blazers were going to lose it, nor come close to losing it, nor come close to thinking about coming close to losing it. Tonight the Blazers and losing were as cozy as Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. That was appropriate given the level of competition and how they played. Second, even with giving losing the cold shoulder the Blazers played imperfectly in the first two quarters. You wondered if they were going to make this game harder than it should have been, what with the paucity of rebounds and free throws. Then in the second half we started dominating boards, scoring second-chance points, and getting to the line. The Mikes mentioned this on the TV broadcast: halftime adjustments are golden in this league. The Blazers made some nice ones tonight.
I suppose there was a third--or at least half of a third--impressive thing, which was even with the easy victory you didn't get a real sense of joy or accomplishment out of this win from the team. That seems counter-intuitive, but I think it's a good sign. A young team happy to be where they are would be smiling and high-fiving during and after a runaway victory like this, especially after having endured a couple of losses. The Blazers were matter-of-fact about it. They were into the game and appropriately congratulatory on good plays, but there was no sense of surprise or gratitude tonight. It almost seemed that they, like many of us, were not terribly happy that this game became important. It was all business, even from bench guys like Bayless and Frye who don't get a lot of opportunity to play and thus would be more prone to exuberance. That's the attitude of a veteran team that has its vision cast beyond one game and beyond the stat sheet as well. That's exactly what the Blazers will need in the last month and a half of the season.
I suspect we'll see a little more emotion when we beat the Spurs on Sunday. Tonight's demeanor, though, was wholly appropriate.
As far as the game itself, Mike Rice called it exactly correct when he said the key to this game was limiting Minnesota's shot attempts. They only attempted 67 field goals tonight. They average almost 84. When a team shoots as poorly as they do (43.3% tonight) that's a serious disadvantage. Nothing they could do was going to make up that difference.
Minnesota's three main frontcourt players (Love, Miller, Gomes) took 18 shots overall, hitting 9. Their starting backcourt took 20 shots, hitting 5. That's exactly as scripted in the pre-game plan. The Blazers did a pretty good job of forcing the ball out of the hands of their big guys. We were more than willing to live with anything that Foye and Telfair could do, particularly when the pair between them totaled 4 assists. You could not have wished for better.
The main area where Portland struggled tonight was the second-unit defense. The bench players scored but weren't able to protect the middle the same way the starters did. The Blazers also could have used more rebounding help for Joel Przybilla during the early quarters.
The Blazers' 50% shooting started with Brandon Roy brutalizing the ‘Wolves from the outset and then rolled from there. Minnesota had to be conscious of the middle and consistently rotated late to the shooters. The Blazers did fall into the jump-shooting trap in the middle quarters but they hit enough to stay ahead and then came out of it to finish the game strong. Portland also re-discovered its three-point shooting stroke. It's not surprising that the threes mostly fall when the rest of the offense is rolling because in reality we're not stocked with excellent pressure shooters. Rather we have a bunch of guys who don't miss when they're open. The rest of the offense clicking means more open shots on the perimeter. Our distance shooting bolsters wins but it won't earn us many on its own. Until Martell returns, maybe...
The other good stat, though expected against Minnesota, was 8 turnovers tonight and only 5 points given up off of them. We didn't let the ‘Wolves get cheap points.
This was just your basic, good win against an overmatched team. But that's not to be taken for granted even at this late stage in the season. Well done.
--Yeah, B-Roy was all that tonight and a bag of chips. He turned in 19 points on 7-12 shooting with 5 assists. He probably could have had 30 had it been necessary. They couldn't stop him. He always seems to play well against Minnesota and I can't tell whether it's their defense or revenge.
--LaMarcus stayed too far out on the perimeter until the second half when he got jiggy in the lane a couple of times. That said, he and Joel kept Kevin Love to 2 points and 3 rebounds in 29 minutes. LaMarcus scored 15 points on 6-15 shooting and nabbed 10 rebounds. I told myself I'd give the man his "M" if he gave us double-digit rebounds 3 times in any 5 games and this did it, so there you go. LaMarvelous rebounding, sir.
--Joel Przybilla had only 4 points and 8 rebounds but he was probably on par with Roy as far as his value in this game. He was all over the place defensively. His 3 blocks were just the tip of the iceberg. He cleaned up a lot of leaked drives while still keeping the opposing interior players from scoring or rebounding on their offensive end. And this receiving relatively little help for most of the game. When you watch the pressure we put on Joel (and by extension on all of our centers) you start to understand why Greg Oden picks up so many fouls. It's amazing that Joel responds so well so often. We leave him out there to dry and he comes through anyway.
--Steve Blake also helped get us off to a good start with his offense and by setting guys up to score. He doesn't always get the assists but he knows how to get his teammates the ball where they can do something with it in the halfcourt. Neither of the backup point guards can do this well. Bayless hasn't mastered decisive passes other than off the drive and with Sergio it's either a dunk on the break or a three. 4-7 shooting, 9 points, 6 assists.
--Nicolas Batum was active on defense as always. 1-6 shooting, 2 points. He's starting to dribble a little more on offense, which is good.
--Rudy Fernandez was the scoring star off the bench tonight. This was one of his ultra-efficient outings with 18 points on 6-9 shooting, 3-6 from distance, with 3 free throws. He also had 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He is always dangerous when you're not tight on him and the Minnesota guards weren't tight in any sense of the word.
--Travis Outlaw had a sterling 6-10 night for 15 points but he also missed 5 of 7 free throws and had a couple of eye-searing gaffes defensively. He needs to score that many to stay above water. But he usually does and did tonight.
--Sergio Rodriguez was in a similar boat. He actually had quite the offensive night with 3-5 shooting overall, 2-2 from distance, and 4 free throws drawn for 12 points overall. I like how his personal offense has developed in the last couple months. I really like that "manhole" jumper in the lane where he pulls up short on the drive and cans it. That's going to be a valuable weapon for him against opponents who are shading him for the layup or pass. But the halfcourt offense stalled when he took over from Blake, saved only by a nice streak of three-point shooting (for which Sergio was partially responsible, as noted, much like a pitcher getting a couple of base hits to help his cause). Opponents are targeting him defensively still and it's working.
--Jerryd Bayless picked up some minutes partly because of Steve Blake's early foul trouble and partly because Sergio's set-up work wasn't fluid. He was a non-factor scoring but tallied 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He did a decent job of dealing with screens though he still got crossed a little. The part of his game that has improved most this year has been his weak-side and/or off-ball defense. He's recognizing what's going on out there more often. He shaded towards the play correctly a few times tonight, deterring drives or passes near his area. That's a good sign for those who are hoping he develops better court vision.
--Channing Frye had 12 minutes and hit 3-7 from the field for 6 points. He wasn't as active this game as he has been in the last couple.
--Shavlik Randolph had 5 minutes and he was quite active as always. I'm not sure about his ability to fill more minutes yet but he's rapidly becoming my favorite short-spurt player on the team. I love that the guy comes out hard every time. If he sticks around I believe he will become a solid fan favorite.
We saw once again tonight that Portland is an excellent team when you don't guard them. A wholly different test will come Sunday. That wouldn't be a critical loss, but it would be a darn important win.
Check out the muttering from the ‘Wolves at CanisHoopus. I noticed that some folks had a bee in their bonnets today because the author over there expressed hatred towards the Blazers and detailed why. Keep this in mind...there's no surer sign you're becoming a good team than the hatred of your fellow fans. List all of the teams you really, really dislike in this league. Whether your list is long or short, I guarantee Memphis is not on it. Newly-emerged marginal teams aren't hated, they're considered novel and cute and half-rooted for. When a team is good enough to get your goat repeatedly you start to hate them. Personally I look forward to the day when every fan from here to Botswana reviles us, curses our name, and casts aspersions upon us every day and twice on Sundays. Revel in it, folks.
Check out the Jersey Contest results and enter the next game right here. The announcement of the Jersey Contest winner is coming next, and what a doozy this month turned out to be.