Well, well, well...look who pulled out the win! And in convincing fashion too! Personally I thought the game was going to be ugly, brutal, and have quite the different outcome. I guess the Blazers had other plans. Nice! Being so wrong feels so right!
The Blazers got a big, whopping assist from Orlando tonight though. It may have said "Magic" on the uniform but they looked less like David Copperfield and more like that guy in third grade with the cloth rabbit picture disguised as the tag of his top hat. You know, the one who showed you every trick twice?
Look, Orlando, if you're not going to use that center can we have him? We'd give you a point guard and a nice perimeter player for him. Seriously...you're playing against Portland who right now is fielding exactly one guy above 6'9" and that one is not known as a tough guy or intimidator (and neither is he guarding your center). You're really, really telling me you can't find more than 6 field goal attempts for Dwight Howard? Honestly? It's not horribly surprising that the Magic attempted 30 threes for the game. They average 28 on the season. It was mildly surprising that they had already shot 25 before the third quarter ended. It was shocking--horrifying really--how few of those came off of touches by Howard first. This is a great example of how the same shots (statistically, anyway) can be fantastic or awful for your team depending on how you get them. Threes are just the thing for the Magic when Dwight has plenty of attempts. They're an abomination when he's not touching the ball. And everybody in blue tonight acted like he was allergic to leather until the last half of the last quarter of the game. By then it was too late. Since Howard hadn't put any pressure on the Blazers big men earlier the Portland frontcourt had plenty of fouls to give. In the last six minutes of the game they just cleaned his clock without penalty every time he got near the rim.
Look...for anybody who complains about Portland's offense, Portland's game plan, Portland's coaching and the players' response to it, take a long, hard look at the Magic's game tonight. That was a bad, bad idea. You maybe understand against Denver with their athletic, bullying big guys. But Juwan Howard watched Dwight for most of the night. And the Magic let him. For 31 minutes! Not good.
But you have to give plenty of credit to the Blazers as well. They did what they needed to tonight. Check it out:
1. The energy was high all evening. The Blazers moved men and moved the ball on offense. When Howard did touch the ball they came quickly and from the right spots to help. It looks like the players have finally figured out that they can replace at least some of what Oden and Przybilla brought to interior defense by moving their feet. Orlando was the team with guys shuffling around the same four square feet of real estate for 20 seconds of the clock while Portland defended them relatively easily. Portland also got to loose balls quicker. The Magic are supposed to have some great energy guys but the field belonged to the Blazers tonight.
2. The rebounding was superb given the potential for disaster in that area. Portland outrebounded the Magic 42-38, holding Orlando to 6 offensive rebounds. 7 of the 9 Blazers who played had multiple boards and the other two were point guards with 1 each.
3. Portland took care of the ball, committing 6 turnovers, only 1 by a non-ball-handler.
4. The Blazers weren't afraid to take their shot...an attitude which ESPN caught Nate encouraging the team in during a timeout huddle. Everybody got looks they could handle, usually after the defense had been shifted, everybody took them, and most hit them. This was particularly true of three-pointers, which the Blazers shot at a 52.4% clip on 21 attempts. The Magic just never closed out once the inside attempt was threatened and they had given help.
5. Despite their jump-shooting success Portland's players also had a good sense of when to attack the rim, or at least drive and pull up for a short one. With 1 point from the only real penetrator on the floor and no post players to speak of Portland still managed 32 in the paint overall. That's not an impressive tally but it's more than it could have been.
6. This was another night when multiple players stepped up on offense but, as coach is wont to say, nobody cared who took the shot.
7. The Blazers got tough. When they fouled somebody they fouled hard. Heck, Steve Blake even got double-T'ed with Dwight Howard for a jaw-jacking staredown. That's Blake vs. Howard. Not only is it gutsy, it's darn smart. Who would have objected from Portland's side if both had been tossed? It's really, really nice to talk about Portland laying wood on the other team and making them lose focus instead of the other way around.
The deciding factor in the game wasn't so much Portland's offensive output. It's that the Magic were consistently a quarter behind in their point total. They had 14 after the first and only 32 at the half. The Blazers' modest 52-point output seemed like a runaway freight train by comparison. The Magic upped the output in the final two quarters but not nearly enough. Portland won in a blowout with two quarters of 25, one of 24, and one of 28. Credit again the willing help, some timely fouls on Howard, and a lot of nice, nice rebounding.
Has LaMarcus Aldridge come to play lately or what? He only scored 14 points on 7-17 shooting (perhaps passing up some posting or lane-attacking opportunities he appeared to have easily) but he had 14 rebounds, 9 defensive and 5 offensive. Those are serious numbers for LaMarcus. Well done.
Martell Webster was the offensive star with 10 first-quarter points and 24 overall. He threw bombs from the arc all night, going 5-9 from range. But he also snagged 9 rebounds himself, making Webster and Aldridge a potent rebounding tandem. Who'd have thought that would be printed anytime this year?
Andre Miller and Steve Blake had Webster's back with 19 and 18 respectively, Miller going 8-14 and Blake 7-12. They showed the veteran's sense of when and where to attack. And once they realized that the Magic were rolling over they went for the throat. I'll have some enduring memories of Miller dribbling past his man and pulling up from this game. It was classic Good Andre. Blake went 4-6 from distance. Oh, and Miller had 9 assists and Blake 6. Jameer Nelson looked fancier than either and scored 15 points on 7-11 shooting himself but he didn't look any more impactful than these two guys.
Juwan Howard remains the Ageless Wonder, stepping up to at least throw a body into Dwight Howard (which is like bodying up a moving dump truck). He only got 6 rebounds but then Dwight only had 2 offensive boards, which was legitimately ¼ of what he could have had. 8 points for Howard too. The most impressive stat is the 31 minutes though.
Jerryd Bayless started and played 20 minutes. He didn't hit any shots, going 0-6, and went 1-2 from the line. He did have 3 assists, including a beautiful drive and dish which should eventually become his bread and butter.
Rudy Fernandez played the gadfly on defense as usual. He wasn't made to pay for it either. I love it when teams let him gamble and bother without any toll paid for the privilege. He had 10 points in 18 minutes and looked decent physically. Hopefully soon we'll be able to say he's all the way back.
Jeff Pendergraph drew the praise of the ESPN crew by throwing himself around for the 15 minutes he was out there. He had 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 fouls. He's also looking more assured with every game he gets under his belt. I realized tonight that it's been a couple weeks since I even thought twice when he took the court. I'm starting to say, "Sweet! Pendy! Now the energy and bruises will pick up!" We need a guy like Pendergraph on this team.
Dante Cunningham went 2-6 with 4 points and 2 rebounds in 12 minutes.
Despite Orlando's nincompoopery this was a great win. Tough, energetic, confident...what a world of difference between the Blazers we saw tonight and the teams we saw at the beginning of the season. If nothing else maybe this is the push we need going out on the road for the next stretch. It also might give the team reasons to believe even if Brandon's hamstring keeps him out for the trip. Standing ovation, slow and drawn out, for tonight.
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