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Media Row Report: Blazers 109 Raptors 98

Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said that his team's Sunday night opponent, the Toronto Raptors, were "desperate for a win," a reference to a losing streak that sat at 4 games following a Saturday night loss to the Golden State Warriors.  Unfortunately for Raptors fans, the Blazers' persuasive 109-98 home victory only further exposed and exploited that desperation.

The Raptors have defensive liabilities at virtually every position and the Blazers systematically picked those holes apart; It was as meticulous an offensive effort as the Blazers have put together in some time. In a free-flowing, back-and-forth game that one might have expected to favor the offensively-proficient, defensively-inept Raptors, the Blazers eagerly racked up points from all sides, getting out to a big first half lead and never looking back.

LaMarcus Aldridge appeared extra-motivated to begin the game. He sent a physical message by banging into his defenders chest-to-chest and he backed it up by putting up more than half of his shot attempts (11 of 21) and scoring more than half of his points (12 of 22) in the opening period. As the Raptors began to devote extra attention to Aldridge inside, things quickly opened up for Portland's perimeter players.  Andre Miller alternately drove into the paint and operated from the post, dishing off smartly for layups and dunks and finishing his own attempts at the rim. Brandon Roy struggled with his shot some (6 of 16 from the field after back-to-back hot shooting nights in California) but he commanded extra attention from Toronto's defense and made consistently solid reads, finding perimeter shooters who couldn't miss.  

One of those shooters was a red hot Nicolas Batum, who peacefully stroked wide open corner 3 after wide open corner 3, his defender too worried about the latest Miller foray or Marcus Camby put back to play him honestly on the perimeter.  Batum dealt the daggers and then smirked, as is becoming his custom, notching 22 points on just 9 field goal attempts, including 5 of 6 from downtown.  He then completely closed the door on the game's outcome with a forceful last-minute rejection of a DeMar DeRozan runner that symbolically sent the Raptors to their bus, hats in hand.

The Blazers offense was as well-balanced as it was efficient, the product of players who are finally settling into the most clearly defined roles and playing time allotments we've seen time this season.  With no players in real foul trouble and with all of his starters clicking offensively, McMillan was able to shorten his rotation to include just 3 substitutes playing heavy minutes (plus Martell Webster seeing 5 minutes of spot duty).  If this was to be a potential playoff rotation preview for the Blazers, it looked, for a night, practically magnificent.  

All five Blazers starters scored at least 12 points with Batum, Aldridge and Roy each topping 20.  Off the bench, Juwan Howard served as the rotation's third big man, playing steady basketball and clearing the defensive glass, while Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless kick-started the pace during the second quarter, playing alongside Roy in an effective three guard look. The result was 4 evenly balanced scoring quarters (32, 28, 25 and 24 points respectively), good ball movement (21 assists) and a comfortable flow that translated into hot shooting from deep (12 for 20 as a team) and a parade to the line (a remarkable 21-23 as a team from the stripe). The nonstop, mechanical offensive success overwhelmed the Raptors, who committed 11 fouls without managing a steal or a block during the first half and had no answers to any of the offensive problems the Blazers posed down the stretch.

The only real concern for McMillan tonight, it seemed, was holding on to his team's offensive lightning now that he has finally captured it.  "I like the rhythm, I like the feel with the guys right now," he noted after the game before referencing his team's long layoff until it's next game, Friday at home against the Washington Wizards. "These next four days, you can lose your rhythm, you kinda hate that you're not playing."   

For a team that's struggled through a rigorous schedule, dealt with more injuries than one can count and finds itself in a dogfight in the lower rungs of the Western Conference playoff chase, decrying the time off seems almost sacrilegious.  But when you play a game like the Blazers did tonight and another weak sister of the East looms on the schedule, it's understandable why the team would want to simply get on with it. 

Instead, they'll be able to kick up their collective feet and enjoy what will undoubtedly be the easiest week of the entire season.

Random Game Notes

  • Hedo Turkoglu was roundly booed during introductions and it didn't stop until he left the court.  The jumbotron and television cameras both caught a sign that read, "Mrs. Turkoglu, thanks for Andre," a reference to the Blazers' settling for Miller after failing to sign Turkoglu last summer when, reportedly, his wife helped convince him to spurn the Blazers for the more metropolitan Toronto. Tonight, Turkoglu went through the motions like so many slightly above average players on slightly below average teams. His shot was falling (4 of 5 from deep), he was careless with the basketball (4 turnovers) and he did not impact the game on the boards or on the defensive end.   Don't look now but it could be a really, really, really long 5 years.
  • Something I hadn't noticed during Chris Bosh's previous trips to the Rose Garden is how quickly and effortlessly he gets warm.  Bosh came out to get in a few shots roughly an hour before the game and didn't need any time at all to calibrate his motion or work into his touch.  Swish, swish, swish, right out of the gate.  It's difficult to think of another player his size that possesses both his immediate shooting feel and his easy textbook motion.  You could kidnap this guy at 3 AM, drive him hours into the wilderness, shine a flashlight into his eyes, spin him around in a circle 10 times and then give him a basketball and he would hit 8 of his first 10 from anywhere on the court inside 20 feet. His overall shooting on the evening -- 9 of 14 from the field plus 10 of 12 from the line for 28 points -- showed exactly why he is at or near the top of the league tables in offensive efficiency.  But just 3 field goal attempts in the 4th quarter as his team is trying to mount a comeback.  That's criminal.  
  • If there's one thing that really irks me about Bosh it is his squandered potential on the defensive end.  He can bang with most 5s, grab rebounds with any 4 and patrol the perimeter as well as many 3s.  Alongside a rim-guarding center or in the right system, his length, quickness and agility would have ultra-elite potential.  Tonight, other than a few brilliant flashes -- when he moved from defending his man on the left block out to above the foul line on the right side to defend a pick and roll in the blink of an eye, for example -- Bosh looked like a man who was sick of going it alone on defense and on the glass.  I can't really blame him for that.  Sure is frustrating to watch.  
  • I also wouldn't blame Bosh for finding his way out of Toronto this summer.  As Raptors fans are the separated-at-birth and smuggled across the border twins of Blazers fans, I would hate to say anything that might cross them in the slightest. But there has to be a better fit for Bosh's talents and a better collection of supporting pieces somewhere else. One can't help but wonder if Bosh -- in the midst of a 1-9 streak over the last 10 games, with his team back under .500 again -- is reaching that same conclusion.   
  • The presence of Marcus Camby defensively made life exponentially easier for Aldridge tonight.  With Camby harassing Bosh defensively and tying him up on the boards, Aldridge was free to work on Andrea Bargnani offensively and to track Bargnani defensively in a way that he wouldn't have been able to prior to the trade.  Camby's rebounding numbers (6) were modest tonight but Aldridge is the game's leading rebounder because Camby played alongside him for the majority of the game.   
  • Tonight we saw the return of another Nike Hoop Summit veteran, DeMar DeRozan, the 2008 game's MVP.  DeRozan has come a long way in the roughly two years since that game, which saw what seemed like his entire extended family swarm the Rose Garden's media room wearing matching blue shirts that read "Straight Outta Compton" next to a picture of his face. The NBA: transforming boys to men like daycare.  DeRozan's offensive skillset remains limited but is occasionally spectacular, as witnessed by a rim-shaking dunk over Brandon Roy that led to some sustained oohing and aahing.  DeRozan played within himself well enough, not forcing shots or committing turnovers, but it was almost to a fault.  You get the sense that much more will be required from him offensively as soon as he's ready and that the Raptors could really use him to be ready right now.  
  • On defense I liked DeRozan's commitment and effort. As you might expect for a rookie lining up against Brandon Roy, he didn't consistently get the results necessary to get a W or even the results needed to keep him on the court for true starter's minutes. But he closed out on shooters hard and regularly, getting frustrated when Portland's shots kept falling over his outstretched arms.  At one point, Raptors coach Jay Triano clapped encouragement for DeRozan's effort from the bench as another long shot went down over his fingertips. It happens.
  • Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me but DeRozan seems to have grown height wise too. Maybe it was because he was standing next to fellow rookie Patty Mills, who does wonders for everyone's relative height, as they chatted near the player's garage after the game. Speaking of Mills, I hope you saw this hilarious picture of him attending the Boys 6A final last night.  The man he's avoiding is not a stranger, it's his former coach at St. Mary's.
  • 7 members of this year's Blazers have rooting interests in the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament: Greg Oden (Ohio State), Joel Przybilla (Minnesota), Travis Diener (Marquette), Dante Cunningham (Villanova), Brandon Roy (Washington), LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas) and Mills (St. Mary's).  Roy, never subtle when it comes to his Dawg pedigree, showed up in the locker room after the game wearing his old UW jersey in white with his name/number on it and everything.  There was a noticeable skip to his step during pregame too thanks to Washington's Pac 10 tournament title win on Saturday. 
  • Please join the Blazersedge readers NCAA bracket contest here. I'm in there, a bunch of other bloggers are in there and you should join so you can beat us to a pulp.
  • Martell Webster: 5 minutes, 1 shot, 3 points.  Feeling the squeeze.  Very quiet in the locker room afterwards.

Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments

Consistency and Batum were keys to the win?

I think it's both of those things that you just mentioned. The fact that we're starting to build some chemistry and learn how to play with each other. We've adjusted some of our sets as far as where Brandon and LaMarcus and Miller are getting the ball. The continuity with these guys being together for the last few games, that's important. I think it's all of the above. They're pretty much connected, or starting to get connected, both offensively and defensively. Learning to play off of each other.

Batum's game

I thought he got back to focusing on the defensive end of the floor. He allowed the offense to come to him. I felt like in the last week or so he was pressing to match that performance in Minnesota and he allowed the game to just come to him. He's going to get open shots just because of who he is on the floor with. It's just a matter of knocking those down. Tonight he knocked those threes down. If he can continue to do that, which we think he can, it's certainly going to help us.

Getting out early makes life easier

Well, you know, playing 48 minute game is what we talk about every night. Building that rhythm and executing on both ends of the floor has been the challenge pretty much all season. And then putting teams away, when we have the opportunity to put teams away, doing that. And you know it's nice to go into Sacramento on a back to back knowing that that team is waiting for you and have a solid effort on both ends of the floor. Come home against a team that desperately needs a win, you know they are going to come out and fight, a team that can score, and you pretty much control this game. I like the rhythm, I like the feel with the guys right now. These next four days, you can lose your rhythm, you kinda hate that you're not playing. It's an opportunity to give our guys a rest, a much needed rest and get ready for Washington.

Big offensive rebounding advantage

Adjusting our sets and different type of attack as far as where we're getting Brandon and LaMarcus and things we're doing on the weakside when these guys have the ball, Miller when he has the ball. I think LaMarcus and Camby are doing a nice job of, if they don't get the offensive rebounds, they're tipping them out and giving us extra possessions. Nic has always been pretty good offensively. That's a lot of length. Martell when he's in there. Rudy. Andre's normally under the boards. We're doing a good job of attacking if that defense commits or overloads a side.

Best basketball of the season?

I think we're playing good. And again I think what we're seeing now is this team starting to get a feel, I'm starting to get a feel for them as far as our sets and our plays that we can run, things we can do on the floor and hopefully we get better. We should get better as we finish this season. 

Opportunity to move up in the standings playing like this?

We're basically focusing on ourselves and knowing that we are still in that 8th spot with Memphis working to catch up and Houston, those teams. But we also have an opportunity to move up and just take care of business. If we take care of business out on the floor we don't worry about where we finish as long as we're in the playoffs. If we're winning we'll have that opportunity to move up. If we stop dropping games you put yourself in danger of not getting in.

Offense is better with team motion than when slowed down with focus on Brandon?

Sometimes we do get a little stagnant but we're taking advantage of the defense. Brandon, any time we put him in any type of pin downs or pick and rolls they are double teaming. So we're spreading the floor and allowing him to create and force that defense to make a decision. That's part of the offense. Get Brandon, LaMarcus, Miller isos and playing off of them. They are guys who play better with isolations than they do with ... those guys don't move a lot.

Would you agree offense is better with motion?

It's Rudy that has the motion. We try to run Rudy around. We take advantage of Rudy when he's in the game. But that was Rudy. The same thing happened in Golden State. Rudy got 3s because Brandon was isolated or Miller was isolated and teams lost him. I ain't going to mess with what's working.


He's been a factor on both ends of the floor. On the offensive glass. With the tip ins and the offensive rebounds and then defensively we felt he could defend and that's what we expected to get from him. And we're getting there. I think our weakside is getting a little better, we can be better. That's what he does. Defensively clog, block shots, rebound the ball and offensively he's been big getting offensive rebounds or tipping it out and giving us extra possessions.

Getting Camby used to playing with first unit

Well because he's going to be out there it's very important just so we can figure out how to play with that group being out on the floor. Having this team and knowing this is the team we're going to finish with and not having to make all the adjustments from game to game with injuries, guys missing games, allows those guys to get into a rhythm and it allows me to get into a rhythm, as far as what we want to do and how we want to do it.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter