The Blazers went through an extended-length practice today, spending almost two hours working behind closed doors before the media was let in. Once inside, the small crowd was able to watch former Mavericks assistant and current Blazers assistant Joe Prunty lead the instruction of the team's defensive adjustments for tomorrow night's monumental game against Dallas.
(Let me be the first to recommend poaching one of Utah's assistant coaches this summer.)
As you might expect, much of Prunty's instruction was focused on dealing with Dirk Nowitzki on various parts of the court. While the primary focus was on the player set to defend Dirk everything was presented from a 5 man unit perspective. Together, the starting unit walked through how they plan to collapse into the lane when Dirk gets the ball in some of his favorite spots and Prunty offered specific instructions regarding how to close out on the Mavericks' shooters once Dirk kicks the ball out of the post and it rotates. Andre Miller, for example, was instructed to close out hard on the sharpshooting Jason Terry after sagging near the paint on the weakside. And, if possible, Miller should close out on Terry in such a way that forces Terry to dribble to his left (his off hand).
Obviously any defensive scheme against a player of Dirk's caliber is a "pick your poison" affair. When Dirk receives the ball with back to the basket in the mid post, LaMarcus Aldridge was instructed to get up into his body with the express purpose of making Dirk use his dribble while his back was still to the basket. The theory is simple: Cut down Dirk's potential options when he turns and faces. More than just about anyone in the NBA, Dirk has the ability to be a deadly triple threat while facing the hoop: he can shoot over the top, drive either direction off the bounce or read the defense and pass instantly. The Blazers seemingly would prefer Dirk not to be able to turn and face with his dribble intact and would rather take their chances with him dribbling into the key with his back to the basket. Interestingly, Aldridge was also instructed not to show Dirk either direction in the post but to simply play him square. That shows a respect factor for Dirk's ability to turn and shoot over either shoulder. Something to watch tomorrow: How well does Aldridge execute this portion of the game plan? How easy and often is Dirk able to turn with his dribble intact? How diligent and careful is Aldridge in bodying Nowitzki without fouling?
As for Dallas's high pick and rolls -- a set they love to call using Terry and Nowitzki at the top of the key -- Aldridge was showing hard on the pick and the recovering with both arms in the air to make the pass from guard to big more difficult. The Blazers appear to want to encourage Dirk to abandon his comfort zone for catching (the area near the top of the key) and instead tempt him to roll to the basket, where center Marcus Camby is now waiting weakside. This would force a higher-risk pass in traffic, allow the team's defense time to recover and/or collapse and prevent Dirk from operating freely in isolation at the top of the key. This will be another fun wrinkle to watch play out tomorrow night. Is Aldridge able to limit the number of times Dirk finds his spot at the top of the key? How effective are the Mavericks guards in getting Dirk the ball on the move? How effective is the Blazers' team defense in reacting to Dirk on the move?
Lest we forget how well Nicolas Batum guarded Dirk Nowitzki earlier this season, you should obviously expect to see him guarding Dirk too. But with Caron Butler added to the Mavericks roster via a recent trade, Batum's life on defense just got that much more complicated.
Brian T. Smith reports Rudy Fernandez is unlikely to play tomorrow. Rudy was putting up some three pointers while I left but watched most of practice from the sideline.
The Blazers did not fire or threaten to fire anyone during or immediately after today's practice. To my knowledge.
Brandon Roy & His Huskies
Congratulations to dubblazer and his "straightcrack!" bracket for sitting in first place in the Blazersedge readers bracket contest after the NCAA's tournament's first weekend.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Washington Huskies return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006, when the team was bumped out by the University of Connecticut during a crazy game that saw the nearly permanently composed Brandon Roy assessed a costly technical foul.
Roy told me today that he still takes that loss, which ended his college career, "personally" but that he has worked to put it behind him in recent years. With some time to reflect on the loss, Roy was able to take some positives from his twin Sweet 16 runs as a junior and senior. "For the first time in my life I felt like I finally arrived," Roy said.
Asked for his advice to the current Huskies, who will look to upset the East region's #2 seed West Virginia Mountaineers, Roy palmed a basketball and said, "You don't know how many times you'll make it to that level again... Make the most of it. Win or lose, you want to walk off that court knowing that you gave it all you could. You don't want to regret that for a lifetime."
I had always assumed that Roy's unabashed UW fandom was simply booster pride. But it seems that Roy is not only rooting for his program's success but also vicariously seeking some redemption as well.
Update (4:47PM): The UW talk was was prompted by a note from Todd Dybas, who writes on Seattle PI.com. Check his full story on the subject here, which features some great insight from Lorenzo Romar and some more quotables from my chat with Roy at practice today.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter