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Friday Practice Report

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A bunch to get to today as the Blazers went through their final practice in Portland prior to travelling to Phoenix tonight, where they will practice tomorrow and play Game 1 on Sunday evening.  For those wondering, Greg Oden is back in Portland and was spotted at the Practice Facility today but left before the media was allowed into the gym.

In case you missed it yesterday with so many posts going up fast and furious, here's a link to the Playoff Preview edition of The Dontonio Wingcast.  Alright, let's get right to it.

Brandon Roy

The Blazers handed out a press release today announcing Brandon Roy's successful knee surgery.  It reads in part...

Brandon Roy underwent successful arthroscopic surgery today on his right knee to repair a partial tear of the meniscus, it was announced by General Manager Kevin Pritchard.

Roy, who will be sidelined for at least 1-2 weeks, will not travel with the team for the first two playoff games at Phoenix.

Obviously the phrase "at least 1-2 weeks" jumps off the page, especially considering that it is significantly lower than the 4-6 week timeline Roy cited on Monday when he was planning to have the same surgery during the off season.

Asked about the significantly more ambitious timeline and the potential for a return during the playoffs for Roy, Nate McMillan stated, "We know that he is out for this series here. We're going to play without him for the first series."  Asked to explain the shortened recovery timeline, McMillan said, "We've got to listen to what the doctors are saying. That's the time frame they gave us. And a lot of times they base that off of what they did during the surgery."

As for Roy's future availability we know a few things. First, we know Nate McMillan repeated today that Roy will not play against Phoenix.  Second, we know that Roy's surgery was successful and that the doctors felt comfortable releasing an aggressive recovery timeline.  Third, we know that arthroscopic meniscus removal surgery is a relatively minor surgery.  As I mentioned Monday night, it's the type of surgery that leaves you feeling "back to normal" in very short order.  Fourth, we know that Brandon Roy is extremely motivated to play and will push to get back on the court as soon as possible.  

But lastly, and most importantly, we know that team doctors and training staff will treat Roy like a post-operative patient rather than a player attempting to play through injury.  Generally speaking, that means no court time until a full recovery has been made and normal strength in the knee has returned. Can that happen in two weeks? The doctors wouldn't say that it could if it wasn't possible.  But it's also probably not likely.  That's why the "at least" is included in the press release.

It's safe to feel more optimistic now that Roy will be able to impact playoff games than at any other time since it was announced he tore his meniscus. But we're still a long way from seeing #7 on the court this year. And, of course, his teammates have a lot of work to do against Phoenix.

Marcus Camby

Hardly a day goes by at the Blazers Practice Facility when a center is not receiving treatment on the training table.  Today it was Marcus Camby, who apparently twisted an ankle during practice and was having it heavily taped.  He expects to play Sunday and didn't appear to be in any significant pain.

Martell Webster

There's been a lot of discussion about how various role players, especially Martell Webster, need to step up in Brandon Roy's absence.  Let's not overlook the fact that Webster is set to play in his first playoff game on Sunday.  While he was around the team last year, the foot injury that kept him out for 81 games last season also prevented him from taking the court during the playoffs.  He hasn't experienced that intensity and pressure first hand.

Answering questions today, Webster's moxie was back in full form.  It was January Jubilant Martell not March Mad Martell.  He looked and sounded ready.  I asked Webster today what his mentality is like going into his first playoffs.  "I'm going to be a part of everything. I want to know as much as I can, absorb as much as I can so when I get out there I know I'm prepared,"  Webster said, sounding a lot like a college freshman eager to take his first final exam.

Webster underlined his belief that a lack of preparedness would not be an option by repeating that he would study the game plans so thoroughly that, "The only excuse I have is me. 'I didn't go out there and do what I was supposed to do.' Other than that, I've prepared myself, I know what I'm supposed to do, that's all that's on my mind."  It's an approach a number of his teammates shared last year.  Surrounded by experienced veterans this time around, Webster's transition should be relatively smooth.

LaMarcus Aldridge

If any Blazer is facing additional scrutiny this year, it's LaMarcus Aldridge, who got up some extra jumpers after practice and did his best to joke his way through the swarm of questions that met him afterwards.  Aldridge sounded confident and appeared to be focused on simplifying his approach and eliminating distractions.  

Aldridge did make a few interesting admissions.  First, that McMillan continues to push him to take on a leadership role. "Nate always challenges me to speak up and be more vocal, be more of a leader," Aldridge said, before adding that the veteran presence of guys like Andre Miller and Marcus Camby has diffused some of that leadership responsibility. Second, he made it clear that he expected to continue to see increased late-game touches. "If you all saw over the last few games," Aldridge noted, "late in the game Nate has given me more plays down low."  From his tone and facial expressions as he made that statement, it felt like Aldridge has warmed to his increased crunch time role. The Blazers will absolutely need that, as he will be asked to make more decisions with the ball late in games than anyone not named Andre Miller. 

Aldridge shook his head side to side when asked whether the Blazers needed him to take over and dominate the series. "Am I playing one against Phoenix?," he joked rhetorically before adding, "I'm a big key for it. That's why I said I have to do what I've been doing. Being solid down low, keep being aggressive and productive down low. I think that's what they want me to do. I'm not going to try to re-invent the wheel or do something new."

Finally, Aldridge noted that he expected to receive extra attention from Phoenix's defenders with Roy out for the playoffs but he also said this was nothing new.  "All season when we've played them, I think they've doubled me every game. I feel like I need to keep doing what I've been doing. Being solid, being on the block, giving us something solid down low.  When they start double-teaming us, find the open guys."

The Blazers will need LaMarcus Aldridge to play as smartly and confidently as he spoke today. 

Nate McMillan

Nate McMillan was predicatbly vague in his discussion of his strategic preparations for the series but he did offer a few nuggets.

Offensive Strategy

We want to play from the inside out and not play a perimeter game. We will get those shots and the inside out is penetrating the ball, going inside to LaMarcus and Miller and Howard and, whether they are playing man or zone, we want to attack the paint and not become a perimeter team.

If you check out the Hoop Data shot location rankings for the season, the Blazers are 28th in the league in at rim attempts and 28th in the league in attempts from less than 10 feet while they are in the top 5 in long 2s and in the top 10 on midrange attempts.  Those numbers don't exactly scream "inside out" approach.  Hopefully Phoenix's Feeble Fives -- Jarron Collins and Channing Frye -- help the Blazers send those rankings in a different direction.

Disparity in Pace

Any time you're trying to control the tempo, you've got to control the ball first.

McMillan's approach was pretty simple whenever the Suns fast-paced style of play was brought up:  The Blazers need to control the ball.  In the three games against the Suns this year, the Blazers had 10, 11 and 4 turnovers.  Interestingly, the 4 turnover game was actually the loss.  

Regardless, this is a make-or-break area for the guys that are stepping in for Brandon Roy.  If there's a single underrated aspect of Roy's game it's his ability to protect the basketball given how much his hands are on it and how many decisions he has to make over the course of a game.  Both this year and last year Roy averaged just 2 turnovers a game in 37 minutes a game. Combined, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster averaged 3.2 turnovers in 64 minutes a game, a rate similar to Roy's.  That will need to continue as their combined minutes, touches and responsibilities increase in Roy's absence.

Playing Against a Zone

They're going to make you make shots. It's no so much the zone, they packed it in, they forced us to make some shots, we didn't make shots. I'm sure they will go to that again... Whether you trap or zone up they are going to force you to make shots. We've got to make shots.

NBA coaches absolutely love the "We didn't make shots" excuse but in this case the numbers back it up.  The Blazers shot 44% and 58% in their two wins against the Suns; They shot 36% in their late-season loss.  Go cold again and forget about it.

Final Thoughts

We know where we are and who we are. That we're playing a very good team and we're playing without one of our best guys so they understand the position that they are in. We're starting out on the road where it's going to be tough but we've done some good things there.  Take it one game at a time, try to be sharp and get the first game.

Multiple players, including Rudy Fernandez, repeated that "Focus on Game 1" approach and pointed back to last year's opening loss to Houston in the Rose Garden. If the embarrassment from that performance sticks with you to this day, you are in good company.  Memories of that night seem like the ideal chip on the shoulder for an underdog, undermanned Blazers team.    

For great coverage of today's Phoenix Suns practice, check out Bright Side of the Sun.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter