Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good things happen when you get physical

In most instances, being described as having finesse is a good thing, but in the NBA, "finesse" is a code for "soft." Being described as a finesse team (which the Trail Blazers often are) is often another way of tabbing a team as physically weak, pushovers. It's not an entirely fair assessment, but it is what it is.

To be perfectly honest, the Blazers are probably too "finesse" for Nate McMillan's taste. Coach has noted more than a few times this season, usually after a loss, that his team was unable to match the physical intensity of the opposing team. It's not that surprising when you think about it. There's a certain amount of toughness that every player brings to a team, but it's something that must be taught as well, especially to a young team like the Trail Blazers. Jason Quick had a great blog post that spoke to this point.
Regardless of whether the Trail Blazers make the playoffs this season, I think this two-month stretch to end the season will be one that Blazers players and coaches look back at as the time when the team gained valuable experience.

Already the team has witnessed how good teams pick their game up a notch in February (see Houston, Utah, San Antonio, the Lakers). And all of the players have experienced about fighting through fatigue (a majority of the rotation players will easily establish career-highs in minutes this season).

And right now, they are learning how the pace, physicality and the official's whistles change in March and April, when many of the games are played in playoff atmospheres.

Inconsistency is still a problem, at least when it comes to playing physically night in, night out. But on some nights, when the mood hits the Trail Blazers just right, they're capable of banging with the best in the league. We got a bit of a taste of that last Friday, when the Blazers out-muscled and out-toughed the Lakers. Phil Jackson, coach of the Lakers, noted as much afterwards.
"There was some comment after the Portland game that the way they were physical with us was distracting our players," Jackson said. "They thought our players were wusses and they weren't going to be able to stand up and take a physical game.

"The challenge was sent out to our players. We talked about having to play the kind of game where the referees are not going to make a call. They have to let the physical nature of the game take its course, and you have to play through it."

If the Blazers are going to have any chance of making the playoffs, they're going to have to make every game a physical one. If that can bring that intensity every night, they've got a better than average chance in every game.

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