Sunday, November 30, 2008

This is starting to get interesting

It's hard to overstate how important it is to get a good start on a long road trip. A few weeks ago, a win going away in Orlando set the Trail Blazers up for what Nate McMillan has described as one of the best road trips of his tenure as Portland head coach. And now today, the Blazers, lead by the no-longer-slumping LaMarcus Aldridge, go into the Palace at Auburn Hills and get a 96-85 win against the Pistons to start this five-game east coast swing off right. Talk about your huge wins.

Aldridge took it to Rasheed Wallace, consider by many to be Aldridge's elder doppelganger, early and often, scoring 13 of his 27 points in the first quarter (the Pistons as a team only score 13 in the first). It's the third-consecutive game that the Blazers have come out and built a double-digit lead in the first period, and you can see how loose they play when they have success early.

The Pistons first unit was as bad (a combined -83) as the second unit was good. Guys like Rodney Stuckey and Amir Johnson got Detroit back into the game, but the Blazers, despite their youth, never panicked. They kept grinding it out and eventually went on to win by 11.

Brandon Roy, who continues to prove himself as one of the up and coming superstars in the NBA, finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds and described the effort better than I ever could.

Said Roy: “It was a good win for us. We’ve really struggled on the road against good teams this year but tonight we had a really good focus and we’re able to close the game. Even when they made a run to get the game close, we did a good job of staying together and getting what we wanted offensively. I think that is a sign of us maturing offensively, not a lot yet, but we are getting better."

And you can't talk about this game without mentioning Greg Oden. G.O. pulled down 8 rebounds in that all-important first quarter, eventually finishing with a career-high 13 boards and 11 points for another double-double. But more importantly, Oden finished the game +26, which was the second best +/- of all players behind Nic Batum. Batum also finished up a great effort with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in over 30 minutes, which is double his minutes per game average.

I've talked a lot during the podcasts about the Blazers winning the games they should win, but not yet having won the games that they shouldn't. Despite the recent success we've had in Detroit (save the beating they put on us in their house last season) I would not have penciled this game in as a win. But they got it, and to me, that's tangible proof that this team is well on their way to becoming an elite NBA squad.

By the way, that's four in a row.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-game notes: Blazers 101, Hornets 86

Another run-away win for the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Now it's back to the road for what looks like the toughest trip of the year. Take care of business away from home, and everything else will fall into place.

Here's tonight's post-game notes. Again, much respect to Communications Intern Aaron for the hard work.

HIGH FIVE
Portland is five games over .500 for the first time this season and the first time since Feb. 13 of last year (28-23) … The Trail Blazers’ 11-6 start is Portland’s best since 2000-01, when the team began the season 12-6.

HOME COOKIN’
The Trail Blazers are 7-0 at home to begin the season for the first time since 1998-99 (9-0) and the sixth time in franchise history.

CENTURY MARK
Portland is now 8-1 in games in which it scores 100-plus points … The Trail Blazers have reached the century mark in four of their last five wins and five of the past seven games overall.

HOT SHOT
Portland shot 53.6% (37-69) from the field, its second-best shooting mark of the season (55.6%, Nov. 21 at Sacramento)

HOME FIELD POINT ADVANTAGE
Chris Paul gave New Orleans its first lead of the game, 48-47, with less than a minute to play in the first half … Portland hadn’t trailed in more than a game and a half – since the fourth quarter on Monday vs. Sacramento.

THAT A ROY
Brandon Roy (25 points, 11-16 FG) has scored 20-plus points in 10 of the last 12 contests and 12 games total ... He has led Portland in scoring 12 times ... Roy added a season-high 10 assists.

SIZZLING STARTS
Portland has scored 30-plus points in the opening 12 minutes in its last two contests and three of its past four home games ... Portland has outscored its opponent by at least five points in the first quarter in each of its last four home games (all wins) ... Portland is 9-1 in games in which it lead after 12 minutes.

BATUM WAKES UP EARLY AGAIN
Nicolas Batum notched seven points (second most on team) in six first-quarter minutes Friday and counted a game-high tying 12 (5-7 FG) in the first half … The rookie scored a game-high 10 in the first quarter (4-4 FG, 2-2 3-PT) Wednesday vs. Miami … Batum tallied a career-high 15 points (6-9 FG) against the Heat and matched his second-highest scoring total of 12 vs. the Hornets.

PEJA GRABS SEASON HIGH
Peja Stojakovic’s 21 points (8-14 FG) marks his highest scoring effort of the season (previous high was 20).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Post-game notes: Blazers 106, Heat 68

There are alway plenty items of note when you beat a team by 38. Props to Communications Intern Aaron for putting this impressive list of notes together.

STRONG START
Portland has started the season 10-6 for the first time since 2000-01.

HOME COURT EDGE
The Trail Blazers have a 6-0 home record for the first time since 1998-99, when the team won its first nine home contests ... Cleveland is the NBA’s only other undefeated team at home.

EAST FEAST
The Trail Blazers are now 4-0 against Eastern Conference competition this season for the first time since 1999-2000.

WIDE MARGINS
Portland has now won three games by 20-plus points on the year after posting its second-largest margin of victory vs. Miami (38; 42 vs. Chicago) ... The Trail Blazers won four games by 20 or more points in 2007-08.

ON THE REBOUND

The Trail Blazers tallied a season-high 55 rebounds, including a season-best 19 offensive rebounds and a season-best rebound margin of 27 (55-28) … Portland’s 19 offensive boards were more than Miami’s defensive rebound total of 18.

HEATING DOWN
Portland held Miami to 34.5% shooting from the field (29-84), the lowest percentage shooting it has allowed all season ... The Heat’s 68 points is also a new opponent low.

PASSING THE ROCK
Portland shattered its season-best 26 assists with 31 dimes on the night … Sergio Rodriguez dished a Trail Blazers season-high 11 assists in just 20 minutes.

FRYE’S HIGH
Channing Frye tallied a season-high 17 points (7-11 FG).

FRONTCOURT FEVER
Portland’s starting frontcourt opened the game 9-for-9 from the field (all in the first quarter) [Batum, 4-4 (2-2 3-PT); Aldridge 3-3; Oden 2-2].

BATUM HITS EARLY AND OFTEN

Nicolas Batum tallied a career-high 15 points (6-9 FG) … The rookie scored a game-high 10 in the first quarter (4-4 FG, 2-2 3-PT).

ODEN DOUBLES UP AGAIN
Greg Oden finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds and now has four double-doubles in eight games since returning from injury this season.

HEATING UP EARLY
The Trail Blazers notched a season-high 37 points in the first quarter (12-18 FG, 10-10 FT) ... Its 20-point lead (37-17) marked its second largest advantage after the first 12 minutes this season (21, vs. Chicago).

BIG FIRST HALF
Portland’s 59 points in the first half marked its second-highest scoring effort in the first two periods (62, vs. Chicago).

11.26.08 Edition of the Trailblazers.com Podcast

This week's Thanksgiving edition of the trailblazer.com podcast featuring Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge (the blogger most preferred by the New York Media Elite) and myself, Casey Holdahl, of trailblazers.com is now available for your listening pleasure.

This week we talk about Oden's re-addition to the starting lineup, the return of Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge's shooting slump, where the Trail Blazers sit in the Northwest Division and Gavin's Hawaiian vacation. Give thanks!









Download the podcast (36.2 MB).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Video: McMillan, Roy post-game

The Trail Blazers locker room last night was about as somber as you're going to see after a win. It's great to get the W, but if this team really has aspirations of making the playoffs they have to perform better than they did last night against the Kings, especially the Kings sans Kevin Martin.

You'll probably notice in the video below that neither Nate McMillan nor Brandon Roy crack a smile during post-game comments. They know they got lucky, again. And they both know that luck is only going to get you so far in an 82 game season.



For more video from last night's game, check out the highlight reel put together by our very own Steven Moon and Joel Przybilla's post-game on court interview with Rebecca Haarlow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Where we stand statistically

Fourteen games into the season is probably a bit too early to start puffing out our collective chests regarding statistical achievements, but you've got to start somewhere. Here are a number of positive team and individual statistics where we rank among the Top 10 in the NBA. It's more than I would have expected.

TEAM STATISTICS

• A large part of our early-season success this year comes down to shooting the long ball. Portland's 42 percent shooting from three, good for second-best in the NBA, belies that fact. No surprised than that we're fourth in attempts per game and third in makes per game.

• The Trail Blazers' ability to take care of the ball is the other major reason for their better than expected record. Portland ranks 1st in fewest turnovers, averaging just 12.4 a game. That only tells half of the story though. A team that plays at a slow pace like the Trail Blazers is bound to have fewer turnovers (fewer possessions = fewer turnovers), but the fact that Portland is also 2nd in assist-to-turnover ratio proves almost categorically that the Blazers are, in fact, careful with the ball. Being 2nd in the league in opponent steals buttresses that claim.

• The Trail Blazers, by nearly all accounts, are not a good rebounding team. 23rd in total rebounds per game and a miserable 29th in the league in defense rebounds per game. Our slow pace (29th in the league to be exact), have something to do with that. There is a silver lining though: Portland is 6th in offensive rebounds per game.

By the way; you want proof that our slow pace is the real drain on our rebounding numbers? Here it is: Even though, as mentioned above, the Trail Blazers are on the low end of both defense and total rebounds per game, we're also among the leaders in the NBA in opposing team rebounding. Portland is 5th in opponent defensive rebounds per game (22.0), 3rd in opponent offensive rebounds per game (9.6) and 2nd in total opponent rebounds per game (37.6). The Cavaliers, for example, are the best in the NBA when it comes to opponents total and defensive rebounds, and are also one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA. One of the few similarities the Blazers share with the Cavs.

• The Trail Blazers are second in the league in PER ratings for shooting guards with a 22.4 rating. No surprise there considering Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez, our only shooting guards, have PER ratings of 23.05 and 18.64, respectively. Moreover, Roy and Fernandez are ranked 4th and 9th, respectively, in shooting guard PER. Only the Bulls have two players ranked in the top 20 in shooting guard PER.

• Keeping with the above theme, the Trail Blazers are fourth in the league in small forward PER with a 19.3 rating. I'm not complaining, but I'm not entirely certain how that could be correct considering our two small forwards, Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw, log PERs of 15.48 and 15.11, respectively. 82games.com's stats were updated today, so maybe Hollinger's numbers are old. I'm assuming that 82games.com tabulates positional PER as an average of each individual player's PER, but that could be an incorrect assumption.

• The Trail Blazers also crack the Top 10 (in fact, 10th to be exact) in center PER with a 19.3 rating. Greg Oden is 6th in the league in PER among centers with a 21.27 rating with Joel Przybilla coming in 11th among centers with a 18.40 rating.

• No telling yet what effect Przybilla's move to the bench will have on these stats, but through 14 games, the Trail Blazers bench has been one of the best in just about every statistical category. Portland's second unit is 4th in minutes per game with 99.2, 3rd in points per 100 possessions at 107.8, 3rd in points per game with 37.6, 5th in rebounds per game with 16.9, 4th in assists per game with 8.4, 3rd in steals per game with 3.4, 6th in blocks per game with 2.4 and (finally) 8th per game in plus/minus with a +31.

• The fact that the Portland bench plays so much takes a bite out of the starters per game numbers, but the adjusted stats show a starting unit that scores the second-most points per 100 possessions.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

• Even though he's still working on his stamina, Greg Oden has managed to lead all rookies in blocks per game. Really, there's no excuse for Oden not to have the lead among first-year players in this category.

• Back to Joel Przybilla for a moment. I don't believe he has enough attempts to officially qualify, but if he did, he'd be No. 1 in field goal percentage with a ridiculous 83%. Przybilla has only missed eight field goal attempts all season.

• Rudy Fernandez is fourth in the league in free-throw shooting percentage (94%). Again, there's no reason why Fernandez shouldn't stay in the Top 10 in this category.

• Brandon Roy isn't exactly a prolific scorer, but he is 7th in scoring per game among shooting guards. He's also 6th in minutes at the position, which is no shocker, especially considering he's playing some point guard and a little small forward every now and then.

• Though his percentage has a dropped a smidgen over the last few games, Travis Outlaw's clip from long-range still comes in at 51 percent, good for seventh in the NBA. Also worth noting that Outlaw has taken more three's than anybody ahead of him on that list.

• On the pure numbers side of the three-point line, Rudy Fernandez is tied for 2nd in the league in triples made with 33 and Steve Blake comes in tied for 7th in the NBA with 29.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today's Oden Wisdom: Shanghaied by Shaq

(Click to view full-size image)

It doesn't really matter who got the best of the Shaq vs. Oden matchup; what matters is that the Suns won their 11th-straight against the Trail Blazers. At this point in their maturation, the Trail Blazers still have to play their absolute best to beat good teams on the road. That didn't happen last night.

No quotes from Oden after last night's loss, but you knew the Big Aristotle was going to have a thing to two to say about the matchup. When asked about playing against Oden, Shaq noted that ...
"I’m the shogun. And before you get to the shogun, you’ve got to go through a lot of ninjas. He has to go through Dwight Howard and Yao Ming and by that time, I’ll be out of here.”
Can't argue with Shaq about that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Something for the Spanish speakers

My understanding of Spanish is limited to what little I retained from a course in the 10th grade, so the two videos below regarding Rudy Fernandez and his journey to the NBA are, by and large, lost on me. I'm sure it's enjoyable for those of you who do speak Rudy's native tongue.

It's worth a watch even if, like me, you're a monolinguist. Footage of Rudy as a long-armed youngster playing soccer and basketball are priceless. I appreciated Rudy rocking the Oregon Track t-shirt as well.





(Tip of the hat to the Willamette Week)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Today's Oden Wisdom: 'I roll hard'

(Click for a larger image)

Here is today's bit of Oden wisdom, uttered by the bigman last night after the win against the Chicago Bulls:
"We’re still trying to get to the point where I can get (the ball in the post) whenever. Defenses play differently every night, so we’re still working on that. We’re trying to figure it out. It changes game by game. We usually figure it out toward the end of the game and toward the middle of it, but you can’t tell each game. It’s different.

"We’ve got really good guards who are willing to throw (an alley-oop) up and always looking for me when I’m rolling hard. I know when I roll hard; I’m opening up a lot of things for everyone else.

"I’m just out here playing. I’m not worrying about anything else."
As a general rule, when you roll hard, you don't need to worry about anything else.

Spanish not-so-surprise

John Hollinger of ESPN.com (who has made quite a few appearances in the blog over the last few days) runs down the Top 15 surprises of the young NBA season. The play of our boy Rudy "I don't need a nickname" Fernandez comes in at lucky number 13.
OK, most folks aren't surprised by the idea that Fernandez can play, not after he lit up the U.S. squad in the second half of that epic gold-medal match in Beijing. But few expected this much this soon. Fernandez is fifth among rookies in PER at 19.74 and has played far more minutes than the four men ahead of him on the list.

Additionally, he has taken to the longer NBA 3-point distance much more readily than most European imports have. Fernandez is hitting 44.3 percent from downtown, and he's not just a long-range specialist, either. He has shown the athleticism to score in the paint and draw fouls, and he's at 94.4 percent from the line.

Although it remains to be seen whether his percentages can stay this freakishly high in the long term, Fernandez is likely to make other improvements as he acclimates, and if he does, he'll be one of the top dogs in the rookie of the year hunt.
Hollinger says he's surprised by Rudy producing "this much this soon" but I'm not. I knew it was coming.

The reason that pundits like Hollinger are astounded by how good Fernandez has been seems to boil down to Manu Ginobili. Hollinger implied during a chat this preseason that there was simply no way Fernandez could be better than Ginobili in his first season. "Down play your expectations," they'd say, because it's ludicrous to think Fernandez could average better than the 7.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2 assists that Manu averaged his rookie season.

At the time, I remembered thinking to myself, "Why can't Rudy's rookie season be more successful than Manu's?" Rudy was just as experienced on the international stage, a higher draft pick, and joined a team not nearly as veteran or successful as the '02-'03 Spurs. If anything, I'd be surprised if Rudy didn't have a better rookie campaign than Manu.

I'm not arguing that Rudy will or won't be the player that Manu is, but it's foolish to define Fernandez's ceiling based on that of Ginobili's. Sure they're both thin, hot-shooting swingmen who made their bones in Europe, but so what? That makes them similar, but not the same, and certainly not bounded by what the other did.

You so crazy San Antonio!

I'm sure you're all still feeling the glow from last night's 116-74 victory over the Chicago Bulls at the Rose Garden, but if for some reason you're in need of a chuckle this morning, check out this laugher of a trade proposal sent to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.
With the Blazers supposedly shopping their young talent on the bench (i.e.; Nick Batum, a.k.a. the “First-Name-on-The-Spurs-Board-in-2008”) for some veteran help in the backcourt, would the Spurs be willing to part with the quintessential coach on the floor, Jacque Vaughn, to get younger? — Sam, San Antonio

I’m not sure how actively the Blazers are shopping Batum, but I do know this: They would never make this deal. Not unless Kevin Pritchard got into some of Josh Howard’s stash, if you know what I mean.
Ahem.

I realize Kevin Pritchard once worked for the Spurs, and both he and Jacque Vaughn are ex-Jayhawks point guards, but as McDonald aptly points out, this proposal is coco-bananas. Sure, Batum is French and "Jacque" is a French name, but I don't think that's enough of a selling point. And by the way, Batum wasn't even born when Vaughn started his NBA career. That's not a joke. Actually, that was a joke. Nic Batum is in fact NOT 10 years old. But the gist is that Vaughn is old, Batum is not.

I bring this up not to make fun of those in the land of the Alamo, but to highlight how well Batum has been playing, especially at home (he's average 8.75 points/game at the Rose Garden, but just 4.25 on the road). When he gets off to a nice start, getting those tip balls and offensive rebounds early, the Trail Blazers seem to follow suit. Batum gets a steal and hits a three to start the game last night, and we end up running away with it. Hustle truly is contagious.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

11.19.08 Edition of the Trailblazers.com Podcast

Back from the road and straight into the studio to podcast for you, the true Trail Blazers fans. It's all about love and archived audio.

This week's edition of the trailblazer.com podcast featuring Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of trailblazers.com is now available for your listening pleasure.

This week we talk about the mostly-successful road trip, whether the squeaky wheel really does get the grease, Aldridge and Oden adjusting to each other, Travis Outlaw upping the stakes and Dave's holiday plans. Tis almost the season!









Download the podcast (45.5 MB).

I like those odds!

John Hollinger, he of ESPN.com and PER fame, released the first batch of his weekly NBA Playoff Odds (in mid-November? What took so long?), and the Portland Trail Blazers, according to a super-computer somewhere in Bristol, sit in the sixth spot in the Western Conference with an 88% chance of making the postseason. Time to just sit back and cruise for the next five months of the season, cause this baby's locked up!

Math is totally a Trail Blazers fan.

According to Hollinger, we've got a 28.9% chance of winning the Northwest Division (the Jazz are at 48% and the Nuggets at 30.3%), a 0.2% chance of getting the No. 1 seed, a 3% chance of making the Finals and a 0.8% chance of winning the whole thing. Our projected record is pegged at 47-38, which I'd be fine with, assuming a playoff birth is attainable with that result. Best case record according to Hollinger's laptop is a 61-21 record, with the worst case being 27-55. I would probably keel over from excitement or disappointment with either of those outcomes.

So we're on the inside looking out, at least according to the arithmetic, which is uncharted territory as far as recent history is concerned. Enjoy it for what it is, which is nothing.

Your Daily Oden Wisdom

Click to view the full size image

He may be a rookie, but G.O. still has many a wise thing to say. On last night's loss to Golden State:
"Those guys are really working hard out there. The thing was turnovers tonight. I had three myself in the first half. We are scrapping trying to get back and things didn’t go our way.

"We need to take care of the ball. We were in the game with twenty-one turnovers. That is twenty-one extra possessions. You can’t expect to beat somebody in their home gym by giving them twenty-one extra possessions. I have said it before, and I will say it every loss. If I don’t score and we win that is perfectly fine with me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The road loves Rudy

Outside of Greg Oden and sometimes Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez draws the most interest from the local press when the Trail Blazers are playing away from the Rose Garden. Rudy has already established himself with the Portland media, but the journos outside of the Rose City are still anxious to get their first bit of face time with rookie from Palma de Mallorca.

Sports Illustrated's Steve Aschburner, who's based out of Minneapolis, scribed this Rudy profile after our win against the Timberwolves.
"You see him start to do something and you think, Oh, no!'' said Oden, seemingly happy to be discussing a Blazers newbie besides himself. "Then you stop and say, 'Oh. Good shot, Rudy.' He's been doing that sort of stuff for years.''

Fernandez, 23, already is in his sixth full professional season and he actually signed with Joventut Badalona at age 16, making one-minute appearances (according to his NBA Register bio) in 2001-02 and '02-03. That put him at 157 pro games before he unpacked his bags in Portland in September, along with two Olympics and other international competition.

"You can definitely tell he's played professionally,'' Blazers guard Brandon Roy said. "He's been doing a great job for us. We might not need him to do his heroic stuff every night, but we do need it on certain nights.''

Our rivals in New Orleans also sat down with Fernandez for a quick Q&A.
Hornets.com: With NBA players now leaving for Europe, why did you decide to come over at this time?

Fernandez: My dream was to play in the NBA. Playing in Portland this year is going to be a great opportunity for me. They have great young players and it should be a great experience for me.

Hornets.com: Do you think Ricky Rubio is ready for the NBA?

Fernandez: I think he is intelligent for his position. I think he needs to improve more on his offense. I think in two or three more years he will be great.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Playing the game within the game

Fans of just about every team complain at some point about not getting their fair share of foul calls, but as Trail Blazers fans, you have a legitimate beef. Portland is 27th out of 30 teams when it comes to free-throws attempted, shooting an average of 22.5 freebies per game.

There are reasons. First and foremost, the Trail Blazers shoot a lot of jump shots. A lot. I seem to have misplaced the link, but I remember reading about a week ago that only the New Orleans Hornets shoot more jumpers than the Trail Blazers, which could be one reason why Portland goes to the line so infrequently. Fouling a jump shooter is the cardinal sin on defense, so most players try to avoid doing such a thing.

The Trail Blazers also have a very young team, which means they've yet to develop a profile among officials. Brandon Roy is getting to the point where officials know roughly what he's going to do and call fouls accordingly, but no one else on the team has that kind of credibility with the guys in gray. Maybe that will change when we've had some long-term success, but don't expect it to happen anytime soon.

But there's another reason why the Trail Blazers are not getting to the line, and it comes down to something Nate McMillan calls "the game within the game."

To hear McMillan explain it, the game within the game comes down to selling yourself on the court in order to draw a foul. You've seen it hundreds of times. It's throwing your arms up after you run into a screen. It's yelling. And yes, it's flopping.

"Flopping is part of it," says McMillan. "Acting is a part of it. And yelling. You go to the basket and you feel a hand on your body, yell. The officials sometimes will call the yell and not see the foul. Right now we’re just playing through that as opposed to playing the game within the game."

Basically the Trail Blazers are too proud to beg. No one aspires to be a flopper, especially young players who are trying to forge a toughness on the court, but with the proper persuading and coaching, guys are starting to come around to the idea of playing the game within the game.

"We have to do a better job of letting the referees know what’s going on," said LaMarcus Aldridge. "I think we have a tendency to try and go through it. You know, be strong and not look soft, but sometimes you’ve got to flop a little bit. Well, I wouldn’t say flop, but make it more obvious that the guy is grabbing and holding you.

"It’s just knowing how to do it and when to do it. I think older teams, they know when someone is pushing, just flop with it. I think as we get older and go through this we’ll learn more."

Hopefully they'll continue to learn on their own, but McMillan isn't leaving their tutelage to chance.

"You can show them some of the things that teams are doing as far as being physical and grabbing and holding and tying you up," says McMillan. "You’ve got to throw your arms up. You’ve got to act to get that officials attention that they're holding as opposed to just giving in to the aggressive play.

"It’s all apart of it. There’s a little acting involved. There’s a game within the game."

Power Ranking Recap: November 17

Monday's are for power rankings. After winning five of the last six (three of four on the road!), I'm assuming we'll see our beloved Portland Trail Blazers rise up rankings.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com
has Portland ranked 11th, up three spots from last week. Comments Stein ...
Question No. 1: Will Roy's buzzer-beating heave to beat Houston go down as the shot that started Portland's season? No. 2: Shouldn't the injury-obsessed media make a much bigger deal about Oden's two straight quality showings?
Yes and double-yes.

The Trail Blazes actually moved down in John Hollinger's rankings, bumping one spot from 16th to 17th. My understanding is that Hollinger's formula hates close wins, so the fact that the Trail Blazers have won their six games by an average of 4.5 points probably doesn't bode well in the eyes of Mr. Hollinger's computer.

Marty Burns of Sports Illustrated puts the Trail Blazers at 10th, up two spots from last week. Burns writes ...
Ready to rip in Rip City? Greg Oden is back in the lineup, and they have won five of six -- including three of four on their current road trip that ends Tuesday in Golden State. Oden has averaged 12.0 points, 9.5 boards and 3.5 blocks in just 24 minutes in his last two games.
Those are very nice numbers for Mr. Oden, but jumping to conclusions when he's doing well is no better than jumping to conclusions when he's not.

Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie
puts the Red and Black at 9th thanks to the addition of one defensive presence.
The worst defensive team (29th) that nobody knows about ... wait, I'm sorry, did someone order a 7-footer with skills?


I realize it's not a team power ranking, but it's still worth noting that Mike Kahn of FoxSports puts Brandon Roy at No. 9 in his MVP watch.
So much attention has been heaped upon the Blazers of late, but most of the focus has been on the plight of 7-footer Greg Oden. In the process, everyone may be missing the boat on Roy, the unequivocal leader of this team on and off the floor. His numbers -- 21.0 points, 5.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds -- are good but don't tell the story. His demand for the ball, making the right play and being incredibly clutch down the stretch give coach Nate McMillan his coach on the floor and confidence to everyone around him. For all the young talent, including Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez, none of it works unless Roy has the ball in his hands.
He's the straw that stirs the drink! The straw I tell you!

More Roy. Chris Colston of USA Today has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 in his/her rankings, with this comment about our starting shooting guard ...
Brandon Roy emerging as star in 3-1 week.
Using the word "emerging" would indicate that Roy wasn't already a star. Roy's not a superstar, but he is most definitely a star.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Aldridge about face (up)

This team is way past moral victories, but that doesn't mean there weren't positive to be taken away during the 87-82 loss to the Hornets last night. Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojackovic were all relatively contained, Greg Oden obviously had the best performance of his young NBA career, and LaMarcus Aldridge, despite not having a great night from the field, succeeded in changing his approach on offense. After much pleading from Nate McMillan and the rest of the coaching staff, Aldridge finally got his face-up game going.

There is something to be said for having a solid back-the-basket game, and that's always going to be a part of Aldridge's répertoire, but LA's body type (long), form (high release) and skill set (jump shooting), along with the integration of Greg Oden, lead Nate McMillan to believe the Trail Blazers would be best served if Aldridge would face-up a bit more on offense.

"What I would like to see him do a little more probably is face-up and use his shot –because he can shoot the ball – as a threat," said McMillan before Friday's game in New Orleans. "It’s OK to play with your back to the basket, but he’s a serious threat when he’s facing that basket and I think he can drive a guy more from that position than fading away."

It causes all kinds of trouble for defenses when Aldridge gets low post position and is able to face his man up in or around the block. At that point, LA can raise up and "get shot," as the coaches and players often say, and if the double-team comes, Aldridge faced-up is in a much better position to kick out to the open man.

Aldridge knows all of this, and as we say last night, especially in the first half, he's taking the advice of his coaches and applying it on the court.

"I just told myself I was going to face-up more (against New Orleans)," said Aldridge. "They preached it to me enough where I think I should.

"When I face-up I can see if they’re going to double-team me. In the first half they really didn’t double-team at all -- I don’t think they double-teamed until the fourth. So I think facing up gives me a better picture of the floor and I can see when the doubles start to come to me."

With the floor spaced with shooters on the perimeter and with Oden in the block, being able to see those double-teams gives Aldridge many more options than if he were operating with his back to the basket. It allows him to be a distributor and a decoy, which in turn opens up better looks for LA, as it forces the defense to reconsider doubling, which in turn opens up the back to the basket game.

Expect to see Aldridge continue to focus on facing up, starting tonight against the Timberwolves, as McMillan is still dead-set on running the offense though his young power forward.

"We want to go into the paint with (Aldridge) and establish that just like we did last year," said McMillan. "Go to the paint early and see if we can get something inside. Teams are giving him different looks where they are fronting him, double-teaming, playing him straight up; they’re digging and bluffing. So he’s still adjusting to different looks that teams are giving him. But I want him to be the focus, both he and Brandon, with that first group. We’re going to play through those guys."

Video: McMillan, Oden post-game

Greetings from Minneapolis, the last stop on a four game road swing. Technically I guess it's a five game road trip since we've got Golden State in Oakland on Tuesday, but the team is heading back to Portland tonight, resting up on Sunday, then flying out to the bay area on Monday. You can't overestimate the importance of sleeping in your own bed.

Here's some post-game video of Nate McMillan and Greg Oden from last night's game. Not to many long faces in the locker room, as the team knows they could have won last night in New Orleans. That's not to say that anyone was satisfied with the result, but it could have very easily gone the other way.



(Sorry for the poor video quality. I think my camera is about ready to call it a career so she can spend more time with her family.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nate McMillan pre-game vs. Hornets

What is your defensive preparation for this game?

"Very similar to the Miami game were we want to commit three guys to the pick and roll. We want to commit the guy on the ball, the four and the five to the pick and roll. We’ve got to stay tight and show a tight paint but we’ve also got to recover to the three-point shooters.

"Now the guy that will probably be open is should be open is West, who is capable of knocking down the two."

He’s had big games against you guys.


"Well, he and Paul are on a string together. But it’s very similar to Miami. Beasley was the guy that, if you’re trying to take away that paint and force them to pass around the perimeter, somebody is going to be left open. We would much rather those guys shoot the two ball than the three ball. So we don’t want to leave West open – definitely not Stojackovic, Peterson and Posey. We got to get out to those guys. But we want to try and shadow Paul, commit three guys to that."

West probably will get the 17-foot jumper.


"He may get the 17-foot shout with closeout. That’s what we’re looking at. Then we’ll make our adjustments as the game goes on if that starts to hurt us. Beasley knocked down some shots but for the most part I thought we did a pretty decent job of keeping Wade out of the paint. He got there in the second quarter, went crazy, but that’s going to be the gameplan tonight."

What are your thoughts on LaMarus Aldridge's offense. It seems like he's not clicking just yet.

"Well, we’re going to go to him. We want to go into the paint with him and establish that just like we did last year. Go to the paint early and see if we can get something inside. Teams are giving him different looks where they are fronting him, double-teaming, playing him straight up; they’re digging and bluffing. So he’s still adjusting to different looks that teams are giving him. But I want him to be the focus, both he and Brandon, with that first group. We’re going to play through those guys.

"He’s doing some good things. When he’s got it going, he has it going. I thought in the Minnesota game, where he had a bad first half, the second half he got his rhythm and we keep coming to him and he found his rhythm, which was good.

"What I would like to see him do a little more probably is face up and use his –because he can shoot the ball – shot as a threat. It’s OK to play with your back to the basket but he’s a serious threat when he’s facing that basket and I think he can drive a guy more from that position than fading away."

The play of the second unit has been great this season.

"They’ve been good. They’ve been very good and we’re going to need them to continue to be good. I thought last year when we had one group playing well, we didn’t win as much. But when we had both groups clicking, we were able to win some games. I think that’s an advantage for us, that the second group can come in and they really kind of have created their own identity as far as sets that we’re running and things that we’re doing. They’ve come in and just been a spark, either built a lead or gained the lead. We want them to be aggressive. We’ve got some aggressive players with that group. I think they are more of an up-tempo team than the first group so we want them to continue to attack."

Are you satisfied with your rotation?

"We’re still working on it. We’ve got some combinations that we can go with down the stretch and it’s like the one, two and the three. Do you finish with Travis at the three or do you go Rudy and Brandon at the three with Rudy and Blake at guards. What I’m doing is, OK what’s working? What has worked for us lately is Travis at the four with LaMarcus, Rudy, and Brandon. What I talk to the guys about is, you’ve got to allow us to coach and you take advantage of our combinations. We can put some different combinations out there, and it may not be the same guy every night, be ready"

Road tripping with Channing

During road trips, we'll periodically check in with Trail Blazers forward Channing Frye to get his impressions of each NBA city. This installment focuses on Orlando, Miami, New Orleans and Minneapolis, the four stops on the current road trip.

Orlando

"Orlando is kind of tough. You would think Orlando would be a great place to go out and enjoy, but it’s really more touristy than I thought. I think Orlando is a great place; it’s just really quiet, a lot more quiet than I would have thought. It’s nice, just real touristy. It’s all based around Disney World. It’s nice, but not one of my favorites.

"I went to Disney World once when I was a kid. It was amazing. So for that I think (Orlando) is great. But to just come in and stop it’s not one of the cities where you’re like, ‘Oh great, we’re going to Orlando!' It’s pretty boring."

On an off night in Orlando you should ... "Go to the movies"

Miami


"I mean, what are you going to say? I think Miami is right up there with New York and L.A. Everybody always talks about the women in Miami, but I think everybody there has a certain attitude to them, a sense of pride.

"It’s a beautiful city. The food is great. The atmosphere is great. The weather is awesome. It’s a little dirty and there’s a lot of construction at times, but if you’re a single guy or a single girl, that’s the spot to be I guess.

"Anywhere you go is a hot spot. South Beach is definitely a hot spot. I went to this sushi joint that was some of the best sushi and lobster I’ve ever had in my life. I’m a big sushi guy."

On an off night in Miami you should ...
"Go to South Beach. You’d be stupid not to, not only because of the food but the ambiance and just beautiful people everywhere."

New Orleans

"New Orleans is a weird place. It’s real southern. It just looks like – I’m trying to say this in the nicest way possible – everybody looks weathered, like they’ve been through a lot and they are just now starting to come back. You know what I’m saying? Like they took too long of a nap.

"But the food out here is ridiculous. The people are extremely nice. We don’t get to go out that much due to security reasons, but I think other than that, you definitely get that southern feel here. It smells a little weird too."

On an off night in New Orleans you should ...
"Go to a restaurant. You definatly got to go to somewhere nice and really taste the Creole food."

Minneapolis


"I don’t mind Minneapolis actually other than it is so cold that it hurts your face. The hotel we stay at is top of the line. Again, I would say the people there are very nice. The crowds at the games aren’t exactly the best.

"I went out once or twice in my four years in Minneapolis and it’s not too bad. The people don’t really bother you. They more or less want to go and get hammered and you just want to chill and watch them get hammered. It’s not too bad. I don’t mind Minneapolis because the hotel is awesome and it’s right next to the mall so you can go to the movies."

On an off night in Minneapolis you should ... "Go to the movies again. The mall is right there and there’s nothing else really spectacular other than that. Hopefully there’s a good movie out."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jersey up for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital

Before assistant general manager Tom Penn was helping the Trail Blazers orchestrate trades to acquire the likes of Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum, he was cutting his front office teeth with the Memphis Grizzlies. While living in the River City, Penn developed a relationship with the St. Jude's Children's Hospital, a internationally recognized facility known for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Penn has not only continued his work with St. Jude's during his time in Portland, but he has also brought the Trail Blazers organization into the fold by continuing to work on behalf of St. Jude's to ensure that no child is ever denied treatment because of a family’s inability to pay as St. Jude's covers all costs not covered by insurance for medical treatment rendered at the hospital. Causes don't get much more altruistic than that.

You can get involved in helping St. Jude's provide world-class cancer treatment to children by placing a bid on a signed rookie jersey during the Rookie Relief Auction. The Rookie Relief for St. Jude auction was created out of the partnership between the NBA Summer League and St. Jude. The auction will be the cornerstone of annual fundraising program featuring top NBA rookies. The official announcement of the partnership was made during the NBA Summer League’s Tip-Off Reception on July 10 at the Platinum Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas.

Many of the players Penn helped to bring to Portland, including Greg Oden, Rudy Ferandez, Jerryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum have donated signed jerseys which are currently being auctioned off via EBay with the proceeds going to ensure St. Jude's can continue to provide the same level of care and research that have already helped so many. Martell Webster also donated a signed pair of shoes to the cause.

The auction has already begun and runs through November 20. Go here to bid on Greg Oden's signed jersey, here to bid on Bayless' jersey, here to bid on the Fernandez jersey, here to bid on Batum's and here to bid on Webster's shoes. It's a great way to pick up some one-of-a-kind Trail Blazers gear while also helping out a worthy cause.

And I usually wouldn't recommend buying the jersey of a non-Trail Blazer, but since the money is going to a great organization, consider perusing and purchasing a jersey of one of any number of 2008 rookies. For all of you Lake Oswego fans out there, Kevin Love's jersey is up to auction, and the Oregon native has agreed to match the donations made during the auction up to $12,500. That's a great assist from the local boy.

Rudy Fernandez deflects your praise

Greetings from New Orleans. It's pushing 3 a.m. here in the Big Easy, but it's always hard to sleep after watching your squad gut out a huge win on the road. Sleep is for losers, and the Portland Trail Blazers are most decidedly not losers. Especially not today.

Much of tonight's (or rather, yesterday night's) 104-96 win against the Heat can be attributed to the play of Rudy Fernandez. It seems like every game, Rudy does something to drive the opposing defense nuts. Leave him alone in the corner, he'll drain the triple. Close out to contest the three, he'll go around you and finish with the dunk. Try to get into him, he'll rub and cut to the hoop for the alley-oop. Try to anticipate the drive, he'll flare screen for the fadeaway three. He's the headiest Spaniard since Cervantes.

He's also quite modest. Try to pay him a compliment or get him to talk about his stellar play, and his responses always come back to giving credit to the team while taking none of the spoils for himself. During his post game remarks which lasted no longer that five minutes, Rudy continually dodged speaking about his career-high 25 points in favor of praising his teammates. Observe.

"I think it's the team. The teams is play great ... I think everybody is important. Today me, last day last game Brandon, last game LA. Sergio played great today. You know, it's everybody ... It feels good, but I feel good for the team, you know? ... I think it's Travis and Brandon is very good defense on Dwyane Wade ... I think it's together we play good ... I think it's important that today we win."

Luckily, Rudy's teammates have his back when it comes to making sure he gets his propers.

"I really love to play with him," said fellow countryman Sergio Rodriguez. "He's totally ready for the NBA. No question about it. He had a big game for us."

(Sergio had the quote of the night when asked by Jason Quick about how the latest Rodriguez-to-Fernandez alley-oop came to be: "I saw him in the face.")

Brandon Roy, the unquestioned leader in the Trail Blazers locker room, also heaped praise on his fellow shooting guard.

"He was great tonight," said Roy. "Sometimes I catch myself watching him and he's shooting floaters all-net. And just to watch how he's talking trash. I loved it. I loved every minute of it. Rudy's a competitor.

"I can't say it surprises me because I watched him in the Olympics and I'm like, 'This dude is bigtime!' So I'm just glad he's on our team and bringing that same enthusiasm to our team and that same confidence, because I know when he has the ball, Rudy going to make a play. That's Rudy. He's out there talking and having fun and I just love watching him play. If I was a fan, I would love to watch Rudy Fernandez play."

I think you could go so far as to say that if you don't like watching Rudy Fernandez play, then you're categorically not a fan, of the Trail Blazers or organized basketball.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Video: Nate McMillan post-game

Here's what Nate McMillan had to say after his team defeated the Miami Heat 104-96. Typical Nate: never too high, never too low.

Nate McMillan pre-game vs. Heat

On the health of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden

"Everybody is ready to go. Greg is ready to go. Brandon is ready to go. All of our guys are ready to go."

How did Roy respond to treatment after shootaround?


"He's ready to go. He got some treatment a while ago, so there's still something there, but he'll try and play through it.

"There's still some soreness there. The last day and a half he's been getting a lot of treatment to try and loosen it up. What I try to do is talk to the trainer and the player and both said he'd be ready. So we just continue our plan with him in the lineup."

Do you feel like you're starting over regarding adding Oden to the rotation?

"We are adding him to what we're already doing and we're going to have to fit him into what we're already doing, make those adjustments again because he's a part of what we want to take advantage of on both ends of the floor. Having him back in the lineup will be somewhat of an adjustment, so we'll try to work him in slowly."

Do you have a limitation on the number of minutes he'll play?


"We haven't come up with a number of minutes, but if we can get him 15 to 20 minutes tonight I think that would be a good number."

Do you try and call plays for Oden or just let the offense come to him?


"We're going to play basketball. The bottom line is we're going to try and win this game. We have a team of guys who need to play well; it's not just about Greg and Greg's return. Greg will fit in and we will slide him in and try to put him in situations where he can be productive, but we've got other guys that need to play well also."

Are you going to matchup Nicolas Batum with Dwyane Wade?

"I'm thinking that will be they way they will go; Wade on Nic and Marion, if he plays, on Brandon. So we will look at that matchup. Nic will have (Wade) and a few of our other guys will too. Travis will spend some time on him. Brandon will see time on Wade. And possibly Blake.

"So we'll make adjustments during the game that we fell we'll need to make, but Nic right now will start on him."

How do you think Batum has responded to checking some of the top guards in the league?

"One thing is he's been very aggressive. He got into foul trouble in Orlando against Turkoglu, but we want him to be aggressive. He's long and athletic and does a god job of moving his feet. So it's something he has to work on and adjust to the league and what they're calling on him. But I think the more time he spends out there, the better he'll get at defending those guys. He's starting at the small forward position and we need that wing to defend."

Roy, Oden and everyone else will go against Miami

If you're watching ESPN, as I am now here in Miami, you already know that both Brandon Roy (back spasms) and Greg Oden (foot sprain) are going to play tonight against the Heat. Ditto for LaMarcus Aldridge (neck) and Joel Przybilla (ankle). Bottom line is everyone who made the trip will be at Nate McMillan's disposal tonight.

But the way McMillan is going to use Oden will be different than how he was utilized before he was injured in the opener against the Lakers.

First off, Oden will come off the bench, with the plan being to play him between 15 to 20 minutes if necessary. When asked if coming off the bench removed some of the pressure to perform, Oden disagreed with the notion.

"There's still pressure out there and I still got to do my job out there," said Oden, "so it's no different."

McMillan noted that he wanted to ease Oden back into the lineup and that he would continue to bring the rookie center off the bench for at least "a few games" before reevaluating the rotation.

But the more significant change, at least during Oden's initial return, is the way McMillan envisions Oden's place in the offense. During training camp and at the start of the season it seemed as though running plays for Oden, allowing him to get the ball in the post, was one of the priorities. But now that the season is in full swing, the onus, according to head coach Nate McMillan, is on Oden to fit into the team, not the other way around.

"I want us to play as if he is not here," said McMillan after shootaround. "Keep playing that way. He needs to catch up to where we are and what we are doing, and not us getting in atmosphere of being relaxed and expecting him to do all these things. He needs to fit into what we are trying to do and how we are playing. We need to continue to move forward as far as what we need to do.

"He's coming back, but we got to continue to work and improve and get better and he needs to catch up to where we are."

If the team were struggling, maybe McMillan would be more concerned about calling plays for Oden, but coming off their best performance of the season on the road against Orlando, the thought seems to be that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"You can look and say, 'Well, the big fella' is back,'" said McMillan. "And all the sudden you're not as aggressive. You're trying to get him off or you're waiting for him. We can't do that. Brandon and LaMarcus need to stay aggressive. We need Greg to come in defensively and give us some things: rebounding, defending the basket. But he needs to fit into what we're doing."

LaMarcus Aldridge's pain in the neck

Lost in the discussion of Greg Oden's healing foot and Brandon Roy's spastic back is the news that LaMarcus Aldridge's neck isn't feeling so hot either.

"My neck is still sore," said Aldridge. "I’m going to try and get a massage today and hopefully that will loosen it back up and get it to where I can move it from left to right."

Aldridge, who's first on the team in minutes per game and blocks and second in points and rebounds, woke up in Orlando on Monday morning unable to move his neck. Chalk this injury up to life on the road. Aldridge doesn't remember injuring his neck; he just knows it hurts to move it. It's one of those risks you run sleeping in hotel beds that weren't made for 6-11 power forwards.

"I can’t really look left to right," said Aldridge. "On one of my layups (against Orlando) I couldn’t really look up at the rim. The things that you take for granted are actually hard; when you’re on defense looking left to right, trying to look up when you shoot it. All of those things. It was hurting Monday night, so I’m trying to get it fixed so I can do all of those things (against Miami)."

LA received massage treatment throughout the game against the Magic, though the infirmity didn't keep him from recording his second double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) of the season, which begs the question: How do you score and board without being able to move your head?

Said Aldridge: "I think most of my shots were jump shots, so you just got to look straight and shoot it."

Say what you want about the Trail Blazers being a jump shooting team, but at least against Orlando, Aldridge's ability to get buckets without getting a clean look at the hoop paid off.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Talking practice in Miami

I was going to pen a recap of today's practice here in Miami, but it looks like Mike Barrett and Jason Quick pretty much have that covered.

So rather than rehash was others have said (Oden dunked, Roy, Przybilla and Aldridge sat out) I thought I'd let the players speak for themselves.

NATE MCMILLAN

On Greg Oden's status for Wednesday's game against Miami
"We want him to play. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. I’ll talk to Jay and talk to Greg and hopefully he can give us a few minutes tomorrow."

On the advice he's given to Oden
"I think he needs to just get to the floor. I tell him, just play. You know what you can do out on the floor. Go have some fun and play. Enjoy it. Don’t think about everyone else’s expectations. What do you want? What do you want to become? Just go have some fun.

"Today was a good sign to see him back out there working and running with the team and able to go through the practice. It was a short, quick practice, but it was hard. I wanted to do enough to get him up and down the floor."

On Brandon Roy's injury and his status for Wednesday
"I think Brandon will be ready to go. We’ve got another day. We’ve got a day. We’ll see. I know he was hurting last night. For him to ask to come out of that game -- and basically I was need him just to throws the ball inbounds -- I knew it was pretty painful. Backs are funny things."


GREG ODEN

On returning to practice
"It felt good just to be able to get out there. When we first started it wasn’t looking to good. I got my shot blocked about twice. We lost the game because Shav blocked my shot."

On whether he'll play on Wednesday against Miami
"It depends on how it feels tomorrow. We’ll check to see how it feels when I wake up in the morning. I’m hoping that it feels good. "

On what the pain in his foot feels like
"It’s just like a real sharp pain in the bottom of my foot. Plantar facitis is what they seem think."

On whether he's lost weight
"I have no idea to be honest with you."

BRANDON ROY

On his back injury
"It’s better. I did treatment this morning, did some stuff here. It’s kind of a slow process, but I just want to get to where I can run up and down tomorrow. I should be able to play."

On his status for Wednesday's game against Miami
"I think there’s a good chance. I would say I’m hopeful. It’s just one of those where if the game were today, no, I couldn’t play. So I’m hoping. I’m going to get a massage today and treatment tonight and the same thing in the morning so hopefully I’ll be able to play.

"It’s kind of wait and see. If the game was today, I’d be like, no way. I would feel bad, but I couldn’t play tonight. It’s just a funny feeling. It’s spasms right here in my lower back. It’s really tight. I would say I’m hopeful to play tomorrow. I continue to do treatment. A big sign will be how it feels at shootaround tomorrow morning. It’s pretty weird."

On how the injury occured
"Just went up to try and slap the ball from behind Jameer Nelson and I just landed on my heels flat-footed. Pain went straight up my back right after I did it."

On how Greg Oden looked during practice
"I thought he did well today. I think it’s always between the ears with him. I think if he wants to be aggressive and dominate, I think he can do that. He did that today. We’re going to keep pushing him to get back out there and have confidence in himself."

Video: Post-game comments

Sorry for the tardiness of those videos. Hopefully better late that never.

Nate McMillan, Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy all discuss the 106-9 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Post Quotes: Trail Blazers 106, Magic 99

NATE MCMILLAN

On overall game:
“It was a gut check for our guys again tonight and they came ready to play. They scrapped hard. Orlando is a tough team. We haven’t won here since I’ve been a Blazer and to get this game I really felt like they showed that they really wanted the game tonight.”

On Travis Outlaw’s performance:
“We just got to try different combinations. We went to LaMarcus (Aldridge) and they did a nice job on him. Brandon (Roy) got a little fatigued. Rudy (Fernandez) kind of ran out of gas and we have another option in Travis. He’s the guy down the stretch that we’ve been going to over the years and tonight when the offense stalled he was able to get us a couple of buckets. We got our confidence back.”

On using the small lineup due to foul trouble to Portland’s advantage:
“We felt like we could go to that lineup. LaMarcus (Aldridge) at the five and Travis (Outlaw) at the four and try to spread them out and we could defend…Joel (Przybilla), some games you’re going to need the big fellow and some games we can go to a matchup and force them to matchup against us. That small lineup worked for us tonight. They did a nice job of defending the perimeter. We made some good adjustments in the second half I thought. That’s what it’s all about, being able to make those adjustments and execute it.”

On the fourth quarter performance:
“That has been part of the reason we’ve lost our first couple games, not being able to finish games off. We’ve had leads going into the second half, and tonight, not only did I talk about it but they talked about finishing the game off, winning the third and the fourth quarter and getting stronger going down the stretch. You’ve got to finish games off whether you’re at home or on the road.”

On transition defense from the second quarter on:

“They weren’t getting the layups they were getting the first half. Pick-and-rolls, they ran a lot of drags with the open jump shots and they had big 13, 14 point fast breaks real early in the game. We did a better job. We made buckets and did a better job of containing the ball and it’s still something we’ve got to work on.”


BRANDON ROY

“We stayed together. They didn’t make any big runs, but they made some small runs. We kept holding up like we have been here before. Nobody panicked tonight. We stopped their runs. We just shut down their mini runs. Everybody stepped up tonight. Everybody scored, rebounded, and it was a team effort.”

“We were a little nervous but at the same time Channing did not have one of his best offensive games. He did a great job defensively of keeping Dwight outside the paint. In the second half we made him earn it from the line. He made some in the first half but we stuck with it. He is a big part of what they do. He missed a couple of free throws and it took him out of rhythm. They did not have rhythm in the second half and that was Channing and LeMarcus doing a great job of trying to fight with that monster.”

“It has taken awhile for us to figure out our rotation and I think we are starting to do that. We have a lot of players who come off the bench like Travis and Rudy and they do a great job. Nicolas starts and he is doing a really good job. We have to be ready to play.”

“Our bench is big for us. I tell Travis everyday that a good game needs to be standard for him now and he needs to be good every night. There can’t be any hi-lows. He understands it and he knows we need that. He is doing a great job and he is stroking that ball really well right now. At the same time we need him to be aggressive and get to the basket. Rudy is shooting it well all season long. Rudy is aggressive and takes big shots. He played within himself tonight.”

“Coach has been talking to us about having more of a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter. Tonight we were talking about it and we knew we were playing for something. We were trying to compete for something.”

LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE

“It is tough guarding him (Howard) because he is a tough, physical center. When he gets the ball in the paint, he is pretty tough to guard. Our game plan was to bump him early, try to double team him if he got deep, and I think it worked. He still got his points but in the end we forced other guys to makes shots.”

“They picked one thing tonight against me. They took away my inside game and gave me the outside shot. I guess they felt they could better deal with me taking 18 foot jump shots and not jump hooks.”

“He (Fernandez) is always solid for us. He always makes big plays for us and makes the smaller plays that we need. That is what helps us win games.”

KEITH BOGANS

“They made plays coming down the stretch and we didn’t. We were holding the ball a lot in that fourth quarter. They made some big shots coming down the stretch.”

(On shooters not scoring) “That comes from not moving the ball like we’re supposed to. Coach stresses that a lot. I think it’s something we’re going to have to work on. We’re not going to dwell on it too much. We’ve got to get ready to come back and play on Wednesday.”

“You got to know down the stretch, you got to make plays, make the extra pass, that’s going to be the main thing.”


RASHARD LEWIS

“I don’t think it was necessarily the offense. Obviously not making shots is making it a little tough for us. But our defense, we couldn’t control the pick-and-roll, and they made a lot of 3’s. We weren’t rotating like we should have and they made some 3’s. They pretty much got whatever they wanted tonight.”

“It’s tough. It feels like I can’t get any rhythm, I don’t know what it is. Maybe I have to be a little bit more aggressive early in the game. It feels like I’m just launching 3-pointers all game instead of going to the basket. Maybe get more post-ups, I don’t know. It’s just feels real difficult to get into a rhythm these past few games.”

“The offense wasn’t clicking. Coach said the ball started sticking, we weren’t moving the ball around. The ball wasn’t getting inside, just kind of think that every one was going on their own.”

Photos: Trail Blazers 106, Magic 99

Link it up: Welcome to Miami Edition

Superb win last night. I've got some odds and ends from last night's post-game that I'll have for you in a bit, but before that, check the links.

Jason Quick, The Oregonian: For a player who almost exclusively hits three-pointers, perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise to hear Trail Blazers rookie Rudy Fernandez on Monday speak in the third person.

"Rudy is not everyday a shooter," Fernandez said. "He's defense. He's passes. He's assists."

Fernandez was all of that and more on Monday, when his frenetic and flashy play keyed a 106-99 victory at Orlando, the Blazers' first road win in four tries this season and their third victory in a row overall.

In the first 6:13 of the fourth quarter, which the Blazers entered trailing 73-72, Fernandez had eight impact plays that defined the Blazers' game-deciding 17-4 run. He had two three pointers, two assists -- including one on the go-ahead basket -- drew a charge and had three steals.

Kyle Hightower, Orlando Sentinel: There were a noticeable number of empty chairs inside Amway Arena Monday night and it all wasn't tied to a sketchy economy.

A month ago, Monday's game was one to circle on the schedule with Magic fans' first opportunity to see Portland 7-footer Greg Oden opposite Orlando big man Dwight Howard.

But with Oden still out nursing a right foot sprain, what got shoved down the Magic's throat in their 106-99 loss was a Blazers team that is full of athleticism and plenty of weapons without their own giant.

The Blazers had five players in double figures led Brandon Roy's 27-point night, but also got 20 points apiece from Steve Blake and Travis Outland and 16 more from both LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez.

• If this isn't a foul, I don't know what is.

John Denton, Florida Today: Orlando's shooting guards were no match for Portland's Brandon Roy, who had 27 points. Travis Outlaw (19 points) and Rudy Fernandez (16 points) combined to make seven 3-pointers, including two back-breakers to start the fourth quarter and send the Magic into a freefall.

Howard finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds, but he was mostly a non-factor in the second half. He had 23 points by halftime, but scored just six over the final two periods. Four consecutive free throw misses by Howard early in the fourth quarter contributed to Orlando's second-half offensive collapse.

The game made a decisive and stunning turn late in the third period.

Lewis hit a turnaround jumper with 4:28 remaining in the third, putting Orlando up 72-68 at the time. But by the time Orlando had its next field goal -- a layup by Hedo Turkoglu with 6:32 left in the fourth quarter -- more than 11 minutes had transpired and the Magic trailed 87-75. Orlando started the fourth quarter with five turnovers, an air ball and four free throw misses.

Associated Press: Outlaw, who played 41 minutes, more than any Blazers' starter, made 3-of-5 3-pointers.

"He's the guy down the stretch that we've been going to over the years and tonight when the offense stalled he was able to get us a couple of buckets," McMillan said. "We got our confidence back."

Monday, November 10, 2008

McMillan's pre-game quotes

Looks fairly sparse here at Amway Arena. Must be better things to do in Orlando on a Monday night.

Had a chance to talk to Nate McMillan pre-game about defending Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Rashard Lewis and Greg Oden's progress on returning from injury.

On LaMarcus Aldridge matching up with Rashard Lewis

"Rashard Lewis, I had him. He’s a good player; a very good player. He’s a small forward playing out of position, but very capable. I think it’s going to be a good matchup for LaMarcus. It’s a good challenge for him to guard a player like Rashard were Rashard will be out on the perimeter mostly.

"I’m sure they’ll try to mix up their defensive coverage’s as far as trying to front LA in the post."

Joel Przybilla versus Dwight Howard

"Joel gets the assignment of the best post player every night, whether it’s a four or a five. Somehow he is in the plan as far as how we want to defend, whether he’s defending the best post player or shadowing that guy.

"Our gameplan really is the same. We want Joel and our guys to meet those bigs early. Don’t let them just get down into the paint. For two reasons: Deep post position and also they run a ton of pick and rolls so if we force those pick and rolls out, we’ve got a better chance of defending them, as opposed to allowing them to get inside that three-point line and run those pick and rolls where once he rolls – they run a lot of their pick and roll sets to get him the ball in the post. So if we can push it out we got a better chance of forcing that post-up catch a little further out."

On Greg Oden's return

"Greg went through some running yesterday in practice. Nothing live but he ran up and down, which was a first. Hopefully he can do more tomorrow."

Will he play against Miami?

"I don’t want to go there. It’s a chance for practice, so we'll see if we can get him in practice. I haven’t heard anything from Jay as far as the running, because he ran through plays yesterday. No setbacks. So tomorrow we’ll have a taped, live practice and hopefully he can go through that. If he goes through that, we’ll see. But we’ve got to get him in a practice before we put him in a game."

You can eat in peace in Orlando

Only about a half hour until the bus leaves for Amway Arena, but I wanted to share a quick "slice" of life from the road before we shove off.

After we checking into the hotel after shoot around, PR flack Jim Taylor and I decided to go out and grab a bite. It's after 11 p.m. on a Sunday in downtown Orlando, so the options are fairly limited. We decide to go to a local pizza joint.

We walk in, and there's Steve Blake heading to the upstairs dining area of said pizza joint with two slices in hand. Behind him is Kevin Pritchard, who's getting a pie to go. Pritchard points to a picture on the wall of assistant coach Dean Demopoulos from his days as an assistant in Seattle. Demopoulos' picture is flanked by similar images of president George W. Bush, former president Ronald Reagan and late-night talkshow host Jay Leno. Popular guy.

So we order our slices then head upstairs to eat. Blake is sitting at a table by himself in the dining area, a relatively small space. About 15 teenagers are upstairs as well, who as far as I could tell were a part of some alt-rock band from New York (I overheard one of the fellows in the band mention they were from NY). So Jim and I sit down with Steve and commence eating.

About 15 minutes later, in walks Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw. They sit down at a table next to ours waiting for their pizza. A few of the alt-rockers seem to notice that the three fellows who just walked in seem taller than average, but no one draws any conclusions (despite the fact that Blake is decked out in a Trail Blazers sweatsuit). No requests for autographs or pictures. No one pays any mind.

So even though traveling for 41 games a season can be a drain, it's probably nice to have some anonymity now and then. Could Roy, Aldridge, Outlaw and Blake go to some dive pizza joint in Portland that's about half the size of your average McDonald's without being hounded? No chance. But late night Sunday in Orlando, you're just a couple tall guys going to work on a meatlovers pizza.

Greg Oden back in action

Besides the timing of shoot around, the other news out of Orlando yesterday was Greg Oden's return to the practice court. Oden had been rehabbing with a variety of off-court exercise coupled with some light on-court shooting, but yesterday Oden ran, jumped and (lightly) bumped with the team at the Magic's practice facility.

And he looked good. I didn't get a chance to talk to him after shoot around, but it didn't look like he was experiencing any pain. Granted, it was a hour long shoot around that basically amounts to a walk-through of Orlando's bread and butter plays, but it was great to see the big man getting up and down the court again, especially considering there was some concern that he wouldn't even make the trip.

Important to note though that just because Oden participated in yesterday's shoot around doesn't necessarily mean he's ready to get out and play in game situations. The team is scheduled to have a full practice tomorrow in Miami, so it's possible we'll know more about Oden's status after that. It's possible we'll get an update pre-game tonight, but my gut tells me that, at the very least, they'd want to run Oden through a whole practice before coming to any conclusions about his status for the rest of the trip.

Oden played with the second unit, so if nothing else, I think we can assume Joel Przybilla will continue to start at center, at least in the near term. Oden hasn't played since sustaining a mid-foot sprain 13 days ago in the opener against the Lakers.

Also worth mentioning that Nate McMillan and the rest of the coaching staff are in the process of installing some new sets, so it's possible that they wanted Oden out there simply to help his understanding of those new plays. In fact, McMillan said prior to the Minnesota game that Oden would be going on the road trip if for no other reason than to be around when those new sets were being run though.

So basically, don't jump to any conclusions.

Switching around shoot around

Greetings from Orlando. First extended road trip of the season, and I'm lucky enough to get to travel with the team for these next four games against the Magic, Heat, Hornets and Timberwolves (we head back to Portland before the game against the Warriors). Consider me your eyes and ears for the next week.

Being that it's the first real roadie of the season, the team is experimenting with some scheduling changes that hopefully will pay dividends on the court. We left PDX yesterday at noon, arriving in Orlando around 8 p.m. Eastern. Standard procedure would be to go from the airport to the hotel then shoot around the next morning, but this time, we headed straight to the Magic practice facility for shoot around.

Usually if the team had an off day before a road game, one of two things would happen. In some instances they'd fly out directly after the game, which in this case would have meant getting into Orlando sometime around 8 a.m. Eastern Monday morning. No one wants that. The other option would be to have a morning practice in Portland, then fly out directly after. In that instance, the team would probably shoot around at 11 a.m. local time on game day, which to our Portland bodies would feel like 8 a.m.

So rather than trying to adjust to the time change the morning before game, the decision was made to shoot around the day before, lay low during the day, then head to Amway Arena for the 7 p.m. Eastern start. This may all seem insignificant, but let me explain why, in my opinion, it isn't.

To understand why I think this is a good move, you have to understand the difference between a regular practice and a shoot around.

A regular practice usually lasts about two hours, is full-contact game speed, and focuses on what we need to do as a team. A shoot around usually goes for no longer than an hour, is light contact and focuses mostly on what the upcoming opponent is going to do.

So if the team were to have shoot around today at 11 a.m. Orlando time, it would feel like 8 a.m. Portland time. Not exactly the best time of day to retain important information. But by having shoot around the day before at 8 p.m. Orlando time (5 p.m. Portland), the team is awake, rested and ready to receive teaching. Seems smart to me.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Video: LaMarcus Aldridge post-game

Great win thanks in large part to a nice performance from LaMarcus Aldridge. LA had a rough go of it in the first half, but he came back with a vengeance to finish with 24 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.

Here's what Aldridge had to say post-game.

Video: Nate McMillan post-game