Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Call Of The Night: Webster With Authority

Updated, with the correct video this time. NOW tell me which call is your favorite.

Martell Webster does most of his damage from beyond the three-point line, but he's got more than enough athleticism to do work in the paint. His highlight reel dunk tonight over Jason Thompson is proof of that.

So here's your charge: Who's call of that dunk was better. First up, Mike Barrett and Mike Rice ...

They've got the benefit of the visual, that's for sure.

But Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey come strong on the radio side. Here's their call of Webster's dunk.

So who you got: The Mikes or Wheels and Tone?

McMillan Considers Sharing The Board

Most of the discussion around Monday night’s game against the Kings, at least among Trail Blazers fans, pertains to which players are playing when, and how much. Is Andre Miller going to start? Will Jerryd Bayless see more time? How about Dante Cunningham?

The answers to those questions will be reveled soon enough, but you might see a few things you weren’t expecting, at least if you peek at the coaches on the bench.

As you surely know, Nate McMillan sat out the last road trip as he underwent surgery and rehabilitation for a ruptured Achilles. Lead assistant coach Dean Demopoulos handled the head coaching duties in McMillan’s absence, with assistant coaches Monty Williams, Joe Prunty, Billy Bayno and Kaleb Canales taking on more responsibility as well.

“I thought they did a good job,” said McMillan of his assistants. “I don’t look at the record. The feedback I was getting from them and the mood of the team and them trying to read the team and motivate the team to be ready to play. We won one but we had a chance to win two more, but we didn’t get that. I thought they did some good things. I thought they did a good job of working together.”

The assistants were up to the challenge of guiding the team through a difficult road trip, especially when you consider they only nine players available, but all would rather have McMillan back in the driver’s seat.

And he will be tonight. Despite being in a cast and requiring the use of crutches, McMillan will return to his head coaching duties. But he saw something from his assistants in his absence, specifically from Williams, that is making him consider making some changes to the way he approaches coaching.

“At times Monty took the board and ran some offensive plays with some good calls,” said McMillan. “Liked that. I want to do more of that with him.”

We might see that tonight. Even though he’ll be back running the show, don’t be surprised to see McMillan continue to lean more heavily on his assistants as he works his way back from injury.

“I normally hear their voices,” said McMillan, “but even giving up the board some -- which I don’t do a lot of -- looking at doing that, especially in this situation now that I’m not able to get up and move around.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

There might not be anything more detrimental to a coach than being “tuned out” by his players. Once you lose the collective ear of your guys, that’s pretty much it. You can pack up and start talking about “spending more time with your family” or “taking on new challenges.” That’s just the way it is in pro sports, especially those with guaranteed contracts.

But for some reason, you don’t often hear about players “tuning in” a coach, but it does happen. It’s been happening the last three games for the Trail Blazers. With Nate McMillan back in Portland recovering from a ruptured Achilles, lead assistant Dean Demopoulos has been steering the ship through three Eastern Conference road games, with one more to go tonight in Milwaukee. Initially Demopoulos noted the players weren’t trained to hear his voice during games since most of the in-game instruction comes from McMillan.

“They’re trained a majority of the time through the repetition,” said Demopoulos. “They’re hearing Nate’s voice repetitively, many, many more times than they hear anybody else’s. That’s just natural.”

But as the road trip has gone on, the ears of the Portland bench have become more accustomed to hearing Demopoulos, though the repetition built up through hearing McMillan bark orders for the past five seasons can’t be duplicated in three games.

“I think they’re getting more used to it,” said Demopoulos, “but I don’t think they’ll ever be used to it entirely because it’s not going to be enough time.

“Life takes time. To get better at something takes time. That’s what experience is because of the repetition. Repetition is one of the major foundations of learning, maybe the most important. It’s not as unfamiliar as it was.”

Which is great, but it won’t go much farther than that. McMillan is expected to return to his head coaching duties when the team gets back to Portland early Sunday morning, with Demopoulos returning to his lead assistant duties, which is the way he’d prefer it.

Said Demopoulos: “That’s fine with me.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Monty Williams Calls In The Sleeper

We saw Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge return to their old ways Wednesday night. LA handled the work early, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the first half, and B.Roy closed the game, dropping in 10 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. And both Andre Miller and Joel Przybilla deserve some kudos for scoring in double figures.

But one of the names singled out for praise by assistant coach Dean Demopoulos and the players was Monty Williams for a call he made late in the game.

The Pacers called a timeout down 89-85 with 5:30 to play, giving Williams a chance to dial up a “sleeper” play that would turn out to be the dagger.

Luther Head misses a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, with LaMarcus Aldridge grabbing the rebound. Aldridge passes to Blake (probably by force of habit since the upcoming play requires Blake to play off the ball) who then passes off to Miller. Blake jogs lackadaisically (by design) to the left corner and puts his hands on his knees, giving the impression that he’s taking this play off. The defender, AJ Price, either by design or instinct, opts to shade into the lane rather than sticking to Blake, presumably to help defend should Roy or Miller drive to the basket. He’s paying much more attention to the ball than his man.

Miller dribbles up to the top of the three-point line and passes off to Roy, just inside the three-point line, before cutting straight down the lane, taking his defender with him. Aldridge sets a pick for Roy, who had scored the last six points for the Blazers. Given the time and situation, it’s easy to understand why the Pacers would think the play would be for Roy, something assistant coach Williams realized during the timeout. Dante Jones is playing Roy tight, farther supporting the notion that the Pacers are expecting the play is designed for Roy. But they’re wrong.

Blake, who is still playing opossum with his hands on his knees, cuts to the top of the three-point line as Joel Przybilla sets a pick. The pick, along with the late jump Price gets because of his spying on Roy, gives Blake more than enough time to get open. Roy delivers the ball to Blake right as he’s squaring up to the rim unguarded. Blake takes and makes a three in rhythm, putting the Blazers up eight while basically crushing any chance of an Indiana comeback. The three also happens to be Blake’s 373rd as a Trail Blazer, tying him with Rasheed Wallace for fifth in franchise history in made three-pointers.

A great play call on many levels. It got Blake an open three, something he needed considering the mini-slump he had been in (Blake was 4-for-15 from three prior to Wednesday night’s game). It made the Pacers stay honest defense for the remainder of the game when they might have tried keying on Roy. And most importantly, it helped secure a key win on the road for a team that desperately needed something to feel good about.

Blake had to make the shot, Przybilla had to set the pick and Roy had to perform well enough throughout the entire game to draw the necessary attention which would allow the play to work, but it was Williams’ intelligence and intuition which gave him the foresight to make the call.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lineups May Change, But Goals Don't

The 2009-10 season started out with incredibly high expectations, and with good reason. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge signed contract extensions, assuring their place as pillars of the Portland roster for years to come. Greg Oden was healthy, in shape and prepared to take his place among the best centers in the league. Nicolas Batum had a great summer, making his bones on the international circuit with his fellow Frenchman at EuroBasket. Rudy Fernandez added another medal to his already impressive trophy case. Andre Miller was signed to shore up the backcourt and provide veteran experience. Same goes for Juwan Howard. Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph and Patty Mills were brought to as rookies to provide toughness and speed. And Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla and Travis Outlaw were all coming off their best seasons in the NBA. Things were looking solid.

And then, the injuries struck. There’s no point in recounting all of the bad luck that has beset the Trail Blazers this season when it comes to infirmities, but it suffices to say the worry that there wouldn’t be enough playing time to go around on a roster with so much talent was unwarranted. That’s a problem we’d be lucky to have.

Now those sky-high expectations, if public sentiment can be accurately gauged via blogs, message boards and talk radio, have come crashing down. But in the Trail Blazers locker room, there’s been no such reassessment. The objective, though now more difficult to achieve, is still the same.

“The one main goal is to win every game you play in,” said Steve Blake. “That’s all you really need to think about. You shouldn’t really look ahead; you should be thinking about the game in front of you. That’s all the goal there is.”

It’s all the Trail Blazers can concern themselves with. There is still plenty of work to be done, and that’s not going to change just because an unfortunate number of players are showing up to games in street clothes. All you can do is forge ahead. Take it, as the tired old saying goes, game by game.

“You’ve got to stay in the moment and look at what we have here,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We have a bunch of guys that are good and we’ve just go to stay in the moment, stay hungry and work hard.”

“This group, the group we’re in charge of is staying in the moment right now,” said assistant coach Dean Demopoulos. “We’re going to try to squeeze every ounce of every second that we’re out on that floor. That’s our goal. That’s our goal … and that’s what we’re going to do and see what happens.”

Greg Oden Will Not Stop

It’s a shame that the Trail Blazers will have to continue the 2009-10 season without Greg Oden. GO’s injury falls pretty low on the list of injustices in the world, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. Hard work should always be rewarded and respected, but sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. Life is often unfair.

Now Oden has even more work ahead of him. He’ll have to wait for his kneecap to heal and then start the arduous process of working his body back into playing shape, but is there any doubt that he’s up to the task? He’s done it before, and he sure as heck can do it again. And maybe he can do it even better this time after going through a similar process two years ago.

“Last summer was a great summer for (Oden),” said General Manager Kevin Pritchard. “He worked his tail off. He’s going to have to have that same kind of summer. Coach Bayno and our coaching staff have done a tremendous job. Now it’s about getting out there and playing again. Take it day to day, get him healthy, focus on that and then we’ll take care of the rest.”

And then there’s motivation. Basketball is what Greg Oden does. It does not define him, but it is a part of who he is. So in some respects, Oden returning to the court from this injury is a way of reclaiming a part of himself. Basketball was taken away from him after microfracture surgery and it was taken away again on Saturday night, but he can take it back. He can.

The Portland Trail Blazers will not give up on Greg Oden, not as a human being or a basketball player. He’s got a lot left. He knows it and the team knows it. Some people were ready to write off his career before the sun rose Sunday morning, but those people don’t know who Greg Oden is. Those who do do know he won’t be defined by this injury, but by his desire to fulfill what he is capable of.

“The last thing I have is given up hope that he can be a better player than what we just saw,” said Pritchard. “I think he knows that. Probably more than anything what we like is that he knows he’s got even more left. That’s more exciting than anything.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Start Over, Again

That’s the question Joel Przybilla asked me as he sat down after practice last night in New Jersey. He’s got a point. I probably could dig back through my notes to retrieve Przybilla’s thoughts on once again being inserted into the starting lineup in place of Greg Oden, but I’d rather get an updated perspective.

But as it turns out, Przybilla doesn’t have much new to say, probably because this is his third go-round as the guy who was supposed to be an afterthought. When Oden was drafted in 2008, most assumed that was the end of Przybilla’s career in Portland. Didn’t happen. When Oden returned to the court in 2009, Przybilla was supposed to be permanently relegated to the bench. Didn’t happen, even when Oden was healthy, as Przybilla turned in his finest season as a pro in 42 starts. And now with Oden out for the season, “The Thrilla” once again finds himself in the starting five.

“That’s the NBA for you,” said Przybilla. “You always have to be ready. Not only myself, but there are a lot of guys on this team who are getting an opportunity now because unfortunately we’ve had a bunch of injuries. Everyone has to be ready, doesn’t matter if you’re starting or coming off the bench. We need everyone on this team to get a victory.”

There might not be anymore more ready to step in than Przybilla, in part because he’s had so much experience doing it. He’s started in 70 percent of the games he’s played throughout the course of his 10-year career, so all of this is old hat. Though Przybilla says he will have to modify the way he plays due to the rash of injuries the Trail Blazers have endured this season.

“I’ve got to pick and choose when I contest shots,” said Przybilla, “where in the past maybe if a guy was coming to the basket where you thought maybe you would foul him, give him a hard foul or something, now you’ve got to contest a little less. It depends on the team we’re playing. LaMarcus can play the five but if we’re playing a team that’s big, say Cleveland with Shaq and Ilgauskas, you know you’re going to play big minutes.”

While the defensive drop off between Przybilla and Oden is minor, the drop off on the offensive end unfortunately isn’t. Oden is a guy you call plays for, whereas Przybilla is a straight opportunist on offense. If there’s something easy, he’ll take it. If not, he’s kicking it back out. But even though he’s not going to put up big point numbers, his approach to offense could result in his teammates getting more and better looks than when Oden was in the starting role.

“I’ve always been a guy who doesn’t worry about my offense,” said Przybilla. “For me, whatever points I score are extra. Guys know what I do for this team. They know that I set a lot of screens for them to get shots and that’s a way for me to get involved in the offense.”
Taking what he can get, something Przybilla has been doing his entire career. It’s why staying prepared is so important. You never know when your number is going to be called. Or when you’re going to have to answer the same questions you answered the year before.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Remembering Fernando Martin

Today is December 3, and most people are probably thinking about the Civil War. Nothing wrong with that. But if you've got a second, take a minute to remember Fernando Martin, the first Spanish player in the NBA who died 20 years ago today. Martin, a 6-10 power forward, signed as a free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers on May 6, 1986, playing 24 games for Portland in 1986-87, recording 22 points, 28 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals in 146 minutes.

After one season with the Trail Blazers, he returned to Spain to play for Real Madrid, where he played from 1981-1986 and 1987-89. Martin made 86 appearances on the Spanish National Team, earning the silver medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Most contemporary Trail Blazers fans will probably remember Martin thanks to Rudy Fernandez, who wore a No. 10 jersey in honor of Martin at last year's dunk contest, the video of which is above. I would turn the volume off if you're going to watch that clip. It's a little disrespectful to Fernando and Rudy.

12.03.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

The rest of the state is talking Ducks and Beavers, but Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com and I, Casey Holdahl of Trailblazers.com, stick to the Trail Blazers in today's podcast.

In this edition we discuss the reasons for the three-game losing streak, what it might take to get back on track, the "aura" of the team over the last week, injuries and the importance of getting a few wins on the next road trip. We keep it civil.

Download Trailblazers.com Podcast (45.4 MB)

Subscribe to Trail Blazers Podcasts on ITunes

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nobody Knows You When You're Down

There’s been a fair amount of chatter about Brandon Roy being selfish. The guy has been a consummate team player, carrying the weight of this team the past three seasons as they’ve overachieved their way to respectability. He’s done everything that the organization has asked of him.

Along the way he’s earned awards, All-Star appearances and contract extensions because he’s done things the right way. And now to hear him labeled as some kind of me-first prima donna is simply mind-boggling. I can literally feel my brain trying to punish itself by colliding into the side of my skull repeatedly in retaliation for wasting brain cells on trying to fathom how people could come to such laughable conclusions.

But tonight, I think I figured out where people are coming from. Don’t get me wrong; the conclusion that Roy is anything but one of the best things to happen to this franchise is still preposterous, but I think I’m onto the reason why some so badly misconstrue his motives.

Brandon Roy talks too much about himself.

For example, take his comments after the Trail Blazers lost their third-straight game, this time to the Miami Heat. Portland once again allowed their opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, which is as sure-fire a way to lose as there is in the NBA. And that boils down to team defense. No one individual can be responsible for an opponents shooting percentage.

But Roy didn’t talk much about the team. He talked about himself.

“I think I’ve got to play better for 48 minutes,” said Roy. “We’ve got to start to establish some type of rhythm where we’re not playing well in spots and not scoring in stretches and then our defense gets pretty bad. But I’ve got to start playing much better, and hopefully I can do that Saturday.”

The nerve! Taking responsibility for your own play? How dare he.

But it didn’t stop there.

Said Roy: “I just feel like I didn’t make the plays tonight and I think I need to keep working at it and try to find my rhythm because I think it’s going to help this team.”

So many “I” statements. I didn’t make plays. I need to keep working. Focusing on what he needs to do? Is that selfish?

But wait, there’s more!

“I realized tonight that I’ve got to get better,” said Roy. “I’ve got to get into the gym and continue to work because I see some things that I could have done out there but I just wasn’t able to make some of the shots and make some of the reads. I think I’ve got to improve. Don’t get me wrong, the team has to get better but I still think there’s room for me to improve to help this team.”

He did talk about the team toward the end of that quote. Maybe that will earn him some slack. It doesn’t seem like being the go-to guy on and off the court for the past three years has earned him much leeway from some fans out there, but maybe mentioning team rather than taking complete and total responsibility for the loss will help.

But if you’re still feeling like Brandon could be doing more to earn your respect, keep reading.

“I think I got caught up in looking around too much instead of looking at myself and what I’ve got to do to help this team,” said Roy. “I’ve got to keep getting better … I just feel like I’ve been thinking too much or looking for a lot of different reasons instead of just looking at myself. I’ve got to get back to going out there and playing and not worrying about pointing fingers or this and that. I’ve just got to get back to being me and that’s how I’ve always been. I started to realize that over the last couple of days and especially tonight. I’ve got to get in the gym working and try to turn this around.”

A heartfelt admission that he “got caught up looking around.” Another declaration that he needs to improve. A mea culpa when it comes to “pointing fingers.” What brought on this moment of self-reflection?

“Just a lot of talking about this and offense and can you and Greg play and can you and Andre play,” said Roy. “I’ve got to play. I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to make the plays I’ve been able to make in the past. I’m capable of it, it’s just my mind has been in a lot of places and now I’ve got to just get focused on this team and just getting that hunger back. I hate to lose so I feel like I’ve got to get out there, be aggressive and confident. I haven’t been very confident lately and I think guys can tell that. I’ve got to get my confidence back and I think the rest of the team will see it.”

That last sentence is the reason why I find the Brandon-Roy-as-selfish-ogre narrative so perplexing. This team feeds off of Roy. They follow his lead. When he’s in a grove, the rest of the team has a much better chance of doing the same.

It’s not selfish to know your own importance. The real selfishness is in denying said importance, something Roy refuses to do. He could let himself off the hook by devaluing what he does for the Trail Blazers. He could step aside, contract in tow, and play out his days in Portland while ceding the responsibility of leadership to someone else. It’s been done before.

But not by Brandon. Not now. Now ever. He’ll suffer the criticism and he’ll take the heat, but he’s not going to take the easy way out.