Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Video: Oden, Roy, Aldridge Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Greg Oden talks about having Joel Przybilla's back, we find out that Brandon Roy doesn't beleive in the notion of "peaking," and LaMarcus Aldridge talks, as he often does, about staying aggressive.

By the way, you have to have seen it by now, but if you haven't, check out Greg Oden swishing a shot from three-quarters court.

Rudy Fernandez Out For Tonight's Game

The Jazz might be coming off a back-to-back, but the Trail Blazers have back problems of their own coming into tonight's game against Utah. Rudy Fernandez is listed as out for tonight's game due to back spasms. Nate McMillan said Rudy's back was tight this morning at shootaround, and treatment throughout the day didn't seem to work, so he's being held out. I would assume that Shavlik Randolph will be activated in Rudy's place, but I'm not 100 percent on that.

Greg Oden from deep

This is video of Greg Oden going 3/4 court yesterday at the Rose Garden is going to be all over the place soon, so watch it now before it crashes the server.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Staying Up To Avoid A Letdown

I have no idea if there is such a thing as a “letdown game,” but if there is, tonight’s tilt against the Memphis Grizzlies would probably qualify, for a few reasons.

The Trail Blazers are coming off a huge win, both in terms of score differential and playoff positioning. Beating the Suns by twenty points while reducing the magic number to six went a long way toward shoring up a spot in the postseason. Every game holds significance at this point, but as Nate McMillan aptly described after Thursday’s win, beating Phoenix was truly a “two for one.”

And then there’s the issue of the Grizzlies. Memphis has the fifth-worst record in the NBA. They’ve won eight games since the start of the new year. They’re playing for pride and next season at this point.

So it’s it possible that, coming off the Phoenix game, Portland enters tonight’s contest “letdown”? Maybe there’s a feeling in the locker room that the Trail Blazers have reached a point where they can simply take to the Rose Garden floor and win games like tonight’s without having to bring their best.

Does such a thing happen this late in the season? I don’t have the answer to that question, but head coach Nate McMillan has already thought of the solution.

“You avoid (a letdown) by just talking about improving,” said McMillan. “Trying to be even better than we were (against Phoenix), building off of some of the things we did (on Thursday) on both ends of the floor.

“So don’t look at this team’s record. They have some players -- some young players --that can play. For us, we’re still in a race, so our approach has to be business. We come out and we play this game with that sense of urgency we came out with (Thursday night).”

I’m guessing Coach McMillan will mention something to that effect in his pregame speech to the team tonight. We’ll know soon enough whether that message sunk in.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Video: Fernandez, Roy, Aldridge Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Rudy Fernandez talks about making it rain from beyond the arc, Brandon Roy discusses the balanced offensive attack and LaMarcus Aldridge tries his best not to jinx his recent hot streak. Magic number is six!

UPDATE: Something seems to be wrong with the video player. I'm trying to figure out what the problem is. In the meantime, check out the highlights from last night's blowout.

Big And Tough

The idea of the "big game" has become somewhat of a running joke between Nate McMillan and the media. Time and time again, McMillan has been asked about a particular game being "bigger" than the rest, and without fail, the same refrain that "every game is big" finds it's way out of Coach's mouth.

Until yesterday.

After yesterday's practice at the Rose Garden, McMillan finally let himself admit that tonight's game against the Suns is enormous in terms of each team's playoff probabilities.

"I think this is definitely one of those games where it's very important," said McMillan. "We know that. And they all are big, but (the Suns) are definitely chasing us and they're playing good basketball. We're going to have to be sharp."

And while sharpness is important, so too is toughness. And the Suns are tough. They don't play the grind it out, defense first style of play that many associate with grizzled veteran teams, but it hardly matters. They've got the experience and the mental toughness that goes along with it.

But can the Trail Blazers match that toughness? According to McMillan, we'll know soon enough.

"I think the remaining weeks of the season will show us a lot about ourselves, because we've done some good things to get to this point," said McMillan. "But it's really just the beginning. For us, we have to go down the stretch and continue to win.

"We still have to wins games. Coming off that five-game road trip with a winning record, that was good for us. Now we've got a home stretch that's important against some teams that are fighting for playoff spots. The mental toughness that we're talking about, we'll see that. We'll see where we are in the next week or so."

03.26.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

To go along with tonight's big game against the Suns, we've recorded an equally big podcast for your enjoyment. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of trailblazers.com talk shop for the better part of 42 MB's.

This week we discuss the "red out," which team has more at stake tonight at the Rose Garden, Greg Oden rising, Nicolas Batum's bum ankle, the future of the small forward position, our preferred playoff (knock on wood) matchups and much more. Shaq is probably tweeting about it from his hotel room right ... now.

Download the podcast (42.8 MB)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Video: Oden, Roy Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, both Greg Oden and Brandon Roy answer a lot of questions about the officiating. Aside from that, Oden notes that he doesn't care for overtime games and Roy talks about all players being tired in the stretch run of the season.

On a semi-related note, the public is invited to the Oregon Humane Society (1067 NE Columbia Blvd.) to meet Joel Przybilla, Steve Blake and the starting lineup of Team OHS. Trail Blazers TV broadcasters Mike Barrett and Rebecca Haarlow will be on hand to announce the starting lineup of furry four-legged friends, including Oden, a big, loveable Labrador mix who is sure to be a hit with fans. Every dog, cat and rabbit named after a Blazer player comes with a special signing bonus: a gift bag of Blazer and OHS goodies to sweeten the adoption deal.

'Sergio Is The Backup'

I don't know if you've noticed, but there's been a bit of discussion regarding Nate McMillan's backup point guard rotation. Is Sergio Rodriguez the first point guard off the bench? Is it Jerryd Bayless? Is it decided on a game-by-game basis? It's all up to Coach McMillan, and I get the sense he's not too worried about whatever dissenting opinion might be out there.

But he's still willing to answer the question, and according to McMillan, Rodriguez is the backup, period.

"Sergio is the backup," said McMillan. "He was back in the rotation. I thought he did a good job. And that’s where we are right now. There will be opportunities where you can use Bayless in certain situations like we’ve done all season long. If I think we need that fire or just that spark or his defense or getting whatever. You try to take advantage of what your players can bring to the floor."

So it's Sergio first and Bayless second, or sporadically first when matchups are beneficial, or when circumstances, like a long road trip, change the rotation.

"We needed some fire," said McMillan of his rational behind using Bayless on the road trip. "I looked at Bayless on that road trip. I knew we were going to need a lift. A ton of games on that road trip, gave Bayless an opportunity. He did some good things for us."

Notes From Shootaround: Batum (Probably) Back

• No big surprise to hear today at shootaround that Nicolas Batum is listed as probable for tonight's game against the Sixers. Batum went through walkthroughs with the first unit and didn't seem any worse for wear. He also practiced a bit with assistant coach Monty Williams after the end of shootaround, which he almost always does, so I'd guess he goes tonight.

"He’s probable for tonight’s game," said Nate McMillan of Batum. "He went through some warmup yesterday, did a little running. Today, did a little bit more running. We’ll see him run tonight a little bit and see how he feels."

McMillan also noted that if Batum does play, he'll return to his starting position, with is standard procedure when a players is out a few games with injury.

• Had a chance to catch up with LaMarcus Aldridge for a few minutes after shootaround. He says he's not experiencing any more headaches after suffering a concussion in the Pacer victory, but he did lament his reaction time is still a little slow.

Nevertheless, LA was in good spirits, recounting what would seem like a rather scary incident with a smile on his face.

"I know I ran into him," joked Aldridge. "I don’t know what part or how. I know after that I kind of woke up and Joel was saying ‘Can you get up?’ and I was like ‘I can’t feel my legs.’ It was just a crazy moment for me. I don’t want to go through it again."

• Tonight's game will be Greg Oden's first at home since the Oklahoma City win back on Feb. 11. One member of local media's expectant mother division noted (aptly, I might add) that Oden looked "really good" since returning to the floor, prompting this response.

"I feel good," said Oden, "still trying to get back into the hang of things, especially on offense. I’m still working. We did a lot of stuff for me to try and get back in shape before I really got out there, so my wind has been actually really decent. Playing 12 minutes a game is alright, though."

But said pregnant reporter wanted to dig deeper.

"Do you feel different this time around," she asked. "You kind of look different."

"I'm just going out there and playing," deadpanned Oden. "I feel the same."

• Believe it or not, the Trail Blazers' 100-74 loss to the Sixers back on Jan. 14 was the worst loss of the season. Seems like a 26-point loss would happen once every few weeks not too long ago, so the fact that game is the worst beating of the year really says something about how far the team has come.

To keep from suffering the same fate this time around, the Blazers, according to coach McMillan, are going to need to do what they seem to do best: slow the pace.

"(The Sixers) have a lot of speed on the floor," said McMillan. "They’re aggressive defensively. What we have to do against that speed is slow down and get to our spots, make sure we have the spacing. They do a good job forcing turnovers so we have to make sure we take care of that ball because they do convert turnovers into points. So slow down against that speed, be patient, get your spacing, then attack it.

"Defensively, they’re playing pretty much three, four guards, small unit with a lot of speed. We got to keep them in front of us and we’ve got to win the hustle game. We can’t give them second and third opportunities."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Photos: Trail Blazers 96, Bucks 84

Trail Blazers did what needed to be done in the last of a five-game Eastern Conference swing. Milwaukee established control in the first half, but were outplayed by Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake and rest of the Trail Blazers in the final two quarters. Portland fought back a late Milwaukee flurry to win 96-84 at the Bradley Center on Saturday night.

Roy finished, once again, within shouting distance of a triple-double, ending the night with 30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals.

But it was Blake three-point shooting that allowed the Blazers to take control in the second half. Blake scored 18 of his 21 point in the second half while going 6-for-10 from beyond the arc.

The Trail Blazers return home from the trip 3-2 and still in the race for the Northwest Division. The Blazers host the 76ers Monday night at the Rose Garden. Tipoff is schedule for 7 p.m.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sound Off: Trail Blazers Lose To Cavs In OT

I'll be honest: Prior to the start of last night's game, I thought Nate McMillan would have done well to rest Brandon Roy. I didn't figure we had much of a chance to beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland with both LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in streetclothes. But once again I was reminded why Coach McMillan is highly-regarded in NBA circles and why I'm some dork working on the internet.

The Trail Blazers gave the Cavs, a team that has lost all of one time at home this season, all they could handle. It wasn't a pretty game, it rarely turns out that way when the Blazers and Cavs get together, but it was a hell of an effort from our boys, an effort deserving of praise. Too much LeBron and not enough ... impartiality kept the Trail Blazers from shocking the world, but a 97-92 overtime loss in the fourth game of a five game road trip on the second night of a back-to-back is nothing to hang your head over.

“We had a shot," said Nate McMillan. "I thought our guys came out and they played. We gave ourselves a chance and down the stretch, we needed to execute. We missed some shots down the stretch. We have to make plays down the stretch and we didn’t do it; they (Cavs) did. They made buckets when they needed to. They got stops when they needed to.”

True enough. You could tell the Trail Blazers bench was out of gas when the overtime rolled around (making Roy's would-be attempt at a three to win the game in regulation all the wiser), but you can't say there was any quit. There wasn't.

Do we come out on top if Aldridge and Batum are available? We'll never know. Both Travis Outlaw (17 points, 7 rebounds), who had a monster dunk which you can watch here (it's at the 1:39 mark) and Channing Frye (14 points, 4 rebounds) had nice games filling in, so who knows if the absence of LA and Nic was the deciding factor.

“Things like this are going to happen, where you have injuries and you’ll be shorthanded," said McMillan. "We don’t play to get close (to winning). I thought the effort was there and we put ourselves in a position to win this game. I thought our guys definitely gave the effort."

That's about all you can ask for. I guess you could also ask for a fair shake, but what would be the point?

Speaking of which, Travis Outlaw, who looked like he might have been fouled during a last game three-point attempt in the corner, had this to say of LeBron's performance:

“He hit some shots. He hit some big shots. I think he did good. He got his other teammates involved. He did other things that helped them.

(Emphasis mine)

Anyone want to take a guess of what those "other things" were that Trav is alluding to?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trail Blazers And Brackets Don't Mix

This may or may not come as a surprise, but NBA players don't have much free time. Between practice, travel, games, community events, family obligations, and sleep, there's not many hours to focus on anything else. So while most of America is enamored in March Madness, the Trail Blazers are focused on finishing out the regular season.

But every now and then the players will have a spare moment to pay attention to the tourney, if for no other reason than to razz their fellow teammates and coaches. Here's a rundown of some of the potential trash-talking opportunities.

Mississippi State vs. Washington: This is the most obvious of all the matchups. Brandon Roy, UW royalty and only the second Husky to ever has his jersey retired, versus close friend Travis Outlaw, a Starkville stalwart and one-time Bulldog commit. The fact that Roy and Outlaw are so close adds extra intrigue.

(By the way, Trav and I talked a bit of trash last year when the Ducks and Bulldogs met in the first round, prompting this all-time quote from Mr. Outlaw:

"Mississippi State going to whip you. We bad. Ya’ll ain’t physical like us. We just big, you know what I’m saying? They produce studs, like myself. The state of Mississippi produce studs.")

Arizona State vs. Temple: Nate McMillan's son Jamelle is a freshman on Herb Sendek's Sun Devil squad, playing a primarily defensive role just like his dad. But just one seat over on the Trail Blazers bench is lead assistant coach Dean Demopolis, who was an assistant at Temple for 17 seasons under legendary coach John Chaney. You would think coach Dean would have some allegiance to a school after working there for almost two decades, but I'm guessing he knows Jamelle a bit, so he's probably rooting for the Sun Devils, at least publicly.

Texas vs. Minnesota: A battle of the Trail Blazers big men. Joel Przybilla was one and done for the Gophers, while LaMarcus Aldridge was one healthy season and done for the Longhorns. I get the feeling that LA's affinity for Texas runs a little deeper than Joel's for the Gophers, but that's just a feeling.

Utah vs. Arizona, Marquette vs. Utah State: These two matchups might actually bring the locker room a little closer. Channing Frye and Jerryd Bayless both played for the Wildcats and assist coach Maurice Lucas played his college ball for Marquette Golden Eagles. So if nothing else, all three will probably be rooting against the state of Utah.

Aldridge, Batum Injury Updates

Fresh injury news from the Trail Blazers Communications Department:
LaMarcus Aldridge (concussion) rejoins the Trail blazers in Cleveland. Upgraded to questionable for tonight's game against the Cavaliers. Nicolas Batum (left ankle sprain) is out.
Unfortunate that Batum's starting streak will come to an end, but probably best to let that ankle heal. As for Aldridge, I can't recall a player in any sport sustaining a concussion on one night then playing the next.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Losing Streaks Stop Here

A number of teams owned serious bragging rights over the Trail Blazers coming into the 2008-09 season. Despite improvements over the last three years, going from 21 wins in ’05-’06 to 32 wins in ’06-’07 to 41 wins in ’07-’08, there were still some teams that, for whatever reason, the Trail Blazers couldn’t overcome. Games against the Spurs, the Suns, the Celtics the Pacers always seemed to end in losses.

But this season, the losing streaks stop. One by one, all of the foes that asserted dominance against the Trail Blazers found things wouldn’t no longer be so easy. A 12-game losing streak to the Spurs; snapped on the first home game of the season back on Halloween night. An 11-game slid against the Suns; extinguished on Dec. 18 thanks to Brandon Roy's 52 point explosion. Seven-games of futility against the Celtics; stopped a few days before the New Year on Dec. 30. Five-straight losses to the Rockets; busted Nov. 6 thanks to the now-legendary Brandon Roy buzzer-beater. And of course, there were nine ineffective games against the Pacers that ended a few weeks back on March 4.

All told, the Trail Blazers have snapped 10 losing streaks of three games or more this season. Most of those streak-snappers took place at the Rose Garden, so there are a number of away losing streaks that are still in place, including six years of misses at Conseco Field House (Blazers last won in Indy back on March 17, 2003), but maybe that falls tonight. Hopefully.

Of course, there’s really only one streak that matters, that being the six years without a postseason. But if the Trail Blazers keep up the habit of righting old wrongs, we’re likely to see an end to that postseason drought.

B.Roy, Cover Boy

The newest issue of Dime Magazine is now on the newsstands (or so I'm told at least) and our boy Brandon Roy is on the cover. According to the folks at Dime, it's Roy's first national cover, which seems odd to me considering how baller he is, but I'm fairly certain they're correct in their assertion. I remember specifically Joba Chamberlain beating out Roy for the ESPN "Next" cover. How's that working out for you Joba?

Long overdue, but good to see nonetheless. I was at the PF when Dime was setting up the shoot, so I'm personally excited to see how it turned out. I'll be walking over to Lloyd Center on my lunch break to pick up a copy in support of Roy and non-electronic media. Consider doing the same.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For Wednesday: Oden Questionable, Dancers Votable

News travels fast in these parts, even when it's coming from Indiana, so you've probably already heard that Greg Oden has been upgraded to questionable for tomorrow's game against our ol' friend Jarrett Jack and the rest of the Pacers. The two-point win against Indy at the Rose Garden back on March 4 was the first Blazers victory against the Pacers in the last ten tries, so it would certainly be helpful to have all hands on deck for Wednesday's tilt. G.O would undoubtedly like to play in his return to Indiana, so keep your fingers crossed for him, and for us.

Second order of business: It's NBA Dancer Bracket Time! The yearly battle for dancer supremacy started yesterday, with the BlazersDancers drawing a first-round Wednesday matchup with the Houston Rockets PowerDancers. The winner goes advances to take on the winner of the Jazz/Timberwolves matchup. I've seen both of those squads in person, and I can guarantee the BlazerDancers can and would stomp either team into submission.

But they have to beat the Rockets PowerDancers first, a team that made the finals in 2007. They got warmer weather and most of China on their side, but that should be no match for you, the devoted Trail Blazers fan. You can vote here starting first thing tomorrow, but you have to be an NBA All-Access member to cast ballots, so go sign up now if you haven't already.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Photos: Trail Blazers 103, Grizzlies 92

With Monday night's 103-92 victory against the Grizzlies in Memphis, the Trail Blazers surpass last year's win total AND assure their first winning record in the last six seasons. Not to shabby with 15 games remaining.

Then again, none of that means squat if they don't reach their playoff goal this season, but it's a nice milestone nonetheless for Nate McMillan's squad.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Video: Roy, Haarlow Talk Nets

Trail Blazers sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow talks with Brandon Roy after Friday night's victory 109-100 victory against the New Jersey Nets.

Video: Batum, Aldridge, Roy Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Nic Batum talks about his career performance, LaMarcus Aldridge talks about Batum's career performance and Brandon Roy talks about ... Batum's career performance. This one's for France!

Dunking In The Face Of Finesse

LaMarcus Aldridge, for all of his offensive gifts, isn’t considered a dunker. In fact, most fans would probably complain Aldridge spends too much time outside of the paint, preferring the 15-footer over the two-handed jam. And there’s some merit to that. Aldridge undoubtedly works the inside/out game, and often times, that ratio shades toward the latter.

But there’s a good chance Aldridge is spending more time in the paint than you realize, which brings us back to those dunks. For a player known more for his high release than his high flying, Aldridge is right up there in the NBA in made dunks. Fifteenth in the league, to be exact, right behind Andrew Bynum and just in front of Rudy Gay. He’s ahead of guys like Kevin Garnett, David Lee, Josh Smith and Chris Bosh, players who are all considered more “post oriented,” lunch bucket-type guys than Aldridge.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t expect Aldridge to be that high on the list. To be honest, he didn’t either, which speaks to the prevalence of the perception that Aldridge isn’t a legitimate threat in the low post when he’s not shooting turnaround jumpers. Roughly 19 percent of Aldridge’s 475 made baskets this season have come by way of dunks, which is a healthy percentage for a player of Aldridge’s skill set.

Even aside from the throwdowns, Aldridge’s play as of late would seem to indicate an increased aggressiveness, an observation backed up by the numbers. So far in March, Aldridge is bettering his season averages in points (20.0), rebounds (8.8), assists (2.4) and steals (1.3). And he’s attempting 5.8 free-throw attempts per game in March, almost two attempts per game better than his season average.

According to Aldridge, there are a few reasons for the increased productivity, with the foremost factor being a concerted effort to be more active on the boards.

“I think I’ve been more aggressive trying to get rebounds,” said Aldridge. “I think that’s put me in a good rhythm with everything else. I think this whole season, teams have keyed in on me, but I think I’ve learned more. I’ve figured out ways to stay efficient and affect the game other than scoring.”

And then there’s the desire to make the playoffs. Aldridge is anxious to make the postseason for the first time in his professional career, and he’s putting much of that burden on his own shoulders.

“I think I’ve made a big step this year as far as talking more, playing more like a leader this season,” said Aldridge. “I’m trying to step up for the playoffs. Trying to get better. I think as we go forward that we’re going to need everybody to raise their level. I know I’m trying to raise mine.”

But there’s something more visceral driving Aldridge’s improvement: his almost maniacal quest to prove his doubters wrong. For a man who has the words “Me Against The World” tattooed across his back, the desire to silence all questions about his game runs deep.
“I feel like when I was coming up, I had to prove to everybody that I should be here,” said Aldridge. “I think I still have to prove that I’m a go-to player. I don’t think some people really believe it yet, so I have to do it every night. Go out and prove it every night.

“I’m in the paint more than they think I am. I’ve just got to keep proving them wrong.”

With every dunk, Aldridge gets a little step closer to achieving that goal.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

03.12.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast

After being Maverick'ed for the 18th time in the last 20 meetings, calm yourself with the smooth, dulcet tones of this week's Trailblazers.com Podcast with Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and me, Casey Holdahl, of trailblazers.com. Easy listening never sounded so hard.

In this week's show, we discuss last night's loss to the Mavericks, the Laker thumping, the Rudy takedown, the importance of Friday's game against New Jersey, not sweating the road trip, LaMarcus' marvelous play as of late and last week's Blazer's Edge night. All the while, Dave keeps it legit while I bumble my way through hosting duties. Holler.

Download the podcast (41.3 MB)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Video: Blake, Aldridge, Roy Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Steve Blake talks about turning the ball over late in the game, LaMarcus Aldridge notes Dirk's ability to make tough shots and Brandon Roy discusses the importance of winning against New Jersey before heading out on the road.

Asking For A Rejection

Prior to Saturday night’s game against the Timberwolves, Nate McMillan sat down with one of his players, as he often does, and laid out a few demands. He wanted to see more intensity and trust on the defensive end. And specifically, he wanted to see at least one weakside block.

The player: Travis Outlaw.

The result: Nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks, including a weakside swat of a Sebastian Telfair shot that ended up in the third row of the Rose Garden stands. Outlaw credits McMillan's advice for the performance.

“Coach gave me room to roam,” said Outlaw. “He was like, ‘If you see an opening, help off your man a little bit.’ I was trying to hold my main guy but he was like, ‘You can still help off of him.’”

So Travis did what his coach asked, sagging off his primary defensive responsibility on occasion to ball hawk from the weakside. The outcome was an impressive performance from a player sometimes maligned by fans for his defensive limitations. But what might have been more impressive than the actual blocks was McMillan’s ability to see the potential and then challenge his player to go out and execute. Drawing something so specific out of Outlaw, right when the team needed it, runs counter to the notion, in a league seemingly ruled by players, that coaches are largely irrelevant to the results on the floor.

But while the three blocks were nice, not to mention game-changing, the overarching result of the sit down between McMillan and Outlaw was an increase in confidence and an understanding on Outlaw’s part that good defense need not always be focused on locking down one particular player.

“It gave me confidence,” said Outlaw. “If I help off of my man and then he hits a deep three, that it ain’t so bad. You’re still helping the team.”

That performance carried over to the next game as well. Outlaw, along with Nicolas Batum and Brandon Roy, successfully held Kobe Bryant to an 11 for 29 night from the field. And a light seemed to go off in Outlaw’s head

“After talking to coach, I know I can be aggressive on defense,” said Outlaw. “And as long as I push my man a certain way, my teammates are going to come help. Coach said I need to trust my teammates more on defense, and I think I have.”

After that Minnesota game, McMillan strolled through an almost empty locker room to where Outlaw was sitting to once again engage his player in conversation. But this time, McMillan’s message was much more succinct. There was a handshake and a smile, but only five words.

Said McMillan: “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Video: McMillan, Roy discuss the foul on Rudy

As you might expect, the Trevor Ariza's flagrant foul on Rudy Fernandez was all the talk at practice today in Tualatin. I don't think I recall a single question asked about anything else.

First up, Nate McMillan. The look on his face when told that Ariza wouldn't receive a suspension says more than his "no comment" comment.

Then there's Brandon Roy. Roy reiterated that it was Ariza's reaction, not the foul itself, that concerned him. He also stated another point that seems to be flying under the radar a bit: that pretty much ever game between the Lakers and Blazers ends up with some kind of skirmish.

The latest on Rudy's condition

UPDATE: Rudy has been released from the hospital. He is listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game versus the Mavericks.

From the Trail Blazers Communications Department:
Rudy Fernandez remains hospitalized for further evaluation, but is expected to be released later this afternoon. Fernandez suffered a bruised chest and right hip pointer during a third quarter fall versus the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night. He is listed as doubtful for Wednesday night's game versus the Dallas Mavericks.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Video: Outlaw, Haarlow Talk Lakers

Trail Blazers sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow interviews Travis Outlaw after Monday night's 111-94 victory against the L.A. Lakers at the Rose Garden. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy interject themselves in the Q&A, so be on the lookout for that.

Video: Aldridge, Roy Postgame

In tonight's installment of postgame video, LaMarcus Aldridge talks about sticking up for your own and Brandon Roy discusses why he didn't appreciate Trevor Ariza's post-foul actions. Blowout!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rudy Fernandez Update

Just in from Trail Blazers Communications Department:
Rudy Fernandez sustained a soft tissue injury to his right upper chest and side area in the third quarter of Monday night's game vs. the LA Lakers. X-Rays and CT scan were both negative. Fernandez will be kept overnight at an area hospital for observation. He is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game vs. Dallas.
Best thoughts toward Rudy and his family.

McMillan: 'If that happens, it happens'

As you may remember, there have been more than a few chippy moments between the Lakers and Trail Blazers over the past few years. There was the hard foul given by Lamar Odom during a game in the Rose Garden last year that resulted in the two sides having to be separated. And then there was the time Odom and Jarrett Jack got into it at Staples back in 2007. LaMarcus Aldridge has had a few run ins with Odom as well. Kobe and Przybilla jaw at each other from time to time as well. Basically, no love lost on either side.

I asked Nate McMillan about the whether he likes to see the kind of attitude the Lakers seem to illicit from his players.

"You can’t be out there and be on your heels," said McMillan. "For us, we’ve got to be aggressive, we can’t be afraid to touch Kobe. You respect them but we can’t be out there watching them. We’re going to have to be aggressive against them. So if that happens, it happens. They’re the best team in the league and in order to beat them, you’ve got to beat them. So you’re going to have to be aggressive."

I'll let you come to your own conclusion on what Coach McMillan is referring to when he says "if that happens, it happens." My guess is that "it" happens again tonight.

On the way to respect

Respect is often hard to come by when you’re young. Real respect has to be earned, so it makes sense that those who are new to the game would have to accumulate lumps and the corresponding experience to win the over doubters. The Portland Trail Blazers, through a series of arduous yet rewarding seasons, are reaching the point where they now demand and command the respect of others.

But do they have the respect of the Lakers?

The team Portland fans love to hate has the respect and attention of the Trail Blazers and the NBA in general. They’ve got the best record in the NBA. Some of them have rings. They’ve got arguably the best player in the game and one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league. In short, the Lakers have done just about everything necessary to earn the reverence of the 29 other teams in the NBA. But is that respect reciprocated when it comes to the Trail Blazers, a team that has none of those things?

“I think they do,” said Nate McMillan after pondering the question for a moment. “I certainly think they do. I don’t think they come in here assuming that it’s going to be an easy game.”

No argument there. The Lakers know the Trail Blazers are going to give them a tough game … at least at the Rose Garden. After all, there’s not a player in the L.A. locker room who doesn’t know of Portland’s recent domination at home, so in that respect, the Lakers have to have some respect for the Rose Garden.

“I think they have more respect for us at home,” said Brandon Roy. “Every team does, because we’re very capable at the Rose Garden. I think in their building, there’s a little more room for error. I think in our building, they know they have to be at the top of their game for 48 minutes.

“The fact that we’ve beaten them the last six times in our building makes them know that they have to be ready to buck in the Rose Garden.”

True enough. No team with any sense thinks they’re going to get an easy out in the Rose Garden, but is that really respect? Does that deference carry over when the Trail Blazers visit the STAPLES Center? And can you respect a team part-time?

“When you beat someone, they respect you, and they respect us” said LaMarcus Aldridge, a player who has had his share of … disagreements with the Lakers. “I think they feel like they know they have to come play us. I think we’ve showed them that we can beat them, so they’re going to come ready to play.”

Channing Frye agreed with Aldridge’s assessment that beating a team six consecutive times on your own court demands respect, but with a caveat.

They haven’t won here in four years,” said Frye, “so I think they respect us, but I don’t know if they look at us as one of those top-tier teams. I think what we have to do is continue to establish ourselves. But we can’t really worry if they respect us or not. We have to make them respect us and we’re going to do that by physical play and by going out there and hooping.”

So almost to a man, the Trail Blazers believe, that they’ve got the respect of The Zen Master, the Mamba and the rest of the Lakers. Winning, albeit only at the Rose Garden, is enough, in their minds, to earn L.A.’s admiration.

But then there’s Travis Outlaw.

According to the longest-tenured Trail Blazer, he’s seen nothing out of the Lakers to make him believe they truly respect the Red and Black. And in Outlaw’s opinion, that lack of respect comes down to one thing.

“We young,” explains Outlaw. “They probably look at us as an up and coming team, but naw, I don’t think they really respect us.”

In short, Outlaw isn’t buying the notion that beating a team 50 percent of the time is the way to go about gaining credibility. As he sees it, simply winning at home isn’t enough to garner the respect of an opponent.

“Sure, we been beating them in the Rose Garden,” said Outlaw, “so it’s probably a little hump in the road for them, but I don’t think they respect us like we’re going to be playing for the Western Conference Finals. Not like that type of respect or how they respect someone like Tim Duncan. It’s totally different. We just young, that’s how they look at it. They swagger is on 1,000!”

So how does a team go about getting that swagger?

“You’ve got to win everywhere,” said Outlaw “You kind of got to put them on their butts a couple of times. You can’t just get respect by not doing nothing. We ain’t been to the playoffs, so they’re like, ‘How they deserve respect?’”

And maybe that’s the question the Trail Blazers should be asking themselves.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Video: Przybilla, Aldridge, Roy, Outlaw Postgame

In this edition of postgame video, Joel Przybilla talks about being familiar with scrappy teams, LaMarcus Aldridge talks about getting to the free-throw line, Brandon Roy is asked if the team is tired and Travis Outlaw talks discusses putback dunks and weakside rejections.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fear The French On The Fastbreak

There might not be anything more demoralizing than giving up a fastbreak dunk. The shift in momentum that corresponds with watching the backside of your opponent as he streaks down the floor for an uncontested throwdown can change the entire dynamic of a close game. Depending on the timing, it can be the ultimate buzz kill, the basketball equivalent of a punch to the gut.

Which is why Nicolas Batum’s ability to track down and block breakaway attempts has proven so important this season for the Trail Blazers. It’s a tough stat to track, as there isn’t a column on the official scorers report for blocks tallied during fast breaks, but if they did keep such a stat, it’s a safe assumption that Batum’s would be right up there at the top of the list.

Looking at Batum, it’s easy to see why he’s been able to nearly master the art of the fastbreak block in just his rookie season. He’s got incredibly long legs, which are beneficial when trying to cover a lot of ground in a hurry, a must when getting back in transition.

But it’s Batum’s abnormally long and sinewy arms that allow him to erase what might otherwise end up as easy fastbreak buckets. Having a world-class reach is practically a necessity when it comes to the transition block, as it allows the defender to reach over the head of the would-be fastbreaker without fouling. Making any contact from behind on the fastbreak is all but guaranteed to get called as a foul, so for that reason, it makes having less muscle mass in the bicep region beneficial, leaving more clearance between the arm of the blocker and the head or shoulder of the blockee. While Batum certainly has muscle definition, he doesn’t have much mass hanging off his limbs, and when it comes to sending back fastbreak attempts, that’s a net positive.

But being tall and spindly is hardly enough. It’s an important component, but there has to be a desire coupled with instincts in order to utilize those physical attributes. Luckily for the Trail Blazers, Batum possesses both characteristics.

“I’ve blocked shots like that since I was five or six years old,” said Batum. “I could always just do it. I love to block like that, on the fastbreak or weakside.”

And then there’s timing, possibly the most important trait any premier shot blocker can possess. Knowing when to go for the block and having the ability to instinctually gauge the precise moment in which to initiate your block attempt can be the difference between drawing a foul and drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd after spiking an attempt into the stands. And on the fastbreak, that ability to almost instantaneously assess the probability of a successful block is vital. After all, knowing when to not go for the block can be important too.

“I can see very quick when I’m going to be able to get back in time to get a block on the fastbreak,” said Batum. “If it’s a very fast guy like D-Wade or Tony Parker, if they get the ball on the fastbreak, I know I can’t get them. Or if it’s someone like LeBron or Josh Smith, I don’t go. You can’t do nothing against those guys.”

But that’s a very small cross section of the league. For the most part, if Batum is in the game when an opponent is taking it to the rack in transition, he better come quick and strong, or else there’s a good chance he’ll be staring back up at the basket in disbelief as his shot is sent back from whence it came, courtesy of a 20 year-old Frenchman named Nic.

Win Rudy's Rookie/Sophomore Game Sneakers

Are you one of the legion of Rudy Fernández fans? Are you a fan of custom sneakers? Both? If so, have I got a contest for you!

Over at Rudy's official website, Rudy5.net, everybody's favorite Mallorca native is challenging fans to send him funny videos to convince him they deserve the shoes he wore in the 2009 NBA Rookie/Sophomore game.

"They represent a great memory for me," says Rudy in the video explaining the competition, "and I think you have to earn them."

Basically, Rudy wants you to send in funny videos of yourself declaring why you should be the proud owner of one of his Rookie game kicks, something along the lines of the "Vota Por Rudy" video that catapulted him into the dunk contest. Judging by what I've seen from some YouTube videos out there, the competition will be stiff.

As far as collectors items go, these are one-of-a-kind. And who knows, maybe one day you'll be able to make your own personal Rudy clone using the DNA from his foot sweat. As you can see from the picture, Rudy wore purple and orange Nike Hyperdunks, size 13. Maybe he'll throw in a pair of those fabulous orange socks is your video is really good.

Rudy swears he'll be reviewing the videos himself, so it might also be a good chance to profess your love to Mr. Fernández, in the case that's something you're interested in doing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Up, Down And Out In The Mile High

On the second night of a back to back in the Mile High City, the Portland Trail Blazers dug themselves a hole in the first half, climbed out in the third quarter, then dug an even deeper hole in the fourth on the way to a 106-90 loss to the Denver Nuggets Thursday night.

“We just looked like we had heavy legs from the start to finish,” said Nate McMillan. “They tipped off early and basically what they were doing was a lot of one-on-one, a lot of movement. We were able to score early, but we just seemed to be a step slow I thought all night long. It was a back-to-back and that could play a roll.”

Brandon Roy led the Trail Blazers with 22 points and four assists. Thursday’s game was the second straight night in which Roy played more than 40 minutes.

“They just had more energy than we did,” said Roy. “We kind of gave into fatigue a little bit and Carmelo had a big night and we have to do a better job of slowing him down.”

Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 38 points in his return from a one-game suspension for refusing to come out of a game last weekend,

“We knew there would be a lot of emotions over there and Carmelo coming back and the spotlight being on him,” said McMillan. “He came out aggressive scoring just in a number of ways mainly one-on-one raising up and shooting over the top.”

A victory in Denver, a notoriously difficult place for the Trail Blazers, seemed to be a long shot from the beginning. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back hundreds of miles away from home in the high altitude is tough enough, but it’s even tougher when playing at less than full strength as starters Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge were battling flu-like symptoms prior to Thursday’s game.

“Pre-game I wasn’t doing too well,” said Aldridge. “I went to the doctor and didn’t know if I was going to play, but I felt good out there so I played. As the game went on I felt better.”

Aldridge finished the night with 19 points and four rebounds. Przybilla added a game high 12 rebounds to go along with five points.

Travis Outlaw contributed 15 points and six rebounds, and Rudy Fernandez pitched in 11 points to round out the list of Trail Blazers scoring in double figures.

The loss puts Portland into a dead heat with the Utah Jazz for second place in the Northwest Division. And in an ironic twist, the Trail Blazers find themselves most likely rooting for the team they just lost to, as the Nuggets play the Jazz, winners of their last nine, Friday night in Utah.

The Trail Blazers have a night off before meeting the Timberwolves for the fourth and final time Saturday at the Rose Garden.

“We have to put this behind us; we have a big game Saturday,” said Roy. “I am disappointed but I don’t think we are as frustrated as people think. We are going out and trying. We are trying to build not only for now, but for next season. We are pretty positive in here.”

03.05.09 Trailblazers.com Podcast (with KP!)

There's only one way to prepare for tonight's HUGE game against the Denver Nuggets: By listening to Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and me, Casey Holdahl, talk shop in this week's installment of the Trailblazers.com Podcast. By the way, general manager Kevin Pritchard is a guest.

Dave and I go over a number of interesting topics, including finally beating the Pacers and the likelihood of success in Denver, but the real good stuff comes toward the end when we're joined by Pritchard. KP gives his impressions of last night's game, the playoff race, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. He also talks about standing pat at the trade deadline and hitting the road. It's good stuff, in my humble opinion.

Download the podcast (50.3 MB)

And make sure you show up tonight for Blazer's Edge night at the Agency. Should be fun.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Video: Outlaw, Roy, Aldridge Postgame

In this installment of postgame video, Travis Outlaw discusses not getting enough rebounds to force Mike Rice to shave his head, Brandon Roy talks about being fouled with 1.7 seconds left and LaMarcus Aldridge explains why a team that freelances on offense is tough to play against.

If you have the means, consider donating to the Nathan Vredevelt Donation Fund. Donations from fans, the Trail Blazers and Southlake Church have raised more than $41,000 for Nathan's medical bills.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Martell Webster Injury Update

Fresh news on Martell Webster's foot from the Trail Blazers Communications Department:
Martell Webster has been cleared to begin low-impact activities (bike and pool) after X-rays reveal improvement in the stress fracture in his left foot. He will no longer be required to wear a boot. He is expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season.
Some good news on the injury front.

Monday, March 2, 2009

No Longer Outliers: A Q&A With John Hollinger

ESPN.com scribe, advanced statistics guru and part-time Portlander John Hollinger recently took some time away from compiling power rankings, playoff odds and PER diems to answer a few questions about the Trail Blazers' improvements this season, the reasons for those improvements, the trade deadline, the Northwest Division playoff race and why being a young team in the postseason isn't as bad as you might think.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: Your initial projection for the Trail Blazers record this season was 42-40, good for 8th in the Western Conference. Finishing 8th still seems like a legitimate possibility, but barring a total collapse, it looks as though Portland will easily eclipse 42 wins with 23 games remaining. Is that due to the Blazers simply performing better than your initial projections, or does it have more to do with outside forces, such as other teams in the West dropping off?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: They're simply better. In particular, Brandon Roy, Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla have done far better than I had projected. Roy's jump from year 2 to year 3 has been even greater than his Year 1 to Year 2 increase, which is fairly rare, and Przybilla and Blake are having arguably the best seasons of their careers.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: Last season, you noted Portland’s 41-41 record could be attributed, in part, to good fortune. Seeing as how the Trail Blazers have continued to improve this season, is it possible last years successes might have had less to do with luck and more to do with maturation? Or are they simply getting lucky again in 08-09?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Well, the season by Blake and Pryzbilla a year ago no longer look like outliers, that's for certain. But they won 41 games with the point differential of a 38-win team and stayed relatively healthy, so no matter how you slice it they also were fortunate.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: While most of the Trail Blazers are at or below their preseason PER rankings, Brandon Roy (+3.83), Steve Blake (+3.9) and Joel Przybilla (+3.42) are all outperforming your initial projections. Is the improvement of those three players significant enough to at least partially explain Portland’s better record? How significant of a jump is a 3 point improvement above projection when it comes to PER?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Yes, as I mentioned above those three are the main reason the Blazers are faring better than my preseason estimate. A good rule of thumb is that one extra point of PER over 2,000 minutes is worth one extra win, so you can see how those three players above might take Portland from a win total in the low 40s to a total in the low 50s.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: In your season preview you noted that 3-point shooting would be a problem for the Trail Blazers, especially with the departure of James Jones. But Portland has been one of the better outside shooting teams this year (6th in 3P%, 10th in makes, 12th in attempts). Do you have a sense of why there hasn’t been much of a drop in that category this season?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Basically, a bunch of guys got better at it. Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy shoot the shot more frequently than they did a year ago, Steve Blake has essentially replaced what James Jones did, and Rudy Fernandez has been far more effective than I expected in his rookie season -- usually European rookies struggle with the longer distance before improving them in their second season.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: Have the Trail Blazers rookies (Oden, Fernandez, Bayless and Batum) been better, worse or about as good as you would have expected?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Fernandez and Batum have been better than I expected. I was very high on Fernandez based on his translated numbers from Europe but thought he would need more of an adjustment period for the defensive end and the longer 3-point shot. Batum has really surprised me too, we'll talk more about him in a minute.

As far as Oden and Bayless, I was less sure of what to expect so I guess I'm less surprised as a result. I can give you a pretty narrow range of what to expect based on a player's pro stats in Europe; the same isn't true for players coming out of college.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: You’ve caught some flack from Trail Blazers fans for not being as high on Nic Batum as other members of the media. Is he playing better than you would have projected, or is he getting the benefit of the doubt from the public at large due to being a 20-year old rookie starting on a potential playoff team?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Some of both; he's certainly further along than his translated numbers from Europe the past two seasons would have you believe -- based on those he was, at best, a CBA player. Obviously he has some offensive limitations, but he hits just enough shots to justify giving him some minutes for his defense, and with Martell Webster being out all year that's been very important.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: You were one of the few writers who didn’t criticize the Trail Blazers for not making a big trade at the deadline. You also made the statement, against what could probably be best described as conventional wisdom, that Richard Jefferson isn’t much of an upgrade over Travis Outlaw (and at 4 times the price). How did you come to both of these conclusions?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Jefferson is a bigger name based on his past, but in trades all that matters is future production. Jefferson has a PER of 14.68; Outlaw has a PER of 14.70. Jefferson is 28; Outlaw is 24. Jefferson is a better defender but has a spottier history health-wise. Basically, there's no reason to think Jefferson would outperform Outlaw over the next two seasons or so.

The other part of this that everyone overlooks is this: If you presume the Blazers would pay to keep Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge -- which I'd think nearly everyone would agree with -- then adding Jefferson or Vince Carter would almost certainly have put the Blazers into the luxury tax in 2010-11, and possibly in 2009-10 as well. So unless you think that one of these guys was the missing link to a championship, it's hard for me to see Paul Allen agreeing to that kind of financial hit.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: On the topic of youth: Is it harder to project out for a young team like the Trail Blazers? Does PER, your power rankings and playoff odds factor in an age variable? It would seem, especially when it comes to playoff odds, that team age, or at least experience, could play a part in the likelihood of making the postseason.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: It could be a factor, but it might work in a very different way from how you're thinking. Younger players tend to be healthier, and tend to make more in-season improvement, which means it's often the younger teams rather than the savvy veteran ones that are charging the hardest come spring.

The same can be said of the playoffs -- there's a massive trend toward confirmation bias, where if the older team wins we say of course it was because of their experience, but if the younger team wins nobody re-evaluates whether their assumptions made any sense.

Here's a surprising tidbit for you: Other things being equal, younger players tend to outperform older ones in the postseason -- presumably because the 100-game grind has worn them down considerably less.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: Along those same lines, do you think something as difficult to quantify as “culture” or personality will ever factor into metrics like PER? And what direction do you think statistical analysis is going in the NBA? What different variables do you see stat amalgamations like PER, SCHOENE, and Win Shares integrating as more information becomes accepted and available?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I think that's the type of thing we always need to be conscious of, but I'm very leery of mixing the soft, fuzzy stuff with hard data. There are some things that hint at this stuff -- on-court vs. off-court data, for instance -- but there's never going to be a locker room variable for basketball, just like there isn't one in baseball or football.

I think in general advanced metrics are becoming a lot more accepted in NBA circles, and with far greater speed than I had imagined. If I knew where it was headed next I'd be in Vegas, not Portland, but the big quest that's out there and nobody has quite cracked is trying to measure player's defensive impact.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: Is the Northwest Division the most difficult in the NBA, or does that distinction go to the Southwest Division?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Still have to go Southwest, but that may be temporary. The Northwest is definitely gaining ground, and if Oklahoma City makes a leap into playoff contention next year I think they'll surpass the Southwest.

Casey Holdahl, Center Court: Denver, Utah and Portland are clumped together in the NW Division standings. Do you have a sense of which team is going to end the season as division champs?

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: I'm still projecting Denver to win the division -- Utah is probably a better team right now but has an extremely difficult schedule over the final six weeks, while the Blazers would probably need to win Thursday and again on the last day of the season in order to catch them.

Denver is sneaky dangerous to me because they're playing well even though Carmelo Anthony has been way off his game. If he gets his shot going and the bigs stay healthy, they're going to be extremely tough to beat in the postseason.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Video: The LaMarcus Corner

Trail Blazers sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow interviews LaMarcus Aldridge after Sunday night's 102-84 victory against the San Antonio Spurs at the Rose Garden. Aldridge finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Audio: Nate McMillan Pregame

Head coach Nate McMillan discusses Greg Oden's injury ("This [recovery] is a lot slower than we expected"), playing defense on Tim Duncan, the recent play of Channing Frye ("If he's making shots, he's helping us") Travis Outlaw's minutes, being a "warm-up defender" and dealing with not having Martell Webster.

Download the podcast (12.9 MB)