Thursday, February 16, 2012

Better off without our All-Star? -- Blazers Finally win in Oakland

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

Just a quick review for the readers about Portland's two biggest struggles/flaws for this year:

1)  Winning close games
2)  Winning on the road

If the Blazers had won all of their close games (5 points or less), they would have the best record in the league.  Simply looking at point differential, Portland should be third in the Western Conference behind OKC and San Antonio.  If Portland had simply won 5 of their 9 losses by five points or less, Portland would be tied with the Spurs for second in the West.  Unfortunately, Brandon Roy is gone and Portland has struggled in close games and have been abysmal on the road.

So, heading into last night's game against Golden State, a team that had won three straight games and is a team on the rise under the tutelage of Mark Jackson, AND factoring in that Portland was on the second game of a back-to-back-to-back, AND considering Portland was without their All-Star and the most consistent player the team has had this year, AND understanding that Portland would rather play the Lakers at home than Golden State at Oracle...Portland was destined to lose.

Last night started out how most people probably expected.  The Warriors dominated the boards, out-shot the Blazers, and extended the lead multiple times in the first quarter, to as many as 8 points.  But Portland fought back.  By focusing on controlling the defensive boards, corralling and putting back multiple baskets, and FINALLY hitting outside shots, Portland climbed back into the game by scoring 37 points in the second quarter and taking a three point lead into halftime.  Then, as we all expected against one of the best shooting and higher scoring teams in the league, the second half was all about defense.  Portland combined to score 36 points in the half, one less than they managed in the second quarter alone.  Yet Portland's defense was just as stifling against Golden State. 

Going down the stretch in the fourth quarter, the inevitable pattern was playing out.  Portland was within a couple of possessions of their opponent.  They started to miss shot after shot while their opponent steadily hit baskets.  Portland throws away possessions, and eventually, they lose by three points.  But this night was different from all other nights.

Without Aldridge, Portland ran their offense through Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford.  Crash was stellar, knocking down four clutch threes and slashing to the hoop.  Crawford was off and on all night, but hit every key free throw and the deciding three point shot that gave Portland the lead in the closing minute.  Then, the Warriors played the role of the Blazers by fumbling their final possession where they could have forced OT or won the game outright.  Instead, BLAZERS WIN!

So, what does this tell us about the formula for winning close games?  Let Crash let it fly from beyond the arc.  Ensure LMA is in street clothes.  Give Elliot Williams plenty of playing time.  And most of all, play every close game on the road.

Who knows if Portland can use this victory to propel them in the right direction; but it was sure nice to go to sleep after winning a close game.  We can all hope that the Blazers are learning about what it takes to win close games.  I'd rather them learn now and build on it going into the playoffs than forget how to win close games down the stretch.

Great game last night and one more to go tonight! 

Go Blazers!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love is Pain -- Blazers Lose to Wizards

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

Because of constraints on my time as a real, live person, this post will be shorter than normal.  Here's a brief recap of last night's atrocity against the Washington Wizards:

  • Aldridge goes down with an ankle injury in the second minute and the Blazers' spirit of the Blazers goes down with him.
  • Portland plays no defense.
  • Portland looked dead.
  • Portland allowed one of the worst shooting to look like the greatest shooting team in history.
  • Terrible loss.
Hopefully the Blazers turn things around tonight!

Go Blazers!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blazers v. Mavs Recap—A Rare Moral Victory

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

It is rare that a losing team can claim a moral victory; but last night's double overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks was just that.

Portland got off to an atrocious start, looking like the woeful road team that has emerged as the status quo for the Blazers this season.  Down by 18, it appeared as though Portland would fold like they did to powerhouses like Detroit and Cleveland earlier in the season.  LaMarcus Aldridge was all but invisible during the first three quarters, Raymond Felton could have built a large outhouse with his bricks, and only Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum appeared interested in any form of competition.

Then, the inevitable comeback came from the Blazers...the comeback that would result in getting close enough to avoid labeling the loss a complete lack of effort by Portland, but not close enough to actually challenge for a real, live, actual victory.

Going into the fourth quarter, I said to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice, if for once this season, Aldridge took over the 4th and leads Portland to a comeback win?"  And guess what?  That's what happened!...well, almost.

Despite never leading in the game, Portland went to their All-Star (it sounds nice to say that) time and time again for clutch baskets.  By playing aggravating defense and finally hitting open shots, Portland slowly whittled Dallas' lead until they finally tied the game to force OT.

The Blazers got their first lead in the first overtime behind the aggressiveness of Jamal Crawford who was able to knife through the Mavs defense to get to the rim.  Yet the Mavs were in no mood to roll over.  They battled back and provided their Finals MVP a chance to hit his patented step-back jumper.  To the delight of Blazers fans globally, he missed, providing Portland with 2.0 seconds to hit a game winning shot.  And if you are Nate McMillan, who do you go to if you need a quick catch and shoot?  That's right, Mr. Crossover himself who shoots 89% better in the clutch with a hand in his face...

Crawford curls off a screen, snags the in-bounds pass and launches a WIDE open three.  It looked good leaving his hands.  It was right on line.  And it missed!  Of course it missed.

That took Portland to their second OT against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.  To start the second overtime, Raymond Felton decided it was time to take over the game, the same Felton who was shooting 25%, 4-16 going into the period.  So what does Felton do?  He neglects to pass the ball on the first three possessions, converting on a wild drive to the hoop and badly missing the other two shots.  On the other side of the court, the incomparable Delonte West his three straight shots, giving the Mavs a four point lead.  Magically, after failing to get his team involved or going to the man who carried Portland into overtime and hit the tying basket in the first overtime (Mr. All-Star), Felton was benched for the remainder of the period.  (On a side note, Nate gets a lot of flack, but he makes so many great calls.)

With Felton out, the Blazers stayed close, down by two with 30 seconds left.  Unfortunately, Dallas had the ball and went through their superstar.  While Dirk had been off all night, and missed chances to win the game at the end of regulation and the first overtime, we all knew he would not miss again.  With ten seconds left, Dirk posts up Aldridge and hits a fade away jumper to put Dallas up by four points.

Portland is then in a precarious position of having to score four points in 10 seconds.  The logical solution is to give the ball to Crawford who is the all-time leader in 4-point plays.  However, Matthews gets the ball, drives to the hoop, and gets fouled in the act of shooting (Dallas had one foul to give, but Matthews out-maneuvered them).  Matthews, an 87% free throw shoot, drains the first shot, then misses the second.  Wallace grabs the rebound and ends up in a jump ball.  If Crash wins the tip, Portland will have a chance to hit a three and send the game to a third OT.  But there's no way that can happen, right?

Then it happens.  Wallace wins the tip.  Crawford gets the ball (the most clutch player on Portland's roster).  Dallas can foul, but they don't.  Crawford tries to take Delonte off the dribble.  He gives him a juke, then instead of taking a straight up three, does a double-clutch shot that heads towards the hoop.  Will it go in...

NO!  It hits hard off the backboard and the Blazers lose.  Or more accurately, Dallas wins.  Because on this night, Portland did not lose the game.  Portland fought.  Portland showed heart.  Portland had a shot to win and got a shot off.  Portland had two clutch shots by Aldridge to force OT 1 & 2.  Portland played an amazing fourth quarter and two solid OTs.

Last night's loss renewed my faith in the Blazers' ability to compete in the playoffs this year.  Yes, we may be the 8th seed in the playoffs if it were to start today; however, we are a playoff team, and if we play like we did last night in Dallas, we could be a dangerous team come April.

Next up is our final back-to-back-to-back.  How great would it be to sweep those games and bring some momentum into the All-Star break and beyond.

Thank you Blazers for showing heart last night; it's much appreciated by us fans.

Go Blazers!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blazers v. Hornets Recap—A Lazy Road Win

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

Portland got the win, but they did not look like a playoff team.  Against a team who has only won two games since their third game of the season, the Blazers needed to grind out a close victory when they should have pummeled this inferior team.  Portland used the same style of play that resulted in a home loss again Houston: laziness, lack of energy, laziness.

On a night when Portland shot well above 50%, arguably their best shooting night on the road, one would assume Portland would walk away from the Big Easy with a comfortable double-digit win.  Jamal Crawford was his old self, Raymond Felton seems to have rediscovered his shooting touch after returning from a sprained ankle; yet the Hornets still had a chance to win the game in the 4th quarter.

Portland has the pieces to be an elite defensive and rebounding team.  In terms of defense, for the five minutes they applied defensive pressure to the Hornets, the Blazers dominated the game, forcing repetitive turnovers and converting them to easy baskets.  Then that energy disappeared and NO stayed in the game.  Throughout the rest of the game, the Blazers showed a lack of motivation to crush the Hornets. 

Portland has also forgot how to rebound.  For the past week, the Blazers have been manhandled on the glass by teams that should not be able to muscle Portland in the paint.  Between Camby, Aldridge, Wallace, Batum and some girthy bench players, the Blazers should be one of the best rebounding teams in the league.  During the great stretch run to start the season, Portland ranked near the top of the league in rebounding efficiency.  However, Portland has forgotten an elementary skill of basketball: boxing out.  Portland must correct their lackadaisical play on the boards to reassert themselves as a contender in the West. 

The real test for the Blazers will come tonight when they face a Mavs team who is starting to play great basketball.  By rebounding and playing pressure defense, Portland can leave Dallas with a momentum shifting win.  Yet, there is no way Portland wins tonight if they play like they did again the Hornets.

Now that LMA has been named an All-Star, and he had his post-All-Star letdown game, he needs to take this team on his back and change the attitude of the Blazers.  Tonight will be fun to watch...

Go Blazers!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

LA...LA...LA... (not a chant for the black mark on the west coast)

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

The Western Conference coaches finally got something right: they selected LaMarcus Aldridge to the 2011-12 All-Star team.  After a highly publicized snub last year, where LA would have had the chance to represent his conference in front of his mother who was recovering from cancer, LA is finally an All-Star.  With consistent play and a new role as the face of the Blazers, Aldridge demonstrated to the league that he's a legit star.

No longer in the shadow of Brandon Roy, LA has become one of the most complete big men in the NBA.  Each year he has added a new piece to his game, and now, Aldridge is deadly from the outside, can post up from both sides of the hoop, drive left, drive right, fade left, fade right, hit the jump hook with each hand, and drive the ball strong to the hoop to finish with grace or power around the rim.  Aldridge can rebound on the offensive and defensive ends.  He has quick hands and feet to disrupt the passing lanes, and he has become a respectable shot blocker (as we all saw against Durant...oh wait, that was goaltending.)  On a bad night, LA scores 15.  On a good night he controls the game like a graceful conductor. 

The best part about LaMarcus Aldridge: he still hasn't reached his peak.  LA still lacks the killer instinct in the 4th quarter.  He can and should be a 12 rebound a night guy.  And dare I say it, he could probably become a reliable three point threat.

May this be the first of many All-Star weekends!  Congrats LaMarcus, you deserve it!

Go Blazers!

PS.  Let's start an Elliot Williams for the Slam Dunk Contest campaign!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blazers v. Rockets Recap with *Bonus* questions I would have asked as a media member

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

Before getting to the game recap, in a sadistic, cathartic exercise, I have decided to list a few of the questions I would have asked Blazers players and coaches as a member of the media for tonight's game.  At least I can imagine what my interactions would have been like to stare up at the towering LMA as he ponders my tough, but thoughtful questions.

Here are a few of the questions (not related to the ludicrous OKC loss)...

Q: After the torrid start by Portland, Blazers players and coaches mentioned the fraternity-like bond that naturally formed as the main reason for their success.  Now that you have encountered some inconsistency, especially on the road, has the culture changed in the clubhouse?

Q: The Blazers have struggled to form a late game identity.  What do you envision that identity must be in order to have the same success Portland had with B-Roy over the last few years, when the Blazers were consistently one of best NBA teams at closing out games?

Q: As this is the most frantic, condensed season in a while, how do you plan on using the All-Star break to retool before the stretch run? Is rest more important than practice at this point?

Q: What is your favorite pizza place in Portland?  (Isn't this information everyone wants to know?  I mean, seriously, what's more interesting: another answer about another basketball question or information that can help satiate your appetite, literally?)

Maybe, with a little luck, the Blazers will hook up TANY with a media credential for one of Portland's east coast games so we can ask a few of these questions.  Stranger things have happened!

Now to the recap...

This game was all about energy from beginning to end.  One team had it consistently while the other went through sugar highs and lows from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Portland awoke from their slumber in a few short spurts to come back from 19 down to force a tie, only to have Houston build the lead again and not relinquish it.

Portland was lackluster to start the game.  As Mike and Mike mentioned in their broadcast, it appeared the Blazers were still hungover from the OKC game.  Portland's game oozed laziness from the outset.  The only player in the first quarter who appeared to be motivated and was active on both ends of the floor was the Blazer playing with a sprained ankle.  Felton kept Portland in the game in the first quarter, and in spite of stellar shooting by the Blazers, Portland continued to get out rebounded on every possession, which resulted in Houston heading into the second with a small lead.  Houston was active on both ends and moved the ball well to get shot after shot that was wide open. 

The second quarter was no better.  The theme again?  No energy.  Portland sagged on defense, enabling red-hot shooting by Houston's bench.  The Blazers' offense continued to be lazy, with over-passing and minimal movement and penetration.  The thing Portland was best at in the second quarter?  Turning the ball over.  Throw in an abysmal half by the soon-to-be All-Star, and you get a double-digit deficit at the half.

Whatever Nate McMillan said at halftime to get the Blazers motivated worked to start the third quarter.  Who else, but Gerald "Crash" Wallace brought the defensive energy that led to 10 forced turnovers in the quarter, cutting the lead in half by the start of the fourth quarter.  It appeared as though Portland might show some of the resilience they came to be known for in the B-Roy years, but alas, the fourth quarter was circa 2012, not 2010.

Portland continued their charge to start the final quarter, tying the game with about 10 minutes to go in the game.  After trading baskets for a few possessions, never gaining the lead, Portland visibly ran out of gas and sputtered to the end of the game.  They went through the motions of trying to come back; yet Portland was not destined to come back this night.

I'd like to say Portland threw this game out of solidarity for me not being able to attend the game and fraternize with them in the locker room; however, my egoism aside, Portland got beat by OKC tonight, not Houston. 

This has been a grueling season, and nights like tonight illustrate that fact more than any.  Portland must get over their angst toward the league and show their worth as they head out on the road for two games.  As fans, we need to put these past two games behind us as well and have faith that the Blazers will get out of this funk and put together a stellar run after the All-Star break.

Go Blazers!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Big Win for TANY after Bad Loss for Blazers

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

We found out today that my blog about the Blazers' first 21 games won the inaugural Blazers Blogger Network Blogging Contest!  Unfortunately, since I live in New York, I cannot attend the game tomorrow as a member of the media...but a win's a win's a win!  Below is the email I received from Sarah from the Blazers.

After last night's brutal defeat to the Thunder, it was nice to get some good news tonight (other than hearing that the NBA decided to say, "oops, my bad," about the phantom goal tending at the end of the game.  Winning the contest must be a sign that things are about to turn around for our beloved red, black, and white.

Thanks for everyone's support throughout our run at TANY and a special shout out to Zach Putnam who encouraged me to submit an article for the competition!

Go Blazers!