Friday, December 30, 2011

Game #3 Recap: Blazers vs. Nuggets — Five Bullets or Less

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

1)  Who Says You Can't Turn the Ball Over 25 Times and Win?:  Denver was impressive defensively tonight, forcing 25 turnovers to their 7.  That's an 18 turnover difference.  Therefore, the Nuggets must have won in blowout fashion, right?  Not so much.  With a 20 rebound advantage, 9 timely blocks, and superior shooting (52% to 40%), Portland overcame the thievery of Ty Lawson (8 steals) to seal the victory.  If the Blazers could have held onto the ball, the game would never have been close.  Portland hit their open shots, limited Denver to a single shot all but three times, and contested most of the Nuggets' shots.  This is not the recipe for most wins, but it worked tonight.

2)  Who Needs LMA and Crash to Win?:  Denver did a great job bottling up LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace.  Throughout the night, Nuggets defenders collapsed on Aldridge and Wallace, forcing them to find the open man.  Luckily for the Blazers, that is what they did.  Aldridge finished the night with 6 assists, as he trusted his guards to knock down the necessary shots and carry the team to a victory.  The first two games provided heavy doses of the forwards to seal the victories.  Tonight, the guards stole the show, knocking down jumper after jumper.  Wesley Matthews hit five threes in the second half, including four in a row in a three minute stretch of the third quarter to keep Portland in slight control of the game.  And in the fourth, Jamal Crawford illustrated why he was 6th Man of the Year two years ago by scoring 14 of his 22.  Tonight was also the coming out party for Raymond Felton who hit the critical three with two minutes left in the game, which provided the knockout punch the Blazers needed.

3)  Never Give Up:  The Blazers won tonight's game for one simple reason: they never game up throughout the game.  When the Blazers lost a double digit lead in the first half, they fought back.  When Portland turned the ball over with sloppy passes, they hustled back on defense to block a shot on the break or strip the ball from a driving Nugget.  Nicolas Batum had four such blocks tonight (all things of beauty) and Wesley Matthews provided the game's critical steal by stripping Ty Lawson after he himself had lost the ball with less than two minutes remaining in the game.  The result of Matthews' steal?  Felton's key three pointer to ice the game.

4)  Marcus Camby:  His defense and rebounding are invaluable.  Portland needs him to stay healthy if they hope to make a run this year.  Kurt Thomas is a valuable backup; however, without Camby, Portland lacks their captain on defense.  Here's hoping for a healthy season for all!

5)  3-0:  It's awesome to be undefeated.  When will we ever be able to say again that we were undefeated through the new year.  This is historic stuff!  How great would it be if we could remain undefeated after the new year.  66-0 has a great sound to it.

Go Blazers!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Game #3 Preview: Blazers vs. Nuggets — Tonight's Storylines

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

1)  A Real Test Against a Good Team:  Tonight, for the first time this season, the Portland Trail Blazers face a legitimate contender in the Denver Nuggets.  The Nuggets have depth at every position, veterans at every position, and a coach who knows how to utilize those players at every position.  It's easy to look good against mediocre teams; it's much more difficult to blow out a team who plays solid defense, rebounds better than most, and has offensive weapons who can stretch the floor and score in the paint.  If the Blazers hope to be successful, they will need LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace to dominate Denver's front line.  In particular, Portland must neutralize Nene, who just signed a huge contract with the Nuggets, which seems to be well deserved.  If the Blazers play a balanced game in terms of defense/offense and up-tempo/half court, Portland should come out the victor, making a statement to the doubters who don't feel Portland is for real.

2)  LaMarcus or Wallace?:  For two consecutive games, Gerald Wallace has been "The Man" for Portland.  Thus far, Aldridge has taken on more the role of "Robin" as he did with Brandon Roy.  Aldridge has been a force, just not as powerful as Wallace.  If Portland wants to be considered an elite contender, they need Aldridge to truly be "The Man" as Wallace has asserted in the first two games.  With two legitimate "Men," Portland can contend for a title.  It is during a game like tonight's where we need "Two Men" to step up.  We'll see if that happens.

3)  Turnover Differential:  To win tonight's game, Portland needs to win the turnover battle.  Portland has been strong in its first two games, turning the ball over nearly half as much as their opponents.  Denver is much better at controlling the ball.  If Portland can play the passing lane well and control the paint, they should win a hard fought game.

Tonight will be a lot of fun.  Enjoy the Blazers' first true test!

Go Blazers!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Game #2 Recap: Blazers vs. Kings — Five Bullets or Less

By Jonathan Ryan Davis
  • Defense Wins Championships:  Last night, Portland came out of the gate with heavy legs, sloppy play, lackluster defense, and an inept offense.  It looked like the Blazers were destined to end up 1-1, then something happened.  Instead of sagging on defense, slipping below screens, and avoiding the glass like they were scared it would come tumbling down on them, Portland decided midway through the second quarter to play some D.  Spurred by the aggression of Gerald Wallace, Portland played opportunistic defense, where they went for steals, communicated and helped one another, and played in-your-face D.  Suddenly, Sacramento started missing, Portland started pushing the tempo, and a ten point deficit turned into a rout.  Portland has the potential to be one of the top defenses in the league with an array of athletic, smart players who know how to position themselves on the defensive end.  Anchored by Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace, if Portland can retain this defensive energy, they will compete with OKC for the division.
  • Beware of the Rhino:  Craig Smith made his first appearance last night and proved he was a worthwhile acquisition.  He is huge and knows how to use his body.  Smith could and should become the enforcer of our second unit who is able to clog the paint, control the boards, and provide 4-6 points on night on put backs.  The Rhino is no longer endangered!
  • Finishing Drives: Portland looked terrible, for the second night in a row, at finishing drives to the basket.  Led by Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton, the Blazers consistently got to the hole only to blow easy lay-ins.  If Portland can start converting these gimmes, close games will become comfortable wins.
  • A Win's a Win's a Win:  We need to remember that with a shortened season, it doesn't matter how we win so long as we win.  We are 2-0.  Let's keep the wins coming, however ugly they might be.
  • Wallace Encore:  He's good.  Very good.  Very Very good.  Just ask the Rose Garden crowd who serenaded him as he exited the court last night.  I can't wait to watch him for an entire season.  At this point, we might have two all-stars on our team.
Go Blazers!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Game #2 Preview: Blazers vs. Kings — Tonight's Storylines

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

1)  Stamina:  Tonight is the first of many back-to-back games the Blazers will encounter over the course of this shortened season.  The past few years, Portland has been one of the best teams in the NBA in the second game of back-to-backs.  With an athletic, fairly young core of players (save Camby and Thomas who defy years), Portland is poised to repeat their success in such games.  The only concern is how lackluster Portland looked at the end of last night's victory.  Was their sloppiness due to poor conditioning or nerves?  Were their legs tired or was it the lack of cohesion between players who are learning each others' tendencies?  We'll have a better idea after tonight's tilt with the Kings (who surprised the Lakers last night).

2)  Rotation:  Last night involved a lot of experimentation with the rotation by Nate McMillan (now a winning coach as the Blazers' general).  He went very young for three minutes in the second quarter before realizing they aren't quite ready.  He played with line-ups where Crawford played the point.  He used Batum, Wallace, and Matthews together.  He shuffled in his best ballers throughout the 4th trying to find the "right" clutch line-up.  It will be interesting to see if McMillan shortens the rotation tonight after the failures of Chris Johnson and Nolan Smith against Philly or if he will open up the rotation to rest of the legs of his starters on the second night of a back-to-back.

3)  Gerald Wallace:  Can Crash repeat his stellar performance from last night?  Wallace was a beast against the Sixers, as he lived up to his nickname by crashing the boards, diving for loose balls, steamrolling to the basket, and closing the passing lanes with acute anticipation.  It was reported by the Oregonian that McMillan planned to just let Wallace play, which is exactly what the Blazers did.  If Wallace "unleashed" can result in consistent production (on both the offensive and defensive ends) like the first game, the Trail Blazers will be a tough match-up for everyone. 

Go Blazers!!

Game #1 Recap: Blazers vs. Sixers — Five Bullets or Less

By Jonathan Ryan Davis
  • Blazers win, Blazers win!:  The Portland Trail Blazers are currently on track to be 66-0; who would have thought?  Regardless of how they played, the most important part of last night was the fact that Blazers basketball is back and the home crowd came out to support a thrilling Portland victory (which should not have been so thrilling). 
  • Up-Tempo Offense is Here to Stay:  If last night's game is any indication, Portland is dedicated to a new brand of Blazers basketball.  Throughout the night, Portland pushed the ball up court with outlet passes after turnovers and defensive rebounds.  Raymond Felton was the anchor for this tempo, but players like Jamal Crawford, Gerald Wallace, and Wesley Matthews enabled this style to work by streaking down the floor on every possession they could.  The Blazers had more fast break point last night than the last three seasons combined.  Let's see if they can continue this trend tonight.
  • Fourth Quarter Collapse:  If the Blazers want to have any success beyond the first round of the playoffs, they need to find a late-game identity.  After amassing a 15 point lead late in the 4th quarter, Portland froze up on offense.  Defensively, they were fine.  Philadelphia hit some spectacular, difficult three-pointers to get back in the game.  However, when they tried to convert on offense, the Blazers looked lost.  Felton went from a steady ball-handler to a reckless JV point guard trying to impress his friends with out of control drives and ostentatious passes.  LMA started to float outside and short-arm his jumpers, and the successful movement that created easy baskets for the majority of the game dissipated.  Hopefully, their poor play is a result of the short amount of time the Blazers' stars have spent together and not an sign of things to come.
  • Gerald Wallace is the Man:  Enough said.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Game #1 Preview: Blazers vs. Sixers — Tonight's Storylines

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

1)  Blazers Up-tempo Offense:  The Portland Trail have vowed once again to speed up their offense.  Nate McMillan even reduced the shot clock to 20 seconds for the Fan Fest to encourage a quicker tempo.  Yet, unlike previous years, it seems like the trees are aligned for this change to actually occur.  First off, Portland  acquired Raymond Felton, a player who thrives in the open court, and they will start the season with the freak athlete known as "Crash."  As well, Batum, Matthews, and LMA have yet to be unleashed into a more open, fast-paced offense that can exploit their physical gifts.  Yet, the biggest reason an up-tempo offense is likely to occur this year is the departure of Andre Miller and the retirement of Brandon Roy.  These players will be sorely missed; however, Portland was stuck in a half-court, isolation based offense that thrived because of Roy's unique skill-set.  With this style, many Blazers' gifts were stymied.  Now, the Blazers can and should run.  Tonight should tell us a lot about whether the change of pace is an false-intention or an actuality.

2)  Will Aldridge Be the Man:  This is LaMarcus Aldridge's team now.  Can he be the man?  Odds are, it will take LMA a week or two to get into playing shape after his heart procedure; though, we will see tonight whether Aldridge can take control of the paint, dominate the boards, and become a force on both ends of the floor.  Moreover, it will be critical to see how the Blazers integrate Aldridge into their new offense (because the second pre-season game was quite ugly).

3)  How Deep Will the Rotation Be: Will McMillan use an 8-man rotation with Crawford playing the point with the second unit?  Will he use Nolan Smith, Elliot Smith, or Armon Johnson?  Will Chris Johnson serve as a backup to Marcus Camby or will Kurt Thomas monopolize that role?  Will Luke Babbitt even be activated?  Odds are, we will be asking these questions over the first month because McMillan doesn't know what will work yet.  How could he?  He had two weeks to get ready for the craziest 66-game schedule in NBA history.  When all is over, this team is so deep that McMillan will likely employ a 10-man rotation.  In order to survive the schedule, Portland must take advantage of this depth compared to other teams that won't be able to go deeper than 8 men.

There are likely many more storylines to follow, but the three above will give us a great preview of the season we are about to undertake.

Blazers basketball is back!  Go Blazers!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Most Memorable Christmas Day Game

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

One of my closest friends had the unfortunate luck of growing up in Denver as a Nuggets fan.  While the Nuggets have a phenomenal retro mascot, their NBA franchise has not provided the same consistent brand of basketball the Blazers have provided over the last three decades.  Nonetheless, he is a diehard Nuggets fan, which I have to respect.

Every year we make little bets over the Blazers/Nuggets series, and when we saw on the schedule that our two teams were playing Christmas night two years ago, we decided we had to go to the game together.  What made this game special was that he lived/lives in Tampa, Florida while I lived/live in New York.  We both flew in on Christmas day in time to dress in our respective jerseys and cook up some pre-game snacks and smack.

When we got to the game, he was a vocal advocate for his hometown team, our division nemesis (before OKC's emergence).  After Denver took an early lead, he was that obnoxious fan who taunted the home crowd.  Then something happened.  Portland took the lead and control of the game.  Quickly, his slingers turned to silent contemplation and polite claps for his team when they decided to put up a mediocre fight.

The Blazers dominated the fourth, resulting in a 107-96 victory.  At the closing buzzer, my friend congratulated me as he awaited a barrage of smack talk.  Instead, I was the bigger man.  I said nothing about the victory and just thanked him for flying to Portland for the game--but I knew he hurting from a nationally televised humiliation.  What a sweet night that was.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Greatest Holiday Gift of All — NBA Basketball

By Jonathan Ryan Davis

Regardless of your religious or cultural background, December has become "Holiday Season" here in America.  Whether you're Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or Agnostic, for most Portlanders, the Blazers have become their religion of sorts.  Therefore, it is fitting and appropriate that the NBA begins its shortened season this weekend when families are able to come together and share their love for one another and for Blazers basketball.

In the spirit of Trail Blazers basketball, please share your favorite red, black, and white Christmas game memory; tomorrow, I will share mine.

Happy start of the Blazers Basketball Season!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pre-Season Finale Recap in Five Bullets or Less

By Jonathan Ryan Davis
  • The Portland Trail Blazers had a chance to beat the Jazz in Utah despite having no business being in the game (which is a good sign).  Aside from the first quarter, the Blazers looked sloppy throughout the middle part of the game, drawing superfluous fouls, turning the ball over, and missing countless open shots.  Down by 8 points with two minutes left, the Blazers never stopped scrapping on defense, which allowed them to force multiple turnovers and have a shot to take the lead with less than five seconds left.  Unfortunately, LMA missed his patented jumper, though we can give him a pass since he is coming off a heart procedure.  If the Blazers can remain in games when they play this poorly, the Blazers should be in for a successful year.  With a shortened season, so many games in so few days will produce a plethora of slop; if the Blazers can sledge through the slop better an more consistently than their opponents, they could be a tough out this year.
  • Kurt Thomas is a smart defender who knows how to take a charge (4 charges in the first half).  For the second straight game, Thomas has used his high Basketball IQ to maneuver his 87 year old body into the right position in order to draw multiple charges.  Some people are comparing Thomas to Juwan Howard.  Write it down that I am on record as saying, before this season begins, that Kurt Thomas will have a greater impact over the long run on this team than Juwan Howard did, desipte Howard’s heroics when he stepped in to anchor the snake-bit team a couple years ago.  Thomas will solidify the defensive identity the Blazers need in order to play the new up-tempo style of basketball McMillan hopes to implement.  As they say, great defense creates quality offense.  We can already see the Blazers are taking more chances in creating turnovers, which can be risky and result in easy hoops for the opposition; but if players like Thomas rotate and help on the weak side, many of those chances will result in turnovers and fast break points.
  • The Blazers struggled to integrate LMA into the offense.  This was a given.  Aldridge was only cleared for full contact basketball a couple of days ago and he underwent a hear procedure last week.  LMA is human and some rust is natural.  Add in the new role players in the Blazers’ lineup and you end up with a group of rotation players who need some time to gel.  With Aldridge out of the lineup, it was easier for these new Blazers to simply run the floor.  With LMA back, the Blazers know the offense needs to run through him.  That is not to say LMA will prevent the Blazers from playing up-tempo; the opposite is true.  Aldridge runs like a gazelle and should be a centerpiece for the new look offense.  What the Blazers need to figure out is how to balance their up-tempo offense and their half-court offense.  Felton should pilot the up-tempo offense and Aldridge must be the cog in half-court sets.  When the Blazers figure out this balance, they will be a dangerous team.
  • The Blazers need Crawford to shoot well to be successful, whereas Wallace can impact other areas of the game if his shot is not falling.  Crawford and Wallace played roughly the same amount of minutes tonight and both shot equally poorly (1-6 for Wallace and 3-16 for Crawford).  However, Crawford registered a +/- of -11 while Wallace had a +/- of +5.  For the Blazers to contend in the West, which most people don’t believe is possible (including most Blazers fans and writers), Crawford needs to hit his shots more consistently or find other ways to influence the game like Crash.  Wallace knows when his shot is not falling.  As a result, he hustles to snag loose balls, crash the boards, and get in his man’s face on defense.  Crawford is an offensive specialist who has never been known for his defense.  If the Blazers hope to elevate to the next level, they either need to assure that Crawford will hit his shots or mold him into a more all-around player like Wallace, Matthews, and Batum.  The Blazers could be a unique team who can sport entire line-ups that can play both ways effectively.  LMA is on his way.  Felton has some scrap in him.  Crawford needs to absorb this two-faced mentality so we don’t encounter another +/- of -11 during the regular season.
  • Bring on the Regular Season!  Go Blazers!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pre-Season Game #2 Preview

By Josh Sidis

Before I begin the pre-season game preview for the second installment of Vegas Summer League, I mean the final pre-season game, I would like to take a moment and welcome everyone back to basketball.  We all have our thoughts on the past five months events, but now we can just focus on the fact that the Blazers are finally playing ball again and I can continue caring about the most important thing in the world: Blazers Basketball.  

Now onto our pre-season preview, which comes to you at no additional cost.  

Tonight the Blazers take on... Um... the Utah Jazz... I think... again...Which should inevitably be an awful professional basketball game.  Let's just be honest, pre-season games by nature are merely organized scrimmages, but this year who could possibly be ready?  Training camp started a week ago, Raymond Felton still has his Dairy Queen weight, Brandon Roy suddenly and unexpectedly retired, and Greg Oden has a new mysterious injury to a tendon that I’m pretty sure is only found on his body.  How could anyone be ready to play organized basketball right now? You saw the last game.  We simply ran with two feet in front of us and dribbled the basketball with both hands in order to beat an inferior team.

Sorry, I’m being really negative.  I need to get the lockout angst out before we get to some real basketball.  Let me just get to the preview part deux.  

Luke Babbitt shines tonight, going 34-48 with 23 three pointers.  (He was so close to that last night).  The Jazz bring back Andrei Kirilenko so he and Chris Johnson can battle for skinniest seven footer in the league.  Most importantly, and seriously, the Blazers will maintain their fast paced, high octane offense that nobody around the league believes they can pull off.  And, for a kicker, I'm predicting an E-Will between the legs, 360, cartwheel dunk to put the game away part way through the first.

Monday, December 19, 2011

TANY's Back

With the lockout over and the Trail Blazers primed to surprise an unexpecting  league, There’s Always Next Year (TANY) is back to deliver an off-beat analysis of this year’s shortened journey.  As Blazers fans, we have come to anticipate the unthinkable; our job at TANY is to provide a medium to enjoy whatever Alaa Abdelnaby might bring us, good or bad.  We also hope to break the dreaded Davis-Sidis curse, which has prevented two cousins, separated by only 6 weeks of age and 20 blocks of real estate, to watch games together.

For a reminder of what TANY is about, scroll through and read our old articles.  TANY is ready to rise uprise again and we hope you are too.  Follow us on Twitter or sign up for emails of our new posts.  And most importantly, GO BLAZERS!

-Jonathan and Josh