It’s Miller Time! (or, How Andre Dropped 52)

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In the first quarter, Martell Webster and Andre Miller looked determined to shake off Friday’s loss at Houston with a combined 10 points in the first six minutes. Jerryd Bayless was feeling it as well. If Portland could have played just a smidge of defense, they might have led by more than one with three minutes to go.

Dallas seemed to catch bad-Blazer-itis and shot nothing but jump shots and two ill advised Barea Layup attempts, one of which was bricked, the other of which met a quick death at the hands of Jeff Pendergraph, until a last second tip in by Dampier. Rudy hit a long three that he shot from the hip, but it was just a bit late and Portland goes into the second quarter up five, 26-21.

The Dallas bench went to work against Portland and quickly overcame Portland’s lead and pulled ahead by three. Continuing the reversal from the Houston trend, Portland did not score a field goal for the first 6:38 of the second quarter. However, they did draw seven free throws in that period. Miller scored 19 in the half, and Portland needed every one of them because Josh Howard scored 14, including a run of 13 consecutive points. Aldridge and Bayless had eight points and one rebound apiece, but Portland stayed ahead on the boards on the back of seven (!) hard nosed rebounds from Juwan Howard.

In the second half, Portland continued to stay even at the foul line and the same three heroes of the first half continued their strong play in the second. Bayless, Miller, and Aldridge were the only Blazers in double figures until Blake joined the ranks with seven minutes to go in the fourth.

Dallas clawed their way back and the game was tied at 88 all with five minutes left in the game and would briefly take the lead, however, Miller was so money that Timothy Giethner wishes to have a word with him. With 26.8 seconds left, Dallas took the lead on two made free throws by Dirk Nowitzki. 101-103 Dallas. With 14.5 seconds left, Miller threw up a shot so ugly that the Dallas announcers were stunned that it went in. Game tied 103-103.

Dallas inbounded and after working the clock down a bit they got the ball to Dirk who was bothered by the length of Batum and missed the fade away jumper. Portland got the board and called time with 1.1 left. Aldridge missed a turnaround jumper from 20 feet out and the Blazers, exhausted from a tough game the night before, looked directly down the barrel of overtime against a fresher and more energetic Dallas team.

To start overtime, Andre Miller dropped a three pointer right in Shawn Marion’s face. Why the hell not. Dallas hit back-to-back jumpers to take a one point lead, but Miller lined up a midrange jumper and drained it for his 50th point. Jason Terry answered with a three, and after a long rebound when Blake temporarily confused himself with Andre Miller and launched a looong three, Jason Kidd put back a Nowitzki miss to put the Mavericks ahead by four, 112-108 2:22 left in OT. Bayless did what Bayless does and got to the line for two. Dirk missed a 14 footer and Miller (who else?) scored his 52nd point of the game on a layup at the other end to tie it at 112 with 1:33 on the clock. After Jason Kidd bricked a three, Nicolas Batum pulled down his second clutch rebound of the overtime period and Juwan Howard scored his first points of the game on a long jumper to give Portland a two point lead with 44.8 on the clock. Batum did a masterful job defending Nowitzki and forced another miss. Portland rebounded and Dallas used the foul they had to give with 20.3 left on the clock. With 4.9 left, Steve Blake missed a 26 foot three point attempt. Dallas rebounded the ball and called time with 3.2 left in overtime. Plenty of time to either win or force another over time. The ball went in to Dirk who missed another turn around jumper with Batum right up in his face. Ballgame, 114-112 Portland.

Miller scored 52 points on 31 shots with just 8 free throws to tie Brandon Roy for second highest point total by a Trail Blazer (behind Damon Stoudamire’s 54) and set a new career high, his previous career high was 37. Aldridge scored 21 points but pulled down just three rebounds. Juwan Howard had his back though and pulled down a game high 12 boards. Bayless and Blake scored 17 and 10 respectively. The Blazers only dished nine assists, but with Miller hitting like he was, why pass? Batum was a hero on the defensive end, forcing Nowitzki into missing his last four shots.

Credit Nate MacMillian for a great defensive strategy against an MVP level player. The Blazers got the second win of the season against an opponent that swept them last year and kept themselves out of 11th place in the West and capped the losing streak at three. According to Nate MacMillian, good teams don’t lose more than three in a row. Are the Trail Blazers a good team? They were tonight.

Aaron Grossman, AGDuck on Twitter had these tidbits:

- Portland gets over a big hurdle by winning an overtime game after losing seven straight overtime contests.

- Portland wins twice in Dallas for the first time since the 1998-99 season and is the first NBA team to do so this season.  

- Andre Miller’s 22 field goals made are a franchise record (previous high was 20).

Blazers fall to Houston, give away free throws like donations to Haiti.

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The Blazers started this game fairly well. Portland looked to be playing with energy and Aldridge seemed intent on getting into the paint. Portland jumped on Houston early, shooting 55% from the field for the first quarter and only allowing Houston 33%. Portland ended the quarter up by 10. However, that lead quickly evaporated as Portland started settling for jump shots and ended up shooting just 26% from the field in the second quarter. The Blazers were unable to slow down the penetration of the Houston point guards which lead to Houston doubling Portland’s field goal percentage at  52% and getting to the line 11 times. Both teams went to the locker rooms thinking that they were tied at 49 apiece, however, earlier in the game the officials had thought that there was an error in how many team fouls the Rockets had when Aldridge had been fouled earlier and awarded Aldridge two free throws to make up for it. Aldridge sank both shots and Portland took the ball out of bounds. Upon review, the original team foul count was correct and the free throws were waived off. Portland came back to the floor down two points 47-49.

During Halftime I received the report that Kyle Lowry had sprained his left knee and would not return. Since Lowry had scored 11 points in the first half, it seemed like this news might bode well for Portland’s chances. However, Scola and Brooks combined for 19 points in the third quarter and led by 13 with 3:22 to go, a flurry by the Blazers lead by Blake and Fernandez’s shooting cut the lead to 3 with 44.9 on the clock. Portland allowed an offensive rebound and turned the ball over twice in 44 seconds and the Rockets capitalized by scoring four unanswered points bringing the Rockets lead to seven going into the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Carl Landry shot 12 free throws and scored 15 points. As a team, Portland shot five total free throws. Rudy Fernandez scored 13 points in the fourth on some very clutch three point shooting, but no one else could step up enough and the Blazers never got closer than down two points. Houston outscored Portland nine to two on second chance points in the fourth quarter and paraded to the foul line even before Portland started fouling to stop the clock. As Jason Quick said, this is Exhibit A for why Portland needs a center. Blazers lose 100-104.

Looking at the HoopData boxscore for the game, Houston wasn’t especially dominant in any particular area other than from the free throw line, where Houston had more than double Portland’s attempts. In fact, Houston made more free throws than Portland attempted. That’s all folks. Portland battled back valiantly,  but the story of the night was free throws. Before you can make them, you have to take them.

Before the game I asked Nicolas Batum whether running the point for the French national team has helped his game. He replied:

“Last year I just played mostly defense, and this summer I played more in the offense and that really helped my offensive game.”

Apparently, Batum wasn’t kidding. Batum dished out a career high five assists and pulled down nine rebounds. In the last three games Batum has played at a very high level, especially for coming off an injury. If he can continue anywhere near this level of production, Portland will be in good shape at Small Forward.

Before the game I also spoke to Rudy Fernandez

On his back injury:

“Feels good, feels great, right now, you know, I need conditioning, but yes I’m ready to play hard and I’m back.”

On whether he feels more pressure to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim with Roy out:

“You, know it depends on the situation in the game but probably yes I focus more on going to the basket and staying aggressive against a read, you know. But probably when Brandon is on the floor, Brandon he needs a little more space so I go to the corner and get ready for the shot.”

On whether his injury weighs in the back of his mind on aggressive drives:

“I don’t want to think about my injuries, you know? Because I need to focus on my play and on my game. For sure, sometimes I think about it and I am scared (to make an aggressive move) but I feel great and I can play like Rudy Fernandez.”

On whether the back injury came from the Ariza foul last season:

“Probably, because it’s in the same zone (as the Ariza injury) but I just forget about that and focus on the regular season and my recovery.”

Coach McMillan Post game Interview

On late game execution:

“Well you know it’s a lot of timely possessions throughout a ball game, certainly late, that make a difference, you don’t get some rebounds and certainly that last possession was a big possession but there were probably two or three of those in this 4th quarter where we made runs, we played good defense but they out worked us getting to some of these balls.  Making those plays down the stretch is the difference between winning and losing you gotta make those things happen by working your behind off to rebound that ball, beating guys to the spot, and then you get down on the offensive end, executing, making shots when we have them and take care of the ball.  We just had some timely possessions where we didn’t run down some balls, we had a breakdown when we went for some steals and they got a layup and then we had a couple turnovers.”

On struggles against point guards the last few games:

“We’re not guarding these point guards the last couple games guards have just blown by us and that is on our guard and guys who are guarding the ball.

 It starts on the ball and the weak side has to come over, but some of these blow bys, the weakside doesn’t have enough time to get by and right now we’re not guarding anybody. This team shot 43 free throws so they were in the penalty early which put us on our heels, so we had to go to a zone and that allowed us to get back into the game, but we’ve got to bend our knees and guard somebody.

Right now we haven’t gotten our unit to play well. We’ve gotten 3 or 4 guys to play well but were just not having both units to play well and that’s not good enough.”

On Landry down the stretch:

“I thought we played good defense and late in the shot clock we allowed deep post position as opposed to fronting him and denying the catch. I think it was about 3-4 possessions where the defense was pretty good, we kept him on the outside and then late we played behind and gave him deep post-up position and most of the time he scored, you gotta make plays defensively the game plan was to deny both him and Scola, certainly when the shot clock is running out.”

Aldridge:

“I know I’m not a center but I just try to do things we need, that a center would do. It’s going to be a little bit harder because it not in my nature but I’m going to what it takes to win”

On scoring 14 points in the first half and just six points in the second:

“I got off to a slow start in the third I was kind of tired, but then I got my wind back in the late third early fourth and then they started double teaming me. When I started to find my rhythm again, they started double teaming me so I just had to make the right pass.”

On whether he was making a conscious effort to get into the paint and to the foul line:

“Yeah because that’s what we need, without a center I’ve got to try to be that guy in the paint trying to get to the line and be that presence down low and it worked out for us, they started double teaming and we started getting open looks on the perimeter.”

 

 

Mavs Preview

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On his way out of Houston Friday, Jeff Pendergraph offered up this tweet: “Tough loss tonight. Gotta bounce back for tomorrow against Dallas. Short flight but a long trip already.” Those are my italics, but my God, they’re deserved. It was the First Game of a Two Game Trip. So yes, the fumes of hope seem to have dried up. If Blazers fell to the small, scrappy Rockets, who were in the midst of their own rough patch, they’re only going to have more trouble with the bigger, better, deeper and hotter Dallas Mavericks (ewwww, that was gross).



The Mavs (30-16, third in the west) are in the midst of a resurgence. Shawn Marion has bumped the team back up into the second tier by doing the small things–the same sort of work he thought he above when he forced a trade out of Phoenix. Well, we know how that ended up–atrociously. But getting stuck on a horrible Miami team wasn’t even the worst of it (at least the weather was nice). Toronto, on the other hand, was just a complete disaster for Marion, who learned he was not The Man, and never would be. And so, finding his was back to a decent team in Dallas this season Marion happily accepted a role consisting of dirty work–rebounding, defense, etc. It’s paid off for all involved.



Dallas are coming off a loss Thursday to Phoenix, and our pal Kevin Arnovitz at TrueHoop put together this great bit of analysis of the team’s foolish late-game offense:






Long story short, it means Dirk’s likely going to get the shots he should’ve on Thursday. That is, should the game remain close. I hate to be skeptical, but Vegas is too.



Thankfully the Blazers got the 11-game losing streak monkey off their back on December 22. It was called the second best win of the season in Jason Quick’s midseason report (it was also the game Joel Pryzbilla went down).



There isn’t much else to say. So I suppose we’ll just post a few embarrassing pictures of Dirk drunk (one with Steve Nash too!). At least this way we can feel a little moral superiority. Oh wait… Screw it–we’re posting them anyway.







Pick and Scroll

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related (Ed’s note: It’s late because I am -Andrew).

 ”Epicenter” of trade talk, 1 GM says, has shifted from Wizards to Suns, courtesy of Amare’s availability. Sixers also unlikely to stand pat.

The Warriors play fast. How fast? They average three more possessions per game than the next fastest team, five more than the Suns, and thirteen more than the Portland Trail Blazers. Brandon Roy‘s 22.5 points per game looks much better now compared to Monta Ellis‘ 26.1, doesn’t it? 

  • Kevin Pelton lists the best non-Allstars of the modern era.
  • Rahat Huq of red94 has an amazing breakdown of Trevor Arizas’ game.
  • What would I do against this Houston team? I would use Aldridge to shade Brooks, similar to how Portland played Chicago last year, and try to get the ball out of Brooks ultra quick hands and let Ariza shoot. What about Landry and Luis Scola you say? Well, my answer to that particular problem is in a knee brace at the moment… Do you have a better strategy? Let us now in the comments.

 

Blazers vs. Rockets – Preview

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Minutes later, the Tracy McGrady Fathead tore his ACL.Remember way way way back last year when the pesky Houston Rockets walloped the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs? In that series, Nicolas Batum came up with the kids on the twitters would say was an epic fail. Oh, what’s that? Sorry. Epic fail hashtag. 

Batum scored 12 points and had three rebounds… in six games. It was so bad that during the final game of the series, Batum road the pine for the majority of the night, seeing all of 2:39 of court time. Epic fail hashtag, indeed. That was Batum then, and this is Batum now. In a season full of surprises [insert hilarious Oden camera phone joke here], the explosive return of Batum has been a welcome relief to a Blazers team currently weighed down by injuries and stagnant momentum. His minutes are limited, but Batum has an excellent opportunity to redeem himself in Houston, plus take some of the load off a Blazers team dearly missing their three-time All-Star, Brandon Roy.

The Rockets are statistically a middle of the road team, scoring an average of 100.6 a game, and allowing opposing teams to score, well, 100.6 a night. They average 42 boards a game, and allow 42.6. Exciting! Unlike the Jazz, which bullied the Blazers to the point of embarrassment, the Rockets are a pretty favorable matchup for Portland. The obvious exception being Aaron Brooks, whose speedy dominance of Portland’s front court still haunts Steve Blake’s dreams. Just as haunting is the fact that the Rockets have won five straight in their building, and tonight is the start of a Texas back-to-back for Portland.

Nathan pointed out how Portland is both in the middle of the playoff hunt, and just a pair of losses away from tying for the 11th spot in the West. Winning in Houston is something playoff teams do. Losing in Houston would just be another indication that perhaps this team is lottery-bound after all. 

Tip-off: 5:30pm
TV: CSN 37

Batum’s Dunk

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In case you missed it, or want to revel in how much you hate Kyle Korver:



Pick and Scroll

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

The All-Star reserve list has leaked, and looks like Brandon Roy is going to Dallas. No word yet if he will literally go to Dallas due to his hamstring injury, but he was selected to his third All-Star game.

• Kevin Pelton says  “(T)he way the Jazz controlled the game and revealed that the Blazers, so resilient in the face of injuries throughout this season, are starting to be unable to paper over their weaknesses.

• Here it is: The Nicolas Batum dunk that brought a crowd to its feet, BOOING. In fact, I don’t think “booing” quite captures what happened. Dave from BlazersEdge called it a “Boomoeba.”

“The already grumpy crowd (see also: scoreboard) went bonkers at the end of the first period when Nicolas Batum appeared to be fouled with a foul so foul-acious  that it dwarfed many of the fouls that had been called in Utah’s favor in the quarter.  Batum converted the layup but no whistle blew.  In short order Jerryd Bayless had earned a technical foul for protesting, which lit the fuse in the stands.  In one of those “Only in Portland” moments a torrential flow of boos flooded the arena floor, reverberating so loudly that it hit the back walls of the building with force and redoubled.  But these boos didn’t stop after 10 seconds, or 30, or a minute.  They sustained and grew through the long, long quarter break.  It was like a weird, amoeba-like organism had formed out of 20,000 people which was now intent on sucking up the refs with a sticky, poisonous tongue of booing.  About halfway through the break the arena staff put on film of Kiki Vandeweghe and Mychal Thompson talking about their Blazer experiences, this being 80′s Remembrance Night and all.  For a second the organism paused as if considering whether to take the bait and subside, lulled into submission by these fan-favorite players of yore.  But the Boomoeba was angry and after that half-hesitating moment it doubled and tripled its efforts.  Poor Mychal and Kiki couldn’t be heard at all…and this is after the staff cranked the speaker volume way up.  Anyone who’s been anywhere near the Rose Garden knows those that sound system is LOUD.  It was no more than a buzzing subtext rumbling impotently behind the Boomoeba’s hunting call.  It wanted blood and it would not be dissuaded from its target.  The second quarter horn sounded and the booing was still as strong as ever.  I have never heard anything like it.  The refs did ease the calls from that point on.  Perhaps it was the natural tendency to protect the losing team in a blowout, particularly at home.  Perhaps it was the cover-your-butt thing they sometimes do to make the whistles even out.  But I think the Boomoeba may have made their neck hairs stand a little.  The Boomoeba is scary.”

• While we’re there, BlazersEdge answers some mail.

• Britt Robson of Sports Illustrated talks about the resilience of the Trail Blazers and how they’ve coped with a veritable injury carousel.

• Oh, nerdgasm! Check out these articles from the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. I cannot wait to dig through these! Major props to Basketball Geek Ryan J. Parker and his awesome twitter feed.

• Speaking of people to follow on twitter, InvisiNinjaPDX straight nailed it to the wall with his predictions for last night’s game. Here is his comment from the BlazersEdge preview thread:
Stats dont like this game at all for the Blazers

Over the last 9 games when Jazz have gone 8-1 They are spot up/ interior Cut centric with transition thrown in.

Spot up they are at 1.04 PPP and 40.7 FG%

Cut they are 1.35PPP and shooting 69.4%

Transition 1.29 and 64.1%

From 3 they are 42.2% over that period

Over the last 9 games all 3 of those play types make up over 13% of their O

Conversely the Blazers 3 worst defensive play types over the last 5 games without Roy?
Cut, Transition, Spot up,

Now the Jazz Defensively are strong against the ISO and P&R which has been the Blazers strength with Roy in the lineup.

both at .84PPP and between 37-39% FG% against. Where they are susceptible is the Cut and Spot Up.
Over that 5 games The Blazers are only shooting 34.7% spot up total and scoring .91PPP
The Blazers do not use Cutters as a large enough piece of their offense to make a difference, roughly 6 possessions a game.

Blazers only chance of winning…
3 pt shooting and getting out in transition, Jazz defend transition poorly
and don’t seem to close out on 3pt shot, instead they focus on interior spot ups and hold spot ups from inside the 3 under 32%

Now the real problem… over the last 5 games the Blazers are only shooting 28.2% from distance…” 

• The Hoopdata advanced stats boxscore for last night’s game is up if you happen to be a masochist.

• Now I’m not trying to be a downer or anything, but so far the Blazers have been throwing wins together with bailing twine and duct tape. Rudy and Batum coming back is great, but neither one of them are a defensive force in the middle. Unfortunately, LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t stepped up to be that defensive anchor either. With the rise of Memphis and Oklahoma City, I just don’t see how Portland will make the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference once teams start getting serious about making a push. If Portland doesn’t trade for a big man to hold down the paint (and I’m not saying they should) and Aldridge doesn’t step up in a big way, I just don’t see how the Blazers can stay ahead of these healthy teams nipping at their heels. Portland is just two losses away from being tied for 11th place in the West.

• If Portland makes the playoffs it will be because of an unbelievable show of luck, grit and determination. If they don’t make it, who do you like in the 2010 NBA draft lottery? Let us know what you think, should Portland trade up, down, or out?

State of the Blazer Union: EEK!

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Nicolas Batum’s incredible quarter-capping dunk was almost as amazing as “boo’s” that followed it. The shove by Kyle Korver was patently obvious but the whistles remained silent. The jeers at the no-call, however, blared like jet engines–as loud or louder than anything heard at the Rose Garden all season long. They continued through the entire commercial break, drowning out the Blazer legends celebrating team of the 80′s on the big screen. But it could also be said that Blazers fans, who saw their team decimated by the Jazz in the 37-16 in the first, had some serious steam to blow off.



After the sorry display finally concluded, Coach McMillan took a bit longer than usual with the team behind closed doors before emerging to address the media. Surely when one’s team falls behind 21-2 in the opening minutes they are in dire need of a lashing. I asked McMillan how frustrated he was after losing the Blazers second straight home game and the continued poor opening effort but he mostly dodged the question. When that happens, you can bet he’s pretty upset:


Video removed after 72 hours in accordance with NBA policy



And he should be. The Blazers were atrocious and the Jazz picked them apart. Wednesday’s 106-95 loss was the first time Utah won at the Rose Garden in their last nine tries. Even playing well, or if Brandon Roy were available, Portland would still have a difficult time controlling this Utah team, whose disciplined offense, balanced defense, stout front line and physical inside play seem to be rounding into their best shape in years.



A few players and members of the coaching staff pointed to parallels between this game and Monday’s loss to New Orleans, but those comparisons are false. Sure, the Blazers fell behind early, and yes, they never gave up. But New Orleans are a team Portland should beat—the Jazz, unfortunately, are not.



The Blazers seemed to make a game of it, whittling the lead to five with 5:28 to play, but Portland only began mounting their comeback when Carlos Boozer went out with a right calf sprain with 7:20 in the third. And though in his post-game comments Jerry Sloan refused to equate the comeback with Boozer’s absence, it seemed to me more of a team-first political move than wrought honesty.


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As I keep stressing, there are no more moral victories for this team. Throw any talk about heart in tonight’s comeback away. This was an incredibly important game, but the Blazers came out as if it were pick up ball at the local YMCA. With a difficult back-to-back looming in Texas the Blazers are staring at what could likely become a four-game losing streak. And it doesn’t get much easier from here.



Also take into account that the Blazers will have to win in Utah–a place they’ve always had trouble–to maintain even the hope of splitting the season series should the two teams stay close into the playoff race. That, however, is looking less and less likely. Afterwards, Deron Williams talked about finally getting a win at the Rose Garden:


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Of all the night’s horrid performances, none were uglier than what Portland got from their point guards. Williams and co. were able to match Andre Miller’s bulk inside, and Steve Blake couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Together they made just two of 17 attempts (both makes were Miller’s).



Really there were just two positives at the Rose Garden Wednesday. The first was Martell Webster, who pledged to donate $1,000 for every point he scored. He shook off an early slump to finish with 14, yet said he feels as if he should be giving more. This may not be the last time Webster graciously opens his pocket book to the relief effort in Haiti. He talked about giving, and if he felt the pressure of his pledge while shooting during the game:


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The second and final bit of rare good news was Nicolas Batum’s stunning first half explosion. We knew he was good, but this was phenomenal. Maybe even Durant-eque. In a two-minute nine second stretch, Batum scored nine of the Blazers’ first 11 points. He finished with 11 in the quarter, and 16 in the half (he would not score again). But perhaps the most memorable play was his taking a charge while running faster backwards than Wesley Matthews could forwards to get position and take the hit. It was freakish.



After Batum’s poor performance in the playoffs last year, disappearing almost totally against the Rockets, it seemed that the tangible effect of his return from injury would be visited mostly on defense. He was the stopper Portland missed. But good God, something’s happened between then, his time with the French national team and now. Batum is suddenly a silky, yet devastatingly sharp threat offense. It’s stunning. His post-game comments:


Video removed after 72 hours in accordance with NBA policy



Notes:

- Jerryd Bayless twisted his ankle during fourth quarter junk time. On the big screen, at one point, he appeared to be in tears. Afterwards he said it was “fine,” and that with ice, he should be able to practice tomorrow.

- Halfway through the second quarter the Jazz had 32 points in the paint and the Blazers had 29 total points.

- Final field goal percentages: Utah %60.3, Portland 35.9%

- Although their home countries share a border, Rudy Fernandez and Nic Batum speak English to one another. Rudy says he doesn’t speak French, while Nic says he knows only a tiny bit of Spanish.

Pick and Scroll

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

• Every team in the league uses the zone defense occasionally; the Trail Blazers are no exception. In fact Portland uses zones, man-to-man zones, zones disguised as man-to-man, and man-to-man disguised as a zone, sometimes switching it up mid-play. Here is a great primer on how to attack a zone with video demonstrations by Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook.

• Joe Freeman on Joel Przybilla’s long road to recovery:

“I want to play,” Przybilla said. “I’ve been injured in the past, but nothing this severe, where I know I’m going to miss … the rest of the season. It’s new to me. Am I struggling with it? Yeah, a little bit. But I’ve got my family supporting me and I know I’ll be back stronger than ever.”

• An interesting article about context and statistics from RealGM: Daniel Leroux thinks that Monta Ellis is not as bad as Hillonger thinks he is.

• There will be no Blazers in the Sophomore/Rookie Challenge. I guess injuries cost Rudy his spot. Injuries didn’t seem to hurt Danilo Gallinari, though.

• Kevin Arnovits apologizes to former Blazer Zach Randolph. I’m really happy for Zach as a person, but if he’d have gotten his act together sooner, maybe Portland could have traded him for David Lee instead of Channing Frye…

• Marc Stein reports that Arenas meets with Stern today to discover his fate. Why is this in the Blazer links? Well, what happens to Arenas will have a large impact on trades this year. According to John Hollinger, Washington is the first major trade deadline domino and what they do will impact the whole trade season.

• Michael Lee from The Washington Post says that according to a person with knowledge of the meeting between Arenas & Stern, Arenas will be suspended for the remainder of the season. Apparently, Arenas also told Stern that he would tell the players’ union not to fight the suspension.

• Ball Don’t Lie has the Blazers in the NBA twitter top 10.

Blazers vs. Jazz – Preview

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These kids are part of the Avatar director’s cut.

I don’t have good feeling about this. Sure, a few months ago when the Blazers had big men not on the injured reserve list, or on TMZ, a home game against Utah seemed like a sure thing. But now? All signs point to trouble.

While the Jazz have a losing record away from the Snuggie comfort of EnergySolutions Arena, this team is r-o-l-l-i-n-g. Utah has picked up wins in seven of their last eight games, and that one loss came on the road against—the second best homecourt team in the NBA—the Denver Nuggets. In the first of two meetings this week, the Blazers and the Jazz are tussling for the second place spot in the Northwest Division, a situation that might not repeat itself when they meet in Utah on February 3rd.

Nicolas Batum will see extended minutes, which is great news following his energetic offering Monday against New Orleans. The Blazers are also shuffling their starting lineup once again, placing Jerryd Bayless back into Brandon Roy’s shoes, and Juwan Howard at the center position. Jeff [Insert Reptile Nickname Here] Pendergraph and Steve Blake will hang their heads and slink off to the second unit.

The secret to Utah’s success: Carlos Boozer. No longer playing like tradebait—or Prince’s angry landlord—Boozer is back to his old All-Star self, contributing double-doubles nightly, and averaging 25 and 14 over his past three games. Speaking of double-doubles, you can pencil one in for Deron Williams in advance. Oh, let’s just say he’ll score 19 points and toss 10 assists (that’s his season average) against the Blazers. Throw in an assortment of committed role players from around the globe (Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur), D-League Cavs killah Sundiata Gaines, a head coach with four less career wins (1162) than the entire Clippers franchise has since 1971 (1166), and you have a team that could scare the pants off… oh never mind.