Let’s Play Doctor

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It’s still just a tad early—thanks to a schedule that went from really difficult to consistently easy in the last three weeks—to say concretely what’s happening to Martell Webster’s frazzled nerves. Still, I wonder if Webster’s confidence has been stripped naked then dunked on by Nic Batum, who stole his job in the starting lineup, or if Webster is just suffering through another one of his characteristic slumps. And while we can’t say anything for sure yet, rest assured—another week or two and a few interviews should seal it up.

In the meantime, place your bets. Put ‘em down so you can collect bragging rights* when it all shakes out:

* Bonus points for placing the movie reference in the poll. All the Marbles for anyone who can repeat the original joke in full.

The Night Batum Went to Minnesota a Boy, and Came Back a Man

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There are two people that benefitted from the Portland Trail Blazers’ 110-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves: Nicolas Batum and Martell Webster’s therapist. While Frenchy 88 was putting up career numbers in nearly every single category (31 points, 7 assists, dunking on Ryan Gomes), Webster saw his future as a Blazers starter disappear into the ether. The writing was on the wall last season, but injuries left things unclear. Now that we have witnessed a healthy Batum versus a healthy Webster, we have our answer. (Spoiler alert: It’s Batum.)

The win was the first for Marcus Camby as a Blazer (since he spent most of the New Jersey game in an MRI machine, that doesn’t count), and marks a dozen consecutive Blazer wins against the T-Wolves, plus their third straight sweep of the season series as well. This streak is the franchise’s longest against any team, dating back to a 15 game run against the 1993-96 Wolves. Basically, the Blazers are the worst thing to happen to Minnesota since Brett Favre in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

It’s hard to focus on any other individual performance when mild-mannered Batum went all Batumshakalaka in the third quarter, dropping 22 points in that quarter alone. Compare that to the measly 10 points that the Wolves scored the previous quarter, and you can tell what kind of game this was. For Portland, few things make the team go from 98 pound weakling to Charles Atlas (all my references can be traced to ads in the back of comic books) than a meeting with the Wolves. With their self-esteem on the mend, all that remains for Portland on this road trip is a pivotal game in Memphis.

Now that is one sentence I never thought I’d type.

Blazers VS Timberwolves – Preview

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If the NBA were contracted and the Timberwolves dissolved would anyone care? It might actually be a relief for the people of Minnesota, who would be spared cajoling a perennial loser more dependable than the Chicago Cubs, and also to be spared the task of putting David Kahn’s head on a stick outside the Target Center (and we thought Kevin McHale was bad). The most disturbing aspect of Kahn’s incompetence—worse than pissing away the number five pick on Rubio or reportedly offering Al Jefferson for Danny Granger—is the bad name he’s giving writers-turned-general-managers. Without a doubt he’s crushed my (or Bill Simmons) chances of doing ANYTHING other than covering a team.

So yes, pretty disappointing overtime loss in Chicago last night. During the post-game report, radio announcer Antonio Harvey actually got something right—hard to believe, I know. On the Blazers’ current five-game road trip, Tone said that, in the midst of the playoff chase, anything less than a four and one record would be disappointing. And considering the caliber of opponents, Memphis being far and away the highest, four and one seemed doable. Actually, five and ‘0’ did too. But that dream is now dead.

It didn’t take long, however, for Tone to slip off truth’s tightrope (or at least thoughtful’s thoroughfare). Quickly he began to worry about the Blazers’ energy and emotional state after falling in OT. Wheels quickly butted in to remind his clueless partner that the Blazers are an NBA best 11 and three on the second night of back-to-backs. I’ll do Wheels one better—Saturday’s game will be the Wolves’ second in as many days as well. They were clubbed in Oklahoma City Friday, 109-92—Minnesota’s eighth loss in nine games. I guess Darko wasn’t the answer.

But then again, in Minnesota, what will the answer be? Or, more appropriately, will there every be one? The answer, as any high school dropout can tell you is NO—the Wolves will never be relevant. Kevin Garnett was as close they will ever come, and we know how that ended—fear he would snap into a murderous rampage. And my God, if Kevin Garnett couldn’t do it, how will Kevin Love? The Great White Beavertonite has man boobs—he’s not fit to carry Garnett’s jock, much less a doomed franchise.

It says a lot about the Northwest Division that it can be considered the toughest in the NBA despite housing a 14-46 Wolves team. So chalk up a Blazers win Saturday, which will complete the season sweep. The Blazers won the three previous meetings all by double-digits, and twice by more than 20.

Plenty of Opportunities, but Portland Falls 115-111 in Overtime

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The first time Derrick Rose played against the Portland Trail Blazers he had six points. He doubled that in his seccond game, but finished with 13 points on 36% shooting. Earlier this year Rose nudged up to 14 points, but the Bulls lost by 24. How many times could Portland look the future superstar in the eye and still walk away with victories?

Three times.

Rose wasn’t about to fail for the four consecutive games against the Blazers, and he delivered in a big way, dropping 33 in Chicago’s 115-111 victory over the Blazers on Friday night. In fact, in a game that featured multiple lead changes it was Chicago that had trouble putting the nail in Portland’s coffin. The Bulls are 20-5 when leading after three quarters (make that 21-5 now), and with the long limbs of Luol Deng directly in front of Brandon Roy, the Bulls were coasting to victory until their offensive stalled in the final minutes. Roy, who earned every single one of his 23 points, missed a pair from the line in the final seconds, only for the fourth quarter ghost that is LaMarcus Aldridge to appear, then dramatically tip-in the rebound over the outstretched ponytail of Joakim Noah. Rose had an excellent chance to win the game for the Bulls, but gravity was not on his side, as his last second layup attempt flirted with the rim but never fell. 

On to overtime we go. Problem is, the Blazers are terrible in the extra period this year. Portland is one-of-four in OT, that lone victory coming in Andre Miller’s 52 pointsplosion against Dallas. As Blazers fans are accustomed to, Roy was the lone option in the waning minutes of the game, and while he’s been known for the last second heroics, this current Blazers team isn’t the back-against-the-wall force that last season’s was. Nursing five fouls and one bad hamstring, Roy couldn’t compete against a Bulls team that wasn’t ready to let this game slide away one more time. Portland had a chance to take the lead with a three-pointer with five seconds left, but an exhausted Roy was short, and that was it.

While Rose got them there, the Bulls leaned on Deng who scored 23 on the night, seven of which came in overtime. Before doing his usual late game vanishing act, Aldridge contributed a season best 32 points. Although, the first 26 of those came by the midway point of the third quarter. Miller (14) and Jerryd Bayless (15) rounded out the other Blazers to finish in double digits. For the second straight game Martell Webster was a complete non-factor. In five minutes he left with nothing but an empty box score.

This game marked the final road game against an Eastern Conference team, meaning Portland finished the year under .500 (7-8) against the weaker side of the league. Keep in mind, last year the Blazers were 22-8 on the year against the East. If there is a silver lining, it’s that Portland has a back-to-back tomorrow against Minnesota and the Blazers have the best record in the NBA when playing on consecutive nights.

Even better, Derrick Rose won’t be playing.

Pick and Scroll

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

• So, tonight Portland takes on Chicago. The Blazers have put a hurt on the Bulls in the recent past, here is hoping that trend continues and Chicago doesn’t pick now to have a revenge game. Matt Scheelar of Bust a Bucket has the shakedown. For the Chicago perspective, check TrueHoop Network sister blog By the Horns.

• Portland has a roster spot open. Hoopsworld’s Tommy Beer has the low down on the waiver wire.

• Rob Mahoney of Pro Basketball Talk exposes the dark league-wide conspiracy against the Lakers. Don’t believe it? Click here and here for more proof of this sinister plot.

• Recently Portland has had trouble keeping a lead. Last night Boston couldn’t hold onto a lead either, losing to the Cavaliers after shooting 70% in the first quarter. Alright, first let us pause and enjoy a Celtic loss—perhaps they didn’t touch enough before tipoff—okay, back to losing a lead: this is the NBA, these things happen to everybody. It only becomes worrisome when it becomes a trend.

• Stephen Curry burned the Birdman, burned him badly.

• Oh God, the “Summer of LeBron” isn’t even here yet and they’re already looking forward to the summer of ‘11? Pretty soon we’ll have a free agency Farmer’s Almanac. (2013’s free agency forecast: Amaré Stoudemire will be rumored to be traded at the deadline, yet will no one really wants him and he will stay put.)

• This year’s draft may be an unusually deep one if players make the jump early to try and get in under the current CBA. I’d say that’s a savvy move, because you’d better believe that if the player’s association has to choose between cutting something that affects veterans, like say the Mid Level Exception, and cutting the rookie pay scale, the rookies are going to get thrown under the bus. Also, I’m thinking this is going to be a busy draft with quite a bit of player movement. Lots of teams with cap space may take themselves out of the free agent race by taking on a pick and a bad contract. Let’s start the irrational Portland trading up for John Wall rumors… right… now!

• Jeff Pendergraph has a really nice car. Mike Rice nicknamed his ride the SnakeMobile.

Blazers vs Bulls – Preview

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Sure, I recognize Craig Hodges, but who is the other Chicago Bull in the photo?Not since Houdini has one man escaped the chains of death—or, in this case, unemployment—like Vinny Del Negro. The Chicago coach has been on the chopping block every since he appeared on the Bulls bench, clipboard in hand. Things got so bad that in late December Del Negro was fired, just no one bothered telling him. But before he could join such forgettable Chicago coaches like Bill Cartwright and Tim Floyd, the Bulls turned things around, going 19-10 since, and saving their coaches job. For now.

The Bulls have reeled off five victories in their last six games, and seven of nine since the first week of this month. Albeit all of those wins have come against teams with losing records, as known as the majority of the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose has given this team a reason to build upon the franchise, and while nagging injuries have limited last year’s Rookie of the Year, he is still capable of narrowly missing a triple-double, just like he did in Wednesday’s victory over Indiana. Luol Deng is also riding a hot streak, while Joakim Noah is just riding the pine; ponytail farceitis plantar fasciitis has limited his minutes over the last ten games.

As for streaks, Portland has one of their own: The Blazers have taken the last six meetings between these two teams, including three in a row inside “The House That Jordan Built (With Jerry Reinsdorf’s Money).” That totally makes up for 1991-92.

Marca Mad Libs

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How to play: It’s easy. Just copy and paste the following Mad Lib into the comments section and fill in the blanks. And remember—there’s no wrong answer!

According to Marca, _____ (insert Rudy Fernandez or Victor Claver) demanded that he wants _______ (outlandish request) from the Portland Trail Blazers or else he will return to _______ (Spanish team name), where he will win countless _______ (whatever award they give Spanish teams for winning the championship) and capture the virginity of my beautiful daughter, ______ (insert Spanish female name here).

Pick and Scroll

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

• I’d just like to point out that since Portland traded Jarrett Jack to the Indiana Pacers, the Blazers have not lost to a team with Jack on the roster. 

• The Oregonian’s Jason Quick bashes Hedo, hates on hockey-loving Toronto, praises Miller, and has this quote from Rudy:

Fernandez refuted a Spanish newspaper account that he is unhappy in Portland and looking to sign with Real Madrid. “Right now, my heart is in Portland. It doesn’t matter if the newspapers talk about me, my contract is in Portland, and I’m happy in Portland.”  

• Regarding the Rudy situation, in his latest chat, ESPN’s own John Hollinger agrees that it’s a non-story.

 Joe (NY): Do the Blazers move Rudy Fernandez this summer? He’s been pretty mediocre this year and he might bolt for Spain if they don’t, might as well try to get something for him. He’d be great on a team like Phoenix, Golden State, or New York

John Hollinger: The earliest Rudy can bolt is 2012, so I don’t think the Blazers are too worried just yet. Spanish media like to stir the pot on this subject, but FIBA won’t allow a player to ditch a contract and jump countries.

• Mike Barrett is happy Portland has Miller instead of Hedo:

Andre Miller was fantastic once again, this time going up against the guy who left the Blazers at the altar last summer, Hedo Turkoglu. Miller had 18 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and didn’t commit a single turnover for the second-straight game.

 • Kelly Dwyer likes how Portland takes care of the ball:

Portland played 96 minutes of pro basketball in 48 hours, and turned it over nine times. Darren Collison gets that in 32 minutes.

•TrueHoop Network sister blog Raptors Republic had this to say about the Blazers pace:

The Blazers were on the second night of a back-to-back; they were missing Oden, Pryzbilla, Camby (and just traded Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw). Ok, so they are tired, and playing a bit short handed, but remember I talked about pace yesterday, and this Blazers team is used to having less possessions a game than everyone other team in the league. This slower tempo actually helps to balance out playing heavy minutes in back-to-back nights.

This slower tempo also made Juwan Howard a huge factor in relief of Camby, who continued his streak of being injured in Toronto.

• From Frank Zicarelli of The Toronto Sun: You know how in Oregon we have the Oden vs. Durant debate? Well apparently Toronto has its own version:

Brandon Roy made his annual visit to Toronto and the second-guessing soon ensued.

It was inevitable as it was unavoidable.

What if the Raptors had taken Roy with the first overall pick in 2006, instead of Andrea Bargnani?

Go ahead, read the article and then come back. First off, Mr. Zicarelli does not bother to get basic facts right. Roy has been selected to the All Star team three times, not two, and was also Second Team All NBA. Also, it’s not just Brandon Roy that the Raptors missed out on, I’d have taken LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, or Paul Millsap over Bargnani.

Get ready to spit up your drink after reading these choice quotes:

Roy’s ability to beat his man off the bounce spreads the floor and provides his teammates open looks.

Bargnani’s impact is similar, only he uses his outside shooting to draw his defender away from the basket.

And

Bargnani can be as effortless and efficient as Roy, but only when he’s not settling for jump shots and is attacking the rim.

Brandon Roy is one of the most offensively efficient players in the history of the NBA.  No, Mr. Zicarelli, your Charmin-soft, non-rebounding, non-shot blocking, non-foul drawing disappointment of a number one pick does not impact the game on a similar level to Brandon-Freakin’-Roy. Just because they play in the same league, doesn’t mean they are “in the same league.”

Rejuvenation on the Open Road

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There’s a lot of not showering happening here. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Chris Young)

What a difference the east coast can make. More specifically, perhaps it’s the Atlantic Division—or just anywhere but the Northwest, which Raptors broadcasters tonight called “the toughest in the the league.”

For the second game in as many nights, the Blazers continued rounding themselves into better shape after a dismal streak of four losses in five games at the Rose Garden. Portland’s 101-87 defeat of Toronto, who were without leading scorer and rebounder Chris Bosh, improved the Blazers record to an astounding 11 and three on the second night of back-to-backs.

And while a win is a win in the tight playoff chase—especially on the road—a disturbing trend continued: the Blazers again allowed an opponent back in the game after taking a healthy lead. It happened last night in New Jersey, it happened last Sunday in Portland, and it happened in Wednesday in Toronto.

With 3:43 to play in the first half the Blazers led 51-34 before the Raptors closed on a 13-2 run. The home team cut the lead down to three as reserves Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez—both of whom have been slumping of late—were inserted. The Raptors scored again, before Bayless and Fernandez turned the game back in Portland’s favor. The duo led the Blazers on a 9-0 run, securing a comfortable lead once and for all.

Putting away games is something we wouldn’t be talking about had the Blazers not coughed up a 25 point lead to the Jazz. Had that magnificent three quarters been followed by even a fair fourth, the Blazers would have loads of momentum right now. Instead, these last two games were needed just to peel their lifeless corpses off the cold ground. It takes some time for a team to regain it’s dignity.

Along with Bayless (11 points) and Fernandez (17), Dante Cunningham (7) was productive off the bench. Together the trio scored a combined 35 points. They were the only members of the Blazers second unit to score.

Martell Webster was almost totally invisible once again. He finished with zero points and two rebounds in a scant eight minutes. Being demoted from the starting lineup in favor of Nicolas Batum may be taking its toll on the emotional Webster, but for the mercurial wing, it’s too early yet to say.

Conversely, it’s worth nothing that Fernandez came through to make a tangible contribution after news of his discontent broke today. The Spaniard even showed resolve on the defensive end in grabbing seven boards, which tied a season-high. But one game is not enough—Rudy needs to continue to put up or shut up.

Despite back-to-back road wins, it’s tough to know exactly where to place this Blazers team. On one hand, Wednesday’s win was a balanced, total team effort. Andre Miller had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists while Brandon Roy showed that he may indeed be able to play through the hamstring injury effectively. Roy added 20, five and five. Moreover, the Blazers held the Raptors to their second-lowest point total of the season. The defeat was just Toronto’s second in their last 11 games.

On the other hand, the Raptors were without Bosh, the franchise’s only slugger (at least for now). The hole inside should’ve enabled LaMarcus Aldrdige to run wild. Instead he grabbed a pitiful two rebounds and scored just nine points, breaking a streak of 22-straight games with 15 or more. And while Brandon Roy has looked more like his old self in these last two games, he done it against lame individual defenders.

So no, the Blazers have not yet shaken off their recent woes. But they’re getting closer. They have some momentum, and no excuse not to go at least four and one on this five game trip. The most difficult game is their last, against Memphis. It comes Monday. And if the Blazers take the Grizzlies, who’ve had their number of late, there will be no more reason to worry.

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Raptors, but Were Afraid to Ask

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The Toronto Raptors. What do you really know about them? They are, in fact, not a hockey team, and they are the only NBA franchise that has all their medical needs paid for by the government—unlike an injured Portland Trail Blazers team that is going bankrupt in the American health care system. But in addition to these obvious lies, we wanted to know more so we chatted with Sam Holako from the excellent Raptors Republic blog.

1. Do you think the Raptors can re-sign Chris Bosh during this offseason? Is it hard to ignore the deafening chatter that makes it seem like it’s a done deal that Bosh will be in Miami with Wade, or New York with Lebron?
I guarantee Chris Bosh will resign with the Raptors this summer for a couple reasons; he has expressed that he wants to be “the man” on whichever team he chooses and he won’t be teamed up with Wade or LeBron.

2. How has Turkoglu worked out for Toronto? There was a fair amount controversy here when Turkoglu nearly became a Blazer at $60 million, was it the same up there?
We just posted a piece on that, overall, he’s been good, not great. Most of the problem with Turkoglu is that he is 30 years old, and in the first year of a 5yr/$53mil contract. I wish we spent that money on a SF who can penetrate and defend the wing aggressively. Last thing we needed was a guy who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, that’s what Jose Calderon was for.

3. Do you feel that the city of Toronto stands in the way of appealing to big name free agents?
Toronto rivals New York, Chicago, and LA in terms of people, things to do, market size, and media frenzy. Like Chris Bosh said during All-Star weekend, he just needs prospective free-agents to spend a weekend with him in Toronto; that was his strategy. In terms of how cold it is, New York, Chicago, Minnesota, and Milwaukee all put us to shame. It’s only snowed here twice so far, and the second time was just this past Monday. It’s all about perception, if people actually hung out in Toronto, they would be blown away.

4. The Raptors are in the middle of the playoff hunt, and play much better at home, so how important is it for the team to climb past Atlanta and make it to the 4th seed?
If the Raptors catch Atlanta in the first round, it doesn’t matter whether or not we have home court, they absolutely owned us the two times we’ve played so far this year—ruined us. I’m hoping the Celtics drop to 4th or 5th (we can dream right), and are absolutely decimated by injury heading into the playoffs. If this happens, we might have a chance. Otherwise, what the Raptors are playing for is playoff experience that can be built on for next year and beyond.

5. As a Raptors fan, is it still perfectly acceptable to hate Vince Carter?
Lots of folks hate Carter, and he gets booed plenty. There is a distinct divide between those who can’t forgive, and those who have moved on. I personally think it’s lame, and he is the only Raptors, for now, who deserves to have his jersey retired when the time comes (Bosh will be the second one). The fact of the matter is that he was run out of town by an an inept General Manager and a finicky fan base. I admit, I wasn’t very happy with him his last couple of years on the team, but when we traded him to a division rival for Alonzo Mourning (who we bought out for the FULL value of his contract when he said he wouldn’t report for duty), Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two first round picks that didn’t get us squat, my rage for VC was replaced by my rage for Babcock. Sorry for the tangent… old wounds.