Blazers Lose Turnover Battle By 18, Defeat Nuggets

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That headline reads as strange as tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets played out. Somehow the Blazers committed twenty-five turnovers to Denver’s seven and won. Portland committed more turnovers in this contest than in their first two games combined (22). Denver committed 33 turnovers total in their first two games. It seems the teams switched identities for the night, but I have been guaranteed that this was not Freaky Friday come to life. I have also been told that I should not be referencing Freaky Friday.

Clutch shooting from the guards was enough tonight for Portland to be anihilated in the turnover battle and win 111-102. Nearly as strange as the outcome given the turnovers was Portland not feeding LaMarcus Aldridge a steady diet of touches; he finished with just 13 points on fourteen field goal attempts. Some of this can be attributed to Aldridge still finding his wind and some to the Blazers getting caught up in Denver’s uptempo and loose style of play. After the game Nate McMillan described the turnovers as a result of too many trying to do too much, adding the soundbite “We want to play fast but we don’t want to be in a hurry.”

This game marked the first time former Blazers Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez have been in the Rose Garden since leaving the team. Miller received an ovation when he checked in midway through the first quarter. Rudy was booed heavily throughout the game. While neither player shot well both logged a +7 in plus/minus, the best mark of any Nuggets. Conclusion: Fans can be silly. (I verified this with an inside source that is inside of my mind because it is me and I am also a silly fan.)

Felton, facing the Nuggets for the first time since being traded for Miller, talked about beating his former team:

 

 

Matthews on the strange win:

 

Aldridge on getting his legs:

 

 

Gerald Wallace Keeps Blazers Afloat Early Before Kings Crumble

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The Blazers flipped an early deficit into a second-half blowout against the Kings Tuesday night at the Rose Garden, winning easily, 101-79. It was Portland’s second victory in as many nights.

In a bit of foreshadowing of the notorious back-to-back-to-backs yet to come in this lockout-shortened schedule, Marcus Camby told reporters afterwards that were there a game Wednesday, he’d be ready. The news was shared with LaMarcus Aldridge.

“He can go play by himself,” Aldridge chuckled. “I need a day off.”

Aldridge continued: “When the game started my legs felt like quicksand. I felt like dirt.”

Fortunately for Aldridge and the rest of the Blazers, Gerald Wallace was raring to go from the start, scoring eight-consecutive points in the first quarter. Wallace’s efficiency offensive efficiency remained throughout the night. He finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-11 shooting from the field and 8-9 from the line.

But it was Wallace’s tenacious defense that kickstarted the Blazers’ slowing of Sacramento that turned a 12-point first quarter deficiet into a halftime tie. It was a comeback the Rose Garden willed, in part, and surely seemed to put the fear in Sacramento.

A few minutes into the third, Portland were running away.

Wallace’s coup de grace came in the fourth quarter. He came flying in and blocked Tyreke Evans at the basket, corralling the ball in the air. In the same smooth motion Wallace began screaming immediately the other way. From near half-court he found a streaking Nicolas Batum for an uncontested layup on the break. It was back-breaking: take away the opponents slashing attempts and get yours the easy way.

While Wallace’s explosive play both carried the Blazers and shocked them back to life, Sacramento did their part as well. After shooting over %50 in the first half the Kings quickly fell from grace as the Blazers closed the half on a 9-0 run.

Caught like a deer in headlights, Sacramento stopped sharing the ball. They stopped making shots. Stopped playing defense. A few minutes into the fourth quarter the Kings had essentially waved the white flag. They may have looked good against the Lakers the night before, but the young, offensive-minded Sacramento team showed they are easily rattled.

After a rather lackluster opening night performance, Portland got a much more cohesive outing from Batum, who would’ve finished with a lot more than the 15 points he had Tuesday if a few more of his early chip shots at the basket rolled in.

Batum was also part of a long, agile and athletic lineup—including Camby, Aldridge, Wallace and Jamal Crawford at point—that terrorized Sacramento’s minuscule back-court subs, the 6’2” Jimmer Fredette and 5’9” Isaiah Thomas.

Coach McMillan said the lineup was due to two things: first, they were playing the hand they were dealt, in part thanks to Wallace’s racking up five quick fouls on Sacramento’s John Salmons; second, Crawford got the late-game reps at point guard because Coach McMillan thought Raymond Felton looked a little tired, evidenced by a few sloppy turnovers late.

Intriguingly, McMillan added that at this point Crawford and Felton are basically interchangeable in that each is capable of running the same sets.

The Blazers get Wednesday off to rest before hosting the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. And while they’re still working their way into shape, at this quicked pace it shouldn’t take too long.

Ready to Enjoy the Ride

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After holding off a spirited late-game rally by the 76ers, the Trail Blazers locker room was all smiles Monday night. Things got especially playful.

Grinning mischievously, LaMarcus Aldridge tossed a bag of ice on to the lap of Jamal Crawford, who was in the midst of giving post-game interviews. His rhythm broken, Crawford tossed the bag back at Aldridge and the two shared a laugh.

Former teammates in Charlotte, Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton playfully butted heads, jostling over the placement of their lockers, which are side by side.

Playing for the media, Felton told Wallace there was no way the two could spend the season in such close proximity. “You’re gonna have to move,” Felton deadpanned.

“No,” Wallace volleyed back with his deep southern drawl. “I ain’t going nowhere. You’re gonna have to move.” He pointed across the room and the two continued on, nipping back and forth like old friends.

Together the team watched SportsCenter, hoping to catch a glimpse of their soon-to-be opponents and wincing at the highlights of their own game, where Andre Iguodala and and Lou Williams put together a string of high-difficulty late-game threes.

The Sixers’ run, which the Blazers held off by making their free throws, was more a product of good shots than defensive breakdowns, the Blazers said from coach McMillan on down. And in the end Portland got the ‘W,’ they said, which, under the circumstances, cures all ills.

Indeed, the Blazers’ locker room was particularly effervescent. It was the joys of an opening-night win, the holiday spirit and the release that comes with finally playing a meaningful game after a lockout threatened (and shortened) the season.

But there seemed to be something else at play: the mix of personalities in Portland’s locker room seems to be as well-balanced than it has in some time. Which is not to say that Blazers have been ill-matched, or had bad personal chemistry in years passed—far from it. It’s just that this team appears to be even more closely knit.

Blame, in part, the departure of a generally stoic Rudy Fernandez, and his segmented click with Patty Mills. And perhaps more importantly, blame the absence of Brandon Roy. Again, it was not that Roy was disliked, but his struggles with injury last season left the roster in a state of constant flux. Could he contribute? Was he trying in vain? Who was the team’s leader?

Now, everyone knows their role. Aldridge is The Man. Crawford is not bothered by coming off the bench. No one seems itching to be traded. The veterans—more than Portland has had in some time—are treated with respect and deference. The rookies know their place. That said, the Portland’s rotation is far from settled.

Coach McMillan said that with the shortened training camp he is still somewhat unsure of how things will shake out. He did say, however, that he’s aiming for a settled rotation rather than plugging in guys and going with whomever’s hot on a given night.

And while they didn’t shoot particularly well (41% from the field to Philadelphia’s 48%), Portland took care of the ball (just 12 turnovers) and won the rebound battle. Still, the Blazers say, they have yet to get their wind back, and it will take more time to settle into the playing habits of their new teammates.

Surely it’s too early to make any grand predictions, but Monday’s 107-103 win could offer a fairly representative picture of the 2011-12 Blazers.

Felton is a scrappy and capable floor-general and led the team with eight assists while adding nine points. Gerald Wallace lives up to his nickname, “Crash,” flying all over the court, diving for loose balls, running out on the break and wreaking general havoc. LaMarcus Aldridge is playing big minutes and scoring accordingly. The offense is going to be on his back. Crawford, however, will be relied upon to spark the second unit’s offense while handling point guard duties when Felton gets his rest. Undeterred by age, Marcus Camby continues pulling down loads of rebounds (he grabbed a game-high 13 in just 28 minutes). And when they’re hitting shots from distance, as the Blazers did Monday, netting nine of 19 attempts from behind the arc (47.4%, led by Wesley Matthews 3-6), Portland will be a difficult team to beat.

They also showed Monday that their late-game, isolation-heavy offense may keep games closer than they should be. In true McMillan fashion there will likely be a lot more grind-it-out nail-biters than runaway victories.

However it all shakes out, the post-game atmosphere made one thing clear: this year’s Blazers are ready to enjoy the ride.

Paul Allen Invents Time Machine to Draft Durant in 2007 – Gets Caught up in Excitement, Accidentally Drafts Oden Again

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Portland, OR – Trail Blazers owner and interim general manager Paul Allen returned late last night from an ultra secret time travel trip where he intended alter the franchise’s history by drafting Kevin Durant with the first overall pick of the 2007 draft. Shockingly, the quick, three day visit resulted in Allen getting swept up in the hype and picking Oden again. 

“When I first arrived to 2007, I told everyone that we definitely need to draft Kevin Durant over Greg Oden,” stated Allen. “People thought I was crazy. They said big men win championships. They said we don’t need Durant because we have Brandon Roy. It started to make sense again.” 

Using his vast resources that funded such significant projects as Vulcan Inc, Stratolaunch Spaceships and HABHT, which built the first hot air balloon hot tub, Allen started Operation Retrieve KD. Over the last 6 months, physicists secretly constructed a time machine just large enough for Allen to make the trip. The goal was simple. 

“I wanted to make things right with the franchise,” said Allen. “With the current knowledge I possess, I was leaning towards Durant but after watching film, listening to local media outlets of 2007 and hearing people ‘honk once’ for Oden, I decided it was in the best interest of the organization to select Oden again. Everyone was very excited we picked him. We had a great party that night.” 

Upon returning to 2011, Allen was saddened to hear the news that Oden was still injured, Roy had indeed retired and Durant was still averaging 28 points a game with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

“I don’t know, I thought maybe this time it could be different,” said a dejected Allen. “But people forget what it was like back then. It was Oden mania.” 

The error was compounded when the time machine became damaged during the return trip and had to be dismantled. Allen claims that if he is able to rebuild the machine and go back to 2007, he’s “pretty sure” he won’t draft Oden again. He hopes to return soon, even if just for fun. 

“Despite the funny clothes and weird music of 2007, I really enjoyed myself,” he added.

(Author’s note: For the record, I wanted to drafted Oden too. Oh, well.)

Blazers at Utah: We All Win Because The Preseason Is Over

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The above play was an absolutely electric effort by Jeremy Evans. Clearly an offensive foul, and a heads-up defensive play by Gerald Wallace to make sure he was outside of the charge circle, but cool looking nonetheless. And come on Jazzy announcers, Dr. J? Michael Jordan? Please. That wasn’t even Brandon Roy on Cheik Samb.

To be honest I did not pay much attention to this game for three perfectly legitimate reasons. First, I’m lazy. Second, I try to avoid drawing any real conclusions based on preseason basketball and if I pay too much attention I know I won’t be able to help myself. Third, I started watching Mehmet Okur commercials on youtube, and once you start watching Mehmet Okur commercials on youtube you don’t stop until you have seen them all at least seventy-three times.

In between Okur commercials I did manage to notice that The Jazz won 92-89. Down three with 2.2 seconds left the Blazers ran a play from the sideline out of bounds. That opportunity resulted in a missed Jamal Crawford shot that I will describe as especially Jamal Crawfordy.

Now, on to the Okur commercials!

 

 

The internet-basketball dork niche classic commercial above features Okur playing basketball mano y mano against…are you ready for this? Himself. Not in the Marxian sense that man battles against himself, or the Fight Club sense where there is mental illness involved (or maybe? That twist could have made this commercial the best creation in all of deep time), but in the Van Damme/ Jet Li / Arnold Schwarzenegger sense (if I missed any let me know, I need to fill up the Netflix queue for the holidays) where the guy is somehow actually battling himself.

I don’t see how both Okurs aren’t just standing at the three point line trying to shoot over each other without moving. But since this is a commercial where Okur plays basketball against himself I guess I will let the somewhat less ridiculous event of him driving to the hoop slide.

Next up is a commercial where a little boy walks around with Okur’s face (not in the Nic Cage sense, unfortunately). This commercial is not really funny and I’m sorry for wasting your time.

Here we see Okur making the Disaronno on the rocks guy obsolete. I suspected that the beverage Okur was selling was superior to Disaronno because it apparently comes in some sort of pouch, but now I know for sure. It Okurs to me that this is a phenomenal commercial that should be more famous and maybe be the basis for a sitcom.

I also stumbled across this, an intentionally (or unintentionally? I’m old and I really can’t tell anymore) bad freestyle dedicated to Okur. The language is not safe for work so wear headphones. Best-line: My range is unlimited I’m makin’ shots from Mars (Ok)/ these n***** blockin’ shots I’ll f*** around and take a charge.

Anyways. Onward to the regular season!

Paul Allen Speaks

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Coming Soon: Media Conference Calls from Octopus?

For the first time in years the Trail Blazers owner lets Portland fans in on What The Hell He’s Thinking. Strange twists indeed, as Allen says Pritchard ultimately chose to leave and was not fired. (Perhaps Pritchard sense his dream of Oden-Roy-Aldridge and the “Championship Window” had died and the best thing to do was bolt?)

Of more immediate importance, however, is Allen’s assertion that he has no plans to sell the team. And when you hear him explain how Blazers games helped him cope with challenging moments of chemotherapy and other cancer-related treatments, it’s clear that the love affair between Allen and the Blazers burns true.

But let me not put words in his mouth. Listen to an audio recording of Allen’s press conference at OregonLive or read the full transcript at Blazersedge.

One can’t help but wonder why Allen took so long to share a few minutes with the Portland media and, by extension, the fanbase at large. Surely had Allen stepped up to the plate in the media maelstroms following the sudden firings of Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho the franchise would’ve appeared more stable, level-headed and, in the end, a more desirable destination for players, coaches, and the still-unfulfilled post of General Manager.

Perhaps Allen will discover as much and continue to open up. It’s done wonders for Mark Cuban. That said, I’m not holding my breath.

Welcome Back!

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Nicolas Batum gained fifteen pounds of muscle! Marcus Camby is working out rusty legs! Raymond Felton added fifteen pounds of cupcakes!

These are the typical cliches that usually come with the undeniable slog of preseason games that determine next to nothing, save for showcasing players that aren’t going to be on the roster come the start of the season. Here’s looking at you, Earl Barron.

But this year? After this summer’s fever dream of lockout detente, any pro basketball is a welcome relief. That there are only two preseason games in this shortened year is just an added bonus, as nobody really pines to see Luke Babbitt and Gordon Hayward duke it out for fifteen minutes a game while LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Milsap sit. Nobody.

Was there great basketball tonight? No. Did Babbitt and Chris Johnson log twenty-five plus minutes? Yes. But hot damn, there was basketball on the Rose Garden court Monday night. Even if it didn’t count for anything, even if it didn’t look good, and even if Kurt Thomas didn’t once bust out his crazy eyes, there was basketball on the Rose Garden.

Portland bounced out to a quick lead mostly because they managed to try a little bit harder. No, really. The preseason edge goes to the team that tries. With a little energy—Gerald Wallace was loudly complaining for an offensive foul at one point, which felt a tad misplaced—and a few more early minutes from their starters, the Blazers jumped out to a quick 12 point lead in the first quarter and never looked back.

It doesn’t hurt that the Utah Jazz are a team in flux, too good to be rebuilding, too many young pieces to be good. NBA sophomores Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, along with rookies Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, logged significant minutes. Of the four, only Favors had any sort of impact. Again, this is just the preseason, so nothing too much can be made of one game after an extended break, but the Jazz certainly look like they are headed for the lottery again.

There aren’t too many takeaways on the Blazers’ end, if any. For what it’s worth, Portland did seem to pick up the tempo slightly with Felton at the helm, running a bit more than in years past. Who knows if that sticks, as defense in preseason games is relaxed even by NBA standards. But with the long, quick pieces the Blazers have in place—Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge—a more uptempo style would be a wise move.

Jamal Crawford spent his Portland debut showcasing smooth ball-handling and ability to score. He split time between point guard and shooting guard. Crawford’s scoring off the bench could be critical to Portland’s success this season, even if he neeeds a lot of shots to get his numbers.

Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith had little flashes, and made well of their time on the court. Williams finished the night three-for-three from beyond the arc. He was the only Blazer to find success from distance.

Both Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith are already well on their way to becoming fan favorites. Thomas had his mid-range jumper going, set some hard picks, and looked a lot like Juwan Howard from two years ago. Smith is huge—265 pounds at only 6’7”—and could really log some meaningful, high-energy minutes behind Aldridge. Already both look like shrewd signings.

Luke Babbitt is still Luke Babbitt.

The scene after the game was light and relaxed, and it even if this was a loss instead of a twenty point victory for Portland, the mood wouldn’t have shifted. Still, there is basketball once again, and even if it’s the meaningless preseason, that’s reason enough to celebrate.

Jamal Crawford and Usage

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“Iso!”

 

Jamal Crawford is a guard who has no trouble scoring and the Blazers could use another scoring threat at guard. I agree with that poorly written sentence.

Signing Jamal Crawford to a two-year, $10 million contract was a good move for the Blazers. I’m skeptical of that one.

The alignment between what Crawford can do and what Portland needs makes this union seem like a good fit. The Blazers lack a guard off the bench who can score. Crawford was a guard off the bench who could score for the last two seasons with the Hawks. In fact, during the 2009-10 season he performed this role so well that he was recognized with the Sixth Man of the Year award. That is enough to say that this move could very well work out for the Blazers.

With a closer look some doubts emerge. To be clear, I don’t think that Crawford is too old to contribute; he is only thirty-one. I don’t think he requires an up-tempo system to succeed; he succeeded with an Atlanta team that was 27th in pace both seasons that he was there. I’m not even alarmed at his low efficiency (41% career field goal percentage), well maybe a little bit.

Mostly I’m worried about usage. Usage is the percentage of team plays used by that player while he is on the floor. (Word to Basketball-Reference.com.) To illustrate how Crawford’s usage has related to his production over his career take a look at the chart below. The red line represents Crawford’s usage over his career. The blue line represents his PER, which measures per minute production and is standardized so that a score of 15 is considered average.

 

 

For Crawford, PER and usage follow a similar pattern. Generally, when one has been up so has the other, and when one has been down so has the other. Crawford’s career usage rate is 23.4. In seven of his eleven seasons his average usage rate has been less than his career mark. In four seasons his usage has been above his career mark. In the seven seasons he has spent below his career usage average, Crawford’s average PER is 13.07. In the four seasons Crawford has been above his career average usage his PER is 16.2.

 

 

The takeaway is simple: Give Crawford a lot of touches and he has a good chance at producing at above average levels. If he doesn’t get enough touches, don’t count on it. Over his career Crawford has not produced at even average levels when his usage rate is not high. This is a source of concern as he joins the Blazers. Below is a chart showing usage levels of the Blazers last season, with shooting guards highlighted in red.

 

 

It is not clear that Crawford will have the usage he needs to be effective with the Blazers. The offense may change somewhat this season, but will still rightly revolve around LaMarcus Aldridge for around thirty-eight minutes per game. Crawford is not likely to see the amount of touches commanded by Brandon Roy. He will be a player off the bench and off the ball that will usually be the second scoring option.

Crawford will have phenomenal nights either way. He will dazzle with his flashy moves. But if he produces at levels as low as these figures suggest he might, he will have hardly been worth the two-year, $10 million contract.

Alexis Harper’s Tweet Quoted in NY Times

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Stern Announces 10% “Hornets Tax” on all NBA-related Products

In a story on the NBA’s bewildering decision not to discount the full-season NBA League Pass price accordingly in accordance with the lockout-shortened, 66-game schedule, the NY Times quoted a tweet from our very own Alexis Harper:

As a result, fans have taken to Twitter to accuse the league — mistakenly, it turns out, — of not discounting their service to offset the loss of 16 games. “I’d love to pay full price for 80% of this sandwich please,” wrote a person with the Twitter handle @pdxlex.

I take umbrage, however, with the Times’ assertion that the qualms of Alexis and other fans are mistaken. Although this year League Pass has bundled some new features—which not all fans may want or use—the total price for the 2011-12 season comes down some 10% from last year.

Regardless of new features as the price represents entry-level, customer savings of 10% do not compensate for a 20% loss in product.

Perhaps that extra 10% is the new “Hornets Tax”?

Christmas Past: Remembering Brandon Roy

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Several glasses of eggnog, Chinese take-out, and Brandon Roy dropping 41 against a stacked Nuggets team. For a Jew in Portland on Christmas, it really doesn’t get much better.

It was 2009 and the Nuggets were in town to cap off a five-game NBA showcase on ESPN. Stellar performances all-around the league—Kobe Bryant scoring 35, Dwyane Wade putting up 30—but Roy’s 41 earned Top Performer’s status by night’s end.

Watching from my living room, excitement bubbled as Roy nailed his first three shots without the stain of orange iron. Nothing but net. The first: a zero-hesitation three-pointer off of a LaMarcus Aldridge screen. The second: a twenty-footer over Aaron Aflalo from the elbow. The third: a drive and step-back from the free-throw line.

Roy would go on to make 16-of-26 from the field (plus three of six from behind the arc), net six-for-six at the line, all the while adding a steal, four assists, and six rebounds while committing just two turnovers. Merry Christmas indeed.

But these numbers (save the 26 shot attempts, “Stay Humble”!) were well within the range of normal for Roy; a career 19/4/5 guy night in and night out. The stats are impressive, sure. But it’s the way he could entice a fan who just sat through 10 hours of basketball to get comfortable on the edge of her seat with only seven minutes gone by in the first quarter that makes Roy one of the best Blazers to wear the uniform.

After a day of full of indulgence in every capacity, he had Blazer fans begging for more.

Over the past five seasons I’ve had the pleasure of turning on the game, tuning out Mike & Mike, and inching back towards the edge of my seat. Time and again Roy had me nodding in giddy agreement with the right play, the clutch shot, and the anticipation of what he might do next. This remarkable consistency was rivaled only by the calm of a true professional.

For that incredible performance on Christmas two years ago, and for the 320 other games where I found myself standing four feet away from my TV ready to yell and alarm the neighbors to my activity: Thank you Brandon. Thank you for carrying this team and this city on two shot knees and guts alone.