PICK AND SCROLL: WEDNESDAY, FEB. 29, 2012. Week In Review

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

Portland headed into the break with a disarming feel-good victory over a San Antonio Spurs team that rested all of their star players. At the time, the victory provided some reassurance to an otherwise disappointing few weeks heading into the all-star game.

Rip City had lost seven of its 13 games in February, including four home losses highlighted by a soul-sucking 124-109 loss to the Washington Wizards (now 7-29). The home losses in particular, were out of the ordinary for a team that couldn’t lose at home early in the season.

Now, in the next chapter of the season, any victory feels like a gift delivered from David Stern himself. Raymond Felton hasn’t been the answer at point guard, so much so he was demoted to a bench role against the Spurs (and he played quite well). Jamal Crawford relished the opportunity as a starter, but to what avail? It’s common knowledge he can create his own shot, and if he’s hot one night, great. But the hot streaks are few and far between. Granted, the Crawford starting sample is small, but the future isn’t in a 31-year-old jump shooter.

Crawford should be getting another start at the point tonight at Denver in the Pepsi Center against the Nuggets. The Blazers haven’t had much success in Denver, losing their last six games there. With a new portion of the season getting under way, it’s time for the Blazers to find consistency and get back to their early season form.

Quick links from relevant Blazers news over the all-star break:

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.

Joel Pryzbilla: Back

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Before the break rumor had it that Joel Pryzbilla was on his way back to Rip City. Over the weekend it was announced he cleared his physical. Now we hold our breath, or yell endlessly, and think about who will be cut.Regardless of whether or not you think Joel will the role player savior, or just a band aid, I think we can all agree the looks of utter disdain have been sorely missed. For more NBA illustrations follow me back to my site, here.

The Other Dream Team

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No date yet on when this sweet looking documentary about Lithuania’s Grateful Dead-sponsored Olympic team will be released. But that it showed at Sundance this year would suggest it won’t be long.

Ok, while the quote at the end of the Trailer may be true, it is inadvertently hilarious, so dramatic and overstated it’s almost a parody of itself. Surely there was a better way to say that not beating the real Dream Team wasn’t the point…

An underdog in every sense of the word. Facing their oppressor a green team gave new hope to a nation and won the bronze — a bronze that was more precious than gold.

PICK AND SCROLL: WEDNESDAY, FEB. 22, 2012. Deep Breath. Take a Break.

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

… or Wednesday Feb. 29.No Tim Duncan, no Tony Parker, No Manu Ginobili; not Portland’s problem.

Gregg Popovich gave up playing his star players and coaching defensive rotations for lent, and the Portland Trail Blazers took advantage, coasting to a monster 137-97 victory.

Jamal Crawford took kindly to the gesture of being a starter and led a Portland offensive onslaught that led to a 41-point first quarter and an 18-point advantage over the visiting San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers maintained a comfortable cushion the rest of the way, and even flirted with a 50-point margin late in the game.

All of Rip City’s starters shot well and reached double figures except for Marcus Camby; LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 21, Crawford had 20, and Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum each chipped in 19. 

The offensive fireworks came in stark contrast to Monday’s dismal seven point first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers, which ultimately led to a 102-92 loss. On a night of a back-to-back game, no one expected the basketball brilliance they witnessed Tuesday at the Rose Garden. But after studying the Blazers up to mid-season’s break, the lesson has been simple; this team changes every night.

Normally, bi-polar disorder isn’t something to joke about — unless you’re talking about Jim Carey and his “acting career,” then it’s hilarious — but this team cannot string together consistent performances. The hope will be that All-Star weekend allows players to recharge their drained batteries caused both from mental and physical fatique. The hope won’t be that Portland suffers another medical set back.

With that being said, enjoy the weekend’s festitivies! 

 Links: 

“Crawford and Felton surely benefited from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s decision to rest All-Star point guard Tony Parker, who has been a force during the 11-game winning streak San Antonio came to Portland on. Popovich also rested Hall of Fame-bound power forward Tim Duncan, and did not have the services of his other big star, Manu Ginobili, who is out with a strained oblique.”

  • Back at the O, Jason Quick says the real game may have been played away from the court last night, with the players pursuit of bringing back Joel Pryzbilla. Pryzbilla’s agent, Bill Duffy, thinks Portland is the likely landing spot:

“I think Portland is always the sentimental favorite for obvious reasons,” Duffy said. “Joel has a home here and he had the best years of his career here. And at this particular time, it looks like he is needed, too.” 

“Sure, the 11-game winning streak was fun while it lasted.


But the NBA is all about positioning for the playoffs. And playing starters for extended minutes in February doesn’t make much sense, particularly when injuries and back-to-back games start piling up during the most  difficult road trip of the season.”

  • John Hollinger at Truehoop headquarters says the R&R was just what the Spurs needed. And while McMillan may have outcoached Popovich’s second-string, Popovich could be the one doing the outcoaching in the long term.

“It’s a lesson Blazers coach Nate McMillan might want to learn; one night after keeping LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace on the court for 38 and 35 minutes in a hopeless situation against the Lakers, he had Wallace still out there with Portland up by 40 in the fourth quarter. It was their last game before the All-Star break, yes, but the cumulative wear and tear of this season is already taking a toll on Wallace in particular, who is averaging 35.8 minutes and had three straight single-figure outings before Tuesday night.” 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.

The All Bench All Stars

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McMillan finally went to the bench last night where we saw Elliot Williams (17 pts in 17 min), Nolan Smith (5pts, 3ast), and Luke Babbitt (3pts). Rookies and young players need the rain (sweat) and sun (arena lights) to blossom into the stars of tomorrow. You can check out my other basketball related illustrations here.

Time For a Break

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There’s not much that a forty-one point quarter can’t fix. Eight three-pointers made. Twelve assists on thirteen made field goals. Ending the quarter on a 22-0 run.

After notching a franchise low seven first quarter points against the Lakers last night, the Portland Trail Blazers found comfort once again on their home court, exploding for a season high forty-one point first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs. Newly named starter Jamal Crawford went four for four from deep, and Raymond Felton came off the bench to knock down his three attempts from distance as well. Things were clicking.

Yesterday’s abysmal start became a fading, distant memory, replaced with visions of ball movement, falling jump shots, and rebounding prowess.

Unfortunately, tonight’s successes have to be taken with a grain of salt. This was a junior varsity version of the San Antonio Spurs, a team missing their top four players—both Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter were out due to injury, and Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were getting some much needed rest. After winning their last eleven contests, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich decided to punt number twelve.

Proof? Richard Jefferson started at power forward and spent his time on the court guarding LaMarcus Aldridge.

“A win is a win. It still counts, right? We don’t care who is out there,” said Aldirdge. “We need to get back on track, we need to bounce back from that loss we had last night.”

Funny what a home court, some falling jumpers, and a lack of interior post defense from the opposition can do. The Blazers looked like an unstoppable force. Their potential? Reached. When things go well for this Portland team, they go real well.

Well enough that they ended the game with 137 points, easily their highest output of the season, and finished with a forty point victory over the second best team in the Western Conference. The pride Coach McMillan has been imploring his team to play with returned, and did so in inspiring fashion.

There aren’t answers yet, of course. One good game against a team’s B-squad does not wipe away the stench of last night’s loss, nor the past few weeks of iffy play, troubling tendencies, inadequate guard play, and “the sky is falling” proclamations. But instead of limping into the All-Star break with uncertainty, the Blazers at least have something to build off.

“When you have a week off, you don’t want the last thing to happen, you don’t want that to be a taste in your mouth,“ said Jamal Crawford. “It was big to come out here and get a win.”

There was a collective weight off of everyone’s shoulders. That blowout win could not have come at a better time, right before the team disbanded for a week. It was like the last day before spring break—gone were any obligations, it was just time to sit back and relax. There was no need to dwell on any previous frustrations, just look forward to some well deserved time off.

When asked about his lineup change (Crawford vs. Felton) and if he was able to evaluate it, McMillan was quick to pull to the break card. “You know, I’m not going to worry about it. We got this win tonight, and I’m going on break tomorrow. I’ll start thinking about that when we return next week.” He said the team needs to focus and lock in for the second half, but again, that’s another conversation to be had a few days from now.

Gerald Wallace was easily the most vocal, clearly giddy at the thought of eating good food in his home of Alabama. He was shouting across the locker room, making sure to say goodbye to each of his teammates before leaving for a few days. He also said he was excited to drink some soda. It’s the little things.

Soon enough it will be back to the grind and to the lingering questions over this team and franchise. But for now? Time to savor another blowout win and finally relax for a few days.

PICK AND SCROLL: MONDAY, FEB. 21, 2012. Is Nicolas Batum The Savior?

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

Seven points in the first quarter; that’s the proper headline for every story pertaining to the Trail Blazers 103-92 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

L.A. took it to Portland early, establishing a dominant presence in the paint. Rip City couldn’t pull down a rebound, contain the Lakers twin 7-foot towers or establish a post threat on offense. And on a day when a snake-bitten franchise received another venomous dose of Greg Oden news, the Lakers took advantage.

But before I rehash every gory detail of last night’s Blazers blunder, there was a positive from the contest; Nicolas Batum.

Batum did a little of everything last night. He scored 18 points, pulled down six rebounds, dished out five assists and recorded two steals and four blocks. 

This bodes well for tonight’s Rose Garden affair against the Spurs, a team the French forward has burned in the past with late game heroics (see video above). 

The Blazers need to sign Batum to the hero gig full-time. 

Links:

After that first Felton three, the Blazers went 4 minutes, 47 seconds without scoring, as they missed six consecutive field goals and committed two turnovers. Then, after Aldridge swished a jumper with 5:52 left in the first quarter, they one-upped themselves by missing 12 consecutive field goals and going 8 minutes without scoring. 

  • The Lakers win wasn’t even the biggest story in Los Angeles yesternight. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan provides news bigger than his gamer regarding Kobe Bryant’s demand that the Lakers front office determine the future of power foward Pau Gasol:

“As a former player, I understand how the days leading up to the trade deadline can be nerve-wracking for an NBA player,” Kupchak said in a statement released by the team. “Nonetheless, as General Manager of the Lakers, I have a responsibility to ownership, our fans and the players on this team to actively pursue opportunities to improve the team for this season and seasons to come. To say publicly that we would not do this would serve no purpose.” 

“Although Blazers executives would not say this is the end of the Oden era, the chances Oden plays again in Portland, or anywhere in the NBA, are doubtful at best. Of his five knee surgeries, three of them have been microfracture procedures, including Monday’s surgery in Vail, Colo. Microfracture is the most invasive and serious of knee procedures, and involves making tiny fractures in the knee bone to generate bleeding and stimulate new cartilage growth. No NBA player has come back to play after undergoing three microfracture surgeries.”

“That desire to play has been consistent over the years, but it hasn’t been enough. The body simply hasn’t been able to withstand the rehabilitations. Somewhat amazingly, Oden is currently recovering from two knee surgeries and also was dealing with blood clots in his left ankle that, Buchanan said, delayed Monday’s surgery and could have ended Oden’s 2011-2012 season even if the microfracture surgery hadn’t been deemed necessary.”

“He was no joke. He was no fluke. This was a player with legitimate, game-changing talent that made an impact in his “full season” as an NBA pro. That should not be forgotten. Those per-game stats, hampered by minutes and fouls and coach Nate McMillan’s 30th out of 30 teams possession count, need to be sloughed off.”

 

 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.

Will the Real Trail Blazers Please Stand Up

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LOS ANGELES – At halftime the Blazers returned to the visitor’s locker room trailing the Lakers by a whopping 22 points.

I was curious about coach McMillan’s message to his team at the intermission. Was it a moment calling for firey tirades, or solemn searching and introspection?

“We talked about who we were playing for,” McMillan said of his halftime address, appearing both distraught and disgusted after the Blazers played punching bag against the Lakers, Monday. “It’s bigger than me,” McMillan continued, “It’s bigger than any individual on (this) team.”

“You’re talking about your organization. You’re talking about all your fanbase, your supporters. It’s much bigger than any individual in that situation. And to show that display of basketball, there is no excuse.”

Was it a matter of chemistry, I wondered?

“Individually you’ve got to have both feet in,” McMillan said, speaking of his players. “And we’ve talked about that. Again, there’s no excuse for that.”

For the most part holding his tongue, McMillan wouldn’t get more specific, though the sentiment shined through: something is missing. Or, it has an awful tendency to get lost.

But what?

I’m loathe to speculate too much, as I haven’t been spending as much time around the team this season as in years past. But my gut says the Trail Blazers lack a center. Not the position—though it is also a concern— but a core. A heart.

A coach can only do so much.

And with the their roster in relative flux, it’s hard to say who the real Trail Blazers are, outside of an obvious few.

Aside from those two or three guys, the rest of the team, a collection of journeymen, rookies, and guys with eyes on their next contract, seem to be without shared purpose—perhaps what McMillan was alluding to with his comment about needing to have “both feet in.”

Indeed, who are the real Trail Blazers? Who from this team will be in Portland three seasons from now, much less five?

Raymond Felton is in danger of being run out of town.

For Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, retirement cannot be far off.

Nicolas Batum was, by all accounts, unpleased by the way the Blazers handled initial talks of contract extension.

Gerald Wallace is an attractive, tradeable asset whose long-term future seems as up in the air as anyones.

Jamal Crawford, who signed a mid-level exception deal, has a player option next year, but no-doubt he’ll be looking to sign a longer-term deal. He’ll also, I imagine, be looking for a team that isn’t going to make him play out of position at point guard.

As for the rookies and young, unproven bench players, their status as Blazers—and as NBA players in general—is as inherently tenuous.

That leaves Aldridge, who isn’t going anywhere, and Wesley Matthews, who’s in the midst of regression.

That’s not a lot of solid ground. And a coach can only do so much.

Finally the fluctuations and uncertainties in management seem to be catching up with the roster. Still without a general manager, the Blazer brass a fielding a team matching their own nebulous, unstable and combustable nature.

Random Notes From Monday’s Debacle in L.A.

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- Raymond Felton has taken a substantial amount of criticism for his poor play, and rightfully so. But flying under the radar is Portland’s fizzling paint presence. The Blazers’ interior defense, rebounding, and overall ownership down low is becoming every bit as concerning as the lack of production at point guard.

In Los Angeles, Monday, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol scored the Lakers’ first 10 points, all of which came at the rim. It was suddenly 10-3. Portland called timeout, but the bleeding had already begun.

- Noting the Lakers’ recent struggles in Portland, I asked Kobe Bryant what it means to beat the Blazers in L.A. I also asked if the home court dominance would carry over if the two teams were to meet in the playoffs.

- Former Blazer and current Laker, Steve Blake had his most productive game of the season, hitting 5-of-6 three’s to finish with 17 points. I asked him what it meant to deliver a gut punch to his former team.

Rapid Reaction: Portland 92, Los Angeles 103

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Portland Trail Blazers 92 Final
Recap | Box Score
103 Los Angeles Lakers
Gerald Wallace, SF 35 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 7 PTS | -7

One rebound in thirty-five minutes. ONE. Andrew Bynum had nine at the end of the first quarter. And it’s not like Wallace had his hands full with the ghost of Ron Artest on the other end.

LaMarcus Aldridge, PF 38 MIN | 6-19 FG | 6-8 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 18 PTS | -8

Eighteen points are nice, nineteen shots are not. That’s Kobe Bryant territory, and Aldridge has to be more efficient to be effective. The length of Gasol and Bynum were clearly giving him fits.

Marcus Camby, C 26 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 13 REB | 1 AST | 5 PTS | -4

At least somebody on the Blazers knows how to rebound!

Raymond Felton, PG 19 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 9 PTS | -13

Against the corpse in basketball clothes named Derek Fisher, Felton couldn’t even crack the rotation. Fisher has a habit of making opposing point guards look fantastic, and Felton couldn’t stay on the floor for twenty minutes. Yes, his outside shot was falling, but does that even matter at this point? After a lazy pass turnover out of a timeout during the third quarter, Felton was benched for good. The leash has been shortened.

Nicolas Batum, SF 36 MIN | 7-16 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 5 AST | 18 PTS | -9

The five turnovers are ugly, but other than that Batum was the only player with any sort of spark tonight. He had two chase down blocks on Matt Barnes that were about the only bright spots for an otherwise abysmal game.

Kurt Thomas, C 10 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | -8

Hey, Kurt, you got Bynum on defense. Cool? Cool.

Jamal Crawford, G 27 MIN | 5-11 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 15 PTS | -4

Crawford gets kudos for putting the ball in the basket during Portland’s third quarter explosion, but again he was playing out of position and running point for the fourth. He should not be running point. Ever. The offense just looks defeated when he initiates it.

Wesley Matthews, G 27 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 9 PTS | -4

Positives? Three three-pointers. Negatives? EVERYTHING ELSE.

Nolan Smith, G 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 PTS | -9

Smith couldn’t be any worse than Felton.

Elliot Williams, G 3 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | +6

Williams couldn’t be any worse than Matthews.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Portland scored a franchise low seven points in the first quarter. Seven! They followed that up with thirty-six in the third, their highest total of the season. Jekyll, meet Hyde.
  2. Portland clawed their way back into the game by draining seven three-pointers in the third quarter. Without that outburst, this would have been a forty-plus point blowout.
  3. The Lakers had fifty-one rebounds to Portland’s thirty-seven. Enough said.