PRS Preview Podcast: Blazers at Wizards with Kyle Weidie

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Earlier today, I helped out Kyle Weidie, the editor of the TrueHoop Network’s Wizards blog Truth About It, with a preview of tonight’s game. Kyle was kind enough to return the favor by coming on the latest PRS Preview Podcast. We talked about the impact of John Wall’s injury, Bradley Beal’s early struggles, the surprising play of former Blazer Martell Webster, and what it’s like to cover an 0-12 team. Kyle and his team at TAI do a terrific job providing engaging coverage even as this team’s prospects are as bleak as any in recent memory. So check out their work, listen to the podcast below, and follow Kyle on Twitter at @Truth_About_It.

RareInk Releases Clyde Drexler Print

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At the beginning of the season, the art company RareInk announced a new partnership with the NBA on a collection of fine-art prints filtering images of current stars and legends through the lenses of a wildly talented and diverse group of artists. The quality of these prints, which were made available as paper art prints and canvasses, is nothing short of stunning. This Hakeem Olajuwon piece by the artist “KXX” and this Rajon Rondo piece by Caroline Blanchet are among my favorites, but there are tons of incredible ones available.

However, until now, one major flaw with the collection was that there were no Blazers players represented. Today, though, RareInk released a new Clyde Drexler print, created by an artist named Gabz. The image above should speak for itself, but it doesn’t disappoint, and with the holiday season coming up, there’s no reason any Blazers fan (or basketball fan in general) wouldn’t love to have it on their wall. RareInk has also been kind enough to offer up a discount on the Drexler print exclusively for Portland Roundball Society readers: If you order the print between now and this Thursday at midnight, enter the code ROUNDBALLSOCIETY25 and you will get 25 percent off your order. The print sells itself on the internet, but having seen several of the RareInk prints up close, I can tell you that the quality is outstanding, and with this discount, there’s really no excuse not to buy one.

PRS Preview Podcast: Blazers at Pistons with Patrick Hayes

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For the latest PRS Preview Podcast, I sat down with Patrick Hayes of Piston Powered, the Pistons blog on the ESPN TrueHoop Network. We talked about the puzzling lack of playing time for rookie center Andre Drummond, despite his ahead-of-expectations production; some of the Pistons’ players questioning Lawrence Frank’s coaching decisions; the advantages Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews have over the Pistons’ underperforming backcourt; the surprising early contributions of Portland-area native Kyle Singler; similarities between Nicolas Batum and Tayshaun Prince; and plenty more. Listen below and be sure to follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_hayes.

PRS Preview Podcast: Blazers at Nets with Devin Kharpertian

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Posting the latest PRS Preview Podcast a little early because tomorrow’s game in Brooklyn is a matinee. I had a great conversation with Devin Kharpertian, a former editor of the TrueHoop Nets site Nets are Scorching and now a co-founder of the fantastic new site The Brooklyn Game, a partner of the YES Network. We talked about the Gerald Wallace trade that landed the Blazers the pick they ended up using to draft Damian Lillard; how the Deron Williams/Joe Johnson backcourt is faring thus far; Brook Lopez’ outstanding season and how he might exploit some of Portland’s weaknesses with interior defense; the change of culture that comes with the team’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and a lot more. Listen below and follow Devin on Twitter at @uuords.

Media Row Notes: Portland defeats Minnesota 103-95

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Getty Images

Rivalries typically aren’t made in the offseason. But after nearly plucking Nic Batum this summer, signing Brandon Roy, and trading spots with Portland as the country’s top bike city for the past four years, Minneapolis sure does look like its begging for a fight. With thousands of Ducks and Beavers fans in the crowd and ready for Saturday’s civil war, the Rose Garden was treated to the closest thing Blazers have to an NBA rivalry right now.

Though billed as a battle of the power forwards, it was the Portland backcourt who shined. Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard shot a combined 23 of 34 and put up 58 points on the night. Lillard added eight assists while Matthews connected on five of six from behind the arc for the best offensive effort from the starting backcourt for Portland this season. After trailing by as many as 13, Portland came back and out-scored Minnesota 53-40 in the second half to win its fourth of the past five games.

Matthews’ big night: Generally one of the more boisterous Blazers on the court, Wesley Matthews is one of the most muted players in the locker room after the game. Crowds with audio recorders tend to cluster around him, leaning in close as he typically stares straight ahead and answers questions politely but with little modulation.

To be fair, my experience covering the Blazers came last year during a dreadful season where Matthews was asked night after night what the Blazers needed to do to succeed; one of the key answers of course being Matthews himself needed to improve on both ends of the floor.

Tonight, in his purple striped socks and relaxed smile Matthews explained that he was satisfied with the team’s defensive effort more than anything else. Leading all players with 30 points on 12 of 17 shooting, Matthews filled in on the offensive end for LaMarcus Aldridge who had trouble staying on the floor before fouling out.

Wesley spent just two sentences of his locker room interview talking about his own impressive performance, instead focusing on the issues the team worked to address after the discouraging defeat in Phoenix.

Love/Aldridge: LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love have been jockeying for position as the Western Conference’s leading power forward for three seasons now. The pair was handed technical fouls early in the third quarter, which proved costly as Aldridge was playing with three personal fouls. LaMarcus fouled out of the game with just 13 points on a substandard 6 of 13 shooting night, with many of those attempts coming well outside of the paint. All but one of his shot attempts in the first half were away from the basket, leaving him without a single free throw attempt during the stretch.

There were flashes of passion for Aldridge, and not just the altercation with Love. And it’s not that his first half was bad, but like Barack Obama’s first debate performance, at this point we expect him to come out, understand the stakes, and try to set the tone early. Instead, Aldridge was satisfied taking his outside jumpers while Lillard and Matthews carried the team offensively. LaMarcus remains content so long as his team ends up the winner of the contest, but after four years of watching him try to win the power forward battle with his turnaround jumper, it will be welcome when Love is the one fouling out after Aldridge repeatedly takes the ball down low.

You get one guess as to which was the last opponent to send LaMarcus to the bench with his sixth foul.

The new kid: He really is that good. 28 points, 11 of 17 shooting, eight assists and not a single turnover on the night. More impressive than the gaudy numbers Lillard is putting up to start the season is his ability to influence the personality of a team with plenty of guys who have been around the league. He’s not going to chuck shots when he’s hot. He’s not going to panic and look for the home-run play when the teams needs a bucket. He’s going to keep playing his measured game within Stott’s system and trust that the game will come to him.

With five seconds left in the second quarter and the Blazers down eight, Lillard calmly stepped behind the three point line and nailed the shot. He didn’t celebrate–though the Rose Garden did–he got back on defense and made sure Luke Ridnour didn’t turn around and nail a last-second three at the buzzer. It was extraordinary to watch him remain so incredibly focused after connecting on the biggest play of the half.

Batum was in the building, I swear: Four points in the first half, just five in the second, and you know, he actually didn’t have a terrible game. Yes, Batum was quiet offensively, and he could stand to attack more– especially on nights where Portland only gets to the line once in the first half–but he kept the ball moving which this team desperately needs. Even in a more liberated offense, Portland still struggles to keep the ball moving and the defense reacting. Batum notched five assists and was a big part of Portland’s success in keeping Andrei Kirilenko quiet with just 3 of 9 shooting and 10 points on the night.

Final Notes:

  • Stott’s presser can be found here
  • Lillard’s 28 points tie the rookie record for the season
  • Portland has defeated Minnesota 13 of the last 14 meetings at the Rose Garden
  • Lillard’s 28 points is a career high
  • Gary Payton was in crowd tonight, rocking some OSU Beavers gear much to the pleasure of the orange-shirted crowd contingent
  • Ricky Rubio was spotted outside of the visitor locker room chatting with Victor Claver
  • Dante Cunningham checked out the Blazer locker room remodel and approved

Previewing Blazers vs. Wolves Around the Web

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If you missed it earlier, Zach Harper and I recorded a podcast previewing tonight’s game. Over at his site, A Wolf Among Wolves, Danny Nowell (he of Wednesday’s phenomenal Batum post, which you should read) and I joined Zach in a 3-on-3 preview of the game, which you can read here.

Over at Hardwood Paroxysm, I wrote a piece about Brandon Roy’s current, stalled comeback attempt, which also included some reflections on his legendary game against Dallas in game four of the 2011 Playoffs. You can read that here.

One last note: As part of their Black Friday sale, Amazon is currently selling Wayne Thompson’s fantastic 2010 coffee-table book Blazermania: This is Our Story for $13.11. Having owned this book since it came out, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you jump on this deal. It’s an extremely well-written book (Thompson was the original Blazers beat writer for the Oregonian) that covers the first 40 years of team history with lots of fascinating insight and behind-the-scenes detail, tons of great photos, and some cool inserts like trading cards and replicas of score sheets for key games. It normally costs $50, and it’d be worth buying at that price. $13 is a total steal.

PRS Preview Podcast: Blazers vs. Timberwolves with Zach Harper

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For the latest PRS Preview Podcast, I talked to CBSSports.com NBA blogger and podcaster extraordinaire Zach Harper. We discussed Kevin Love’s surprise return and his always-intriguing matchup with LaMarcus Aldridge; the stellar early-season play of would-be Timberwolf Nicolas Batum; the impact of Andrei Kirilenko in Minnesota; the Wolves’ resilience through their many early-season injuries; and of course Brandon Roy. Listen below, and follow Zach on Twitter at @talkhoops. Also, be sure to check out his work on HoopSpeak and A Wolf Among Wolves on the TrueHoop Network.

PRS Preview Podcast: Blazers at Suns with Andrew Lynch

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For the latest PRS Preview Podcast, I talked to my friend and Hardwood Paroxysm colleague Andrew Lynch, a die-hard Suns fan and contributor to the ESPN TrueHoop blog Valley of the Suns. We talked about the Michael Beasley era, Luis Scola’s role in the offense, Marcin Gortat’s displeasure with his shots, how Portland’s wings can take advantage of the Suns’ poor perimeter defense, whether the Rockets should have re-signed Goran Dragic instead of Jeremy Lin, and more. Listen below and follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewLynch.

On Batum

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It is often said that certain players are fluid. Usually I take this as a descriptor of physical grace, lanky looseness of movement more improvisatory than rote. Fluidity seems to have a type—Rudy Gay, perhaps, is the closest walking player to the archetype, but it may just be that he’s on my mind with the Grizzlies buzz swirling around right now. At any rate, if there is a genus Fluid in the NBA family, Nic Batum is certainly a representative specimen. But in Batum’s case, the term may not be going far enough descriptively.

Watching him this season, I have begun to think of Batum as liquid, seeping into the cracks of a game and blasting cataracts where structural weakness permits. Through ten games, he has almost certainly been the Blazers’ best player, though Damian Lillard’s emergence and LaMarcus Aldridge’s continued presence might seem to obscure the fact.  Superficially, he leads the team in Win Shares, PER, true shooting percentage, and individual offensive rating. He shares the team lead for individual defensive rating among regular rotation players. On a deeper level, his leap in production seems to encapsulate a Portland team that is finding ways to compete despite glaring limitations.

When Batum signed his 4 year/ $45ish million dollar deal this summer, many—including me—doubted his ability to live up to the contract. Batum seemed like a player whose youth belied the fact that he’d more or less reached his ceiling as a role player deluxe: the minutes were there, and he was getting shots, so where was there left for him to go?  

The answer is, well, everywhere. With Terry Stott’s spread-out style replacing Nate McMillan’s rigid isolation offense, Batum has been able to flourish by flowing into available space on the floor. He was never cut out to be the kind of player who could thrive as an isolation ball handler or a ball-dominating pick and roll scorer; instead, Batum materializes at the periphery of plays when your focus is elsewhere, rushing through an opening, so to speak, before your eyes have fully tracked the ball reversal.

So it is that sixteen seconds of high screens for Lillard ends up with a weak-side jumper for Batum. Or how an opposing forward might bang JJ Hickson for seconds before Batum swoops in for a block. As water lacks form until given a vessel, so has Batum spread out and filled the space available to him so far this season.

In the past several games Batum has made a habit of fittingly blowing up in the third quarter. As teams regroup after halftime, figuring out which of their adjustments have been counter-adjusted to, Batum floats in. When a game is in flux and the trenches haven’t been dug, he may score 9 points on three straight shots. He may uncork a trigonometric backdoor pass, or slither into the lane for an offensive rebound. Present an opening, and in he floods, weighing on the weak beams until they snap.

One of my favorite things about watching Batum, though, is how he is idiosyncratically unable to look like the star of a game. When he puts the ball on the deck with his surprising handle and elevates with his surprising hops, his layups almost always go long, glancing off the far rim or striking backboard only. It’s as if he’s surprised to find himself above the fray, exposed, and the efficacy of his ambush basketball is diminished.

It happens, too, when he’s hit two or three shots in a row and the Blazers run a play everybody knows is coming to get him a good shot. He’s been stroking it, he frees himself and rounds a screen, he elevates for the shot to bring Portland all the way back—it’s long. These aren’t heat checks, and they’re not reckless. He can shoot, and he’s open. It’s just that he seems to become dissolute the moment you train your eyes on him, until the next play you forget to look for him and he bursts through.

I’m not writing that he’s not “the man” or “not clutch;” through ten games, he’s been insane in the clutch, with a 60% Win% and 21.7 points per 48 crunch time minutes. Fittingly, though, literally 100% of his clutch baskets have been assisted. Whatever gene or machismo required to take hold of the game in its tensest moments he has in spades. But on those few shots where the game grinds to a halt and turns its attention to a single player—that ain’t Nic.

All of which is to say that he’s become one of my very favorite players to watch, and one of the biggest reasons the Blazers are so enjoyable. His shooting, his athleticism, his versatility: it all adds up to a player forming the engine of Portland’s successes. But in his liquid cantilevered style, he’s more the current that buoys the team than the foundation it sits on.

 

Postgame Access: Blazers 102, Chicago 94 (video)

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In front of a Rose Garden crowd that felt asleep for much of the night, the Blazers got their third straight win, and first consecutive home win of the season, downing the Bulls 102-94. This was almost certainly the Blazers’ most complete game of the season: they led at the half, got strong contributions from bench players Jared Jeffries and Ronnie Price, and saw all starters score double digits. As Ronnie Price’s ankle gets better, and as Terry Stotts learns how best to use Jared Jeffries, Portland fans may see more of these veteran-heavy rotations that allow some relatively stable minutes of rest for the starters.

Even with that bench play, LaMarcus Aldridge played 40 strong minutes, posting 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Bulls’ stout frontcourt. Nic Batum provided his now-typical third quarter fireworks, Wes Matthews bulldozed his way to 21 points, and Damian Lillard scored 16. For the Bulls, team balance and Joakim Noah were the story: Noah posted 16 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in an effort that would probably yield a triple-double on better team-shooting nights. 

In fun not-really-news, Damian Lillard dunked on an uncontested possession to close the game, and had words with a few Bulls afterwards regarding the faux pas. This led to probably my favorite Terry Stotts moment of the year, when he got a little salty in his postgame presser after being asked about the dunk. After dealing with that question, you can see him transition back into full Stottsisms and praising the efforts of the bench:

Video note: Begging your pardon, but until I can figure out what’s up with my embed mechanism, you’ll see these best by clicking through. 

Here’s Damian talking about the play. I find this interesting only because of how hilariously unbelievable it is that he “didn’t know what to do with the ball,” and also for the fact that his teammates apparently advised him not to repeat the mistake:

Lots to love there. Apparently, Damian Lillard’s response to people “running at him” is to just dunk the ball. That’s a solid instinct for an NBA player, I’d hazard.

Finally, here’s Ronnie Price talking about the bench’s role as he sees it, and their struggles—or lack thereof—so far this season.