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big-three2Sorry to be a voice of objectivity but it is probably best Portland lost to the Boston Celtics on Friday night. They won’t forget that loss. In fact, it will make the Blazers that much stronger as the season grows older – as the team grows older together.

We are, after all, talking about the Boston Celtics. The NBA Champs. Going into their building and beating them on national television is as difficult as trying to beat the Los Angeles Lakers on opening night at the Staples Center under the bright lights.

Wait a minute.

Never mind.

No doubt about it: these were growing pains. This is a level Portland is trying to reach – a peak already reached by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. But even by standing on their tip-toes thanks to an impressive six-game-win streak, this was a night where Brandon Roy couldn’t save the day. A night when Greg Oden reached and the Celtics teached. A night when Rudy Fernandez couldn’t hit a three. A night where the Blazers seemed allergic to rebounds. A night where a combined 30 points in the second and third quarter didn’t cut it. A night that Portland will eventually look back on knowing they learned a lot from a big loss in Beantown.

The good news – Sunday is another game.

Toronto – after firing their head coach Sam Mitchell on Thursday and being trounced by the Utah Jazz on Friday night – is a team Portland should beat, even on the Raptors floor. It’s not the loss against Boston they have to worry about now. It’s coming out with a hangover in Toronto. If and how they bounce back will speak volumes about the Blazers.

If not….it could be more tough love.

pic via: nba.com

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odenWhile Nate McMillan was busy giving referee Joe DeRosa the business, his young Blazers were two minutes away from another growth spurt.

On a night that saw Brandon Roy’s late game heroics continue, Greg Oden flash promise and Portland take care of the Washington Wizards on the end of a back-to-back, it’s clear the second youngest team in the league is coming of age during this East coast swing that has seen the Blazers win three in a row and six-straight games.

Roy has the uncanny ability to will his team to victory, proof positive by a 22 point outing. But Oden showed and proved; he finally gave McMillan a reason to keep him in the game late in the fourth quarter, where usually he’s been relegated to the bench down the stretch. That’s been Joel Przybilla’s job. Well, on Wednesday night in Washington, Oden received a little on the job training. He showed he belonged.

Each game out Greg will grow. Some nights slow (New York). Some nights fast (Washington).

It’s almost as if he shed his security blanket at one point in the game.

When Przybilla went down and out (briefly) with a sprained left ankle, Oden had no choice but to earn his keep. Maybe somewhere in the back of Greg’s mind he finds comfort knowing Joel is all-everything defensively in the middle for Portland. Then again, maybe he saw an opportunity present itself and decided to take full advantage. A double-double later (13 points and 10 rebounds), Oden basically gave everyone the “Gas Face” – 3rd Base style.

Kick ‘em in the grill Greg….

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Quick plug for a HOOPSWORLD feature on Jerryd Bayless, from Alex Raskin – who along with Tommy Beer – covers the New York Knicks and grabbed time with the Blazers rookie while in New York. It hasn’t been an ideal situation for Bayless but he’s making the best of it….

pic via: o-live

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NBA/Mike D’Antoni knows how talented both Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez are. The New York Knicks head coach – formerly of the Phoenix Suns– helped draft and subsequently trade both Sergio and Rudy to Portland at different times of his tenure in Phoenix.

The Suns selected Sergio as the 27th overall pick in 2006 before trading him for cash considerations that same day. A year later, Phoenix snagged Fernandez in the first round (24th overall) only to turn around days later and trade him along with James Jones for cash considerations.

On Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, D’Antoni might have been calling for a couple draft day do-overs.

A good hour after the “Rudy-Rudy-Rudy” chants faded from the Garden and a first quarter that saw Portland shoot an abysmal 29%, Fernandez slowly shook-off a case of the “clanks.” He hit his first two shots of the game – both from beyond the arc – only to miss his next three attempts.

Clank.

Rudy hasn’t delved into too many funks this season. And he didn’t stay that way for long. You just had a feeling he was going to get it going on a big stage like New York with a large Spanish contingent on hand. His two enormous three-pointers early in the fourth quarter contributed to a 14-0 Blazers run, which in essence salvaged another Portland win – their fifth-straight. Very impressive final numbers for Rudy: 18 points, 5-11 from the field, 4-8 from three 4-4 from the line in roughly 21 minutes.

More chants.

Let’s not forget Sergio’s role in Portland overcoming a Knicks 10 point lead. Setting up Rudy is one thing, but getting into the lane and hitting a stop-and-pop off the glass over Tim Thomas late in the fourth was nothing short of smooth. That is unless you count Rodriguez’s step-back three minutes later. He put together a solid yet non-flashy game: 5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 0 turnovers in 19 minutes.

Win.

In the end though, victory over New York didn’t come easy for Portland. There probably isn’t a scrappier eight player team in the NBA than the Knicks right now. They just wore down. For the Blazers, they need to get a good night sleep with Washington up on Wednesday. The Wizards won in New Jersey by 20 points and now both Washington and Portland prepare for a little back-to-back action after a quick flight to D.C. 

Can the Blazers make it 7-6 on the road?

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Okay, so Portland didn’t make it on the short list of the NBA’s “Biggest Surprises In November” (a rundown story that ran yesterday on HOOPSWORLD). But with their winning ways, Brandon Roy’s wow factor and the typical cliche’ of an all-around nightly team effort, they are worthy of an honorable mention….

pic via: daylife

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reggie1Sam Amick has covered the Sacramento Kings for the past four seasons (and some change), so who better to help scout the Kings than the beat writer from the Sacramento Bee.

In what has become a sporadic game day tradition, various beat writers, bloggers, online journalist and columnists will join me throughout the season in bringing you an inside look at teams from around the league as they prepare to take on the Portland Trail Blazers. Today it’s all Amick with the Blazers (7-5) visiting the Kings (5-8) on Friday.

Man, Reggie Theus looks like a young Lando Calrissian in that throwback….

Is this how you thought the season would start for you guys?

Well I’d obviously be a liar if I said yes. The injuries (Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia mainly) have opened up minutes for some of the young guys, and they have mostly surprised in a big way. Rookie forward Jason Thompson has been very good, fellow rookie Donte’ Greene just broke out for 15 points in his first start and second-year center Spencer Hawes has taken a quantum leap from last season.

Now as to their recent Jekyl and Hyde road trip (lose to Memphis and beat New Orleans) that happened time and again last season when they fell to horrible teams and downed great ones.

That was my next question….the Kings lose to the Grizzlies and then turn around and beat the Hornets. Who are these Kings right now?

It’s something else though, that phenomenon. On the one hand, you’ve got to call it a lack of focus against bad teams and some complacency there. On the flip side, I wonder if the lack of pressure or expectation when they face good teams allows them to play much more free. I can’t explain it, though.

You mentioned Martin and Garcia, who else should Portland be concerned with?

I’d say (Jason) Thompson. Considering there was a time not too long ago when the Kings were pondering ways to get the Blazers’ own LaMarcus Aldridge via trade, they’re now hoping the rookie out of Rider University is the answer to a power forward problem that has been there since Chris Webber left town.

Portland and Sacramento last met in the preseason at the Rose Garden when Greg Oden had his way with both Spencer Hawes and Mikki Moore. How do they contain him this time around?

I think they may just ask Greg to lighten up a bit. Other than that, there’s not much they can do other than agitate him right when he gets the ball on offense and surround him on the glass with the intent of poking the ball wherever he’s not. The Kings have been getting killed by the three-ball, so you won’t see much doubling down low.

Last one for you….former NBA point guard Kevin Johnson was recently elected Mayor of Sacramento. How does Johnson being in office benefit the Kings’ future in Sacramento? Or does it?

Without knowing all of his politics (I don’t vote because I live outside the city), I do see it as a good thing. On image alone, he brings a major boost to a city that needs it right now. What’s more, the backdrop is that of an incumbent mayor in Heather Fargo who is widely perceived as solid but far from dynamic. I know the Maloofs love the pick, as it certainly doesn’t hurt their efforts to get a new arena built in Sacramento if only because Johnson places great value on the Kings being here. It’ll be interesting.

Big thanks to Sam Amick for his time. For the latest out of Sacramento make sure to check out Sam on the Kings Blog on sacbee.com.

pic via: nbrpa.com

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road-warriors1As the final seconds ticket off the clock between Portland and Golden State on Tuesday night, Brandon Roy’s words rang true: “We have to figure out how to play on the road without all that pressure.”

It was a couple days before the Blazers embarked on their now complete five game road trip – a trip that saw them beat Orlando, Miami and Minnesota and fall to New Orleans and the Warriors. Roy leaned against a wall at the practice facility and put it perfectly.

“We have to figure out how to play on the road without all that pressure.”  

The man speaks the truth. Portland is still trying to figure out how to win on the road. Going 3-2 on a mid-November roadie is solid, but 4-1 would have beeen better, particularly on Tuesday night when the Blazers should have beat the Warriors.

But winning on the road isn’t the only unsolved mystery. As I discussed today in a column called “Portland’s Missing ‘Identity’” running on HOOPSWORLD, it’s clear the Blazers are still trying to figure out who they are. Nate McMillan is still toying with rotations. It’s a constant shuffle depending on match-ups. Are they a fastbreak team? Are they a halfcourt team? Is Portland’s lack of “identity” (Kevin Pritchard’s word) simply due to the fact Martell Webster is on the shelf?

Something to think about.

Even still, there are some small victories you can take from the loss at Golden State….

Jerryd Bayless finally sniffed the court. After picking up a quick foul and turning the ball over, Bayless remained active and forced a steal himself. It may have only been a scoreless 3:54, but I’m thinking the confidence boost for the young rookie was timeless. Jerryd needed that playing time if not physically to stay loose and ready, than surely mentally. You don’t want to lose this kid.

Greg Oden got his run on. Playing the Warriors is the perfect remedy to help get Oden in game shape and overcome any issues of conditioning. Even if Portland was outscored 22-9 on fastbreak points, the big fella was hustling. Oden played nearly 30 minutes and finished with 22 points – both career-highs. But the real treat –besides his signature dunks – was watching him run the floor and finish on a break with Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy. More please.

Let’s continue this “Road Warrior” theme (big up to Hawk and Animal)….

 pic via: wwe.com

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79600120MC027_2008_NBA_All_Shoulda-coulda-woulda.

Anytime the Portland Trail Blazers face the New Orleans Hornets, it’s hard not to think about Chris Paul partnering in the same backcourt as Brandon Roy. No need to close your eyes to imagine that dream team. Just look back to the 2005 NBA Draft for a swig of reality juice and what could have been.

Ignore the chewy pulp. That’s just hindsight.

At the time, Portland owned the third-overall selection. Then President Steve Patterson and then General Manager John Nash opted to move down in the draft. They traded the pick to the Utah Jazz for the sixth and 27th overall picks and a 2006 conditional first-round pick.

We know how this one played-out: Deron Williams to Utah, Paul to New Orleans, Raymond Felton to Charlotte and Martell Webster to Portland.

Was it the right move?

There are two camps here. One camp believes without that Jazz-Blazers trade, Portland wouldn’t have been able to obtain Brandon Roy with the sixth pick in 2006. Give Kevin Pritchard more credit than that. Something tells me he would have got his man regardless.

The other camp knows Patterson and Nash missed the boat. Their faith was in Sebastian Telfair. Remember, Sabby was the point guard of the future for the Blazers at that time. Now Portland is still searching for their point guard of the future and Paul is busy being the best point guard in the league.

He went from Rookie of the Year in 2006 to an All-Star, first-team All-NBA and first team All-Defense last season. He led the Hornets to one of the best records in the NBA last year (56-26). He pushed New Orleans into the second-round of the playoffs. He finished second in MVP honors. He won a Gold medal this past summer.

No offense Martell….or Deron (it’s Deron!)….or Raymond…. but that resume isn’t too darn shabby. Anyone want to call for a draft do-over?

Now picture Paul alongside a smooth shooting guard, a foreign import at small forward, an underappreciated power forward and young talented center and tell me how sick that would be.

Wait a minute – that’s the New Orleans Hornets starting five.

Never mind.

Guess the only time Roy and Paul will be on the same team for the next 10-15 years will be at NBA all-star games representing the West.

And it goes a little something like this….

 

pic via: daylife

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blakeThat was a close one.

Portland played phenomenal to open the game. They put it away late. But somewhere in-between Greg Oden registering his first two points in the NBA in the first quarter and Rudy Fernandez’s spinning-jumper in the lane in the fourth, the Blazers nearly tanked it.

Thankfully a Steve Blake corner-three and career-high 25 points for Fernandez saved another road win.

This winning on the road thing is starting to become a habit.

Let’s jump inside – and outside – the boxscore….

-Three points in roughly 16 minutes is nothing to write home about for Greg Oden. Here’s what is though: that he played injury free. That’s what’s most important right now. He looked awkward on offense. He intimidated on defense. But Oden fit perfectly into the second unit, and once he gets his legs under and timing back, the second unit is going make some folks around the Association take notice – unless they haven’t already with Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw putting in work.

-Brandon Roy (back) may have been gimpy heading into the game, but you never would have thought so watching him play. Seeing Roy (22 points) and Dwyane Wade (36 points) go head-to-head in stretches would have made Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier blush. It was blow for blow. Might have to call that one a draw.

-LaMarcus Aldridge tends to get lost in the Roy-Oden-Rudy shadow but he shined on Wednesday night. You may never see a more hard-earned and aggressive 14 points and 7 rebounds in your life. Blake hit the three. Roy was Roy. Rudy was amazing (again). But Aldridge’s effort shouldn’t go unnoticed as the player of the game against Miami for another strong showing. He punched the clock.

- Joel Pryzbilla was solid. Along with Aldridge, Joel cleaned up the glass early and helped get easy points in the paint in the first. He finished with 7 points and 10 rebounds. Very solid. But here’s what’s most impressive: he played just under 22 minutes and didn’t commit a single foul….a single foul.

-What can we say about Rudy Fernandez that ESPN’s Jon Barry didn’t repeat over and over and over during the nationally televised game. For 48 minutes, Barry raved about Fernandez to no end, leaving viewers to recite the “this guy is fearless” mantra until Barry calls another Blazers game this season. Now the middle-Barry brother knows what Portland has already come to know about Rudy in this short season.

-Play Of The Game: Honorable mention goes out to Nicolas Batum for his block on Wade in the first quarter. Kid never gave-up on the play. Sergio Rodriguez’s lob to Rudy for a dunk in the fourth quarter also gets a nod. Yet it was Rudy’s spin move and jumper in the lane with 44.9 seconds left that put Portland up 98-92 and gave Rudy 23 points that was the play of the game. Steve Blake may have an argument, but this was Rudy’s night.

pic via: nba.com

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brandon1But try to understand, try to understand

Try, try, try to understand

He’s a magic man, mama

He’s a magic man….

 

I highly doubt Brandon Roy has “Heart” shuffling on his I-Pod playlist, but after Portland grabbed their first road win of the season against the Orlando Magic, Roy is easily the “Magic Man”. After waving his wand against Houston and Minnesota at home, Roy played his most complete game of the season on Monday night with 27 points – a new season high. Presto.

Hopefully the back-spasms he suffered at the end of the game will be gone come Wednesday in Miami.

As for Monday night, Portland came out aggressive and finished strong. How many times can we say that this season?

While you ponder that one, let’s go inside and outside the box score for the rest of the goods….

Steve Blake finished with 20 points and went 2-3 from outside the arc. Blake needed this one, perhaps even more than Portland needed a road victory. And it’s not that he scored from all spots on the floor, yet it’s how many of those points came from the charity stripe where Blake went 10-11. That stat line screams one thing – aggressiveness.

-Travis Outlaw continued to show his worth by moving to the second unit three games ago. He had 20 points and had it going from outside early and often (3-5). You knew this was coming. Once he found a comfort zone back where he belonged it was only a matter of time before the real Outlaw re-appeared. And that’s a boost about his all-around game, just not his scoring touch.  Thanks to Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez, Portland outscored Orlando’s bench 20-2 to open the game. The Blazers finished with 40 points off the pine.

- I’m in no way advising Jerryd Bayless’ agent Jeff Schwartz to issue an distasteful edict against Nate McMillan and demand a trade, but it’s certainly helped Sergio Rodriguez’s minutes. After averaging 9.2 minutes per game the first five games of the season, Sergio has logged roughly 12 and 16 minutes respectively the past two games since making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Here’s the thing though – for every one of Sergio’s sweet jump-step buckets down the lane, there’s a pass into the third row that tends to void his in-game success. This just in: consistency counts. His play in the fourth quarter proved that.

- Portland only had 5 turnovers  (2 in the first half) versus the Magic’s 14….9 steals versus Orland’s 3….scored a season-high 36 points in the first quarter….and shot an impressive 52.9 % from three-point land for the game.  James Jones is smiling somewhere.

- You knew Dwight Howard was going to get his. Same goes for Hedo Turkoglu. But the fact that Portland played strapping defense – and created fouls – against Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus and Keith Bogans says volumes about Roy and Outlaw – Rudy and Nicolas Batum grasping Nate McMillan’s bigger picture: a defensive mindset.

Play of the Game: Rudy’s three-pointer at the end of the first quarter was pretty smooth. So was Roy’s bobbled-shot against Boguns down the lane in the fourth quarter. But this one goes to Channing Frye for going toe-to-toe against Turkoglu with seconds remaining before the half. After a hard foul on Howard in the paint, Hedo shoved Roy in the back and Frye wasn’t a having it. Words were exchanged. More shoving commenced. Double-technical fouls were issued. But score one for Frye and Portland for finally muscling-up. It’s about time.

pic via: usatoday

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