It was one of those love-hate moments. For the past few months, I’ve been barking about the Portland Trail Blazers being devoid of physical emotion and toughness. The Blazers were forced to bark back on Monday night.
I loved seeing Portland take a stand against the Los Angeles Lakers – a series that is constantly chippy. I loved seeing Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw display some much needed chutzpah in the final seconds of the third quarter.
I just hated to see it come at the expense of Rudy Fernandez laying under the basket in pain and clutching his chest after taking a hard foul from Lakers Trevor Ariza. It was a scary time. You never want to see that happen to any player – a guy carted off on a stretcher with his neck and body stabilized.
It’s that time of season. Games will be physical from here on out.
Roy said it best after the game (via HOOPSWORLD’s “Courtside Blog”). The foul was one thing. Ariza “bucking” (talking trash) was the final straw. That’s what got Roy and everyone else on the Blazers sidelines heated.
No need to see a fight. But I’ll take the Blazers getting fired up any day.
I’ve seen this happen before. So has Channing Frye – who was in the thick of the pushing and shoving between the Blazers and Lakers. Sure he thought back to New York just as I did.
Back in December 2006, Frye was with New York when the Knicks and Denver Nuggets “brawled” at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks took exception to the Nuggets running up the score in a blowout when then-Knick Mardy Collins grabbed J.R. Smith around the neck on an open layup.
Soon players were shoving, posing, throwing punches and both benches got involved in the end. Frye was one of 10 players tossed, while avoiding a suspension. Seven others weren’t so fortunate.
It was a nasty incident. Didn’t have to go there. But it happens.
I’ll never forget watching from the pressbox at MSG as Carmelo Anthony threw a haymaker at Jared Jeffries only to backpedal all the way down to the other end of the court to hide behind his teammates.
A real tough guy.
Luckily, cooler heads prevailed at the Rose Garden on Monday night.
Here’s the footage….getting fired up versus getting into a fight:
pic via: bleacher report
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I wasn’t buying it then and I’m not buying it now. Just last week a local sportswriter in Portland refuted the fact LaMarcus Aldridge is as good as he really is. I’m sure that writer changed his tune after Portland beat Detroit on Wednesday night thanks to Aldridge.
Yes, Travis Outlaw flexed bigger than his 6’9, 207 pound frame displays with regained confidence and shooting touch late in the fourth quarter. Yes, rookie Jerryd Bayless howled at the moon and for one night maybe showed he could see minutes once Brandon Roy eventually returns.
But without Aldridge, the Blazers bandwagon might be a little lighter today. Sure it took him 21 shots to get his 26 points – essentially mirroring Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince (13 for 21, 26 points) – but you have to pick your poison.
Do you want an Aldridge – who took a nasty shot to the ear in the win – outing like he had against the Pistons? Or do you want the LaMarcus who looked lost against New Orleans last week when he made a whole five shots in 18 attempts?
He may not be “the man” – we know who owns that title in Portland. Folks may not obsess over him the way they do Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Bayless. You know who you are. But we all know who runs the floor and finishes better than anyone on the Blazers. And we all know that if Portland is going to get where they want to go that L.A. will have to help get them there.
Sorry, but right now LaMarcus Aldridge is that good.
Shameless Plug: That’s not the outing I thought Allen Iverson was going to have. He finished with 14 points. Thought for sure he’d put up more than 19 shots too, especially after he had Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez matched-up against him.
Think Detroit missed the boat there.
But come playoff time you just know the Pistons will be clicking on all cylinders. As I found out, the whole “Detroit and Iverson won’t be able to adjust to each other” argument simply doesn’t hold weight. You can read more about that today over at HOOPSWORLD.
pic via: o-live.com
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If there is one thing I’ve learned the most from covering the NBA the past five years, it is this: it’s a constant waiting game. Take the Boston versus Portland game at the Rose Garden this past Tuesday for example.
Driving to the arena I knew I had a looming Celtics story deadline for Wednesday afternoon. I typically arrive with a couple storylines in mind, sometimes more. But it was one of those nights. The two pregame storylines I planned didn’t come to fruition. It happens.
I went the postgame story angle route instead – obviously storylines develop after two hours of game time.
It paid off, but only after waiting patiently out for Ray Allen in the visitor’s locker room. The guy is a smooth criminal. He was one of the very few left to address the media and had some interesting takes on the Celtics play of late (jump over to HOOPSWORLD for that story – “Physical Play Hurts Celtics”).
Planned on lasting for a good Kevin Garnett – who preferred to dress in the trainer’s room – quote too but the duration exceeded a point of ridiculousness.
As far as I know, he’s still in there.
With that story in the bag, I went for a Portland scoop knowing I can always count on one Blazer to typically be the last man standing in the locker room – Travis Outlaw. Usually, one needs only to wait for Outlaw to finish his postgame ritual in the weight room. But it’s always well worth the wait.
Shy-country boy combined with rare honesty, Outlaw makes for great interview – as long as the topic is about something other than himself. Go there and you get modesty. Give praise and you get awkward silence. Switch gears and it’s on.
But I had to go there. I’ve wondered about it – the trade talks we’ve all heard and read about – including Travis – involving Travis. The end result was “Outlaw Plays Through The Rumors” running today on HOOPSWORLD. It was worth waiting to ask the question, but only once the chitter-chatter had ceased.
I can’t help thinking though – with Nicolas Batum’s stock high and Martell Webster inked to a contract extension back in late October – what Outlaw’s future in Portland really looks like at this juncture.
Guess we’ll have to wait to find out.
pic via: daylife
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Compared to Brandon Roy’s historical night, Travis Outlaw will be back page news come Friday morning. But he should at least get a sidebar mention in the win over Phoenix on national television.
As Roy stood with the game ball under his arm after finishing with a career-high 52 points, Outlaw slowly slipped into the tunnel towards the Blazers locker room. Portland sure needed this one. But Outlaw needed it even more.
He hasn’t been himself lately, even before the sore tailbone which has hampered Travis since Utah. Heck, even the trade rumors probably took their toll. No newsflash here: last year’s “Mr. 4th Quarter” has been – shall we say – a bit M.I. A.
On Thursday night though, Outlaw inched back towards outstanding. Not only did he provide the only scoring spark (14 points) in the second unit, but he remained aggressive throughout (6 rebounds). Then there was “the play.”
Outlaws ability to battle Jason Richardson for a rebound with 12.2 seconds left and Portland up by three points could have been the play of the game. Blazers ball. After fourth quarter collapses to Orlando and the Los Angeles Clippers last week, it certainly was the Blazers saving grace.
Portland has shown they can beat the dregs of the league like Sacramento. The way the Blazers make noise in the NBA though is by beating upper echelon teams like the Suns. Okay, so it’s not those Phoenix Suns, but nevertheless a difficult match-up coming off three days rest against a young team like Portland who has endured some growing pains of late.
Luckily along with Roy, Steve Blake (22 points and 10 assists) and LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points on 8 for 12), Travis Outlaw came to play.
pic via: daylife
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If back-to-back games are the killer of an NBA schedule, than the Portland Trail Blazers are deadman walking. It’s bad enough to drop a game in always tough Utah. But now you have to come home against a rested Los Angeles Clippers? Brutal anyway you look at it.
“I think the back-to-back thing is by far the most overblown excuse in the NBA,” Jeff Van Gundy, who now calls action for ESPN said once. “Why should games on consecutive nights be a problem? Because the other team’s more rested? That’s no excuse.”
Portland’s about ready to find out if he’s right. Next up Zach Randolph and the Clips – yes, the same Clips who recently worked out Darius Miles on Tuesday. Hmmm….Either way, it’s been one of those weeks for the Blazers.
Not only have they lost two-straight games – first to Orlando and then Utah – but it’s the way in which they’ve suffered those defeats.
One was a heartbreaker. The other, a head scratcher. How does Brandon Roy go for two-straight 30-plus games, resulting both in losses? How can LaMarcus Aldridge produce two of his more impressive outings of the season and Portland not come away with wins to show for them? How does the bench go from having four guys (Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Joel Przybilla and Sergio Rodriguez) all score in double-figures to barely mustering 19 points as a group?
It’s not an excuse. It’s an unsolved mystery.
On Monday, I launched into a quick flashback about Greg Oden and Dwight Howard – the whole “Greg as Dwight” angle. Appreciate those who chimed in with some thoughts by the way…..really good stuff.
Took the story and ran with it….was interested in delving deeper into comparing their rookie seasons, complete with thoughts from Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith. The end result was “The Oden and Howard Debate” currently running over at HOOPSWORLD.
pic via: esmas
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The drama never stops at Madison Square Garden. It was that way when I covered the New York Knicks for three seasons and it’s that way right now. That’s the thing. It’s not worse with Stephon Marbury’s antics, insubordination and house arrest. It’s simply the same.
No buy out yet. Just bye-bye.
Even 3000 miles away from Manhattan, I know one thing is for certain: the Knicks locker room is a better place without Marbury in it.
So while the Knicks deal with the typical distractions, Portland looks to make it five-straight wins and their second consecutive win on a five game roadie. But believe it or not, all the talk coming out of New York isn’t necessarily Knicks-centric and all about Starbury. There is some Blazers banter making its way down Broadway…..
First Knicks General Manager Donnie Walsh voiced his concern for Greg Oden over the weekend.
“I’m a little worried about Oden,” Walsh told the New York Daily News. “He’s young and these young guys come in, but their bodies are not ready for the NBA, and they do get hurt. I think with real young players, they’re not ready for the NBA. All of a sudden they’re playing at our speed and our tempo against men. It seems that even if they don’t get hit, they start breaking down a little bit.”
Then on Monday, Alan Hahn of Newsday – who writes the paramount blog on the Knicks beat by the way – gave the rumor mill a fresh spin making a ploy for a couple Blazers.
“They (the Knicks) have a pretty good test Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Garden. Keep an eye on Travis Outlaw…think he might fit in the (Mike) D’Antoni system if the Blazers ever would consider moving him. Sergio Rodriguez is looking for a change of scenery as well….Hmmm.”
Who would the Knicks offer in return with Outlaw and/or Sergio likely expendable? With the Knicks failing to sign forward David Lee to a contract extension back in October, his future in New York appears tentative at best according to two sources familiar with the situation.
pic via: newsday
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Martell Webster will be back before too long, and with him returns a number of questions. But one trumps the rest:
Who gets the minutes at small forward?
I got into this a little bit today at HOOPSWORLD touching on the changes Portland will go through once Martell is ready to play – which doesn’t seem too far away from the sound of it. Basically there are four factors involving how the Blazers will adjust to Webster’s return….
The Nicolas Batum Factor: This kid can play and we’ve all seen how his game has changed from summer league to now during the regular season. I’ll be the first to admit, Batum didn’t show me much in Las Vegas. But these last sixteen games (and counting), Batum is easily the “feel good story” of the Blazers season thus far and I am constantly in awe at what he can do on both ends of the floor. I’ll spare you the highlight reel discussion about his ability to get into the paint, play defense, run the floor, shoot the three and simply scrap for a loose ball. It doesn’t matter how Nate McMillan does it. He just has to find time for this kid to play. Will that mean continuing to start?
The Channing Frye Factor: No one is going to confuse Channing with having a power game in the paint. Even at 6-11, that’s not his style. Never has been. Hitting a fifteen foot jumper each time out is. He plays the pick-and-pop perfectly and it’s no wonder assistant coach Monty Williams told me Frye is one of the best shooting big men in the game today. Channing’s extending that range to include the deep three and it came to life against Miami on Wednesday (2-3). Yes, Frye’s rebounding and pure aggressiveness needs to improve, but it’s hard to complain when he’s hitting that outside shot. He’ll simply have to learn to produce the same (or more) with less time.
The Travis Outlaw Factor: Outlaw isn’t a starter and that’s not a bad thing. He is at home in the second unit, and while the small forward spot has his name written all over it, watching him play the four should be an adventure. That appears McMillan’s plan. Listed at 6-9 and a generous 207 lbs., Travis isn’t going to muscle anyone around and his defense is suspect. But with his length and energy, he’ll give guys fits. We saw it last year in some cases – against Denver’s Kenyon Martin comes to mind – and we will see how revisiting Travis at power forward works out. The minutes will be there.
The Nate McMillan Factor: Nate’s going to play the match-up game in juggling Webster, Batum, Outlaw and Frye. Without naming names, he’s already said as much. He’s done that so far this year with rotating Batum and Outlaw out for each other – although Travis has received more run than Nicolas. Just like anything else this season though – adjusting to life without Martell and even Greg Oden for six games for example – McMillan’s planning to work with what he has. Right now, he has a whole lot of guys he could plug in at various spots at any given time and that will only increase once Webster gets back. Not a bad problem for any coach to have.
pic via: daylife
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