Matthews and Miller in Memphis
Last week when the Trail Blazers defeated the Detroit Pistons, I called it a much-needed victory. I take that back. That wasn’t a must-needed win. Tuesday night’s win in Memphis was a much-needed win.
I know, our definitions change depending on the situation. That’s always the way it goes. I’m sure down the road I’ll be talking about other victories that eclipse the importance of the win over the Grizzlies. It was just the timing of this one that hit the spot- the end of a rough stretch, Brandon out, coming off a bad performance at New Orleans that followed a heartbreaking loss at Oklahoma City.
Recent history said we should have expected a win. After all, the Trail Blazers haven’t lost in Memphis since 2005. That’s now eight-consecutive victories at the Fed Ex Forum. Yes, that’s the longest road winning streak this team owns over any opponent.
For once (it seems), the Trail Blazers were the team catching an opponent on the second of a back-to-back situation. But even that seemed like it work against them, given the way the Grizzlies played on Monday night in Orlando. They were out of that game in the early going, so it wasn’t like it was emotionally taxing. And, after that loss, the Grizzlies held a players-only meeting. It’s not usually a good idea to catch an underachieving team after a players-only meeting. There’s no science there, it just never seems to work out well.
Also consider that Memphis has played a very difficult schedule so far and has put together some impressive wins. They’ve won at Dallas, beaten Phoenix twice, and had the Boston Celtics on the ropes in their last home game, before falling in overtime. This was to be their get-well game.
One other factor working against the Trail Blazers, and this, of course, was no small matter- Portland was playing without Brandon Roy. And, this was the final game of a three-game trip. Memphis probably spent time after this game talking about how it can be dangerous to catch a good team that’s playing its first game without its star. We all qualify our wins and losses.
On this night Portland needed someone to step up and carry the offensive load. Wesley Matthews was up to the task. He scored 22 points in the first half, and was the reason carried a six-point lead into the locker room. In the second half he had eight, and ended up with a career-high 30. So, he shared the MVP honors in this one.
The other half of that award has to go to Andre Miller. When Memphis tried to take away Matthews in the second half, Miller exploded. After scoring just two points in the first half, and struggling from the field, Miller had 17 in the second half, including 13 in the fourth quarter, as the Blazers finally put the game away, 100-99.
Certainly deserving mention were LaMarcus Aldridge, who ended with 23 points, and Marcus Camby, who scored only six points, but grabbed 17 rebounds.
In other words, this was a team effort, and absolutely every point and rebound was necessary to defeat the inspired Grizzlies. The Blazers improved to 7-5, and all things considered (I know, I hate qualifying things by using that phrase), that’s not bad. Even though I’d love to say they are through this difficult patch, I’d be lying. The Blazers now come home to take on Denver, Utah, and New Orleans.
Roy will undergo an MRI on his knee, and we should know about his availability very soon. And, Joel Przybilla will be returning to the lineup at some point on this three-game home stand. It won’t be easy without Brandon, if indeed they are forced to go to war without him in the near future. Of course, there’s the chance he returns Thursday, Friday, or following this little Thanksgiving break in the schedule. We just don’t know.
But, Matthews (and company) showed that despite being shorthanded, they can still be a force. The thing about the NBA is, now that Wesley has shown what he can do in this system, teams will scheme to shut him down. Everyone is scouted, and the coaches in this league are just too good. It’ll once again take a combination of players to lift this team, and not being at full strength means they can’t have an off night and expect to win.
Shorthanded and not much margin for error- that’s all we know anyway, right?