On Monday night the Trail Blazers got their last east coast road trip of the season off to a good start against the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic. Here's a few notes from the post-game locker room that you might enjoy before turning your undivided attention to tonight's game in Miami (current temperature sunny and 74 degrees) against the Heat.
• There's been much discussion this season regarding what Brandon Roy can and cannot do. Could he ever again be the All-Star, All-NBA performer that we became accustomed to seeing through his first four years in Portland? Could he relinquish control of the offense to the new and improved LaMarcus Aldridge? Could he even play at all? These questions are still being answered.
But what we saw last night, similar to what we saw February 25th against the Denver Nuggets, is that Brandon Roy is still capable of taking and making big shots. In fact, even this lesser Roy may still be Portland's best option when in need of a clutch basket. He may not be the volume scorer that he once was, but he's still the most comfortable offensive threat the Trail Blazers have when the game gets, as Roy put it, "rowdy."
Rowdy isn't the first word I would have used to describe what was happening to the Blazers in the later part of the third quarter in last night's game. Portland was seemingly in control leading 60-47 with six minutes to play in the third. That is until the Magic started doing what they do best: nailing three-pointers.
Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson (who happens to be the starting two-guard on the Trail Blazers' Killers roster) led the Magic on a 14-1 run that brought Orlando to within one point with just over a minute to play in the third. A furious finish to the quarter that gave the Magic all the momentum and a shot at running the Blazers out of the building.
With 1:09 to go in the third and with the Trail Blazers desperately in need of a bucket, Portland turned to the tourniquet that was and is Brandon Roy. As he had done so many times before, Roy, just over a minute after checking in for the first time in the second half, remained calm, raised up and hit a three-pointer to give Portland their first field goal since the 4:35 mark of the third. Thirty seconds later he answered two Richardson free throws with an 18-foot jumper that gave the Trail Blazers a four-point lead to end the third, the same four-point lead that would be the difference at the final buzzer.
Could someone else have made those shots to keep the Trail Blazers from losing control? Maybe, but there isn't anyone else on the team who relishes the opportunity to put the pressure on himself like Roy.
"That's something I look forward to when the game gets kind of rowdy," said Roy after the game. "I think I like taking shots where the pressure is one. I think that's something I can bring."
Roy's knees may never be the same. That lack of meniscus could very well derail a Hall of Fame career, but as we've saw last night and as we've seen throughout his career, Brandon's ability to put the weight on his shoulders is something that no arthroscopic surgery could take away.
• Roy's clutch shooting in the third quarter of Monday night's game might have been why Nate McMillan decided to play Roy the entire fourth quarter in place of Nicolas Batum and alongside Miller, Matthews, Wallace and Aldridge. It was the first time that Roy had seen extended and consistent fourth-quarter minutes since returning to the lineup.
"It was good to get those minutes," said Roy. "I think the biggest thing is to continue to try and get my legs. The only way you can get your cardio is playing past the minutes I've been playing. But it was good to be out there in a tough game, so hopefully I can continue to build on tonight."
Roy admits that he's still working into game shape, but notes that playing extended minutes is the only way he'll be able to round back into form, whatever form that is.
"You can't simulate gametime minutes, but I think being in a tough game like tonight, I thought I was able to get some looks," said Roy, who played 24 minutes total. "Even down the stretch my legs were a little heavy, so I was thinking 'OK, I've got to keep trying to push through this.' I was just glad we were able to get the win. I played the whole quarter. First time I played the whole quarter in a long time."
Roy is expected to play tonight against the Heat, which would be the first time since returning from knee surgery that he'll play in the second game of a back-to-back.
• Gerald Wallace has a reputation for throwing his body around and he lived up to that reputation Monday night. Wallace took numerous hard falls on both ends of the floor at the Amway Center that surely elicited collective gasps that I swear were audible in Orlando from a rightly paranoid Trail Blazers fanbase. But get used to it folks. According to Wallace, who grimaced more than once during a short post-game interview, he's never going to change his game.
"I'm feeling it now," said Wallace when asked about his reoccurring and unscheduled trips to the hardwood. "But that's the way I play. I don't play any other way."
The good news is Wallace, bruised as he may be, is becoming accustomed to the way his new teammates play going into this seventh game as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. It's unknown whether Nate McMillan will continue to bring Wallace off the bench, but his chances of cracking the starting lineup improve with every performance in which he shows a clear understanding of Portland's system.
"I'm getting accustomed to the rules," said Wallace, "starting to fit in pretty good with the way things are going as far as the team. I feel like I'm getting comfortable."
• Finally, Andre Miller moved into a tie for 15th place on the NBA's all-time assist leader board Monday night and, barring a catastrophic act, he'll own that spot all by himself with his first assist tonight against the Heat. Miller has handed out 6,917 dimes since being drafted in 1999 by the Cavaliers, a milestone that brought an uncommon smile to the face of one of the NBA's most stoic performers.
"It's an accomplishment," said Miller. "I've been out there playing for about 12 years now, so to be able to go out there, be up in that category with some of the best point guards of all time. Just continue to work. I still have a goal to accomplish, but that will come as I stay healthy."
Dre is likely to pass the great Bob Cousy (6,955 assists) this season to become the 14th man on the all-time assist ledger, and he's coming for Tim Hardaway (7,095 assists), Terry Porter (7,160 assists), and Lenny Wilkens (7,211 assists) next. He'll need 476 more helpers to pass Maurice Cheeks at 7,392 assists to make his goal of breaking into the Top 10 all-time.
"I won't finish no Top 5," said Miller. "If I can play three or four more solid years and stay healthy then (Top 10) will be my goal."