mikebarrett

Jan 08

Blazers Smother Cleveland

By mikebarrett
As bounce-back games go, this one sufficed just fine. 

The Trail Blazers weren't out to win a beauty contest on Sunday night, and it's a good thing. After Friday night's stinker in Phoenix, all they cared about was getting a win and getting back on track.  They also showed that offense is struggling, just concentrate a little harder on defense, and that's the best way to survive.

So, with that in mind, forget that Portland shot 41 percent from the field, and try and concentrate on the fact that they held Cleveland to 37 percent shooting.  They recorded 14 steals, forced the Cavs into 24 turnovers, took over the game in the third quarter, and coasted to an easy 97-78 victory at the Rose Garden.

This game did have some fun moments, as the Trail Blazers had a few spectacular defense plays, and some nice dunks, and hopefully most of our TV audience stuck with the game long enough to see the highlights.  If you covered your eyes in the first quarter, or flipped over to see what episode of "Pawn Stars" was rolling on History, I don't blame you.  The first 12 minutes were unattractive- like Tori-Spelling-without-makeup unattractive.   

The Cavs and Blazers combined to shoot 14 for 49 in that opening frame.  When you can't hit a single thing from the field, it's always nice when your opponent follows you down that tubes.  Cleveland certainly did.  That was kind of the surprising part.  The Cavs had been shooting it pretty well lately, and that was a big concern coming into this game.  Yes, I'll give Portland's defense some credit here.  They made everything tough on Cleveland.

One huge improvement in Portland's defense this season is that it's no longer simply a read-and-react approach.  They take chances, they get into passing lanes, and they force the action.  This means they don't pack the middle.  This means they cover three-point shooters very, very well.  No one has shot the three ball well against the Blazers this season.

The Cavs came into this game shooting 41 percent from behind the three-point line, good for fourth in the NBA.  But, on this night, with hands in their faces, they were just 3 for 24.  That turned into a huge key, because teams like this learn to stay in games because of the long ball.  That option was simply taken away from them.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Trail Blazers with 28 points and 8 rebounds.  He had to rally in the second half to get those numbers, and was very solid in the final two quarters.  He also led the fast break on many occasions.  Portland ended with 22 fast-break points.

Wesley Matthews was the reason Portland didn't get into a big, early hole in this game, as he was the only player who had it going at all offensively.  Matthews ended with 24 points, on 8 of 17 shooting, and added 3 bombs. 

After not getting a single field goal (for the second time this season) against Phoenix, Gerald Wallace had a good bounce-back game as well.  He had 16 points, 6 rebounds, and had the block of the season so far.  In the third quarter he raced to catch up with Anderson Varejao, who thought he had an easy dunk.  Wallace flew in from behind and erased the shot at the rim.  That was inspiring stuff.

Now the homestand gets significantly tougher.  The Trail Blazers host the Clippers on Tuesday night, and Orlando on Wednesday.  That's followed by a six-game, 10-day road trip.  That's followed by Portland's first set of back-to-back-to-back games. 

For now, it's a 6-2 record for the Trail Blazers, and a ho-hum win against a team they should have beaten.  That's just what happened.

No night off for the broadcast crew.  We'll be back at it Monday evening with Trail Blazers Courtside, from 6-7pm, on Comcast Sportsnet, the Blazers Radio Network, and trailblazers.com.  See you then.

17 Comments

  1. Your right Mike, the 1st half was ugly. But they started to click in the second half and pulled away. I'm concerned about all the 3s they keep missing, especially from Felton. He needs to just concentrate on being a facilitator on offense and look for open guys to score. To me, only Matthews is a legitimate shooter from beyond the arc. The rest of them need to just play to their strengths and they'll be fine. Keep up the fine blogs and we'll see you on Courtside.

    by blazerdarren77 on 1/8/2012 10:48 PM
  2. thanks for the quick blog, MB. new term starts tomorrow, so i'm going to try and make this brief. basically: unforgettably ugly first half; exceptional second half.

    i really noticed Wesley was the highlight of the first half. when he's on, he can carry us. looks like his three-point shooting is back on track. we really needed his pacing tonight. LaMarcus almost always seems to get it done. I thought Crash had only like 10 points until i saw his 16 in the final boxscore.

    Nicolas had a great night off the bench i thought. i'd love to see him more consistent with his shot, but he's been doing so many other things in the minutes he's been given that a performance like this is just what we needed. i really want to put another plug in for Craig and Kurt. both are new blazers, both have exceptional attitudes. Kurt wanted to come in and contribute and he's doing just that, rather admirably. Craig it seems has earned his place into the rotation. he deserves it. i now know why he was nicknamed the Rhino. i feel very sorry for the opponents who have to face both these guys.

    Elliot, Nolan and CJ didn't get a ton of minutes, but getting into games for three or four minutes should help them at least a little for when their names are called later on in the season when the schedule gets even more condensed than it already is.

    anyway, over all we have to be please with a 6-2 record (despite the fact it could be a little better). tough games coming up. we need to make the most of it.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/8/2012 10:50 PM
  3. Well, kinda tired. That game put me to sleep until the final quarter. It was a win, and it was what was needed. Not much else to be said. Other than that, a Clippers fan decided to open his mouth when I asked about the Trail Blazers and said, "The Blazers suck, and are pretenders". Coming from a bandwagoner, that doesn't mean much to me at all. But, I calmly, through the power of twitter, let Wesley and Jamal of the situation and reminded them that their next game is Tuesday against them.

    I look forward to their reactions...

    by Herr on 1/9/2012 12:16 AM
  4. Hey Mike:
    I have to disagree with the ugly first half approach. It was ugly if you looked at just points scored, but if you consider the fact that both teams fought hard defensively and contested or rushed every shot, It was a very good first half.
    Nate is terrific at making the right adjustments at half time and the team is terrific at responding to his input. that didn't make it more exciting, just ended the ball game. From then on it was Blazer ball and Cleveland had no chance, I lost count but it seemed like about 5 take aways in a row that totally Iced the game.

    Of course as Kassandra pointed out it could have been a little better at least offensively, My only optimistic response to that is the season is still young.

    by Hg on 1/9/2012 12:53 AM
  5. Hi Mike!
    Sent you an email about the team's travel schedule. Please check it out! Hope they go back to sleeping at home before the 1st game of a road trip..if possible. ie: Phoenix.
    I have noticed the Blazers are doing a MUCH better job defending the 3 pt shots this year. Don't know but have a feeling they were probably near the bottom of the league last year. Seemed like any team at any time could and would score 3 pt shots off the Blazers last year!!!
    Phoenix seemed to do well with their 3 pt shots..7/20..but I felt like the Blazers mailed that one in. Thankfully none of them slipped on that floor!!! Do the Blazers have any new defense coaches this year? What does Larry Greer coach? Read that article about him being an advance scout. Would love to know what he does now.
    Mary Joelle

    by natsthecat on 1/9/2012 2:47 AM
  6. Gerald seems to be our most valuable player, in that he is the emotional gauge for this team. When he plays at a high level on offense and defense, this team will have a good chance of beating anybody.

    by C. Larry on 1/9/2012 2:51 AM
  7. I'm still sad that we lost ugly to the Suns, but oh well...

    We still are going to have home court advantage on the playoffs, I guarantee you that. Blazers for first, second or maybe third spot on West \o/

    by Tiago Torigoe on 1/9/2012 3:23 AM
  8. Six and two with five home wins and one road win is nice. But, as you pointed out Mike, it gets tougher from here. Two more at home against good teams and then six on the road including one back-to-back-to-back. We'll know a lot more about how our team compares with the league's best after the next 8 games.

    Good, workman-like win tonight against the Cavs, who are not a bad team. Great job keeping the ball away from Antawn Jamison (only 8 shots) and getting a hand in his face when he did get the rock.
    --
    dg

    by dgpdx on 1/9/2012 4:13 AM
  9. I am sticking my neck out on a short prediction run. I think we will lose our first home game against Orlando on Wednesday. Then we will go 4 -2 on the road trip and go 3-0 on the b2b2b.

    by Hg on 1/9/2012 6:48 AM
  10. Hg: Sorry but I saw apathy in that 1st half. All the teams will be dragging tail with this schedule. Character will show in who wants it more.

    by Ancientone on 1/9/2012 10:27 AM
  11. addendum: We have the talent.

    by Ancientone on 1/9/2012 10:28 AM
  12. MB,

    Great win. You broke things down well. Just wanted to add in that behind the back dribble by Wesley on the break and then the pass to Wallace on the wing was sensational. The blocked shots we're great (one by Crash and one by CJ in garbage time). LaMarcus by all accounts should be an ALL STAR this year.This team was flirting with greatness against a much improved Cleveland team.

    The next game will be a test but we got home court on our side. Looking forward to it. It's long season of highs and lows. This win is a big high, but time to come back down to Earth and be ready for Chris Paul, Griffin, Jordan, Billups, Butler and the Clippers...

    Just a great game last night. I'll give it a Rip City

    by Bull Frog on 1/9/2012 2:42 PM
  13. That was a sleeper. As far as changing the channel. Never. When the Mike and Mike show is on I never miss a blazer minute. Wasn't that long ago I was having Blazer withdrawls.
    Speaking of minutes. I thought the game was in hand at the 5 minute mark. So did the opposing coach. I was hoping Nate would throw the bench in at 5 minutes left. Not for rest but experience. Nate didn't feel comfortable until the 3 minute mark. That's Nate. I'm not criticizing. We got the "W".
    About WM. I hear a lot about his offense. Watch the guy on D. His ball pressure is great. He plays so tight and stays square. Sometimes will lose a cutter but overall his defense is super.

    by Divotking on 1/9/2012 5:30 PM
  14. I don't want to forget the Phoenix loss too quickly, because it revealed some weaknesses we need to address. One was that the whole team seemed to be playing in quicksand. Apparently no one is yet in good enough condition to avoid dead legs in the second of a back-to-back. Presumably that will change; it needs to improve soon with what we've got ahead of us. The second is that the offense has been struggling against teams that work hard on defense and pack the paint. Part of the problem is what blazerdarren77 pointed out. Wesley is a legitimate three-point threat; no one else in the starting five really is. This relates to my biggest concern. I've seen good and bad from Felton, but the more I see, the less he looks like a championship point guard. He's not a great ball-handler, is an okay-but-not-great passer, and seems like a below-average shooter for the position. There's hardly a point guard who has played for the team during the last few seasons who isn't better than Felton in one area or another: Blake shot threes better, Sergio passed better, Patty was quicker, Andre had better lobs and a post-up game, Bayless had more energy, and ability to draw the foul. Raymond's pretty good in transition, throws a solid bounce pass, defends decently, and isn't a bad shooter--I guess he's better than Rondo--but he's got some noticable weaknesses and no outstanding strength. He just kicks the ball away for no reason sometimes, and gets tied up by pressure, and doesn't seem to have his options very clear when he drives to the hoop. Maybe he's farther our of shape than some other guys and will be better when he catches up. Perhaps he needs more time to get used to his teammates. And maybe he has the potential to improve his weak spots. But as it stands now, I can't imagine him leading this team to a championship.

    by Islander on 1/10/2012 12:05 AM
  15. Hey Islander, I don't think any of us can argue your assessment of the team or Felton. But as you said the whole team has Flaws; IMO, all the flaws are fixable with conditioning, practicing, and synergy. Our whole team is greater then the sum of the parts, but when two of the parts, as in Felton and Wallace, doesn't play up to their standards that throws off the rest of the team, or maybe Felton threw off Wallace, I am not sure which, but we need to point at the whole team, not individual players. IMO, the whole team underestimated their opponents in both losses and just didn't bring the energy. You blame Felton; I would blame Crawford, with his shooting everytime he gets the ball takes Batum out of the equation, why should the opponents worry about anybody else when they know Crawford is going to shoot. It seems as though Crawford is red hot or ice cold. In the mix of everything Felton and Crawford wasn't really the problem as Phoenix learned that PG pressure and swarm LMA is the best way to beat the Blazers, and that still holds true, the whole team needs to play better in half court as a unit not individual parts.

    I am quite sure there will be other game of this type, maybe not in the same multitude, but nights when the other team brings there A game and we don't respond to their greatness.

    by Hg on 1/10/2012 6:37 AM
  16. I agree with you about Crawford; he's a gunner, and his ball-hogging undercuts Batum. I wasn't actually trying to blame the Phoenix loss on Felton. It was a team loss. What I was trying to do was to understand the team's vulnerability to the "pack-em-in" defense, and Felton's weaknesses seem to be relevant to that problem. Playing better as a unit depends on having individuals who can fill the necessary roles. When opponents are betting back on D and clogging the lane, Gerald doesn't look like such a star, at least at the offensive end, nor does Felton, because they aren't smooth enough on the drive to find the small creases, and can't effectively shoot over the defense. One solution would be to start Batum, because he's got a better outside shot than Wallace, but then the second team really would be Crawford jacking up shots while everyone else fights for the rebound. With luck we won't have to find a full solution tonight, but who knows? When the Suns play defense, can the Clippers be far behind?

    by Islander on 1/10/2012 10:43 AM
  17. Hg, Islander: to be honest, i have mixed feelings on Jamal at this point. i know he can explode for a big night to help us and that could be any night. on the other hand, i'm concerned about his shooting. it's all well and good to be able to create your own shot, but you need to make those. in the phoenix and cleveland games he's cone a combined 5-24 from the field (.208) and 1-7 from beyond the arc (.143).

    i'm not sure if it's a shooting slump or being new to the team. i tend to dismiss tha latter. he'd finding open looks, just not making them. call me impatient if you will, but i'm just a believe-it-when-i-see-it type of girl. right now, i'm not seeing it.

    Islander, as for your (and others) proposal to start Nicolas in place of Crash, i just don't see that happening under pretty much any circumstances. it really doesn't make a lot of sense, as the starting unit is that much stronger with Crash. i don't think we gain anything -- and, in fact, lose something -- with making that sort of a change.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/10/2012 11:38 AM
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