Mar 23

Batum Lifts Blazers over Memphis

By mikebarrett
We've made a lot of Portland's inability to win close ballgames this season.  It started very early in the season, and after a while it can mess with your confidence.  Not only did they come into Thursday night's game against Memphis just 2-10 in games decided by five points or fewer, the Blazers haven't shown the ability to come back when trailing after three quarters.

Before the game at Chicago last week, Portland was 0-21 when trailing heading into the fourth. Now, just days later, they are 2-22.  Not yet something to do backflips over, but certainly a sign that the team's belief is under repair.

Actually, getting off to a good start hasn't been a trademark of this team either.  Perhaps that's also improving.  On this night, Nic Batum was a big reason why the Blazers put the Grizzlies on their heels in the opening minutes.  It was the aggressive Batum- the one we need to see a lot more of.

Batum had nine points in the first quarter, and likely would have done more damage, but picked up two early fouls and had to come out.  Still, he took eight shots in his seven minutes of action, and that's what this team needs him to do, especially when LaMarcus Aldridge is being mobbed every time he touches the ball.

Following Tuesday night's game, Brandon Roy made a trip through the Blazer locker room, and then hurried off to the weight room to wait for the players to wrap up.  He also wasn't ready to face the media yet, and knew his presence in the locker room would dominate everything.

I talked to Brandon for a few minutes, and Batum happened to be in there with me.  Nic was frustrated with the loss to Milwaukee, and was frustrated he wasn't much of a factor.  He presented himself to Brandon in a way that said, "you have any advice?"  Roy started in, and I headed out of the room.  I don't know exactly what was said to Batum, and am not going to sit here and say it was groundbreaking advice, but Batum seemed like a new man early in Thursday's game.  

I can't tell you how much the guys respect Brandon, especially the younger guys, like Nic, who spent so much time around him.  Roy has such a presence, and is the alpha male this team has been missing this season.  People forget that amid their frustration and questions about "what the heck is wrong with this team?"  Anyway, seeing Batum getting a pep talk from Roy brought all of this back to me in a big way, especially because I was standing in the room.

Back to the topic of this win over the Grizzlies.  

It was not only Batum, it was the sparkling play of Portland's backcourt, again, that helped the Blazers down the hungry Grizzlies.  Memphis had tossed the "must-win game" thing around before this one, and played like it.  The Blazers simply outplayed them.  Memphis, remember, is fighting for home-court advantage in the west right now.

Wesley Matthews has fully snapped out of his shooting slump, and has done it being assertive in other areas (amazing how that always seems to go hand in hand).  He had 18 points and 9 rebounds in this game, and was being hounded by Tony Allen, a great defender.  During a recent four-game stretch Matthews hit 1 of 17 shots from behind the three-point line.  Now, back in the starting lineup following the Gerald Wallace trade, Matthews has put together a blistering 18 for 26 stretch from long range.

Raymond Felton has also turned things around.  He's now put together four-straight very solid games, and last night had 13 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and didn't commit a single turnover. He's back to pushing the tempo and creating for teammates.

Oh by the way, the Trail Blazers were amazing at the free-throw line in this game.  They went 25 for 25, and Jamal Crawford was 10 for 10.  That was the main reason this went down as a close win, instead of another near miss.  

Their confidence got a boost from that win, but the task now is even bigger.  They take on the NBA's best home team, the L.A. Lakers, at Staples.  The Lakers are rolling right now, and are coming off a dismantling of the Mavericks in Dallas.  

Back to work.  Talk to you tonight.


  1. The team's defense re-energized the crowd also. Hope they will continue to play 48 minutes a game!

    by dockaren on 3/23/2012 10:10 AM
  2. Hey Mike: I almost missed your blog, I waited last night until I fell asleep at my computer desk, I woke up this morning waiting until it was almost time to go to work and FINALLY, I hear from my favorite; you know i just joke a lot; it is true that I am leaving for work only to be able to get most of it done before the game.

    I don't need to ask you what you would think of hiring Brandon Roy as some sort of a player advisor. Don't get me wrong, I don't want Hawkins to lose his job, but BRoy would be great in the line of young players development.

    I should be asking the other Mike this, but is Kaleb's offense more of an outside in, opposed to inside out. The whole back court is doing so much better, including Batum that usually waits in the corner for corner three? The front court, excluding Nic is doing worst. Is that because LMA is not posting up low? If Kaleb's style, not knocking Nate, is giving the back court more room to drive and opening up the middle with a spread the floor Offense, then I don't care if we don't keep up with points in the paint. we get our free throws that way. Of course you know my gripe on the three, if you live by it you die by it. Although if we were a little more consistent with it, I know it is needed, furthering opening up the middle.
    I read that LMA is more comfortable at the elbow, but I think he is more effective posting up low in the blocks, but if JJ can post up and score, rebound and set picks, I am sure Joel wouldn't mind going to back up with less minutes. That would give us the high low post as Camby and LMA or Thomas and LMA, but would put LMA as the high post. What do you think.

    ANCIENTONE: I told you LMA got the players attention and would bring the defense tonight.

    by Hg on 3/23/2012 10:19 AM
  3. If Brandon would go for it, I'd love to see him on the Blazer coaching staff. The guys respect him highly and he has a lot of knowledge on how to win.

    by dgpdx on 3/23/2012 11:02 AM
  4. I like the influence Brandon still has on the team and that he gave Batum some good advice. When Brandon retired, my sister wrote a column on the blogger site. There was a part toward the end where she mentioned that Brandon would make an excellent coach. He is extremely smart when it comes to basketball. I think he would make an excellent assistant coach for us but I bet it would take a lot for him to be ready to be around basketball while knowing that he isn't able to get into the game and play.. Besides, with Coach Canales being promoted do we not have an assistant coaching vacancy? I hope when Brandon is ready he strongly considers a coaching and hopefully for us. It is too bad Crawford's birthday was not Thursday instead of Tuesday and we could have given Brandon a win during his visit back to the Rose Garden.

    Last night's game was pretty good but we still had that time in the third quarter when we had some difficulties and lost the lead. For a while it seemed like the same thing that has been happening to us for most of the season. We always seem to have these low points during games. We were fortunate that this one didn't cost us a chance at winning this game. Nolan Smith had a rough time in the first half but came out in the second half and played well. It's good to see a young player be able to come back like that.

    I do not know why anyone would be asking whether we should try for the playoffs or a draft pick. I know I bring up my softball team a lot. I am on the JV team and there are no playoffs we can play for. That doesn't matter to us. We are playing (when we are not rained out) to win every game no matter what. My teammates and I have committed to each other to play as hard as we can every play. There is no question the Blazers should not try to shoot for the playoffs no matter what. That is how a game is supposed to be played. If we make the playoffs or not it is possible what ever pick we get in the draft will be part of a trade anyway. No question: Play for the playoffs.

    by Angi on 3/23/2012 12:13 PM
  5. Love seeing the Nico we know is there. I hope he can start putting together these aggressive games - that's when we and he will know his true worth. Kaleb's big project has to be to get LMA free and involved both at the elbow and inside.

    I feel like Kaleb lost Tuesday's game for us by leaving the bench in too long thus giving Milwaukee confidence that they could beat us and getting too big a hole for us to dig out. (I was yearning for Nate in the second qtr.) Kaleb coached better last night and I like the way the players respond to him. I loved the picture of Kaleb looking at Nicolas during the game at OregonLive...his caring nature really showed through. Some great photos by Oregonian photographer.

    by DeVinMzM on 3/23/2012 12:24 PM
  6. I think it's worth pointing out that the two fourth-quarter comeback wins came after we got a coach committed to playing his bench. Even after the disaster against Milwaukee, Kaleb still subbed in the whole crew, in the first half and the second. We lost a little ground with them in there, but the pay-off was a fresher team when crunch-time came.
    I think, too, that the defensive melt-downs in the two losses were easier to explain than the defensive strength in the wins. The team came into the season expecting to rely on Gerald Wallace's pressure D outside, and Marcus Camby's shot-blocking inside. The former was a sometime thing, and the latter mostly missing, which explains a lot of our defensive lapses before the trades and coaching change. Now the team has to sort out its defensive identity on the fly. Getting it right half the time is a decent start under such trying circumstances. I won't be shocked if it's another step backwards tonight, but I don't think that many people expected the Portland team that was in collapse at the trade deadline to come away with a split from the stretch against Chicago, OKC, Milwaukee and Memphis. So far the changes seem to have resulted in small but solid steps in the right direction. And the wins have sure been fun to watch.

    by Islander on 3/23/2012 12:25 PM
  7. About Kaleb. I for one thought he was in over his head. He's good with the guys. Good energy. Very positive. I like his player rotations. I like his preparation for opponents and other qualities he brings. What worried me was his clock management and late game situations. He really, really impressed me last night. He stood back and let Bernie and the other assistant bring the win home. It appeared to me it was planned strategy to let the assistants take over. I was impressed. I'm sure you seen that happen Mike. I was surprised you didn't comment on it. Good job Kaleb. You are not interested in sticking your chest out and proclaiming you are top dog. You Know your strengths and weaknesses. You want the win and are not afraid to ask for help.

    by Divotking on 3/23/2012 6:00 PM
  8. About Matthews. Coach wants 5 guys rebounding. He gets 9. Coach wants defense. He brings it. His scoring is sugar on top. He went from starting, to bench, back to starting. He has played hard through it all. He is seizing opportunity. That what true pro's do. Well done Mr. Matthews!!

    by Divotking on 3/23/2012 6:07 PM
  9. Agreed. Wes was good last night and so was Ray. Nic too! It's nice to have three show up in such a big way. Tonight its LA in LA. You go boys!

    by allie-oop on 3/23/2012 6:40 PM
  10. LaMarcus banged Gasol around like a rag doll. He grabbed some strong rebounds and threw some good outlet passes. Thanks Pryz. Metta fouled LMA hard and couldn't believe how big LMA's arms were.
    Matthews has come of age.
    Mike Rice called it. He said the Blazers are like a small dog nipping at your heels and won't go away. They keep playing like that some teams will cave.
    Nice game Portland.

    by Divotking on 3/23/2012 8:57 PM
  11. Divotking:
    I posted in Blazer edge that I wasn't expecting a win because our new bigs are not ready yet, I just wanted to keep playing them tough and play to win. I will bet you the house that Wheels don't own, that if the Lakers hadn't had last night off or if we had last night off we would have kicked butt.
    Hey how about JJ Hickman's play he is going to be OK, but if he is going to be a Blazer he has to make his free throws LOL. I feel Nolan played a better game than Felton tonight maybe he will take over the starting PG spot, if he can be consistent. I was so wanting Thalbeet to play against Bynum tonight but maybe he needs to work on his game.

    I don't think Golden State will be as tough as they were with Ellis so I am giving us a win in that game if they keep this play up.

    by Hg on 3/23/2012 11:01 PM
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