Jan 16

Blazers Scratch Out Win in NOLA

By mikebarrett
So nothing from this game will make this week's Top 10 Plays, okay?  But, when you're on a six-game road trip, and have dropped the first two, a victory is all that matters.  Style points finish a distant second to that.  Yes, that's cliche, but it's also very true.

The Trail Blazers had chances to blow this game open, but ended up slugging out a win over the New Orleans Hornets on Monday afternoon, 85-77.  They led by as many as 17 in the second half, but never really were able to let their foot off the gas until Nicolas Batum hit a three pointer with 2:25 to go that made it 82-71.

The Hornets struggle to score, and we all expected Monty Willams to do his best to ugly up the game and turn it into a half-court contest.  While the Hornets were successful at that in the first half, the Blazers came out in the third quarter and went to work.

Because of the way the Trail Blazers started the third quarter, with a noticeable change in intensity, we speculated that Nate McMillan must have done a little screaming at halftime.  But, instead of doing that, he says he simply empowered his players to self-police.  McMillan said before the team took the floor after halftime they met as a group, just the players, and challenged each other to turn up the heat.

They ended up putting together a 27-point third quarter, which was actually impressive given how low scoring this thing was all night.  LaMarcus Aldridge got busy at the offensive end, and the Blazers went back to scoring in the paint.  They scored just two points in the paint in the second quarter, but scored 12 in the paint in the third.  

It wasn't only Aldridge, who ended the game with 22 points, on 10 of 17 shooting.  Nicolas Batum, coming off a 29-point game in Houston, backed it up with a very nice game in New Orleans.  A big step for him as he tries to become more aggressive on a consistent basis.  Batum had 19 off the bench, and added six rebounds.

The shooters continue to struggle for the Blazers, and that can't last forever.  Raymond Felton was just 1 for 8 from the field, but recorded 12 assists and three steals.  Jamal Crawford was just 2 for 8, but added 7 assists.  They also need Wesley Matthews to get back to being himself from the outside.  He was better in this game, shooting 4 for 10, but isn't launching the deep balls with much confidence right now.  Again, that'll change.

Then, there's Kurt Thomas.  If you don't watch basketball much, nothing Kurt does will blow you away.  In fact, you probably don't even notice him much of the time.  But, it's those little things, the dirty work, that makes him so valuable.  Ask the Chicago Bulls how important he was to them last season.  Thomas was a +18 against the Hornets when he was on the floor.  That's a huge number, and isn't a coincidence in this case.  Thomas had 8 points, 7 rebounds, and countless hustle plays in his 26 minutes.

As mentioned above (and by a lot of you I'm sure), this thing wasn't a beauty offensively.  But, the Trail Blazers did have 25 assists on their 34 makes.  That's a very good ratio, and a positive sign that the ball is moving and the team is being unselfish.

We're now in Atlanta, and the team will go through a light practice on Tuesday before taking on the Hawks Wednesday night.  It's a big game, not only because Atlanta is good, but because this is the opportunity to turn a so-far disappointing trip into a chance to have a very positive trip.  We knew the tougher games on this trip were at the beginning, and if you can come out of the first four with a 2-2 record, things could get good on the back end.  

After all, there are only two long trips for the Blazers in this compressed season, while a winning record on an extended trip would be nice, this team is after more.  Let's hope they show that in the first half against Atlanta on Wednesday.



  1. Great blog as usual Mike. I'm curious to know also how many hustle plays you wrote down on your column like you mentioned in your last blog. It seems the Blazers are a different team on the road, which is common for nearly every team, but it seems they like to stay in their old ways of playing half-court offense, even though they do tend to run at the beginning.

    The only concern I have is that, if you play like this against 20 other teams in the league, you lose. Blazers need to continue going to Aldridge who needs to continue posting up. Same with Gerald and Batum. One thing that kills us is we keep going into being a jumpshooting team. I saw less jumpshooting today, so that made me as happy as winning.

    Like you said, it wasn't beautiful, and I only watched the game to see them win rather than be entertained, but it was the win you needed. If they had dropped todays game... ugh... I couldn't have imagined.

    Atlanta is a tough team. They just lost Horford but it isn't slowing them down. I'd say this is the toughest challenge yet this season for the Blazers. Going on the road in a building you haven't done well in for recent years and are in the middle of your road trip. Should be a good one, and I hope it gets Jamal going. He didn't leave Atlanta the way he wanted to.

    by Herr on 1/16/2012 8:29 PM
  2. Hey Mike: I have been waiting to hear from you.
    I got to listen to you and Rice on the NBA package, usually I have to listen to the home court announcers.

    I thought this was a OK game, we stayed ahead the whole game and kept our heads in the game. Boy I love me some Batum.

    I'm OK to a degree with our shooters being Off, because that forces them to find different ways to play. If the outside shot is falling then they depend on it completely then the next time we get in a drought, we forget how else to play.
    I would rather see a game going to the rim then settling for outside shots, even if they are going in.
    But I tell you what, you and Rice discussed that they were going to have to make more plays for Batum, he can post up, come off screens, as Rice said use him on a pick and pop or pick and roll. just work to give him some open looks instead of like you said in his cave at the three point coffin corner.

    Anyway, it did look like a ugly game, but there will be lots of those and we have to learn to play ugly and keep our composure as well as playing good.

    by Hg on 1/16/2012 8:41 PM
  3. As you mentioned 1 for 8 shooting from our starting point guard. 2 for 8 from Crawford. Despite that we got the win. Nice. They both had good numbers on assists. Both of them will shoot better. When they do Portland will go on a run.
    There was talk of Nolan getting some minutes. Didn't see him. Those guys at the end of the bench haven't seen any time. We are thin up front. I thought CJ would see a little time with Camby out. We don't need scoring from him but a few rebounds would sure help.
    Batum is looking good. LA is a rock. Kurt and Craig, where would we be without them. GW Mr. everything.
    Nice win on the road. Not a back to back but I thought it was a back and a half with the early start. Strong second half.
    I hope we look back the second half of this game is when the Blazers gained momentum and finish the road trip strong.

    by Divotking on 1/16/2012 8:47 PM
  4. In addition to the horrendous shooting from the two playing point gaurd, they also had a huge number of turn overs. Nick handled the ball in France why not put him out there at times. He couldn't do any worse. If we don't trust Nolan give it a try. 'Why should the guys up front have to carry all the load.

    by Ancientone on 1/16/2012 9:41 PM
  5. 1. Love Kurt Thomas. More pick & pop with him would help Jamal and Ray get better shots.
    2. Very happy with Rhino's ability to plug in and play. What a luxury!
    3. Want to see more off-the-ball cutting to basket. Not enough flashing into paint!!!

    Great blog. Thanks
    John C

    by jsciv314 on 1/16/2012 10:11 PM
  6. Thanks for the blog, Mike! My attitude about a game like this is Don't Look a Road Win in the Mouth. We struggled at times but a win is a win is these situations.

    Where would be without Kurt Thomas and The Rhino, indeed. I think I mentioned this before, but when we signed Kurt, I was overjoyed. For the last few years I've been watching him do this for other teams and wondering how come we never get a guy like that. Now we got one, one of the very best at what he brings to the floor!

    by dgpdx on 1/16/2012 10:20 PM
  7. Mike, my worry on Felton is, not his poor shooting, but his mishandling of the ball. Time and time again, not only would he get sloppy with the ball, but the timing of his turnovers that have often led to easy buckets for the opposition. As a point guard, he needs to get better at handling the ball better and find the open guy with the best chance to score. Jamal and Wesley just need to gain confidence in their shooting, while Gerald needs to finish better at the rim.

    by blazerdarren77 on 1/16/2012 10:31 PM
  8. I am happy we won and ill take it. But i am disappointed in Felton. I don't understand how a point guard can be so careless with the ball at times. I don't mean to be a negative nancy and i keep trying to see something thatjust wows me from him like i saw hen he was in new york and Denver but its just not there. I hope it is still to come because i am slowly losing trust on this one. Part of the problem is with Andre Miller and even Steve Blake they had such low turn over rates so its hard to see a guy have that many. I like the 12 assts but when you have over 50% of that taken away with turn overs it doesnt look good. Any way sorry to be a downer I hope to see more from him just was hoping for PG of the future and all im seeing is a short term filler.

    With that being said i love Kurt and rhino impressive dirty work reminds me of what joel would do out on the floor. And it looks like Kurt can shoot lights out from 15 ft and Craig is a beast under the post.

    by Avgjoe28 on 1/16/2012 10:47 PM
  9. MB,

    You are right about Kurt Thomas. I think his smooth mid range shots have proven to give teams an edge and that speaks for itself over his career. Tonight they set a tone for us in a low scoring first half, as you stated. His rebounding, basketball know-how, ability to run the floor, experience, and Def/rebs are his staple.Very dependable player, and like Camby, a great teacher to anyone who wants to be somebody in this league.

    Batum was clutch and shooting well. LaMarcus- efficient as we have come to know. Craig Smith is showing how valuable he can be. Jamal had 7 assists, Ray had a big 12, and Wes at least got one 3 going after the break. Those shooting woes are not a big concern, only when we lose. I think one of Ray's strengths (though still getting to know him) is getting the lane and drawing a foul, He has a strong looking build for a PG, correct me if I am wrong! There's no way they are going to shoot like that all season. This running system is new, and I honestly don't know what to expect at times so I won't make excuses but it will take time to adjust. At the same time those numbers could go up dramatically any day.

    Atlanta has a good record and they are tough in recent years (vs POR) at home. Any team is beatable and I think a lot of execs in the league would say we have at the least an 'above average team'. I think that defense is a key. I don't like slug fests but Nate preaches the right way, I think he does a good job. Stop them on D, and watch out in transition with our team! We can tear it up. Speaking of transition basketball, I hope Gerald's hand is ok, and speaking of D, I hope Camby is on the mend.

    Everyone have a good night

    by Bull Frog on 1/16/2012 11:24 PM
  10. Kurt Thomas remembers me Juwan Howard. Oh, I miss Juwan Howard. Thanks god we picked up Thomas, but I'm sad that Heat is making almost no use of Howard, and that Pryz is not in our team, too =/

    by Tiago Torigoe on 1/17/2012 6:35 AM
  11. mike, i have to agree a 100% with you, a victory is all that matters; at this point anyways. dear lord, we looked stupid out there. for all the talent we have it was ugly. and ugly, stink, and flop are things we shouldn't be talking about now. pre season was skipped and now we should start looking sharper, not retardeder. yes, i said retardeder.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 1/17/2012 9:32 AM
  12. retardeder.
    I ran that through my spell check, and it said it sounded like Italian LMAO.
    Call them like you see them, LOL.

    by Hg on 1/17/2012 9:51 AM
  13. thanks Hg! you're still blazers number 1 fan and don't forget it! i'm calling dibs on #2 so back off y'all.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 1/17/2012 10:23 AM
  14. It was good to see a win, but the bench guys must have been disappointed. Not just Nolan, who had to wonder where his promised minutes went, or Chris, who watched Craig and Kurt gobble up all the time opened by Marcus' absence, but the rest of the guys who were looking at two and a half minutes of garbage time as the Blazers pushed the lead to 15, only to see the starters give points back just fast enough to keep them on the bench.
    We're learning more about this team as we go along. We've learned that the energy Gerald uses to get close looks is not always matched by the finesse needed to put those shots in the basket. We've learned that Raymond is erratic, and has patches where he looks horrible. We've learned that using Jamaal at the point makes sense only if you don't mind turning a good shooting guard into a middling point man. And we've learned that Nate still doesn't trust young players. But it's hard to see a solution to the shortcomings emerging at point without Nate breaking form on that last tendency. Unless, perhaps he decides to try Ancientone's suggestion and see how it works to have Nic play point forward. Because the other clear discovery is that the team needs to consider Batum a primary asset, not an afterthought.

    by Islander on 1/17/2012 10:40 AM
  15. Islander: In defense of Nate, it is his job to win each and every game; it is true that he doesn't develop his rookies at at a fast rate, but I don't know enough about BB to argue, so I will give that point to you. The rest is pretty clear.

    by Hg on 1/17/2012 11:19 AM
  16. Nate has proven time and again he can do more with less. Out of necessity. He focuses on winning the 1/4, winning the half, winning the game. Hard to criticize that.
    It would be nice to see a young guy get thrown in the mix other than garbage two minutes. For example CJ coming in and getting 5 boards or Nolan getting 5 assists. It would give the starters something to talk or joke about other than who is missing shots. More smiles more fun more energy. Loosen the necktie a little Nate.

    by Divotking on 1/17/2012 3:18 PM
  17. I have a worry about Nic Batum. It has nothing to do with his play or attitude, it has to do with Paul Allen's supposedly changing attitude toward spending his money on the Blazers.

    It been said that Allen has decided not to break the bank anymore on the team. Does that mean he won't open up his check book and pay Batum what he's worth, which is clearly something close to a maximum contract if he continues his emergent play of late.

    I'd hate to see Nic reach his peak NBA years with another team.

    by dgpdx on 1/17/2012 6:44 PM
  18. divotking, well said.

    by thedanman on 1/17/2012 10:15 PM
  19. It was a W, so I'll take it.

    I rarely criticize Nate, primarily because I am not a head coach in the NBA, have never played in the NBA, and have not proven myself as a winning coach at, well, anything :) Having said that, I am concerned with Nate's "tunnel, in-the-moment, get-the-win vision", in regard to playing at the least, Nolan Smith. It is really, really difficult for me to understand why he continues to take away the offensive threat that Jamal Crawford is/can be by playing him at the 1, when there is another option. I sincerely believe that Jamal getting comfortable in his natural position will make up for any deficits Nolan might bring. Certainly, the ball handling can't get much worse :) Lord help us all if it can, lol

    Anyway, I called the Atlanta game for the Blazers. Hope I didn't just jinx it :)

    by SisillaRiann on 1/18/2012 7:07 AM
  20. @EowynAmarie:
    I agree with you on Nolan, what have we got to lose? Maybe Nate is afraid to offend Raymond, but at the time being, I am not sure I wouldn't go with Nolan ahead of Raymond.

    Hey we have a win, I picked Atlanta, and I have never won against you or Kassandra. Plus that was before they lost Harford.

    by Hg on 1/18/2012 8:18 AM
  21. Hg, I wouldn't probably put Nolan ahead of Ray at any point this season. I meant in regard to having Nolan play the 1 instead of Jamal when Ray goes out of the game. At least, part of the time. It is becoming increasingly clear that Jamal needs to play his position, with only bits at the 1, if ever. I would rather see Nic there to be honest, if Nate just can't bring himself to trust the rookie

    by SisillaRiann on 1/18/2012 9:12 AM
  22. EowynAmarie: I knew what you meant, I was just adding my 2 cents. I guess you could say I am down on Crawford and Felton

    by Hg on 1/18/2012 9:53 AM
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