Perfecting the Lob
If anyone wondered how Gerald Wallace's comfort level was entering the Portland Trail Blazers' matchup with the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, his stats might answer that.
In his best game since being traded to the Trail Blazers, Wallace posted a game-high 28 points to go along with eight boards and four steals. Afterward, Wallace said he began to feel more comfortable within the Portland system. One skill, however, still eludes the one they call Crash.
In the second half, with the Trail Blazer lead continuing to bolster, Wallace held the ball at the top of the key. Seeing LaMarcus Aldridge underneath, Wallace threw a lob near the rim. The problem: it was on the wrong side.
The ball caromed off the rim and Washington took it the other way.
In the locker room following the 111-76 rout, Wallace said he apologized to Aldridge several times, but never really received forgiveness. Now, Wallace will be working on one of Portland's most reliable play - the lob - with one of Portland's best feeders - Marcus Camby.
"We talked about it - more laughed about it than talked about it," Camby said. "It's something that he said he has to work on. We didn't work on it today, but we'll throw some lobs up tomorrow in shootaround to (Aldridge)."
Is it possible Wallace can become just as good as Camby?
"He could probably be better than me," Camby said. "I'm just trying to be the next Andre Miller to throw it up. He's leading the league in lobs."
MVP: Most Versatile Player
For the most part, defensive matchups are simple: point guard on point guard, center on center, etc. When teams come to the Rose Garden, simplicity flies out the front gates.
Nicolas Batum poses a threat to any player who walks through the tunnels onto the court. He's matched up with players ranging from the NBA's best scorers (Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant) to guys who have size (Dirk Nowitzki) and to those who lack size but make up for it with speed and quickness (Tony Parker, Jason Kidd).
"I think it's a good challenge to stop a guy, not especially one type of guy," Batum said. "We can stop the point guard, the 2, the 3, 4, sometimes the 5. That's pretty cool.
I like it," he continued. "I get to guard almost everybody out on the court."
Camby said that his teammate's versatility helps spread the floor for Portland and eat up the shot clock for guards who try to get the ball upcourt in a certain amount of time.
"Nicolas is so long out there he covers a lot of ground," Camby said. "Normally, these point guards in the league are trying to get the ball up in an x-amount of seconds. With Nic, he gives them their space. When they raise up on their jumper, his arms are long enough to contest shots."
Batum has shown his effectiveness lately, and head coach Nate McMillan said Batum's only getting better.
"He has been our best guy as far as getting up and working the ball and controlling the ball," McMillan said. "It just helps us establish a style of play that we want to play. With his length, his size, you've got a bigger guard or a bigger man guarding the ball. Sometimes if we switch, we've got a bigger guy taking the switch. It's just allowed us to be able to take advantage of what he can do."
Wild West Showdown
On Friday night, the Trail Blazers face off against the NBA-leading San Antonio Spurs at the Rose Garden.
Portland is averaging less than 89 points per game against San Antonio, but is coming off a performance in which the Trail Blazers notched a season-high 14 steals and tallied 33 points off turnovers - all while dominating the paint 62-40.
Need more momentum, Portland? How about your last performance against the Spurs in Rip City.
The Trail Blazers shot nearly 51 percent from the field and closed the game out with a 21-8 run that sealed the win. Oh yeah, and a guy named LaMarcus Aldridge dropped a then-career-high 40 points while pulling in 11 rebounds.
San Antonio owned the glass in the first half, grabbing 13 offensive boards for 20 second-chance points, while posting 28 points in the paint.
In the second half: three offensive rebounds, five second-chance points and 10 points in the paint.
"I think the key was keeping them out of the paint - Parker and Ginobli - and I think we did a better job of controlling the paint with our man and our zone defense," McMillan said. "And then once you do that, you got to rebound the ball and attack them."
This time around, the Spurs will be without their, according to Brandon Roy, "hall of fame power forward." Asked if the team feels fortunate to face teams that have marquee players down, Camby scoffed.
"I see Greg Oden out, Elliot Williams so teams aren't feeling sorry for us either," he said.
Even with Duncan sidelined, with its speed, San Antonio will run and free themselves for three-point shots - an area where the Spurs excel.
"In that sense, without Tim, they'll play even faster," McMillan said. "[Manu] Ginobli and [Tony] Parker will be playing with the ball a lot, a lot of pick and rolls, trying to spread the floor and allow Parker and Ginobli to get into the paint. We've got to do a good job of keeping the ball in front of us."
If Portland can force contested shots, rebound the ball and then attack on the other end, McMillan said the Trail Blazers will be in a good position to win.
A win on Friday night, and Portland will be rolling into a tough road trip, during which the Trail Blazers face three of the top Western Conference teams: Oklahoma City Thunder, Spurs and Mavericks.
"It would mean a lot if we can win these games," Roy said. "Those three teams that we play on this road trip will be playoff teams. So if we can win three road games against playoff teams, then it's a big boost for our confidence. But again, we just go one game at a time. If you got to play all four of them, it would be too hard. So we're just taking one game at a time."