This was a blog I was hoping to start before game one, but since it is now past game two that is where I’m going to start, with a very short look on the first game. Looking back, I thought the Blazers played about 2 full quarters of good, hungry, aggressive basketball in the first game in Dallas. Other than that, they were passive, stopped playing defense and stopped pressing on offense. In game two, they stepped up, but not enough, playing what I would say was about 2.5 to 3 quarters of good basketball. There are multiple issues you can credit the loss to, some are saying it’s the officiating, some say B-Roy, which I’ll get to in a minute. I say it’s effort, and a mental toughness and a fight to want to win these games.
This blazers team can flat out play. They have got great speed, length and size, and have legitimate shooters that can play the perimeter. Those elements should and do on most nights create a defense that stuffs the opposing offensive sets, and sets up fast breaks on the end. On offense, they can be as explosive as any team in the league and frustrate and send opposing defenses scrambling to keep up. So what is missing? Intensity, and the hunger to not let this series even get to game 5 (yes I know, by game 2 that’s not even an option, so let’s say game 6 then). The team is saying all of the right things after a shoot-around or practice, and before the game’s, but doesn’t it seem like they couldn’t wait to get out of AA Center? 3/4 through the game, when only down by 4 to 6 points they seemed to cut their losses and looked to be mentally ready to leave and get back home. This is not the energy or effort they need or can even get away with, obviously. In the playoffs you simply can’t build a 6, 10 or even 20 point lead and then coast. That’s when you have to play with an urgent patience, press the ball up the court as if you are down by 10, but do so wisely without making errant passes or just leaving the ball when driving which a couple different players did in this game. The excuse of playoff jitters isn’t available, they don’t get to use it, most of these players have been in the playoffs before and if any haven’t, the players that have should have them ready. The Blazers have had both of the last 2 games in their grip, but bad passes, a passiveness on offense and lapses on defense have let the Mavs right back in. (why is L.A. going up for layups 2 feet out from the rim, that’s how you do and he did get stuffed by Nowitzki, dunk that and posterize whoever is in your way!) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Mavs are a bad team. They’re a great team, Portland is just better, they aren’t playing like it though.
So what do they do? How do they get back on track? It’s simple, play a full 48 minutes. If they don’t, it won’t matter if the game is played in the Rose Garden, AA Arena, or on some street court, they will lose if they don’t play the whole game with a hunger and intensity that any team in the playoffs needs to win. I don’t think the Mavericks as a team have that hunger or eagerness to win either, but they have more than Portland does. The Blazers need every player, and I mean every player to have the urgency and aggressiveness that G-Wallace has. The Mavs have wanted it more, and that’s surprising because they don’t even seem to be playing like they truly want it either.
Now on to the officiating. No, I am not going to sit here and say they gave the game to the Mavs, the Blazers did a fine job of that themselves. Have there been some really bad call? Oh yeah, some really really bad calls have been made, but that’s basketball. I coach youth sports and luckily we have the luxury of asking them to be honest and tell us if the ball went out off of them and we missed it and called it the other way (we are also down one official so it is even tougher to get all of the angles). The best part is, they do it! I could count at least 3 times we as refs missed the call and the players spoke up and reversed the call for us. This is the NBA though, and the refs are going to miss calls, but here, the players aren’t going to reverse it for them. What I’m getting in a round about way is, the Blazers need to make it so that isn’t even an issue. They need to have an intensity and a drive that pushes them to another level, and makes it impossible to come back, even with some bad calls. Go for blood, when your up ten in the first, act like your up ten in the fourth and close them out right then and there, step on their throat and don’t let them back up. As we’ve seen when you don’t, you take the game out of your own hands and leave the door wide open for the opposing team, help from the refs or not.
Lastly on this post I want to talk a little bit about Brandon Roy. This is a player who has been the face of the franchise for years, had carried this team on his back and has given everything he has got in blood, sweat and probably tears. I myself can be a harsh critic, on a night of bad shooting is it too much to ask for him to make his free throws and move his feet on defense instead of reaching? I know he is trying to find his “groove”, and he feels uncomfortable in the offense as he has slipped from a starter to the fourth or even maybe fifth option. This guy is feeling the heat, from fans especially, but I would say almost as equally from himself though. I would encourage everyone to stick with this guy though, because he is not done, not by a long shot. He hears all of the criticism though, and I think what has hurt him most is the fact that a fan base that is supposed to be so loyal and so devoted has turned their back on him. I have what I would at least think could be a viable solution: instead of letting B-Roy run point and Rudy at SG, swap the two. Roy can hit 3′s, we all know he can. Rudy, well, just hasn’t been the Rudy we know that can drop three’s whenever, wherever. What Rudy can do is handle the ball and make great passes, which in my opinion is what we need on this team. Dre is great at the point, but he doesn’t have a drive and kick game that the Blazers desperately need to get open shots on the perimeter. Roy likes the ball in his hands more than anyone, but that’s not what the Blazers need and that, at least now, is not going to help them win. I get it, he’s out of it mentally, but does Nate get that also? He is not in the frame of mind to play the same game he used to, so why are we asking him to? Even in the short time he does play now, his role when he is on the floor needs to change, at least for now until he can get the confidence and bounce back in his step. Maybe this should even be a permanent adjustment, only time could tell. Just like any recovery from injury, it’s a slow process, mentally and physically. So lets take it slow, get him some good looks outside and not ask him to get in the paint and create. Rudy also likes playing that way, we just never needed him to because Roy did. Well now we need him to, and I think he would be open to the idea, I’m just not so sure Nate is… Will this “solve” the Blazers issues? Who knows, but what we are trying isn’t working, at least not in regards to Roy so it’s time for an open mind. Personally I don’t think it can be any worse than what they’ve got going now when those two are on the floor though.
This probably bounced around a lot and if you had trouble following along with my scattered thoughts I apologize. As this is my first blog, I am open now and on any future posting to idea’s of how this blog could be better.
It’s back to Portland for game’s 3 & 4, games they desperately need to win to stay in this series.
More to come after game 3! Thanks for reading!