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They say that God makes problems just to see what you can stand

By Jeff Koch on April 9, 2009.

I love Portland. I really do. I’ve lived here for over 7 years. It’s green and beautiful. We have the best public transportation in the country. The amount of rain we get is vastly overstated. We have this. And this. We’re home to The Decembrists and Gus Van Sant and Tonya Harding. Elliott Smith and Everclear have written songs about our town (cf., the title of this post). The first George Bush called us Little Beirut; we take that as a compliment. There’s no sales tax. Really, it’s a great place to live.

And we have the Blazers.

And I like the Blazers. Quite a bit. The roster is (finally) filled with very likable players. They have an emerging superstar in Brandon Roy. They have an overabundance of young talent. They have a great, well-respected coach. They have a loving and supportive fan base. Honestly, they’re a lot like the Spurs in the way they go about their business, play ‘the right way’, and play for each other.

And until today, I’ve never had to worry about them. They were the up and comers, the young, pesky challengers that could always give us a good game, but could be counted on to fold in the end. We might meet them in the first round, and they might even take a game or two. But eventually our experience and poise would win out. And everyone would talk about what a bright future they had as we marched on towards another championship.

*sigh*

The Blazers are legit, and they are here to stay. Yes, we had no Manu; yes, Tim played like a man with no knees in the second game of a back to back at the tail end of a season in which he’s been asked to carry an unfathomable load. But those things do not and should not take away from the Blazers impressive win tonight. After being down by 19, they totally and utterly destroyed us. They spotted us 19 and still beat us by 12. Think about that. That’s a 31 point swing in about 30 minutes. A point a minute. Insane.

Things I liked:

–The first quarter. We outscored them 33-16. Our offense was a smooth, efficient machine. Our defense was tenacious and aggressive. We had it all going. We were firing on all cylinders. Mason and Finley combined to hit our first three 3s. Finley even drove around Batum! Gooden had a sick drive and dunk around Aldridge. It looked like we had an easy win in front of us.

–Mason at back-up point guard. After killing him last night, I need to give him some props here. I kept an unofficial tally of his time at back up PG overlapping the 1st and 2nd quarters. Of nine possessions, I had 5 positive marks, 2 neutral marks, and 2 negative marks. That’s not bad. Our offense didn’t die. And we did more than spot up for long 2s. I’m still not convinced this is the long term answer (a post for another day), but, at least for tonight, it didn’t spell our doom.

–Marcus Williams. Today we waived Malik Hairston and called up Marcus Williams from the Toros. (Check out the excellent 48minutesofhell for plenty of great Spurs related content.) I’m always interested to see how our youngsters play in their first brush with the big team. Though he only played a few minutes near the end, with the game mostly decided, he played well, hitting his only two shots and guarding Brandon Roy reasonably well. After the final buzzer, Roy and Williams had a brief exchange; given the nature of Roy, I’d like to think he was saying encouraging, complimentary things to our newest player.

Things I didn’t like:

–Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Portland was a good rebounding team. Having seen their offensive rebounding abilities doom us in a heartbreaking loss early in the season in person, I knew that it was something to watch out for. But tonight was just embarrassing. They outrebounded us 43-26. Those number can be a bit misleading, as they had far more chances for defensive rebounds than we did because, well, we missed so many more shots. They bested us in offensive boards, 11-5. Ok, now we’re starting to get a clearer picture. How about this: they had 11 offensive rebounds to our 21 defensive rebounds. I’m just going to let that sink in. On our defensive end, there was a total of 32 possible rebounds, and they collected 11 of them, or better than 33%. That is horrible. Moving on…

–The numbers. There are so many ways to parse this game. 16, 18, 16. Our scoring totals for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters. 31, 23, 25. Theirs. 53. Their shooting percentage. The rebounding numbers. The 31 point swing.

–Live by the 3, die by the 3. We hit our first 3 3s. We went 2 of 12 the rest of the night. We are in a horrible, team-wide, 3-point shooting slump. It’s like a train wreck. You don’t want to look, but that little masochist inside of you won’t let you turn away. It’s fascinating, really, how so many shooters can go so cold at the same time. With Manu out and Tim down, if we can’t hit our 3s, we’re in huge trouble.

–Zone defense. In the second quarter, Portland started playing zone, and it completely changed the complexion of the game. Before that, we were scoring at will and running our offense like the smooth machine it is. Without the ability to hit outside shots (see above), we were unable to break the zone, and they climbed back into the game. Our offense never regained its hum.

–Our big men. Duncan is playing on bad knees. Quite frankly, I’m very worried about him. Not for this season, but for the rest of his career. His game has never been predicated on overwhelming athleticism, but it is reliant on grace and immaculate movement, and he needs his knees for that. Bonner has reverted back to his form from years prior. If he can’t make his shots, he gives us almost nothing on the court. Gooden gave us all the bad traits with none of the good. And Kurt…well, Kurt played reasonably well. But Kurt is an ‘over the top’ player. He can make a good team great, but he can’t make an average team good.

Looking ahead:

The loss to the Blazers put us in a 3-way tie for third with the Blazers and Rockets. With the Hornets losing tonight and the Mavs beating the Jazz, the Western Conference 2-8 just keeps getting more and more interesting. I think the Blazers, Rockets, and Spurs will end up in some combination of 3-5, and the Hornets, Jazz, and Mavs will end up 6-8. The permutations and implications are a bit overwhelming, so we’ll wait until things get a little clearer before delving into the possibilities.

The Jazz come into town Friday night. The Jazz are the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde of the Western Conference right now. They are almost unbeatable at home, yet completely putrid on the road. They’ve only beaten 2 over .500 teams on the road all year. That’s not good. Despite our troubles today, I think we can take this one.

Continue to keep an eye on the rotation. Pop seems close to settling on one, but there are still tweaks to be made. Will Bonner continue to merit playing time? Will Hill ever see daylight, as either the backup PG or the 2-guard? Will Marcus Williams get any playing time? Keep an eye on rebounding, as that will be a bugaboo for us for the rest of the season. Keep an eye on Duncan. If he can play like a reasonable facsimile of himself with rest, then we may be okay in the playoffs, as there is often 2 o
r 3 days off between games, especially in the first round. And keep an eye on Tony. He was unimpressive tonight, and we need him to more or less carry our offense for the balance of the season if we’re going to have any chance of winning night in and night out. Defenses can more or less key in on him now, but he has shown an uncanny ability to take what the defense gives him and still score at will.

We have 4 game left; I want at least 3 of them.

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