Kobe Injured Again
Did Kobe come back too soon? Amin Elhassan on the news Bryant will be out six weeks with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
The Blazers and Rockets played a close, professional ballgame. This series is going to be well worth watching. Nothing would surprise me.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
LaMarcus Aldridge's mid-range jumper is among the most indefensible shots in the game. His length and quick release make it infallible when he's on, whether he's facing up, leaning into his defender -- something he's become more comfortable doing lately -- or fading away. This month, Aldridge has averaged 19.8 ppg on 50% shooting from the field, up from his November totals of 15.9 ppg and 46%. Despite the steady progress, Aldridge still hears the whispers: "soft," "mercurial," "finesse player." Some of these characterizations are disputable. But, as Ric Bucher reports in the upcoming issue of ESPN the Magazine, Aldridge is well aware of his confidence issues, as are the Blazers, and their origins:
"I'm not normal," Aldridge says. "The only person I really trust is myself."
When those are the words you live by, your tendency is to examine everything you encounter with a microscope, looking for signs of deception or dishonesty, for any speck of someone trying to get over. Even something as simple as changing a pregame routine-say, replacing [Blazers video coordinator/assistant coach Kaleb] Canales-requires deliberation and execution, lest Aldridge peer into his scope and find something not quite right.
Of course, Aldridge's lack of faith in his fellow man isn't the first topic of conversation for those who mull whether the Trail Blazers will live up to the expectations that have them skipping right past "playoff team" to "perennial contender." Greg Oden's right knee, Brandon Roy's nagging injuries, Steve Blake's point guard play … each is a lot more top of mind. This team-which has not made the playoffs in six years, which has half a dozen players (including Aldridge) who will be eligible for options or extensions this summer, which has the NBA's second-youngest roster-is just poking its head out from the cocoon. In other words, the Blazers are as fragile as they are enthralling-just like Aldridge.
So this metamorphosis is going to take time, which requires patience, which demands, well, trust that the time spent will be worth it...
Now, after a couple of weeks of subtle hints and a one-point home win over the Kings in which Aldridge is so out of sync that he pleads with McMillan to stop calling his number, the coach has had enough. He orders assistant Joe Prunty to work over Aldridge the next day. Prunty is no bigger than Canales, but after practice he and two other staffers put Aldridge through a post drill-pushing, grabbing and slapping with focus-and suddenly Aldridge isn't grinning anymore. Practice is long and the prepractice film session longer, but Aldridge is revving in midgame form, wheeling and crushing dunks. "Haven't done a drill like that since college," he says afterward...
Later, Aldridge is at his locker when McMillan comes over and slides a hand under his T-shirt. Wanting to see if the new workout has produced the desired result, he frowns when he doesn't find a sheen of sweat. Aldridge, exasperated, says, "C'mon, I've been done for a minute! Dang!" The intrusion touches more than skin; it strikes a nerve.
Aldridge's internal battles aren't merely a personal endeavor. The entire Blazers' organization is mindful of Aldridge's temperament. They're deliberate about how to foster his development while being aware of -- and smart about -- the psychology at work:
BEING A Texan, Aldridge has a particular love of red meat. So it was especially wounding when he thought that Roy had left him out of a trip to a Brazilian barbecue joint in Memphis early last season. So that's how it is, he thought, and steered clear of Roy everywhere but on the court. It wasn't until the summer that Travis Outlaw convinced Aldridge that he had simply forgotten to tell him about the dinner. The issue is a memory now, but that kind of response to a perceived slight is what the Blazers work every day to avoid. They can't afford not to...
One of the main reasons McMillan opted to bring Oden off the bench when the No. 1 pick first returned to the lineup was to squelch Aldridge's urge to defer to him. And while the Blazers' marketers gladly would have followed everyone's lead and made Oden and Roy the thrust of their strategies, Kevin Pritchard and McMillan knew better. Aldridge gets equal time on the cover of the team's media guide and on area billboards.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Tuesday night in Portland the Trail Blazers are hosting the Boston Celtics and late in the second quarter were losing to the visitors 44-38. But they got a late first half basket using six players on the court...
With 10 seconds left in the half, Portland took a 20-second timeout. A Blazers substitution brought Jerryd Bayless into the game. Greg Oden was supposed to leave the game, but he didn't.
So, after the timeout, Bayless inbounded the basketball to Steve Blake. With time ticking down, Blake lobbed it down to Oden outside the left paint near the rim, who quickly flipped it to Travis Outlaw on the right side of the paint, who threw down an open dunk.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez were also on the court for the Blazers, giving them six players versus Boston's five...
On the court for the Celtics was their starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
Before Blake threw the pass, Kevin Garnett was guarding Aldridge at the left free throw corner. Oden was unguarded behind KG near the basket just outside the left paint. When Garnett spotted Oden he yelled/motioned for help (or was yelling that there are six Blazers men on the floor). Perkins, who was around the right side of the paint, responded.
Perkins switched over to guard Oden as Blake lobbed it inside, so Oden quickly flipped it to the now wide-open Outlaw, who crammed home the easy dunk with 3 seconds left, making it 44-40.
InsideHoops.com is 95 percent certain it was Oden who should have come out.
The Celtics went wild protesting. But the amazing result was that the referees, who did not notice the problem until after the dunk, actually counted the basket for the Blazers but issued a technical foul on them, putting Ray Allen on the line for a free throw, which he hit, putting Boston up 45-40, the score going into halftime.
Is this the rule? Did the referees handle this correctly? If so, the Blazers actually benefitted from this!
What if a team always put six men on the floor, almost always scored as a result, and only gives up a single technical foul free throw each time. Right?
After the game, referee Mike Callahan explained:
"If we would have caught the six men on the court before the made field goal, then there would have been no score. We would have called a technical foul on Portland and stopped play."After the technical foul shot, Portland would have inbounded the ball as they were in possession before the stoppage."
Doc Rivers was rightly befuddled:
"That was awful," Rivers said. "It absolutely had an affect on our guys. They complained the rest of the game about it. I told them, 'You got to get over that.' That was a doozy. There is no excuse for that to happen.
"They said you couldn't correct the play, which I still disagree with. But the problem was that we called around, we called the league, and they didn't have the answer, either. It is what it is. There is nothing we can do about."
Portland coach Nate McMillan confirmed that it was Greg Oden who was supposed to be on the bench:
"Hell of a play. Hell of a play Greg didn't get the memo to get out of the game. Hell of a play. We didn't pick it up and neither did they or the officials. And we got a point for that."
Nothing that an embedded GPS system or pressure sensors couldn't have taken care of.
"No, seriously, you don't understand. We're the Golden State Warriors. We can't be losing to the Portland freakin' Trail Blazers."
It's a funny thing that's happening with this Blazer team. Honestly, my expectations have been pretty darned low for this season. But now they're on a win streak of five games -- with wins the last two night in Utah and at home against the Golden State Warriors.
The highlights will give you a little taste.
They're winning games in the strangest fashion. Against Utah, the Jazz opened the game with a layup line. One after another. Add in the absent Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge, and it was clearly going to be a miserable night. But then one guy got hot, and another, and then later another. Everyone seemed to take turns making shots that this team has historically missed.
Last night was much the same. Martell Webster sat out most of the game with flu-like symptoms. And it barely seemed to matter. James Jones, Brandon Roy, Joel Przybilla, and Travis Outlaw did the scoring instead.
Through it all, Joel Przybilla has been the kind of lane patrolling alpha dog that winning teams almost always have.
And now, you're starting to see something that has been missing for a long time: praise for Nate McMillan's Xs and Os. On Tuesday, Portland scooted into and out of a zone defense in a way that clearly kept the Jazz off balance. They have also been scoring out of timeouts, which is usually seen as a crude measure of clipboard chops. The Oregonian's Jason Quick says the team had another couple of tricks at the ready last night:
"I don't know how you give credit to a coach, but he gets an A-plus," said Roy, who had 21 points and seven assists. "Not only his adjustments on the fly, but just putting guys in the right position. He has been really good."
On Wednesday, McMillan fought the temptation to get caught up in Golden State's small lineups, starting the game with an emphasis on attacking the Warriors inside. Przybilla, who entered the game averaging 4.6 points, scored the Blazers' first seven, eventually forcing Nelson to take out undersized center Al Harrington and go with a bigger, yet less skilled center in Andris Biedrins.
Once Nelson went with Biedrins, McMillan countered by substituting Outlaw for Przybilla, and Outlaw took advantage, zig-zagging his way around the court for 12 second-quarter points.
Quick also points out that McMillan is starting to trust the team. He used to yank anyone who made a bad play. But now he's letting them feel their way a bit more, and the trust is paying off.
Now, I have no illusions. I know that in the big picture a five-game winning streak doesn't mean all that much. But when you couple it with low expectations it can really make you feel like singing. Consider very serious blogger Dave, of BlazersEdge:
After a while you get used to watching games. You're sitting there on the couch, Tivo remote in one hand (to rewind and analyze), pen in the other (to make notes for later use). Your eyes dart back and forth, looking for the angle, the story, the trends. I don't want to say it's like a business because it's not. It's very enjoyable. But it's kind of a clinical operation, especially when you know that a few thousand people are going to call you on mistakes you make or things you miss. You watch the moment, but you seldom get to be in the moment.
In the third quarter tonight the Blazers turned me into 100% fan again. Put down the pen, stop rewinding and analyzing, just watch and enjoy. Seeing Trout [Travis Outlaw] and Jones nail shots like they were 10-year pros, Jack and Joel run the pick and roll against a defense that was begging to be exploited, watching that brilliant play as Roy passed to Joel and then back to Roy again for an easy two at the rim ... wow.
(Photo: Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)