TrueHoop: Rudy Fernandez

Monday Bullets

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
2:48
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Late Friday Bullets

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
6:22
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Wednesday Bullets

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
11:17
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

On walking on to the court to hug an NBA player

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
12:34
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Jason Quick of the Oregonian, on an incident that occured during Andre Miller's 52-point game in Dallas over the weekend:

During a timeout with 41 seconds left in regulation, two women walked onto the court and into the Trail Blazers huddle. One woman wrapped her arms around the waist of Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez from behind. Fernandez, who was not in the game but focused on the plays being diagrammed by coach Nate McMillan, was stunned.

“I was surprised,’’ Fernandez said. “I was listening to the coach on the bench and behind me, she touches me and says, ‘Rudy, I love you. Nice to meet you. Good game.’

“I said, ‘What?’’’



Amazingly, the fans -- whom Jerryd Bayless says appeared drunk -- were reportedly not escorted from the game, but were instead allowed to return to their courtside seats.

To a grieving acquaintance

December, 7, 2009
12/07/09
2:07
PM ET
Prior to the season, Henry Abbott and Jason Friedman made a friendly wager. Portland and Houston had three games scheduled over the first six weeks of the season. Whoever's team lost the "three-game series" had to write glowingly about the other's team.

By virtue of Portland's 90-89 win over Houston Saturday night, Jason lost the bet.

Unfortunately, the Trail Blazers lost something more significant in Saturday night's game -- Greg Oden to a season-ending injury.

As a writer who covers the Houston Rockets, Jason Friedman is has a great deal of empathy for Trail Blazers fans, and is well-versed in the coping mechanisms required of those who lose their favorite players to injury:

What do you say to a grieving acquaintance?

The inherent lack of intimacy often makes consolation a pipedream. Their pain is not your own. Any words of support or encouragement are destined to come across as hollow and trite, received as if they were nothing more than mere platitudes borne of obligation. Sometimes it’s better to simply let silence rule the day; to nod your head as a token of respect and understanding while allowing the aggrieved whatever time and space they require.

I know all of this. I get it.

And yet…

To stand off to the side and say nothing in this instance simply isn’t an option. I was at the Rose Garden Saturday night. I bore witness to the black hole which momentarily devoured every hint of color, joy and hope within the arena at the 7:45 mark of the first quarter until all that remained was the sickening sound of 21,000 distressed souls hoping their eyes had somehow deceived them. You know the rest.

In Houston, of course, we are all too familiar with that sound and the empty feeling which ultimately takes its place. We’ve heard the ludicrous chatter of curses and been filled with the fear which accompanies the label “injury prone.” It’s the price we pay for being human, I suppose. Our uncertain futures lead some to fill in the blanks with nightmares and phantoms of the worst kind. Given enough room to operate, those bogeys will happily shatter your confidence and destroy every last vestige of positive thought.

But there is another option. It is the one I come to pass along to my Portland “acquaintances” today. It is, quite simply, hope.

I know, I know. You don’t want to hear it. It’ still too early, the wound too fresh. That’s fine. I’ve been there. So, too, has Yao Ming. I’ve seen him down, despondent and depressed after his body betrayed him once more. But I’ve also witnessed how he responds to that betrayal with a quiet, steely resolve to return better than ever before. He understands that we are all faced with only two options in life: to give up or to press forward with the hope that each day will be better than the last. And he chooses the latter because he knows the first choice isn’t actually an option at all.

I recall seeing Yao right before the season began, as he was going through his workout routine at Toyota Center with personal trainer Anthony Falsone. Yao used crutches to go from station to station, while dragging along a boot that seemingly came from the Darth Vader collection on his surgically repaired left foot. He’d been going through this routine for more than a month by this point, knowing full well that many more months of monotonous rehab remained. And yet, his countenance reflected no sign of exasperation with that fact; he was upbeat, positive and quick to crack jokes. This part of the process was simply what had to be done in order to get back to the game and the team he loves. Therefore, he would do it.

Yao spoke that day of the grief which accompanied his initial realization that he would miss the entire 2009-10 season. He mentioned the mourning process that included a week spent mostly in disturbed silence. But then he told of his resolution and commitment to the rehab process. The moment for looking back was over. It was now time for work, for diligence and for hope. His goal stood far off in the distance but he knew that each day brought him one step closer and, therefore, each day would be better than the last.

I don’t know Greg Oden. But upon recalling that conversation with Yao, I suspect I have at least an inkling of what’s going through his mind right now. I’ve no doubt that he’s currently mourning in his own way. But just as certainly, I absolutely believe he will soon, if he hasn’t already, steel himself for the journey to come while dispatching the past in the process. Like Yao, Oden has, unfortunately, been through this before. And, like Yao, Greg will find solace by steadying his gaze on a future still rife with possibilities and potential. He’s only 21 years old, after all. He’ll be back.

In fact, Oden and Yao now figure to make their return at the exact same time: training camp 2010. It stands as yet another tie which inexorably binds our two great cities, Portland and Houston, together. The link began 26 years ago when the Blazers selected a ridiculously talented human pogo stick of a guard from the University of Houston named Clyde Drexler. One year later Portland and Houston were the principal figures in an even bigger draft coup: a coin flip for the rights to the No. 1 pick and an opportunity to select yet another U. of H. stud, Akeem Olajuwon. Since then, Drexler returned to Houston, the Blazers drafted Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez – both of whom were hotly desired by Houston – the Rockets made former Portland coach Rick Adelman their bench boss and the two teams recently met in the first round of last year’s playoffs. So maybe we’re more than mere acquaintances after all.

Point being, we are now bound together by a common hope: that our two talented and beloved big men can come back to fill the void their absence has left behind; that we can watch them go head-to-head once more, unburdened by the pain of the past and instead enjoying the sight of two of the game’s premiere big men battling each other at the height of their powers.

Their cities deserve such a sight. So, too, do their teams. But more than anyone, this Promethean pair deserves it. Thus, it is for them, and for all of us, that I hold out hope. I know they won’t give up. Neither, then, will I.

Spain Gets Off the Schneid

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
10:01
AM ET

After sleepwalking through the preliminary and qualifying rounds, Spain showed up to the knockout stage of Eurobasket '09 with a fury. The Painted Area has the full story of the Spaniards' win over France and Serbia's mild upset of Russia:

Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol: 28 and 9 for Spain
(Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Image

Spain 86, France 66
I guess Spain can flip the switch when they want. After appearing aimless in the first four games, Spain sent a message to the rest of the field with this thrashing of previously unbeaten France. Third game in a row where Spain has dominated their opponent.

Spain's scrambling defense gave France major issues, forcing bad passes all over the court. Had little concern for France's perimeter shooting ability which led to unfettered help by Spain defenders. The Gasol Bros. paid very little attention to the French bigs.

Spain never went with much straight zone, but Pau Gasol (also Marc Gasol) was basically playing a one-man zone by sloughing off in the paint the whole game. Anytime a Frenchie tried to get to the rim, there was always a big waiting to help. Parker rarely had easy access to the rim.

Anywhere Tony Parker went with the ball, extra Spanish defenders followed. Actually, anytime the ball went below the free throw line, you had extra Spanish bodies flocking to the ball. This forced the French ball-handlers to pass the ball out under duress, often leading to turnovers (19 French turnovers). Spain had 13 steals, six of which belonged to Rudy Fernandez.

Pau Gasol simply ate up the French bigs. We wondered if Gasol's length would be an issue for the undersized French front line. It was a major issue. Gasol was a major factor in fouling out Ronny Turiaf in 21 minutes. Ali Traore fouled out in eight minutes. Yikes. This was a game where Joakim Noah could have come in handy.

Pau scored in anyway he wanted: multiple rolls to the rim, a few alley-oops, lefty hook, righty hook, turnaround banker, baseline spins and a 18-foot jumper for good measure. A clinic the late, great Pete Newell would have loved.

Most of Rudy Fernandez's 16 points came behind the arc (4-for-6), including three bombs in the first quarter. Juan Navarro wasn't quite as efficient as he was the night before, but he was still a factor. Navarro dropped a patented floater and a runner going across the lane on his way to 11 points and 4 assists.

Ricky Rubio had a solid outing with 8 points and 4 assists -- he even knocked down two 3pts. Ricky did have four turnovers. Was active defensively, not afraid to pressure Parker. Just don't make the mistake that Rubio shut him down, it was a team effort.

Tony Parker had been averaging 18 points per game before this game, but Spain held him to six points. When Parker did get some open looks on the perimeter, he continued to struggle with his jumper -- 1-for-8 from the field. Rarely had much room to operate, too many Spanish defenders shadowing him.

Ronny Turiaf took advantage of the Gasols not paying much attention to him. Ronny cut to the open spaces well to lead Les Bleus in scoring with 12 points on 6-of-9. Boris Diaw was due for a good game after a no-show the previous game, and he did alright with 9 points (all 3-pointers) and 6 rebounds.

France had been playing some of the best defense in the tourney before this matchup. But they had not seen an offense with this type of firepower in the prelim rounds. France had been holding opponents to 40 percent overall shooting, but Spain was able to hit 52 percent from the floor. France is normally a strong rebounding club, but the Spaniards helped their cause with 10 offensive boards to France's 20 defensive rebounds.

Spain gets a day off before they take on the winner of Turkey-Greece. France still has work to do for a 2010 Worlds qualifying spot. France moves into the Loser's Bracket where they will face the loser of the Turk-Greece game. If France wins that game, they earn a trip to the Worlds. If they lose, they might have one more game where they can qualify, but that depends on Turkey's status.

Serbia 79, Russia 68
Serbia scored a decisive victory over the Russians, securing a spot in next summer's 2010 Worlds. Russia came out strong in the first quarter, scoring 24 points to Serbia's 21. But then Russia's offense slammed to a halt.

Serbia took the game over in the second quarter and never relinquished control the rest of the way. The key was a 17-0 run to start the second quarter. Russia didn't score their first points of the second quarter until the 2:30 mark and were outscored 20 to 4 in the quarter.

Serbia's lead ballooned to 20 points midway through the third. Serbia committed a bunch of turnovers in the late third to early fourth that let Russia makes things semi-interesting, but Serbia was never seriously threatened down the stretch.

The usually meticulous Russian defense had trouble dealing with Serbia's pick/roll action. Russia allowed Serbia to score on 61 percent of their 2-point attempts, that's 20 percent points higher than their average defending 2-pointers for the tourney. Just not your typical defensive outing by the Russians. Seemed slow with their help, seemed to lack their normal concentration.

Serbia looked like the fresher team, which is a little strange since Russia was the team with the off-day on Wednesday. Might have something to do with the way Serbia spreads their minutes around -- 10 guys average 14 minutes/game. And this was another game where Serbia got nice contributions up and down the roster.

Point guard Milos Teodosic ran the pick/roll masterfully today creating opportunities for himself and his teammates. Milos hit a few quick dribble pull-up jumpers and found teammates with some precise passes (12 points, 4 assists, two 3-pointers). Teodosic has been one of the top PGs in this year's Eurobasket.

Nenad Krstic came out of the gates sharp scoring nine of his 10 points in the 1st quarter. While his starting frontcourt partner Novica Velickovic chipped in with 13 points and five rebounds, scored a few put-backs off his 3 offensive rebounds.

Serbian sniper Uros Tripkovic's duty is to drill jumpers, and that what he did today -- 4-for-6 from deep, few pull-ups for 18 points. Former G-State Warrior Kosta Perovic was vital to Serbia's 2nd quarter run scoring 11 of 13 points in the quarter. Kosta scored off a few rolls, a pick/pop, a lefty hook, and a dunk in transition.

Russian bigman Timo Mozgov wasn't dominant like last game, but did contribute with 10 points and six rebounds (three offensive). Mozgov finished a couple of rolls with hard dunks, even connected on a lefty hook.

Sergey Monya probably had the best all-around game for the Russians with 12 points (two 3-pointers), three steals and two blocks. Monya has been one of the top defenders in the tourney. Vitalii Fridzon led all Russian scorers with 15 pts on a perfect shooting day of 6-for-6 (three 3-pointers)

Russia didn't help themselves with a 9-for-19 free throw shooting display. Letting the Serbs grab 10 offensive boards while only securing 14 defensive boards wasn't helpful either.

Russia's tourney is not done yet, they still have a
chance at a qualifying spot. Like France, Russia moves on to the Loser's Bracket where they face the loser of Slovenia-Croatia. Serbia will face the winner of Slovenia-Croatia on Saturday.
For more analysis of the Spain-France quarterfinal, please visit 48 Minutes of Hell.

Eurobasket '09 Update

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
9:47
AM ET

There were decisive matches at Eurobasket '09 in Poland on Monday. The Painted Area was glued to the action, and has this update: 

GROUP F: Spain 84, Lithuania 70

Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol and the Spaniards looked strong ... but they still need another win to reach the knockout stage.
(Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)
Spain officially slammed the door shut on Lithuania's Eurobasket run by outscoring the Lithuanians 49-19 in the middle quarters.

The turning point came early in the second quarter where Spain went on 23-0 run to start the quarter. Lithuania went scoreless over the first seven minutes and only produced eight points in the quarter.

After scoring 24 pts in the first quarter, Lithuania could only generate a total of 19 points over the next two quarters. Things started off very promising in the first quarter with Lithuania making nine of 15 from the field.

Then, Spain really turned on the defensive pressure after the first quarter and the Lithuanians wilted. Spain scrambled in the half-court to contest/change shots and extended pressure up the floor that produced turnovers.

Lithuania has always been vulnerable to aggressive ball pressure (even with Sarunas Jasikevicius around), and struggled mightily handling the dogged Espana defense. Lithuania coughed the ball up 19 times vs. Spain, and now lead the tournament in turnovers with over 15 per game.

Active hands for the Spanish that led to 12 steals. The steals were not just thefts in passing lanes, four out of five of the steals came on strips right out of the ball handlers' hands.

Pau Gasol led the Spanish assault with 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Pau ignited the second quarter explosion with two straight strong finishes in transition. Spain was able to get Pau great looks near the rim, he rarely missed (8-for-10) and he usually end these touches with dunks.

Easily the best ball movement from the Spaniards in the tourney -- 25 of their 31 field goals were assisted. Ricky Rubio had been pretty quiet for much of Euro '09, but you could tell the revved up pace of the game got him flowing. Ricky (9 assists) pushed the ball ahead well and smothered the opposing guards. FIBA doesn't officially chart fast break points, but imagine Spain had one of the top transition scoring days of the tourney.

Rudy Fernandez joined Rubio is creating chaos on both ends of the floor with quick hands (three steals) and attacking on offense (11 points). Jorge Garbajosa dropped two 3pts. in transition and ended with 10 points & 4 assists. Juan Navarro did most of his damage on jumpers -- 3-for-6 on 3-pointers for 13 points ... 

... Spain (2-2) isn't quite out of the woods just yet. If they lose to Poland on Wednesday, they are done. Doesn't matter what happens in the Serbia-Lith game because Spain would lose the tiebreaker as of right now. If Spain wins, they're in and could be seeded anywhere from second to fourth in Group F.

GROUP F: Slovenia 76, Poland 60
Slovenia rolled to a decisive win that puts Poland's 2010 Worlds' qualifying chances in serious jeopardy. Slovenia continues to impress with their array of weapons on offense.

Much like the Spain-Lith game, Slovenia blew this game open in the middle section. Slovenia outscored Poland 42-23 in the middle quarters. Was never much of a contest in the second half.

Poland had a decent offensive groove working in the first quarter and was getting the crowd behind them. After a 17-point first quarter, Poland only could muster 23 points over the next two quarters. Poland just went ice cold, clanging one shot after the next.

Slovenia made sure the ball was in Erazem Lorbek's hands often and it paid off well. Lorbek showed off his multi-skilled arsenal scoring on the blocks with a hook, turnaround jumper and a face-up jumper. Lorbek stepped outside to hit two pick/pop 3-point jumpers. He also did a nice job passing from the high & low post. Lorbek had a mighty fine stat line -- 20 pts (7/14), 9 rebs, 5 assts, & two 3pts.

Slovenia's Primo Brezec hit two long 2-pointers up high and did a nice job flashing from the weak side for some easy scores on his way to 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Point guard Jaka Lakovic kept up his strong Euro '09 campaign with 14 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals. Lakovic set-up his bigs well on pick/pop and continued his sharp shooting with three deep balls (18-for-35) ...

... No worries for Slovenia (3-1) besides seeding for the quarters. Been very impressed with Slovenia and like them to squeak by Turkey on Wednesday. If they beat Turkey, they win Group F and grab a No. 1 seed. It's do or die for Poland on Wednesday vs. Spain. It will be a tall task to take out the Spaniards, but they do have the home crowd. 

GROUP F: Turkey 69, Serbia 64 (OT)
Turkey kept their undefeated record alive by outlasting the Serbs in overtime. Ragged game where both teams shot less than 40 percent from the floor and a total of 52 fouls were whistled. The Turks made things hard on themselves by shooting 18-for-31 at the free throw line.

The Bucks must be giddy with the way Ersan Ilyasova has ripped it up this summer. Ersan carried the Turks today with 22 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Ersan was damn efficient with a 7-for-12 shooting day and smoked the ball from long range -- 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. Ersan's stellar play covered for a miserable night had by Hedo. Hedo did contribute with seven rebounds and four steals, but his awful 1-for-16 shooting day wasn't helpful.

Omer Asik should be commended for his 11-point (5-for-6 shooting), six-rebound day. But Omer nearly single-handedly submarined his squad chances with a 1-for-10 day at the FT line. Serbia's offense was a disaster -- combining 31 percent shooting with 18 turnovers is never advisable. Point guard Milos Teodosic had one of his finer national team games with 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Milos and Novica Velickovic each drained three 3-pointer for the Serbs. Oklahoma City's Nenad Krstic managed to add 11 points and seven rebounds, but also had four turnovers. Serbia (2-2) can shake this loss off quickly because they're qualified for the quarterfinal no matter what happens in their game on Wednesday. Serbia is just playing for seeding purposes like Turkey. Turkey (4-0) plays Slovenia to determine the winner and No. 1 seed of Group F.

For the full analysis, go to The Painted Area

Eurobasket Day 1 Recap

September, 8, 2009
9/08/09
10:11
AM ET

The Painted Area is keeping a close eye on all the action in Poland, where Spain took a spill and Turkey came up big in the tournament's first day:

GROUP C: Serbia 66, Spain 57
Ricky Rubio
Nenad Krstic: Thundering to the rack for Serbia against European powerhouse Spain.
(Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)
Has to be the worst game I've seen Spain play in recent time. Can't remember a non-USA game in the last five years where Spain got thoroughly outplayed.

It's not so much they lost, it was how they got beat. Spain is just not a national team that goes thru the motions. Spain was without Rudy Fernandez because of a quad injury, but have more than enough firepower to play better than this.

Spain was a step slow and couldn't hold onto the ball. Was slow transitioning from offense to defense. Constantly beaten to spots on both ends. Spain made some mini-runs in the 2nd half but never seriously threatened the Serbs.

Give Serbia some credit, they have promising talent on their roster, but most of their players are inexperienced on the senior level. Serbia were in control of this game from early on and never relinquished command. Serbia appeared more purposeful in their moves. Took advantage of their transition opportunities. Were quicker to loose balls. Played with great defensive intensity throughout ...

GROUP D: Turkey 84, Lithuania 76
With this win over a solid opponent, Turkey answered the question if they would take this tourney serious with an automatic qualifying spot in their back pocket. Turkey was led to victory by their potent NBA forward combo, Hedo Turkoglu & Ersan Ilyasova.

You would think a game where both teams shot 52% from the floor would be somewhat entertaining. But it wasn't. Hard game to embrace with all the stoppages of action because of constant fouling--a total of 50 fouls whistled.

The Turkish offense looked similar to the Magic offense with Hedo handling the ball in the high pick/roll most of the time (Though, Oguz Savas is nothing similar to D-Howard). Hedo connected on a few on his patented pull-up jumpers going to his left, hit off of iso action as well. Hedo led the Turks with 19 pts & 3 assists...

For the full recap and analysis of yesterday's action, visit The Painted Area

On Playoff Experience

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
11:11
AM ET

Late in the third quarter of last night's Rockets vs. Blazers game, Houston inbounded the ball to Von Wafer.

Wafer was a Blazer briefly last season, before being let go. Now he's a Rocket, the keeper of a terrible mohawk (which also seems to have affected a Houston ballboy -- anyone else notice that?) and a terrible thorn in Portland's side with his deadeye shooting and relentless enthusiasm.

Wafer caught the ball with some space, rose to shoot and ... missed badly.

Rudy FernandezThen he had a meltdown. Just flailing his arms around in a tizzy, not unlike a toddler in the cereal aisle, screaming about some kind of offense.

He then grabbed his elbow, to show the referees more specifically what they had done wrong.

I hadn't seen the play all that closely, and now the game had moved to the other end of the court. But seeing Wafer so mad about that particular offense -- either he was lying, or somebody had enacted that craftiest of NBA moves, to nudge a shooter's elbow -- I suddenly knew precisely what had happened.

I would have bet the person on the next barstool, but I was watching alone at home, so I made a bet with myself: Ten bucks says he was fouled on the elbow, and he was fouled by Rudy Fernandez.

It was a bold call. Frankly, at that point I had just entered the room and wasn't even certain Fernandez was in the game. But a little rewinding and slow-playback revealed that as Wafer caught the ball and rose to fire, Fernandez scrambled to close the space. Unable to reach as high as the ball, he waved a hand in front of Wafer, and, almost certainly, into his shooting elbow.

I owe myself ten bucks.

Now, how did I know it was Fernandez?

One reason is because he's always doing weird stuff. Just always trying something, always thinking, always working little angles. I wholly recommend taking ten minutes to watch only him at both ends of the court. Even when he's standing still he's trying something.

But the bigger reason I knew that was Fernandez was because it was a risky thing to do, and he's the one Blazer who has his risk-o-meter set to "playoffs."

Before the Blazers played their first playoff game, there was a group of voices out there betting against Portland simply because of their lack of playoff experience. I still don't know if I buy it -- their three losses have come to a very good Houston team, and two of them have been exceptionally close  -- but that rationale is looking smarter than ever. (Also, history shows that while young teams that make the playoffs don't fare as well, young teams with good regular season records do fine.)

The Blazers have played big portions of this playoff series trying to be safe. Not going for the steal. Not throwing the lob. Not fouling.

The playoffs, however, are a bit like a frontier town when the sheriff is on vacation. Predator's delight.

Fernandez, to my eyes, is the Blazer who walks that walk most comfortably. A lot of Portland's fans (egged on, dare I say, by their local broadcasters) lament things like how Ron Artest or Yao Ming get to hit Brandon Roy's arms.

But I suspect Fernandez sees all that and thinks: We get to hit arms! Cool!

It's not just a matter of fouling. It's also about taking risks in all aspects of the game. To me the signature move of the Blazers' playoff experience so far is the passed up open jumper. LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake ... just about every Blazer has had moments of overt openness -- the gift of a methodical and disciplined offense that was the NBA's second most efficient in the regular season. Even the most disciplined systems still count on shooters shooting at some point or another. Instead of firing away, they have often waited or faked long enough for the defense to catch up, only to move the ball on down the line for what will most likely be a tougher shot with more pressure from the defense and the shot clock.

So, why is it Fernandez knows this already? A lot of people would point out that he has been here before, having played in countless huge games in his elite European career. And it's not hard to see how that could work: If the Blazers lose this series, and spend a summer stewing about a matchup they knew they could have won, how could they not bring a certain edge to the playoffs next year?

I don't buy that playoff experience is the only way to succeed in this environment (Exhibit A: Chris Paul's first playoff games). Teaching is the idea that trial and error is not the only way to learn things. And the Blazers have learned from their mistakes all season long -- the question is how fast those lessons can be internalized and enacted. It's not exactly "now or never," but it sure is "now or not this year."

Down three games to one, widely expected to lose the series, playing at home in Game 5, and maybe trying on the idea that a summer of regret could be starting soon, I suspect the Blazers won't be so cautious Tuesday night. If it's bombs away, the shift in attitude would unleash more of Portland's talent.

And if they don't ... at least the Blazers are gaining some great playoff experience.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Today there has been all kinds of debate about whether or not what Trevor Ariza did to Rudy Fernandez was dirty, or merely reckless.

I also recommend you see the angle about 1:25 into this video.

(UPDATE: TrueHop reader Oliver suggests that despite "just playing the ball" Ariza appears, in this photograph, to not be looking at the ball at all.) 

The question is: When Ariza swung at the ball, did he have any way of knowing that Rudy Fernandez's head would be in the path of his elbow? 

The answer is: Where else was Fernandez's head going to be? The Spaniard was airborne on a path straight forward.

Ariza said he was trying to make sure the Blazers got "nothing easy." Taking a swing at the ball is normal. I respect that toughness, but context is everything. And in the context of airborne basketball players -- everyone knows that is the one time that garden variety recklessness can in fact turn into something terrible like a spinal injury. They taught us that in eighth grade basketball. The reality of an upcoming meeting with the floor makes the slightest instability a powerful injury mechanism.

And we all agree, right, that people's spines are more important than winning basketball games?

Not to mention: The head? It's big, it doesn't move much ... and it's full of delicate parts. It's something you can and should avoid.

Yes, contact is normal.

Shooting guns at deer is pretty normal too, in some settings. Hunters do it all the time. Shooting at deer, though, as they cross your suburban streets, with houses and kids and cars around, would be insane and potentially murderous. If you're doing that there, you're the problem. No matter what the intent.

In a dangerous setting, reckless is dirty.

It's totally normal and safe to go 45 on most roads. But one covered by a flock of sheep? You're a butcher, literally, to drive fast there. If you see sheep. and then what's normal changes. Now you have to slow way down and be extra alert. Avec sheep, 15 is normal. 45 is not.

Same thing goes with making a play on a guy in the air.

I think I'm more bothered than some because I saw the whole game. This play ought not to be judged on its own. If it was a case of the Lakers simply going for the ball, it would have been  nearly unique in the second half. The Lakers certainly appeared to be enacting a strategy of trying to unsettle the young Blazers with excessive physicality. There was hard contact under the hoop, hard contact on the way to the hoop, hard contact with players standing still on the perimeter, and even hard contact before the ball was inbounded.

While I'm piling on the Lakers and recklessly showing my Blazer fandom, watch about 1:40 into that video, when Lamar Odom makes a mockery of his later statement to the Associated Press that he "stood up, but I stood right there -- I didn't go nowhere."

Besides video that clearly shows Odom well off the bench and shoving, there is Laker assistant Kurt Rambis stopping Odom from doing what he was doing, and then shoving him back to the bench area. (Tell me Lamar, if you were just standing on the bench, why on earth would your coach manhandle you?)

Rambis is an interesting person in all of this. As a player, he was a bit of an enforcer. But he was also famously a victim of a very physical open court play by Kevin McHale, and believes strongly in following the unwritten rules of playing phycical basketball. It's inconclusive, I'd say, on a play like Ariza's, but it's context. A little more than a year ago, Rambis explained NBA physicality:

Speaking of that, are there unwritten rules of that kind of stuff?
Yes. There are things that you are not supposed to do. In the heat of the moment, those things do happen anyway, sometimes. You get your competitive fires going. I don't know why it happens, exactly, but players do things they would erase, if they could go back in time.

But you are not supposed to do, for instance, what Kevin McHale did to me when I was in the air. You are supposed to make a play on the ball. There are so many leapers in this league, so many basket attackers. Usually when the defense attacks, they attack the ball, and there might be body contact, but not just body contact.

Also, players at this level understand that elbows can be dangerous weapons, and most know not to swing them.

But they do all the time!
You do see it. But, for instance, if someone has his elbows up at his head, and someone's coming from behind, you're not supposed to swing them into the guy's head. If you hit him in the shoulder, OK, that's another thing.

 

Dwyane Wade broke the Bulls' hearts. Trevor Ariza almost broke Rudy Fernandez's frame.  And the NBA isn't nearly as broken as the Wall Street Journal believes. Break the seal on the TrueHoop Network.

Dwyane WadeMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Remember, it was only a few weeks ago that [Dwyane Wade] scored a career-high 50 points in a 23-point loss to the Orlando Magic. Against the Bulls, he did more than score and dish and steal and block. He nailed an ultra-clutch three to tie the game with 11.5 seconds in regulation, thus forcing the first overtime session. Then, at the end of the second overtime, with the game tied at 127, the Bulls had possession of the ball with an opportunity to run down the clock and take the final shot. Only Wade stole the ball and drilled a running lightning bolt from beyond the arc as the buzzer sounded...

Amazing, huh? I can think of only a handful of ways Wade's game could have been more epic: If it had come against the Cavaliers, Celtics or Lakers; if it had happened in the playoffs (preferably a seventh game); if he had simultaneously saved all the children and a puppy from a burning orphanage; or if it had caused the fall of the Dark Lord Sauron's tower of Barad-dûr. Sadly -- for Chicago fans, anyway -- Wade's heroic, virtuoso performance ruined what would have been an incredible and hope-lifting victory...

It was a brave and gutsy effort, but Chicago simply couldn't trump the superstar factor. I suppose you could call this a feel-good loss. The Bulls can take comfort in that fact that not many living men could have done what Wade did last night. LeBron, probably. Kobe, maybe (although I can't remember many occasions in which he scored 40+ and dished 10+ assists…if any). But that's about it. Honestly, I'm not sure what else the Bulls could have done."

Trevor Ariza

Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "I'd noticed Ariza before. Ariza is a true Hustle Junkie. Nothing but foot on the pedal. The kind of guy you love if he's on your side. Heck, with all the dunks and breakaway steals, most people in the general NBA loved his resurgence too. But I kept noticing that he'd dive for balls through players. He'd go for fouls with arms fully extended, often making a lot of contact. I mean, it was fun to watch. Seriously. But I kept thinking, 'wow, that's dangerous.' Again. And again.

... Maybe it was just an isolated incident. A freak play. By no means was it dirty. Ariza wasn't trying to club him in the head. The problem is not that Ariza meant to hurt him. It's that he didn't care if he did. It wasn't dirty. It was reckless.

I'm not saying that players need to not touch each other on defense. I'm not saying there's no place for hard fouls. I'm not saying that if a guy puts an elbow in your back, you don't remind him next time he goes up. But there's got to be some semblance of respect for the guys that share the floor with you. They're trying to make a living, just the same as you. I'm in competition with another company, I don't want to do something that results in their house getting torn down. You can want to win without abandoning regard for the safety of the other 6-foot to 7-foot full speed players you're battling against."

Yao MingBrody Rollins of Rockets Buzz: "I'm still not comfortable with Lowry running the point. Brooks got into foul trouble tonight and played just 25 minutes. With Lowry in the game Artest was left with the offense in his hands, which all too often led to one-on-one situations against Melo and a total of 20 shots. The Rockets play better when the ball is distributed first to Yao, then around the perimeter, and definitely doesn't work when it stays in the hands of one player. What does Lowry do differently to improve those around him? I'd start with trying to post him up against other guards. Gary Payton was the best at this and both players have the same type of build, tenacity, and feel for creating shots on the inside."

THE FINAL WORD
The Painted Area: Haubs delivers a tremendous rebuttal to the WSJ ... and a nice round-up of great buzzer-beaters, to boot.
Queen City Hoops: Posing the age-old question -- would you rather have the #8 seed, or a lottery pick?
Valley of the Suns: Speaking of the lottery, the Suns have left a lot of money on the table in recent years.  

(Photos by Victor Baldizon, Sam Forencich, Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Saturday Night Live-Blogging

February, 14, 2009
2/14/09
7:41
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Welcome to All-Star Saturday night. 

Since my spirit is dampened by the exclusion of Steve Novak from the Three-Point Shootout, and I've never forgiven the judges for robbing Dominique Wilkins of the 1988 Slam Dunk crown, I thought it would be a good idea to bring in some help for tonight.

Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game and John Krolik of Cavs the Blog will be joining me for the evening's festivities. 

Since Rob "refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Shooting Stars competition," we're going to start our coverage with the Skills Competition. 

Follow along, won't you...

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Welcome...

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: So I just got back from the 3D studio in the bowels of the arena which, I have to say, makes this competition a lot more interesting

JOHN KROLIK: End of shooting stars...well, Detroit's season hasn't gone the way they wanted it to, but I'm sure the fans are just as happy with this.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Also visited the practice court where the 3PT participants were warming up.  Bibby looks strong

JOHN KROLIK: I've got Kapono. Until proven otherwise.

JOHN KROLIK: I like Parker, then Mo in the Skills comp. It's all about that mid-range J. If Rose hits it, it's his.

ROB MAHONEY: My heart says Roger Mason, but my brain just beat up my heart and told me to pick Kapono.  Seems like a no-brainer.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: I like Harris in Skillz..Mason in 3P...but, as I said, Bibby was stroking it on the practice court 10 mins ago

JOHN KROLIK: Mason will win if it comes down to the last shot. Dude's an assassin, right down to the name.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Minus the little swastika on his forehead, natch.

JOHN KROLIK: Playlist so far: Brittney Spears, John Legend. I'm intrigued for the night.

ROB MAHONEY: I once heard that Roger Mason killed a man.  No - AN ARMY OF MEN.  Ruthless, truly. 

JOHN KROLIK: I'm still steamed my boy OJ didn't take HORSE home. Dude hit some sick shots.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Just to review Rob's skills reforms.: Could they block two shots at the same time? Who could steal it from Chris Paul first? If all players were given a ball and a finite space, who would be the last man standing with an active dribble? Could they block a shot launched out of a machine like a clay pigeon?

ROB MAHONEY: I actually missed HORSE entirely.  I heard it was kinda lame.  Any consensus?

JOHN KROLIK: Could Rudy surprise us in the Dunk Contest tonight?

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Rudy is my bottom-dweller for the sole reason that he played THU nite in Oakland, Last night in the Rook/Soph game....So he's on a back-to-back-to-back [hat tip: Henry]

JOHN KROLIK: HORSE-Nobody was hitting at first, then guys hit some 40-footers, Rick Barry Free Throws, backwards, OJ went from the stands, but then Durant closed it out by just raining threes, which was a bit anti-climactic. Still liked it overall.

JOHN KROLIK: My bottom-dweller is Nate-I just don't think he's got 3 contests worth of dunks in him.

ROB MAHONEY: Rudy will disappoint only because no one expected anything from him, the rumors of awesome soccer-inspired dunks surfaced and got all of our hopes up, and then we'll inevitably be disappointed because well, he's Rudy.

JOHN KROLIK: Harris is going too slow around the guys.

ROB MAHONEY: Devin Harris has to slow down for the cameras to capture him.  It's all part of the plan, John.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: A Sham-mockery

JOHN KROLIK: The difference is effort, Mo.

ROB MAHONEY: The real reason Mo Williams wanted to be in Phoenix for this weekend: SKILLS CHALLENGE, YO.

JOHN KROLIK: BALLBOYGATE! The NBA All-Star conspiracy against Mo Williams continues.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Vintage Rose.  Perfect, except for a missed J. 

ROB MAHONEY: LeBron will now carry out his vendetta against ball boys everywhere.

ROB MAHONEY: How does Derrick Rose coast through the challenge and still smoke everyone?

JOHN KROLIK: And goodbye, Tony Parker.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: The PHX fans are pleased

ROB MAHONEY: We'll just forget that I picked Tony to win.  Cool?

JOHN KROLIK: My friend put 20 bucks on TP and 10 on Mo. He is displeased right now.

JOHN KROLIK: Not really playoff intensity in the 1st round of the skills challenge.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: The problem with this event is that all the elasticity is in the jump shot...[and, to a lesser extent the passing].  So it's really a foul shot shooting contest.

ROB MAHONEY: When is the Gerald Wallace/Josh Smith/Andrei Kirilenko skills challenge?  I'm ready to have my world turned upside down.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: 1st Place:  $35,000
2nd Place:        $22,500
3rd Place:          $9,000
4th Place:          $9,000

JOHN KROLIK: You Gotta Get Anthony Randolph and Julian Wright in there too.

ROB MAHONEY: Derrick Rose was HUNGRY for that Skills Challenge title.  Finished it nicely with a sweet dunk -- the best thing I've seen in the last two hours.

(Read full post)

Rookie Challenge Live Blog

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
8:33
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

After weeks of anticipation, debate, and hype, All-Star weekend has finally arrived.  The first major event on the undercard is the Rookie Challenge, which is somewhat of a misnomer...or half-nomer, because it pits the league's best sophomores against the top rookies [insert objections here].  David Thorpe has a terrific preview of the game and what to look for here

We'll be live-blogging the event.  Follow along, won't you...

Greg Oden is going to miss the game.  The reason?  He bumped knees last night with Corey Maggette.

The only numeric redundancy is Wilson Chandler and Thad Young sharing #21.

Who would win a cage match between Young and Chandler?  They both list at 6' 8 and 220, coincidentally.

Warmups underway.  I can't emphasize enough how OJ Mayo drains, like, every single shot attempt to perfection.

Oden not playing is a bit of a buzzkill.  He's the super-hybrid Frosh-more, which made for an interesting subplot.

Dwyane Wade is rocking his Nation of Islam ensemble.

Starting Lineup Sophs: Stuckey-Durant-Horford-Young-Greena

Frosh: Gordon-Rose-Gasol-Fernandez-Beasley

Kevin Durant at SG...Carlesimo Lives

Gatorade strikes again.  An NBA representative just came over to peel off the label on my Dasani water. 

Mayo coming off the bench. Innnntersting....

Looks like Rose/Gasol screen/roll is the tactical foundation of Rook

Judging from Horford's quick demand of the ball from the official, the Sophs want to run the Rooks out of the building.

Pace factor: Sophs>Rooks

Sophs: 7 seconds or less

Rudy in the open floor is a thing of beauty.

Eric Gordon is a quality defender, but against Durant, he's in waaay over his head.  That mismatch is working for Sophs.

Lopez and Mayo about to check in

Rudy in the halfcourt is a thing of beauty.

E Gordon: 4/4, 10 pts

Rudy from beyond the arc is a thing of beauty.

Hollinger: Suggests that, long term, Gordon's shot might be too flat -- from a trajectory standpoint -- for him to be a truly outstanding shooter.

Jeff Green's True Position...Discuss

Lopez is a surprisingly agile big man

Beasley and Green...exchange talk of trash.

Not sure Stuckey is a pull-up jump shooter.

Thornton can catch-and-shoot uncontested, but still struggles mightily from 18+

Scola is about 8-9 years older than everyone on the floor, Thornton the exception.

One of the weak parts of Eric Gordon's game is his rebounding rate.  He's strong, but small and, for whatever reason, has compiled abysmal Crawfordian numbers on the glass.

Have gone the whole way thus far: Jeff Green, Beasley, and Eric Gordon

Reduce that list to Gordon.

If Durant weren't putting up insane numbers every night, we might talk about his passing a little more.

Sort of a bailout.  Westbrook's handle still isn't Grade A...and trying to take Durant off the dribble...wellllll....

In one series we saw one of the only flaws in Westbrook [handle] and Rose's [jumper] game respectively.  Two super players with two distinct weaknesses.

Probably the prettiest set of the game .

Westbrook taunting Durant...hilarious.

ignited by the Lovian outlet by Gasol.

Dare I say this game is getting away from the Sophs?

Thornton has a really strong dribble game when he gets a running start.

Beasley is running a little hot.  Now 2-7

Stuckey knows how to deliver the ball to his bigs...now if only they can get him some in Detroit. 

It'll be interesting to see if Beasley develops a real post game as a PF [though as of today, looks like he'll be assuming the SF for MIA].  It's not *imperative* that he do so, but it would add a huge component to his game.

Is there a better practitioner of the PUJIT than Mayo?

Nice to see Beasley find some high % shots for himself.

I wish I could credit Westbrook with that drive, but the welcome mat was out.

The Spaniards almost make tapas.

The Euros have brought a lot to the NBA game, but Bigs-Who-Can-Pass might be the most exquisite.

Gasol definitely gets the Effort Award.

Where's Eric Gordon?  In Rambis' doghouse??

Momentum builder for Sophs?

The Under 13 Crowd is very excited for someone named Corbin Bleu, which sounds like a TV dinner entree.

Nice part of beasley's game.  Handle + pass

Eric Gordon: Released from Rambis' doghouse

The Los Angeles Clippers: 10/13 for 23 points in 27 minutes

Gordon mentioned today that he was hoping for a littlematchup time with teammate Thornton.  

Durant is now officially controlling this pickup game.

Kevin Durant knows exactly where to be on the basketball court at every nanosecond of the game.

Dwight Howard is now working the refs.

The less said about Aaron Brooks' atrocious betrayal of Kevin Durant's unselfishness, the better.

The Sam Cassell Special from Gordon.

Young has learned to use his right hand better.

Durant: Absolutely stroking it.  Can shoot over everyone on the floor not named Lopez

To review:  Kevin Durant -- 35 points [14/18]

That little lean-in to draw contact on the jump shot and sucker the defender is always referred to as a 'crafty veteran move.'  But it's being used here by the Rooks to perfection.

I like Russell Westbrook a lot, but this rookie team is better with Rose on the floor.

That's the thing with Beasley.  His skill set is that of a '3', but if you play him at the '4', he's more likely to draw a defender he can take off the dribble along the baseline. 

Counter-argument:  He can't defend the post.

Durant True Shooting Percentage: 86.1%

The Rooks are going with the Twin Tower alignment down the stretch.

Clipper Darryl is in the building chanting Let's Go Clippers, Let's Go.

Gordon draws contact on the drive exceptionally well.

You can sort of see the value of Durant at the 2.  I'm not suggesting that the benefits outweigh the costs, but he's unstoppable against a guy 6 inches shorter than him.

Chandler went to the right spot there...just didn't convert.  But a smart little set.

"Set" being a relative term in this game.

The Sophs got the mismatch there.  Another good set...

Beasley has had a fascinating game, an encapsulation of all his strengths and weaknesses.

You sometimes forget he can stop on a dime and step back like that, as if here were a 6' 4 guard. 

Winners get $15K each.  Losers get $5K.  $10,000 difference if my math is correct.

Aaron Brooks: Keeping the Rooks in the game.

Hollinger, re: brooks:  As Ramon Sessions sits at home and says, 'really??

44 pts...Easily a Rookie Game Record.

Only 2 Rookies in + territory:  Rudy Fernandez with a +10; Marc Gasol with +5. 

The best rookie/soph game to date?  Yes.


Kevin Durant wins the 5-0 unanimous vote for MVP.  Go figure.

Amare held the previous record: 36 points in the '04 game at Staples. 

Some unsung heroes: I thought Rodney Stuckey had a solid game for the Sophs.  He navigates the floor really well. I don't like platitudes like winning ballplayer, but Gasol has the patina of a guy who's going to help some good teams win some games before his career is over.

Brook Lopez needs some refinement, but also played a strong game.

As someone who watches Al Thornton on a regular basis, I can say that he's a guy who benefited greatly from this track meet.  He played a relaxed brand of basketball, and seemed very much in his element.   He even delivered a couple of smart interior passes on the drive. [!]

Final takeaway: Durant is a freak.  But we knew that.

Beasley's maturation will be fascinating to watch, even more so with the Heat's acquisition of O'Neal today, which will move Beasley out of the post. 

Eric Gordon should factor more prominently in the conversation as an elite rookie guard.

Jeff Green does everything very well, but nothing exceptional.    That's not intended as an insult.  There aren't 20 guys in the league you can say that about.

Thad Young's game has come along nicely.  I know he had a rough time earlier this season, but his athleticism is starting to round out into a more complete player.

See you tomorrow night for the Skillz Competition. 
 

Beautiful Pass

January, 29, 2009
1/29/09
10:06
AM ET

I know, it's a homer Blazer thing. But if you haven't seen this Rudy Fernandez steal and pass, you simply have to watch it now. I insist. Really. Even if you're a Bobcat fan, or a Nugget fan, or whatever kind of fan. You'll enjoy this.

In real time, it was so surprising that somehow I thought I had misunderstood. It was a pretty boring game, early in the second quarter. Nobody was on fire. And then ... Is what happened, my brain was asking, really what happened?

Yes, it happened. Enjoy:

A Message to You, Rudy

November, 11, 2008
11/11/08
6:02
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

David Thorpe's newest installment of Rookie Watch is up, and Rudy Fernandez headlines the Top 10:

He provides more than just box-score numbers. His energy, activity and feel for the game make the players around him better.

After watching him in person, I see that he is much "springier" than I had thought. Not just in his ability to jump -- yes, I saw his dunk in China this summer -- but in his overall ability to move suddenly to important spots on the floor. In scouting terms, he has very "live legs."

Fernandez's 3PAs have been deadly -- 14 of his 26 FGMs have been threes, and he's shooting a smokin' .424 from beyond the arc.  But the rookie wants you to know that there's more to his game than the 3PM.  Doing his best Rickey Henderson, Fernandez told Jason Quick

"Rudy is not everyday a shooter.  He's defense. He's passes. He's assists."

At 6' 6", a few rebounds might serve useful, but who's counting?  For sheer quotability, Fernandez is the class of the NBA's international field. Several weeks back, when asked by OregonLive.com's Sean Meagher whom in the NBA he most looked forward to playing against, Fernandez replied: 

"Pau. I've never played against him, only on the same team. I want to put points on your face."

With Brandon Roy questionable for Wednesday night's game in Miami, count on Fernandez for another bundle of minutes, more third-person heroics, and the placement of points on the opponent's visage.  

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