First, let me explain this week's comic. It's very high-concept.
Okay, I'm lying. It's not high-concept at all, just low-effort. I have been too hungover from turkey and gravy and other meat-related items to actually craft a worthy cartoon. So my next one—looks like next Sunday against Blake Griffin (who looks, when he is really concentrating, like an oversized kitten grabbing for a shoelace) and the Los Angeles Clippers. There are so many strange dudes on that team that it'll be very hard to choose one to be my subject. I'm watching them now on the monitor (down 21 points to the Suns at the start of the second quarter) and thinking "Eeeee! Chris Kaman? Brian Cook? The impossible Ryan Gomes? The guy with like five awesome names and a killer bow-tie?"
But for now you get an angry, stick-figure Jarrett Jack complaining that I have not made a proper cartoon character out of him. As Blazer trainer Jay Jensen said during the Greg Oden presser, "I understand [his] frustration. We're frustrated, too."
LaMarcus Aldridge comes out mouthing every word of "You Know What it Is" by Young Jeezy. He's got some extra skip in his step. He gives a quick high-five to Jarrett Jack (who looks less upset now) at center court. The song cuts out too soon. But Marc is getting stretched, anyway, a process that casual basketball fans always find very homoerotic, but one that I have come to appreciate. I need a personal stretcher. I just never stretch. What am I going to do, get a gym membership? Haha.
Joel Przybilla, I hear, is healed up enough to play some minutes—but he got the flu. Which is pretty predictable when you think about the recent history of this team. We should see Roy tonight. He's out there getting stretched at the moment.
FIRST QUARTER, COMMENCE!
Let's be clear: There are no indications that this is a grudge-match. Monte Williams left Portland on great terms—Portland was nice enough to let him interview for the New Orleans job in the first place—and he and Nate, everyone says, have a great relationship. The only vengeance that could come into play would be Jarrett Jack's bitterness from having been let go by the Blazers, but even that is probably water under the bridge at this point. But this should be a great matchup, if only because each coach is familiar with the other's style.
Brandon Roy takes the ball to the hoop and there's an arena-wide sigh. Is it always going to be like this? He misses the layup, but hits two free-throws. Blazers lead 4-0.
Chris Paul could totally adopt Avery Johnson's nickname, "the little general." Though he is technically close to my height (I walked by him earlier, and I think I have an inch on him), he's certainly little for basketball. And more importantly, he never stops talking to his teammates. To call it "talking" is probably really generous. It's more like barking; sometimes there's pushing involved, too. But you'd never look at this New Orleans team and ask who's in charge. Even if you'd never seen a game of basketball in your life, you'd know it was Paul.
Maybe Brandon Roy just needed a little time off. He hits his second three of the night and he's looking kinda like Brandon Roy again out there. I'm not even sure he's any slower than usual—Roy has never been known for his speed—though, despite that first drive, he does seem a bit hesitant to get the ball to the hoop. One doesn't need to drive when one's long-range game is looking blindingly awesome, though. Blazers go up 16-9 and there's some excitement in the building that has been lacking as of late.
How about that Andre Miller? I love when he gets a chance to punk point guards half his age. He drops a medium-range jumper (after some hesitation), and next time up the court he's got a huge smile on his face before he even does anything. When his pass into traffic gets tipped out of bounds by a New Orleans player, he can only smile and laugh. He thought he caught a glimpse of something really magical, and it didn't quite work out that way.
Roy, meanwhile, is looking very Roy. This is good news. I almost forgot what Roy looked like out there when he wasn't slow as molasses. He heads out and gets a nice response—it's smattered with boos, but that's because Chris Paul just turned a charge into a defensive foul. Blazers up 23-18 after Paul's free-throws.
Woah! Sean Marks has a jumper! And shot-blocking skills—he suffocates Emeka Okafor (who, granted, is not a supremely talented offensive player)! Some nice run for the big Kiwi in what may well be his last minutes for a long time.
Still no Jarrett Jack. It may be time to drop him from my fantasy team. What a sad, sad day...
JJ has indeed checked in and done...nothing. Wes Matthews playing pretty good defense on him. Blazers end the quarter up 33-26, which feels about as close to a blowout as the team has been able to muster as of late.
SECOND QUARTER ANTICS!
I love the Blazers reaching back to their roots and bringing alumni players back into the mix, but having Michael Harper and Bobby Gross out there to hand balls to crowd members in a free-throw shooting contest almost seems like an afterthought. Everyone in the building would rather watch a free-throw shooting contest between Gross and Harper.
Sean Marks is still out there and still having an impact on the game, mostly at the defensive end. He lines up for another mid-range jumper as I type, but it bounces out. Damnit, he just punctuated my sentence with a question mark instead of an exclamation point. But then he tops the ball to Rudy nicely. Wes Matthews is lying face-down on the ground. The back of his head hit Dante Cunningham's knee, it appears from the replay, and he's shaken up. He gets to his own two feet and the crowd gives him an ovation as he heads back to the locker room.
Some easy looks for both teams, which is surprising since both coaches are freaks about defense. Rudy hits his first three of the night, which is a good sign, and LaMarcus still looks pretty amped-up from his hand-selected intro music. The Blazers are gaining ground until Chris Paul checks back in and injects the Hornets' offense (and defense, really) with flare. He's gotta be pissed at Jason Smith for not connection on the jumper after his awesome whirlybird pass, though.
Aaaaaand now Rudy is down on the ground. I've seen many a Rudy flop, but he looks like he's really feeling it right now. A kick to the balls, maybe? Eeewww. He goes to the bench and lays his head back, staring up to the rafters. A handful of training staff folks surround him, and then he heads to the locker room. I can't imagine either of these guys being seriously hurt, but dang, man.
A smart steal from Paul—he did a 108-degree spin in the air and caught an errant pass—turns into a trip to the line from Trevor Ariza. He's not the hottest free-throw shooter, but he's on target from everywhere tonight, and connects on both to put the Hornets up by one point. The Blazers look disorganized on the other end. And all the calls are going New Orleans' way at the moment. Nate might pick up a tech on the next one.
Coach K in the house. Has anyone ever connected the dots between him and Phil Spector? I feel like they might have been separated at birth.
Well, Brandon Roy still has the knees to get out on the break and throw down a reasonably big, two-handed dunk. This is a huge night for fan confidence as far as Roy is concerned. He's up to 16 points on the night.
I really don't think Andre Miller likes Nate. Just judging from the way he looks when he comes out of the game. Which is funny, because they share a crazy work ethic. But Dre never looks happy when he's headed back to the bench, and I don't just think it's pride, I think it's a disagreement between him and Nate.
Your halftime entertainment is this band the dBs (as in decibels), which I recently rediscovered. I picked this song because it's a rad song. There's no video to go with it.
So, here's a video, too.
Really stoked on those guys and I can't believe I only just discovered them.
The in-arena halftime show is this crazy awesome dog-racing thing called flyball. In case you're curious...
THIRD QUARTER 9:38
You know what the worst thing is about the new technical rules? Perfectly good rules aren't being enforced anymore because these refs can only fit a certain number of rules in their minds at any given time. Chris Paul—and most other point guards in the league—are palming the ball like nuts before they drive to the basket. It's standard practice. And there was a crackdown for about three months last season, but now it's happening every night and no one's saying anything.
Blazers building a bit of momentum at this very moment, and they need it, because the Hornets are still up...well, one point after that nice Aldridge-to-Batum layup deal right there.
[Bad Seinfeld impression engage] "What's the deal with Trevor Ariza?" Really, though—is there a streakier shooter in the NBA? The guy looks unstoppable in the first half, and then he's chucking airballs in the second. I know that teams still like him because he's a defensive specialist, but seriously! His stroke usually looks pretty nice, but does he take some disgusting shots sometimes.
Crowd is ready to revolt. Blazers can't get a foul and the New Orleans Hornets are getting fouls they haven't even asked for. Nate and Bernie Bickerstaff and those other suits get together for a little conference. Nate still hasn't picked up that tech, but I think it's coming. He's not having it.
Blazers down 62-66.
The Blazers don't look much more together after a timeout, and Trevor Ariza is able to juke his way into an under-the-basket layup; LaMarcus has to create some of his own offense on the other end, and it gets him a trip to the paint. But he can only hit one of two free-throws. Now Sean Marks is laying on the ground, his right ankle having been kicked awkwardly out from beneath him. A really solid game from Marks, so it's sad to see him leave. He's limping but walking without help, so that's a good sign. But watching three Blazer players go down in one game has not been the most pleasant thing for fans. Matthews is back in (a minor concussion, I'd imagine) and Rudy is still in the locker room. It speaks to Rudy's increased role with the team this season that his presence is really missed out there. He knows the system, these days, and he also helps push the Blazers' pace. It doesn't look like we're going to see him again tonight.
The refs call a ticky-tack foul on Dante Cunningham, and the Blazers are already in the penalty this quarter. For a game that started out so promising, we're at a pretty ugly place now.
It has gotten uglier since I used the word ugly. Nic Batum has gone cold and LaMarcus can't create. Roy is out of the game and this has been an unimpressive night for Wes Matthews, who is so, so key to the Blazers' success. Hornets by 10 points with the ball at the end of the quarter, and it's Willie Green who puts it up. He misses, but still, a 10-point deficit against a team with a much better record—that's not an ideal situation.
It's Matthews who takes the ball upcourt during the Blazers' first possession of the fourth, and he moves with determination. A couple passes later, he's wide open at the top of the arch, a shot he takes and splashes in the hoop. His second shot is off, and after fumbling a rebound away on the other end, it looks like that three could have been fools' gold. The Hornets, meanwhile, are pushing and attacking. They've got scorers on the court in Jack, Green and especially Marcus Thornton, who has yet to be a factor in this game but can go pretty insane when he needs to. They're using those guys well. Portland, meanwhile, is looking for one-on-one scoring with overmatched players. Next time up it's Wes again, but he looks out-of-sorts as he drives to the hoop, and can't make anything out of it. Nothing going. I bet Andre Miller is just fuming over there on the bench.
Roy connects on a circus-like second attempt, and complains (again) to the refs on his way back upcourt. I'm actually surprised how little the players are complaining tonight given the foul discrepancy (19 to 10). Blazers down 9. They take a timeout.
Could it be? Is it Brandon Roy time? He gets himself a jumper that looks easier for him to put together than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then the makeup foul calls start raining down, and the Blazers, for once, look in position to make a run. The Hornet lead is seven. Another foul. LaMarcus checks in.
Chris Paul to the line for the Hornets. He's a pretty good free-throw shooter. Andre Miller finally checks in, and I've got to say, it could be too little too late. He and Willie Green have a nice chat out at the three-point line while waiting for Paul to take his second free-throw (which he hits). Old teammates always have something to talk about. Miller's presence is felt immediately—he fights for a rebound (something he does quite well) and winds up getting the Blazers possession despite not winding up with the ball himself. It's called hustle, and if you look it up on Urban Dictionary...well, you find a picture of 50 Cent. But it should probably be a picture of Andre Miller, who never quits.
Nic Batum is just hounding Chris Paul on defense, but Paul winds up getting the switch and scoring anyway. Blazers are now down 11, and it's not looking real good. Roy, by design or because of his condition, is not attempting to take over this game. And Wes Matthews is set to check in for somebody...Miller, turns out. So, who's the point guard?
I wonder how many TVs got turned off in the last few minutes. Folks are certainly leaving the arena, although LaMarcus Aldridge just showed nice patience and got an and-1 attempt by faking a layup under the hoop. He hits the free-throw, but it's Belinelli on the other end draining the corner three. Now, with a thirteen-point deficit, they're really clearing out. I usually give fans a hard time for this, but I get their feeling. You look at these Hornets, and it's clearly Paul's team. You look at the Blazers, and no one's in charge. For this reason, one gets the feeling that Joel Przybilla's impending return is a bigger deal than just the numbers he'll put up. There is a crisis of leadership on this team, and I'm not sure Roy or LaMarcus are stepping in to fill it. Andre Miller isn't getting the run to fill that role (not to mention the fact that he's exceedingly quiet) and Marcus Camby, the role-player's role-player, isn't much of a talker. The Brandon Roy conversation as of late has been just that—a conversation ABOUT Brandon Roy. Whether he's able to step back in and lead this squad adequatley remains to be seen.
With 2:19 remaining, Nate is letting most of his starters remain in the game, and it looks to me like he's trying to teach a lesson. Nothing will go in for the Blazers. LaMarcus is playing angry (and it's not working), Roy is giving up (and it's not working, clearly—though as I type he hits a three with a hand in his face) and Matthews and Batum are just waiting for the ball to come their way. It's not pretty.
Despite all that, we did see Brandon Roy come out and look—physically, if not mentally—like Brandon Roy tonight. His stats back that up, with his 27 points and four assists (maybe a steal or two, to boot?). So that's something to build with. But who's going to step up?
Batum, his jersey hanging loose as he inbounds the ball, doesn't even bother to run inbounds after throwing the ball in. He had a rough night, and it shows. It looks for a minute like he's going to leave with the Hornets instead of his own Blazers. Coach Williams points him in the right direction, or perhaps asks him to convey a message to Nate. Nic responds by untucking the jersey all the way, puffing his cheeks and walking sadly towards the Blazer bench. It's not just this game that's written all over his face, it's the first 15, which have certainly not gone the way the Blazers would have liked. They are now 8 and 7, with a lengthy road trip on the horizon. Maybe being packed into planes and buses for a week or so will do them good.