Yup, it's just about Blazer blogging time. But first, enjoy your game day cartoon (which contains some pretty blatant thievery of this Lethal Weapon screengrab), courtesy of yours truly. See you at tip-off.
Okay, here we are. Been awhile since we've seen the Detroit Pistons, and they're having a rough start to the season. That shouldn't surprise anyone, of course, but it's sad to see the mighty free-falling and to see some of their new pieces not quite fitting the Detroit system (Stuckey looks like he fits, but he spent a game and a half on the bench last week, so who knows...). This isn't the Mavericks, with their lightning-fast young guards; or even San Antonio with their notoriously awesome scouting. This is Detroit: Mismanaged and clinging to championship dreams that won't come true again until the rebuilding effort starts to take root.
The Rose Garden was buzzing early tonight, and that buzz continues. I'd wager that most fans expect a major-league flogging tonight—and by all means, the Blazers should win the game. But Ben Wallace, against all odds, can still come through as a defensive beast; Rip Hamilton, as he proved the other night, can still put big numbers on the board. And on the other end, Roy has copped to lingering injuries; Przybilla and Oden still aren't back; the bench has run hot and cold and the vets—Andre Miller and Marcus Camby—have been doing an awful lot of work to carry this Blazer squad, and one wonders how long they can keep it up. This game should be a lot closer than the locals are anticipating it to be, and an upset from this hungry Pistons squad is not out of the question. That would really send Blazer morale into the shitter, though, so fans should hope for a taste of Piston domination early and a swift Blazer rebuttal.
FIRST QUARTER! 11:13
So it's Brandon Roy with the first Blazer bucket—a long, self-made two-pointer. It's the kind of shot that a healthy Roy thrives on, so maybe Brandon is feeling good tonight. Nic Batum hits the same sort of shot to pile on two more after an Austin Daye three-pointer.
The press row monitors are all tuned to the Jazz/Heat (good name for a mixtape) game, where Utah is holding on to a one-point lead with just 24 seconds left on the clock. We all root for the underdog, I guess. Or at least we all root against the guy who screws Cleveland over on short notice. And no one notices Rip Hamilton stepping up to the line, performing his intricate dribble at the free-throw line, then clunking his shot off the rim. The ball goes out of bounds in Miami and the refs point Utah's direction. Grabbing, pulling on the inbounds and Kirilenko goes to the line. Rip dribbles twice, then once on his side, then takes a deep breath. He misses another one. This would be shocking if there wasn't something more urgent right in front of our noses.
LaMarcus Aldridge is shoving at Ben Wallace with his lower body. The Pistons don't have a powerful power forward, so Wallace gets the assignment on Portland's highest-scoring big man. Aldridge turns towards Ben, leans back slightly and lets it fly over Wallace, who doesn't have the legs he used to. It's a swish. Two possessions later it's the same matchup. Again, Aldridge turns and swishes over Wallace's half-stretched arm. Bigger Ben is too slow and too old to get up. The third time, though, Wallace is bristling. He digs in with an elbow. The refs don't notice, or turn a blind eye to the veteran who once sparked a riot in Detroit. Aldridge decides against returning the contact, dishing instead to Nic Batum in the corner. He swishes. In Miami, Francisco Elson just wound up with a rebound in a tie game. He's fouled before he can try for the buzzer-beater. He hits both shots at the line, and after a timeout the Heat can't get anything going. Utah wins. The Portland players will be stoked when they see it on Sportscenter later tonight.
Momentum has swung decidedly in Portland's direction. The body language as the players walk off the court would tell you that, even if you were switching to this game after the Miami/Utah one. Ben Wallace's hands are on his hips; Austin Daye's eyes wander throughout the arena. The Blazers are greeted by high fives, rocks and plenty of fresh towels. They're up 26-15. It's early yet, but the Rudy Fernandez for Brandon Roy swap doesn't seem to have hurt the Zers in the slightest.
I've written before about Tracy McGrady being the NBA player I most identify with. Not because I have unlimited wasted potential or anything, but because I understand what it is to get burned out on something even when there's plenty of enthusiasm swirling around you. McGrady checks in, and his role seems to be moving slowly upcourt and backpedaling slowly on defense. He is literally unrecognizable from the young superstar who used to torch his opponents while playing for the Orlando Magic.
Rudy Fernandez hits a spot-up three and gives the crowd the symbol. I love that.
T-Mac backs down Wes Matthews and does a turn-and-fadeaway. Where LaMarcus' jumper was smooth and continuous, McGrady's has hiccups—he stumbles back, the fade in his fadeaway jumper is more like a fall. The shot goes well long, as if he'd let it go from a slingshot. Everyone is ready for the rebound, because nobody thinks it's going in.
Rudy ain't shy, man, and he's having a nice night. On the other end it's Rodney Stuckey doing most of the "damage" (35-25 isn't a blowout, but it feels like it somehow). Ben Wallace cuts to the hoop, wide open—I don't think LaMarcus even knew who he was supposed to be guarding—with Stuckey looking right at him. The pass never comes. Ben's tiny hands preclude him from catching bounce-passes, and there are enough people around that Stuck just can't throw him the kind of father-son-game-of-catch pass that he'd actually grab. So he just sorta keeps running, turning to his right when he gets under the hoop and backing out slowly to let Stuckey do the heavy lifting on his own. LaMarcus notices Wallace about eight seconds into the play.
SECOND QUARTER 11:25
What happens to a Will Bynum deferred? Does it dry up and wither on the bench? I've always liked the guy, and I'm still waiting to see him get his big chance. But in limited action lately, his stats point to a seasonal depression or an inferiority complex. I know he'll push through.
Man, these Pistons are shooting 40 percent, and I don't think Ben Wallace ever went to the line. They just look awful from the ol' stripe.
The Blazers having a little trouble creating offense with the B-team out there. It's kind of amazing just how small they get when they take the Marcs out of the equation. There's really nowhere else to go. Dante Cunningham needs to hit the stretching machine.
Charlie Villanueva is doing his best to get the Pistons back into this one, often handling the ball from halfcourt to the basket. It's worked out pretty well for them thus far. Charlie only has five points, but he's changed the tone from a teeny backcourt trying to score on finesse plays to a frontcourt guy trying to bang his way in there.
Blazers still up, 42-34.
Charlie Villanueva drops a three and suddenly it's a three-point game. The Blazers' offense is looking sluggish the way it was in LA. And after some back and forth (nice move, LaMarc, but it's not dropping tonight!), Tayshaun Prince gets himself two in the lane. When this lead started narrowing, Nate's solution was to re-insert Brandon Roy into the lineup, but I think Rudy and Wes Matthews were actually bringing more to the game tonight. Roy drives to the hole and tries to create contact, but the ball hits the rim and careens to LaMarc, whose shot is rejected hard. Portland 44, Detroit 43. Don't say I didn't warn you.
What will kick-start the BLazers? LaMarcus Aldridge is playing tough post offense and the Pistons are not double-teaming him, but once he gets to the basket he can't seem to drop anything. Brandon Roy tries the same trick, driving the lane instead of backing his man down, of course, and he gets himself to the free-throw line to hit two. Those are Portland's two weapons of choice tonight, and it's a mixed success at best.
When Marcus Camby gets involved in the offense, amazing shit happens. I haven't said it today: I LOVE MARCUS CAMBY.
LaMarcus Aldridge has butterfingers tonight.
We see some nice ball movement to start the play here, even if the end result is really familiar: LaMarcus Aldridge isolated. This time he makes it work, burrowing in towards the hole, flipping a miracle shot into the basket and drawing contact. That makes up for a turnover or two, I'd argue.
Patty Mills is a comic book character. Nobody runs off the bench to greet teammates during the timeout like that. He just pogoed to center court in order to high five Nic Batum and LaMarcus. It's like they put a superfan in a Blazer jersey and let him sit in for a game.
Man, people will cheer for anything that drops from a blimp.
THIRD QUARTER! 11:50
LaMarcus picks up a quick offensive foul to start the third quarter. He's logged some impressive minutes this season, and it looks like he'll hit his average tonight. And I have to say, I'm concerned about this Brandon Roy situation. The whole "playing injured" thing came up after Ron Artest pointed out that he thought Roy was hiding something—that he wasn't playing like himself. So how is it that Artest sees something the Blazer coaching staff, in all the scrimmages, practices and workouts they have with Brandon, can't see? Roy has averaged nearly 40 minutes a game this year, and if he were playing injured, you'd think someone would notice before Roy himself begrudgingly admitted it.
This is obviously a sore point with the organization, because people have been accusing the team of mishandling injuries in the past (and, if you want to really get into it, the Bill Walton situation started a culture of mistrust 30-some years ago). But for Brandon Roy to come out and say he needs his minutes capped is a weird situation. It gives fans the impression that the organization doesn't care enough about its players' health—whether that has any grounding or not. So I've been confused about the way this has all gone down. I'm far from the most insidery guy on press row (I might be the least, really, and I specifically avoid reading NBA blogs in my spare time to avoid burnout), but I'm still a bit weirded out by all this.
Mr. Camby isn't hitting his shots tonight. But he quickly makes up for it by leading a fast break. Yup, you read that right.
Roy doesn't look hurt, by the way. He just sank a three from the corner, but it was an open shot, not a silly alternative to driving the ball to the hoop. He's looked almost self-consciously agile out there this evening. When you gotta prove Ron-Ron wrong, you've gotta prove Ron-Ron wrong.
These new technicals are being implemented unevenly from game-to-game, unfairly in individual games and they don't belong in the league. Rip Hamilton did nothing to deserve one there (well, he shrugged).
Man, I feel this huge zit forming on my chin. 30 fucking years old and I'm still getting zits. They don't tell you this will happen when you're a teenager.
If Rip's shrug was a tech, then half the Pistons should have been called for one as the deflected ball was given to the Blazers. I really am having a hard time what differentiates one shrug from another.
The Blazers are up 70-56.
It's getting kind of wild out there, and when things get wild, it always feels like they're going the Blazers' way. A couple blocks and a couple turnovers get things moving all topsy-turvy and the next thing you know, Rudy Fernandez is draped over three photographers and the ball is in play for the Blazers. Once things slow down again, Stuckey gets Armon Johnson alone at the top of the three-point arch, and he runs a little razzle-dazzle on him that gets Stuck a three-point play. If fast-breaks and wild tempo gets these Blazers going, maybe this ol' ant farm oughta get shook more often.
74-63, Blazers up. Seventh inning stretch.
FOURTH QUARTER! 11:23
Very nice pass from Rudy Fernandez to LaMarcus Aldridge. Rudy is making the case for more minutes here, and as I type this he lines up for a three and drains it. Rudy has 10 points, but his hustle is what's endearing him to fans right now. Maybe Roy's reduced minutes aren't the worst thing in the world, with a hungry Wes/Rudy combo ready to help out.
I don't know if the Pistons' coaching staff has noticed, but Greg Monroe has done a better job of defending LaMarcus (one-on-one, anyway) than Ben Wallace was doing. On offense, they both look pretty shaky.
It's seldom about the stats, per se, but LaMarcus Aldridge's 15 rebounds ought to tell you a thing or two about how hard he's working out there. He's taking the pressure off of Marcus Camby, for sure.
And again, Patty Mills is a total goon. I love that guy.
Tracy McGrady is unwilling or unable to finish at the hoop, and my guess is unable. The other Pistons don't even look at him, all camped out at the perimeter, and when he takes the ball to the hole, it's not a question of whether he'll kick out (even if he really should try and finish), but to whom. The Blazers, meanwhile, are scoring a ton of points on fastbreak scores. This squad—Johnson, Matthews, Fernandez, Cunningham and LaMarcus—has an awful lot of energy. As Aldridge heads to the bench (now with 17 rebounds), he gets his rightful standing ovation. If they take Dante to the bench anytime soon—or Rudy, for that matter—they'll get them, too. These Blazers are very fast and these Pistons are THE WORST DEFENSIVE TEAM I'VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. Okay, that's overstating the case, but this quarter has been downright nasty.
It's like watching someone play NBA Jam for the first time—against the game's designers. The Blazers are doing the same thing time and time again, and no one on the Pistons is catching on. Blazers by 22.
Babbitt and Sean Marks are set to check in with the Blazers safely up 24. I was starting to feel bad for Marcus Camby (who, despite his relatively low rebound total, has played well—6 assists tonight as he steps out of the game). The lesson you can learn from this one is that...well, it's that the Pistons are not good. Not good at all. But the "good things happen when you run like hell" lesson is here, too. Even though most teams won't give the Blazers a wide-open, full-court lane, most teams WILL be forced to make some hard decisions against them if they continue to push like this.
Lineup is Patty, Rudy, Lukey, Dante-y and Sean Marksy. Do you actually want blogging here?
I will say that I feel bad for Jason Maxiell, who just checked in to play some garbage minutes. Here's a guy who deserves 20 minutes a night in the NBA, but he's been pushed to the margins because the organization wants to develop Greg Monroe. I can see why that is, but clearly Maxiell is a guy who could get these Pistons back into a game, where Monroe is likely to take them out of it (2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers with 3 fouls tonight in 20 minutes). Yes, you've got to develop young talent, but that doesn't make the situation any less brutal for a player of Maxiell's caliber.
Rudy sinks a three for the chalupas and Blazers take it 100 - 78. NOT CLOSE. So I was wrong. Good for me.
Goodnight, folks. Road trip coming up, so we'll see you in, what, a week and a half? Something like that. Ta-ta!