It's an honor and a privilege to resume my Blazer blogging in the wake of Aaron Mesh, one of the finest voices of his generation. Also, it's just a relief to be back here at the Rose Garden, in this sweet-ass seat, surrounded by friends and colleagues (the latter may be wishful thinking on my behalf), pumped-up Blazer fans, retirees with spare time and the very clever public address crew who decided to play the theme song from Dallas in introducing the Mavs. It's great company, to be sure, and I wouldn't be anywhere else in the world tonight but right here—back after a long hiatus—to watch this game.
Did you know that they introduce the referees before every game? It's a hard thing to catch, beause it comes right after lots of Blazer-cheering and cheerleader dancing and all that. I heard a few people boo the refs just now. I didn't see anyone clap. Tough gig, being a ref.
Who among you thinks that Brandon Roy should be starting again? I'm really curious about that. Someone has to be pushing for Roy as a starter. Lotta number 7s out here tonight.
LaMarcus Aldridge kicks things off with a turnaround jumpshot. It's good. Someone off to my side calls him "baby." I've never been entirely comfortable with calling athletes "baby," or calling anyone "baby," actually. Even when I call my girlfriend "baby" there's usually a trace of sarcasm: I'm usually impersonating someone else. "Big Baby," however, is a nickname I've grown very fond of. I don't love Glen Davis, but I love his nickname. I'll call him "Big Baby" all day.
It has felt to me, in recent games, like LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace have become interchangeable with their roles on the team. Either man can (and does) post up on a regular basis, and either has shown some pretty solid passing skills. I think taking contact comes more naturally for Wallace, but even there, both players seem quite capable. One wonders if the sudden appearance of a stylistic doppelganger has made Aldridge uncomfortable at all. Especially when said twin has cooler hair and a lower voice than you.
Not trying to start shit, just saying.
Wallace steals and takes the ball coast-to-coast, finishing with a nice layup. Gotta love that. He might run the floor a bit better than big LaMarc...
The blue-against-white color scheme makes it easy to squint your eyes and watch the players as amorphous blobs. Why the hell would you want to do that? It helps you see the team the way coaches do: As five fingers on a hand or five branches on a tree or whatever hippie metaphor you want to use. You can see these guys as "offense" and "defense" when you distance yourself from their personalities a bit, and it's a fun way to watch the game. Easier to tell a zone from man-to-man or to notice the peripheral pieces of a pick-and-roll and where they go on the court. It's good fun.
Despite intermittent cheering for various Mavs, the crowd is absolutely silent when Peja Stojakovic checks in. What does that mean? That Peja is no longer viewed as a threat by the home fans or as a hero by the away fans? That would be kind of sad. I've seen Peja win games almost single-handedly and light the net on fire. He always did this cold-faced and emotionless. Which made it worse. Maybe, just maybe, he would stick his tongue out a touch at the end of the game, or high-five his teammates with a touch of excitement as he headed back to the bench. But for the most part, Peja—in the Kings years—was just a stone-cold killer.
Now he can't even elicit boos. And it says something about the way this league works. Veterans are honored in their first few declining years. Then they fade; Their faces blur and their numbers change and their contracts start to look poisonous. Fans forget them—it's almost as though the mind of the fan can only hold a limited number of basketball players in their hearts and in their memory. And so you become, like Peja is now, ghosts that run the court without fanfare and only occasionally materialize as the valued, memorable players they once were. Even the biggest of the big—think of that sad, half-Shaq giant in Boston—become an afterthought and leave the league quietly if they last long enough.
If you're lucky, you become the answer to some trivia question.
Blazers lead 23-17.
Peja with a buzzer-beating three. Quiet and emotionless, just like the old days.
Houston won, so the Blazers can't clinch a playoff spot just yet with a victory. Not that a victory is any kind of done deal. The Mavs look a bit out-of-sorts tonight and they're still only down five points. Mark Cuban, who sits next to the team's assistant coaches, looks like a lonely kid at a birthday party, yelling every once and awhile but mostly just sulking in his seat. He looks like a guy whose team has already lost, but there's a long way to go.
Brandon Roy hits a three. 30-23. Cuban looks the same. He's got a lot of sun this summer. Easy to do in Dallas, I guess.
It seems like Nic Batum moving to the bench has helped everybody, even Nic. He's only got three points thus far, but his three assists speak volumes and he looks confident out there with the second unit. A point-guardless second unit, by the way. Patty Mills and Armon Johnson are again on the outside looking in. It's working tonight, so I don't expect to see Pat Stacks in the game unless there's foul trouble with the twos. Mills is finding a way to get time on-court, though: He's just wandering out there to high-five everyone at every stoppage.
6:54 Well, I tell ya, this is what you need to compete in the playoffs. Guys like Brandon Roy and Nic Batum need to contribute off the bench in a big way. And while neither of those dudes are scoring big (Nic just dunked for points four and five, Roy has a single three-pointer), they have seven assists between them and look quite confident in their moves (Roy with the turnaround jumpshot as I type). Of course, the Blazers are largely trading twos for threes, and until J.J. Barea falls off, the gap will slowly narrow for Portland. Barea is showing no signs of falling off. He's a little whiz kid and his 10 points lead the team thus far.
5:12 There's a fight brewing, methinks. J.J. Barea is a doing lots of barking and pushing—just general getting-under-your-skin stuff with the Blazer guards. I'm pretty sure any of the Blazers could take him, so let's hope this one turns into a full-fledged boxing match.
4:25 Barea took most of his aggression out on Ken Mauer, who looked like he was giving him the sarcastic "Oh, really? You were fouled? Oh, man, I'm so sorry!" treatment as Barea exited the game.
3:47 So, Roy is certainly outplaying Wes Matthews at the moment, on the offensive end, anyway. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for some behind-the-scenes coaches meetings with those two. It's all hugs and love on the surface, but there must be a bit of tension when your star player takes a backseat to a new recruit. Really, you think it's time to get Roy back in the starting lineup? Or does one not change horses in mid-stream? Especially when the other side of that stream is the NBA playoffs?
3:04 Matthews is fouled on a three-point attempt (the cheesy, Kobe Bryant way—but the Blazers will take it) and he hits all three free-throws. That builds an 11-point buffer against the Mavs. As possible first round matchups go (this being, perhaps, the most possible), you've got to like the Blazers' chances here. Though I still not-so-secretly hope the Blazers get the Lakers in the first round. I mean, why not? Makes for good TV...
30.9 Gerald Wallace is taking the game over to end the half, and no one seems to mind. Why should they? The guy is a beast on both ends of the court. I still miss the Thrilla, but this guy is so so so legit. And if this is the team gelling—they end the first half up 15 points—then it's a force to be reckoned with.
The in-arena entertainment is dirtbikes, so howzabout...
Things kick off with Brandon Haywood throwing the ball away in a graceful-looking near-cartwheel. There's something especially tragic about a turnover that graceful.
Two things I failed to mention: Tyson Chandler is out with a bad lower back and it's Earth Week or Green Day or whatever the NBA is calling today. Recycle Week? In any case, I saw a man in a bottle suit outside with the words "Oregon Bottle Bill" written on him, and we were all treated to a slideshow with photos of an especially miserable-looking Marcus Camby planting trees with kids. I'm thinking it was too early in the morning, and Marcus would have rather spent some time with his own kids (I hear he has a Mormon-sized family). So it was photo after photo of a groggy, uninspired Marcus Camby with gloves on, helping to plant a tree. Funny stuff. Earth 1, Marcus Camby 0.
8:23 Blazers get out on the break, and it looks like it's going to be a two-pass play, but instead, Gerald Wallace just takes the ball to the basket full-speed and throws down a monster dunk. The guy is in fine, fine form. 15 points and four rebounds thus far today, which is really similar to LaMarcus' line. Buster Brothers. Fun to watch. Blazers up an incredible 19. I've changed my vote: I want the Blazers to play the Mavs in the opening round of the playoffs. "But what about Tyson Chandler?" you ask? I'd love him to be there, too. The guy is a fight magnet. If only Joel Przybilla were around to escalate things...
6:51 I knew, two years ago, who Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby and Andre Miller were. In fact, they were some of my favorite NBA players. But the idea of them all winding up Blazers (against their will, for the most part—none of those guys signed with Portland of their own volition with the exception of Marcus' extension) would have seemed ludicrous two years ago. Especially if you told me that core guys like Nic Batum and Brandon Roy would still be around. Whether this experiment "works" or not (and clearly there are many criteria by which one can judge this thing), it has been quite a journey getting here. I'm having fun, anyway. Pretty sure those guys are, too.
4:33 Haywood is coming alive a bit and it's making a huge difference for the Mavs. Been awhile since big Brendan was a starter in this league, but if you'll remember, he was a very, very good one. Proving it again here, though he also just missed a grip of free-throws.
4:02 There are a couple of dudes out here rocking the Braveheart-via-torn-pajamas look. It is not a good look.
3:14 I've eaten so many of these banana chips, man. I'm starting to feel it. They're real dry, real savory and not at all sweet like you'd expect. I guess they were technically calling them plantain chips. They are sooooo good. But I've eaten two cups of them (scooped 'em from the press dining area) and I could eat two more. Except that I would totally puke and that's frowned upon when you're on press row.
2:09 Nic Batum with a corner three. Blazers back up 14 after some see-sawing. Good hustle, to use some bball shorthand. It's amazing what a few made threes and some steals can do. Speaking of which, Rudy grabs an errant pass and turns, as he's headed towards the first row of fans, to flick the ball to Gerald Wallace, who's one step ahead of the play and cutting to the basket. Wallace finishes and you'd think the Blazers just won a game seven. Everyone is up, everyone is clapping. Portland loves those energy plays. Blazers up 16.
SECTION 216 JUST WON JERKY!!! LUCKY BASTARDS!!!
So, I'm not sure I've ever seen a game that featured this many players winding up in the stands. Oh, wait, there was that ONE game...
Damn, it's hard to find footage of that one!
10:15 Everything's a foul right now. Booooo-rrrrrrriinngggggg. Still an 18-point lead.
Free-throw guy has multiplied into three free-throw guys, the additional two of whom are sporting fake mustaches (one also has a muscle shirt and insists on doing Tina Turner-style dance moves). I'm not sure the opposing team's free-throw shooters are going to hit a lower percentage, but it's certainly going to give them a funny...okay, a pretty accurate...idea of what Portland is all about.
8:49 This is some savvy shit going on right now. This is some playoff-level intensity on the Blazers' behalf.And they're shooting (wait for it) an incredible (just a bit more waiting) 59 percent, with five players in double-digits and no clear game MVP. This is some new-breed, throwback basketball. The Nuggets, who beat the Lakers early today, are playing the same way. I'm hoping these teams start a trend in unselfish NBA play. It's real nice to see teams killing it with out a set go-to superstar. Gives me hope. And I kinda think New York fucked up whn it traded a whole cast of kids with potential for one superstar who has shown how easy it is for him to run away when the going gets tough. There's something far more appealing about crafting a whole rotation of complementary players than throwing piecemeal specialists and late-career ring-seekers around two or three superstars. The latter is boring. And expensive. The former is the future.
5:57 Jose Juan Barea is thinking "These refs have got it out for me!" And yeah, they do! Because you're a fucking whiner! Stop whining! Stop! Just stop! It is only hurting your team! You're not Kobe! You're J.J.! Exclamation point!
5:02 Blazers back up 18. Patty has taken to running onto the court instead of just walking on. It actually looks like his Jason Terry impersonation, except for that Jason Terry has not been Jason Terry tonight. Four points for JET.
4:20 Barea fouls out and ACTUALLY TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FOUL. It's his sixth, so he's out. Shortly thereafter, Andre Miller gets raked on the eye by Brian Cardinal. He's doubled over at the scorer's table, but it doesn't take long before he's smiling and gently laughing on the bench. Even with the Blazers 18 points up and four minutes to the end of the game, Nate keeps Miller (well, Miller is free-throw bound), Aldridge, Wallace, Batum and Matthews in the game. Some things I'll just never understand.
3:36 Take some starters out. Jesus Christ.
3:16 LaMarcus comes out. Joey Harrington is blocking my view. It's okay, Joey, I forgive you.
2:59 I'm surprised at how few Blazer fans have left the arena. When the Blazers are down this far, people leave. I guess there's joy in really pouncing a team and sticking around until the end to cheer. Or maybe they're just worried that their chalupas won't be available yet.
2:23 Patty Mills to the scorer's table and he gets an impressive round of applause. Luke Babbitt, not so much. Of course, neither coach will call a timeout, so guys like Andre Miller and Gerald Wallace might just stay in til the end of the game. No reason to play any defense, after all.
49.6 After a humiliating two minutes at the scorer's table, Patty and Luke check in. The crowd lets out another hearty cheer, even though these guys' primary job will be to hold the ball as long as possible. Patty takes a jumper, misses, then dribbles out the clock. Thrilling late-game action.
The Mavs actually cut the game down to just an eight-point lead and the Blazers win 104 - 96. It had been 20 late in the fourth. A win is a win, of course, and this qualifies as a pretty damn big win against a team the Blazers may well face in the first round of the playoffs.
One more win clinches a playoff spot for the Blazers, and they should be able to make that happen.
vs. Warriors on Tuesday at Jazz on Thursday vs. Lakers on Friday vs. Grizzlies (big one) next Tuesday and at Warriors next Wednesday to end the season