NOTE: The internet went down in the Rose Garden in the second quarter and stayed down throughout the game. I guess it had opening night jitters.. A smarter blogger would have continued his work offline, then combined the files after he got home. Casey Jarman is not that blogger. To recap: The Blazers made a thrilling, three-pointers-and-hustle-fueled run that saw them up by about 15 points, then the Sixers made it a game and the Blazers escaped with a win. My player of the game was Marcus Camby, who is the Blazers' spirit animal (an Elk, I think). Anyway, tune in tonight for (internet willing) a complete Blazer live-blog experience.
See, this is what I look forward to every year. The sun starts going down early, the air gets chilly, all my friends start hibernating with their boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives/cats, and the only thing standing between me and unadulterated domestica is the Portland Trail Blazers. It's not exactly healthy, this basketball obsession of mine, but at least coming down to the arena is a half-step up from sitting on the couch. At least thinking of things to say about the NBA is a bit better than zoning out and watching it on my screen at home without comment. And at least when I'm here, I'm sober. It's a Christmas miracle.
Now I know that I shortsightedly dubbed last week's season preview "Part One." I also promised you'd get some Buck Williams quotes in Part Two. And that's all still coming, but not right this second. Right this second you get a little something different. I bring you a Top 5 List.
THE TOP FIVE ITEMS THAT IMPACTED THE BLAZERS' REP DURING THE OFF-SEASON
5. PAUL ALLEN NEARLY COSTING NBA FANS THE SEASON
On its own, Paul Allen's grim-reaper-like clutch appearance in NBA labor talks seemed like kind of a bad sign for NBA fans. But when the Blazers' billionaire owner showed up in player/owner negotiations in the 11th hour to drive a harder bargain for owners than had been expected, Blazer fans felt an extra grumbling in their stomachs. Was Allen, one of the richest men in the world, really so concerned about a few measly millions ("hundreds of millions," he'd later insist) that he'd risk losing a season of Blazer basketball? And did that whole episode mean Allen was about to give up on his own NBA franchise? Allen has since reaffirmed his faith in the Blazers, but there's no denying that Portland fansâwho have had a love-hate with Allen for years over repeatedly resurfacing rumors that he'd like to move the team to Seattleâare feeling more uncertain about ownership now than they were at the start of the '10-'11 season. MINUS REP POINTS.
4. THE HANDLING OF BRANON ROY'S RETIREMENT
I'm not about to knock the franchise for losing its star player. That's a tough blow. But there was plenty of talk amongst fans and talking heads about how Roy's retirement seemed to catch management completely by surprise. Just days before, team president Larry Miller and coach Nate McMillan had expressed confidence that not only would Roy be playing, he'd likely be starting. STARTING! Roy's teammates would wind up hearing about number 7's retirement the same way the rest of us didâon Twitterâand the Blazers brass seemed caught completely off-guard by the development. So had the relationship between Roy and the franchise deteriorated beyond repair? Was there some behind-the-scenes drama involved in the retirement? Fans are still waiting to see how the relationship between Roy and his only professional franchise plays out. Will we see a team-sanctioned teary-eyed goodbye on the court this season? And if we don't, will it be because of Amnesty Clause politics or because of an icy and awkward relationship between management? It's hard to say, but for fans, the parting of ways with Roy has been both sudden and unceremonious. One wonders if there'll be any sense of closure this season. MINUS REP POINTS.
3. THE TURBO BUTTON
The biggest difference between this season and last season? The Blazers are going to run this year. They have a squad that can make the running work. And that's going to make for more thrilling basketball for Blazer fans. It's also going to get them a lot more Chalupas. PLUS REP POINTS.
2. UNCERTAINTY IN THE FRONT OFFICE
I mean, there's no General Manager and no clear sign of a General Manager search. Paul Allen denies that he's trying to usurp the position himself, but after letting go of two fan-favorite GMs in a row (Pritchard for his ruthless trading strategies, even if there's lingering resentment over his drafting Greg Oden; Cho for bringing in the ass-bustingest player in recent memory, Gerald Wallace), Portland is having a hard time figuring out the team's front office strategy this year. Then again, the Jamal Crawford signing was a very big plus. Crawford is no Brandon Roy, but he is a Northwest-bred premier scorer of high character and consistent on-court play. This was a very big off-season get for the Blazers, and solid additions like Kurt Thomas (who will be a fan-favorite by mid-season) and Craig Smith also helped calm fans' front office confusion. So, all-in-all, this leads to some... PLUS REP POINTS.
1. GREG ODEN'S ONE-YEAR CONTRACT
Since I moved to Portland seven years ago, only Zach Randolph has been a more divisive player. And while only emotionally unbalanced fans and conspiracy theorists "hate" hard-luck Greg Oden, I know plenty of fans who are either outraged at the team for re-signing him or convinced that the Blazers' medical team is either incompetent or behind-the times. And then there are those who think the Blazers are stuck with Oden, their fingers still crossed that he'll come back strong and finally play a full year as a Blazer. Of course, the prospects of seeing Oden on the court this year are disconcertingly thin, and next year he may or may not be a Blazer. The worst-case-scenario, though, is that Oden comes back for an impressive post-season run and then signs with a championship contender like the Miami Heat or Dallas Mavericks in the off-season. On the whole, there are just too many questions about the coulda-been monster center for fans to feel anything but heartbroken over his tenure. Every game he sits at the end of the bench with a long face is a game will leave Blazer fans contemplating what could have been. MINUS REP POINTS.
THE LIVE BLOG
A brief and tasteful Brandon Roy tribute kicks off the season and continues the awkward "he's our hero/hey, where is he" relationship between the team and its recently retired ex-all-star. No shots of Brandon in the building just yet, though someone else might know more than I do about his whereabouts. It's gotta be a bit awkward, what with the him-retiring-then-getting-cut situation. Maybe the lawyers advise against his attending games.
The national anthem, by The Brown Sisters, is quite nice. It occurs to me that the only time I ever listen to the national anthem is when I'm at a Blazer game. It's not like I blast it in the car...
The team gets a fancy new onscreen intro, with silhouetted players in dark tones silhouetted in front of fog. Still feels quite operatic (maybe it's the opera music). The on-court intro is far more impressive. There are Pistons-style flames and WWF-style fog machines, with players running out from the locker room and giving high fives before they take the court. I would not be at all surprised were Mr. Perfect or The Ultimate Warrior to appear out of the fog.
Gerald Wallace and Nic Batum get pretty big cheers, but it's LaMarcus Aldridge, predictably, who gets the biggest cheer. And if you thought tonight's game would be a let-down on the anticipation front because of Roy and Oden's disappearing act, you'd be wrong. Fans seem pretty pumped.
Jamal Crawford comes out to center court to say hello. "We know the NBA opened up yesterday but it hadn't opened up in front of the best fans, so thank you guys." Oh, Jamal, you know how to work a room.
FOR SERIOUS FIRST QUARTER
Gerald Wallace is skipping around the court, clapping his hands together. It's kind of hard to think of anyone who seems to enjoy his job more than Wallace. I mean, you've got to like your work if you're willing to throw yourself all over the place and risk really serious injury each day on the job. Wallace does that more often than most. The 76ers win the tip but the Blazer defense looks pretty tight, and they miss out on their first two threes under presure.
There's some groaning as Marcus Camby takes a near-three-point jumper, but I've got confidence in him with that shot. He didn't make it much last year, but he has made it throughout his career. Unfortunately, it's Elton Brand nailing the stepback jumper on the other end this time around. Lots of rust in the Blazers' shots. Hell, neither team can get much to go right now.
Half court pass from LaMarcus to Gerald Wallace for an easy dunk. This is what is going to make this team different than last year's, Nate willing.
Though they are starting the game a bit rough tonight, I am excited to watch this Sixers team develop. Great sophomore point guard, solid developing young core in general and what will hopefully prove a bounce-back year for Andre Iguadala should combine to make for a pretty fun season for them. And then there are the question marks. Sooooo many question marks. Like: Will basketball fans in Philly ever go out to games? Do they still miss Allen Iverson THAT much?
8-2 Blazers by the way. Not a bad start, if a sloppy one.
Everyone in this Blazer starting lineup can pass the ball, and to me that's the most exciting thing about them. The combination of height, hands and unselfish play here (obviously Ray Felton is the exception to the "height" thing) is a reasonably rare one. You see teams, like the Clippers, who have big men and guards who can pass, but rarely does a whole starting lineup have the kind of passing smarts that this Blazer group has.
Two fouls on Wallace, he'll have to step out of the game, and he was playing very well. Nic Batum checks in. Blazers up 14-6.
Make that 14-8 with the Jrue Holiday shot. The Blazers are having a hard time finishing at the court, and can't seem to get it in the hole despite five offensive rebounds already. I don't think that's a long-term concern: LaMarcus has shown plenty of skill with the putbacks in seasons past, and he's a bit tougher every year. Right now, though, he's heating up from outside and catching guys before they have much of a chance to notice he's loading up. I will be shocked if he's not an all-star this year. Eight points for LaMarc already. And the Blazers are running, but still working out the kinks. Sixers can't get their putbacks to go, either...
Timeout. Blazers up 20-13.
Let it be known that this is the year we all have to finally start pronouncing Nic Batum's name correctly. It's "Nicolah." The "s" is silent. I don't get it either. LaMarcus and Ray Felton drop two quick points each to make it 24-13 Zers.
If Kurt Thomas proves better at hitting those mid-range jumpers than Marcus Camby does, that could be a problem for Cambyman. In his twilight years, Marcus has shown he can block shots and make great outlet passes, but if he can't knock down a few biggies in a fast-paced offense (the Blazers are shooting only 44 percent, but they have 26 pointsâthat's pretty speedy), he's going to hold the Blazer offense back. I don't think Kurt will be a starter anytime soon (barring injury), but if he can wrangle 25 minutes a game, that's going to really cut down Camb's effectiveness. Am I only concerned with this because Camby was a late draft pick for my fantasy team? Perhaps. There'll be a lot of that this year. I drafted poorly.
Rookie Nolan Smith is the first Blazer PG off the bench. We thought we might see Nate sliding Jamal Crawford over to the point, but perhaps because of Gerald's early foul trouble, that's not the way it's going down right now. I have really liked Nolan thus far in scrimmage/preseason play. He's quick and long and he seems to know exactly what he wants to do before he does it. I say this as he knocks down a long jumper.
Notice how Nate is putting the guards waaayyyyy down at the other end of the court while the other team shoots free-throws? Does any other team do that? I really like it as a way of getting the offense set nice and early. It actually reminds me of NBA 2K12 players who excel at full-court passes to guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in the exact same situation. I reckon the Blazers will only catch the other team sleeping (as I tend to sleep in the videogame) every now and again, but it still seems like a smart move.
Okay, Nolan Smith didn't know exactly what he was going to do when he barreled into the lane and threw a sloppy outlet pass there. Still, I like the kid. Zers up 31-25.
Fouls are 7-2 with the Blazers housing the bulk of the offending players. That's mostly a result of scrappy defense and shot-contesting, but fans are growing restless with the whistles nonetheless. I'd rather see whistles and tough defense than silence and lots of uncontested Sixer shots.
Someone please Tweet me a 144 character description of Spencer Hawes. I really have no idea how to explain that guy's NBA legacy thus far.
Wireless is currently down at the Rose Garden. Normal blogging will resume when the Internet Gods deem us worthy.