Game report: Blazers 100, Wizards 98
It was a game that the Blazers easily could have lost. They were without their best player, Zach Randolph, who was off mourning a friend killed in a nightclub shooting. The team had hit a bad stretch, losing a bunch of games. They are out of playoff contention now, and some folks have suggested that they throw the rest of their games in order to worsen their won-lost percentage and thus have a better chance at getting one of the top picks in this summer's player draft.
But that's not the stuff this Blazer group is made of. Playing for respect, they got some, narrowly defeating the Washington Wizards -- beating them for the second time this season. It was another exciting Rose Garden contest throughout the final minutes, with the outcome very much in doubt until the final buzzer.
The stars of the show were the Blazer rookies. Brandon Roy pumped in 19 points and snagged 12 rebounds in Randolph's absence -- which was a good thing because the Blazer big men were no-shows under the boards for a large part of the night. LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks. But the real standout was backup point guard Sergio Rodriguez, who after a so-so first half performance really lit things up in the second half, winding up with 9 assists and 9 points in 22 minutes. As I've said here before, that fellow makes every other Blazer on the floor look better, and it was during his playing time in the second half that the Blazers gained their footing and made the key run for the win.
At one point, these three rookies were joined on the court by Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw, who have about 5 years of pro experience between them. That lineup is particularly fast and agile, and a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Webster hit some key outside shots, and he made one of those strong moves to the hoop of which he's also quite capable. He may not be an all-star, but he's a good guy to have around, particularly when Randolph's not.
Alas, Outlaw just can't seem to put a whole game together. He shot poorly and didn't rebound worth a darn most of the time. Big man Jamaal Magloire turned in his usual fair performance, not impressive but just a hair better than bad.
The Wizards aren't very good. They were without one of their better players, Caron Butler, but given that Randolph was absent, both teams seemed even in the casualty department. The young Blazers clearly had stronger legs and a more creative game. That the Wizards are the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference is a testament to just how weak that conference is. The Blazers shot quite poorly to start the game, and the Washington squad failed to take advantage of that, leading by only five at the end of the first quarter.
The loquacious Wizards star Gilbert Arenas has been dissing Portland in the media all season, and once again he did not put his money where his big mouth was. The Rose Garden crowd booed him lustily at every opportunity. He predicted he would score 50 points, but he got only 19, most of them coming on foul shots.
In dysfunctional management news, team owner Paul Allen was not in attendance, but it looked as though the new executive Savior from Seattle, Tod Leiweke, may have been in the owner's seats. Any football guy from up north who's coming in to manage the Blazers by remote control gets an immediate vote of no-confidence from me. At least the crowd was enthusiastic, and that should have showed him a little of the spirit that the Rose City could generate so much more of, if only the management would get its act together. I'm not holding my breath.
For my part, I was happily ensconced upstairs in a mid-court "club" seat with fellow blogger Chris Snethen, who's got a connection to excellent tickets, which we were holding. And we wore the magic wristbands that feed you, all game long, for free! Everything was paid for except alcohol. We're talkin' sports fan heaven, people. Thank you, Butterbean.
The game was officiated by a crew led by Bennett Salvatore, a Leonard Bernstein lookalike who's one of the league's senior referees. A game reffed by Salvatore always seems to end up with everybody watching him as much as they're watching play, and that is definitely not what you want from the officials. It's very hard for the players to tell what's going to be called and what isn't. There were mystery calls and mystery noncalls both ways. In the last minute or so, Arenas spent more time discussing some point or other with Salvatore than he did paying attention to what he was doing. There was a brutal noncall when Roy was fouled not once but twice on a drive to the basket toward the end of the game, and that got the hometown crowd up in arms. But the Blazers also bumped the Wizards on their last couple of shots, and there was no whistle then, either. In contrast, Salvatore was quick to call Roy for travelling, and there were some other calls that seemed petty. Sometimes you wish that old Ben would take the 401(k) and call it a career.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for our regular feature, Blurry Digital Photos of the Game. Here's Arenas explaining some of the fine points of peace and justice to Salvatore. Picture this going on most of the night:
Meanwhile, Roy just does his job as rookie of the year:
We always try for a shot of the visitors' huddle:
We love Blazers head coach Nate McMillan:
And here's as close as we can get to an action shot -- Travis O. on the drive:
On the way home, Snethen and I passed the old brick apartment house across Broadway from the arena. A kid in an open ground floor window asked us who won. We told him, and volunteered that the team had scored 100 points and earned us each a coupon for a free chalupa at Taco Bell. Knowing that I would never actually eat one of those things, I asked the boy, "You want a chalupa?" He lit up. "Yeah!" And so Chris and I dutifully slipped our coupons to him through the screen on the window before we headed off.
It was an awfully nice, starry spring night, and I decided to walk home, about a half hour or so. The better to burn off some of that free food. Life is good.