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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Game report: Blazers 93, Nets 83

Tonight was a turning point in our Blazer fandom. Until tonight, we fretted over the team's starting roster, substitution patterns, and chemistry. But after watching the Blazers take apart the injury-depleted New Jersey Nets tonight, we're convinced that none of what we've been worrying about is going to matter much as the season, still young at this point, wears on. The Blazers are so loaded with talent, and they've gotten off to such a good start this year, that the performance of individual players and the luck of the bouncing ball are going to play as big a role as anything else.

We were blessed with courtside seats -- third row, literally at midcourt, opposite the benches. My friend, who scored the tickets, was sitting on the other side of the halfcourt line from me, in the next seat. From this vantage point, the spectator is quite close to the game. The players' heads are above the fans. If you shout something to the players, they hear you. If they shout something to each other, you hear them. You're so low down in the stands that you can't see the giant screen up above -- but if you're paying attention at all, you won't need to.

The Blazers are so thick with hoop skills that fully two thirds of the league won't be able to keep up with them. Greg Oden, the team's leading scorer with 18 points, is a serious force on both ends of the floor. He still commits too many fouls, but when he's on the court, he eliminates the inside game for the smaller players on the opposing team. Tonight he played 25 minutes, and even when he racked up his fifth foul, Coach Nate left him in the game. All to the good.

The other amazing guy out there in the Rip City uniform is Andre Miller. Man, what a high basketball IQ this man has, and he's not shy about sharing it with his teammates. There's no doubt that he's the quarterback when he's out there. On every offensive possession, he's calling out plays and directing traffic. On defense, he's yelling out picks and waving wayward Blazers into position. He's making amazing passes, and he's got the rest of the team thinking along the same lines. LaMarcus Aldridge had 4 assists to go with his 12 points and 8 rebounds. We attribute that to the influence of Miller.

Brandon Roy is Brandon Roy. If everything else breaks down, you can just hand it to him and get out of the way. Given how all the Blazers' parts are clicking right now, however, there's less need for that than ever, and one just hopes he doesn't get rusty not having to carry the team on his back every night. There will be games in which Roy is Portland's only hope down the stretch. We need him in a position to shine when those moments arrive.

Martell Webster has grown up. He's starting, he's getting minutes, and he's contributing. We hate to wish injury on any player, but the absence of the wounded Travis Outlaw and Nicolas Batum have simplified matters considerably at Webster's position, and that's also for the good. Martell is the small forward, and when the other guys get healthy, it will be his job to lose. That's a relief.

Rudy Fernandez finally looks like he belongs here. Sure, he'd rather be starting, but he's in with a phenomenal bunch, and he's contributing on a couple of different levels. He's joined in the passing festival, and tonight he nailed a few three-pointers that got the crowd revved up. He hit one in the second half with the clock running down that he seemed to pull out of his derriere. He turned to the crowd with a smile, as if to say, "That's what I do."

It wasn't much of a game. The Blazers never trailed, but the Nets did tie the score in the low 50's with about 6 minutes to go in the third quarter. New Jersey's only bright spot was Brook Lopez, who had 32 points. When Oden was out and Joel Pryzbilla was in at center for the Blazers, the Nets went to the hole with impunity.

Steve Blake hit a couple of threes and muddled through his usual game, but at this point, there's no need for him to do much more than keep Roy happy and turn in a workmanlike performance. Even at 25 minutes a game, off the bench, it is Miller who will take the Blazers to the next level.

Newcomer Dante Cunningham played 17 minutes, and he looked solid. We roll our eyes when Coach plays too many guys -- Jerryd Bayless is still on the floor, for no good reason -- but Cunningham looked like a true baller tonight. So a 10-man rotation it is.

This is going to be a remarkable season for Portland. When we get through the incredibly easy stretch of the schedule that November has presented -- and especially when we get into March and April -- this city is going to be going nuts.

On the personal side, we had a fun time at the Rose Garden. We spent a few minutes with our blogging colleague Dwight Jaynes, and even a few minutes with Fred Kerber, who covers the Nets for the New York Post. Freddy and I go back 43 years, and it's always a tonic to shake his hand and catch his take on the world.

As ever, we've got some amateur photos from our vantage point. Here are the Blazers during the national anthem. Roy is in the line, and so John Canzano, go soak your big fat irrelevant head:

Here's Andre on the attack in the second half:

Mr. Oden goes to the office:

We'll get another look at the Blazers Friday night against Memphis, who despite their terrible record have the potential to make trouble for Portland. In the meantime, we'll be eating our turkey content in the knowledge that the Blazers are in great shape for the season -- maybe even a historic season. It's quite possible.

Comments (11)

I didn't see the game, but a friend showed me the final score and we had our usual Blazer fan whinging: Why did we beat the hapless Nets by only 10? Why did Brook Lopez put up a Hakeem-caliber stat line? Blah blah blah.

Us Blazer fans worry too much, and we should enjoy the ride. This is a good team, with the potential to be a great one. It's nice to be in the hunt and back a likeable, talented squad.

Canzano is such a hack. I can't believe he has a "following" in this city. Writes pure crap and his radio show is a joke.

Wait, Brook Lopez went to Stanford and you're just going to let that go?
It was nice to read this calm, reasonable account. Frankly, it made Dwight Jaynes' analysis seem like the work of a mental patient.
I know Dwight was a professional sports columnist and that involves a certain amount of stirring things up, but he'd rather rile up the troops than talk sense half the time. I appreciated a calm assessment for a change.
And I'm not talking out of school here. I contribute to his blog, and I've dubbed him the Maestro of Misery for the skillful way he seeks out something to feel bad about.
He should run with that name by the way. I'm a professional comedy writer - I know what I'm doing. Calling himself the Godfather is lame. The Godfather of what?
My take is that Dwight could find the downside of going to heaven.
For example, he spent weeks suggesting we trade Rudy because he would never remain happy here. He looked pretty content last night.
More recently, Dwight also suggested trading Andre Miller if Brandon Roy can't work with him. He thinks we need a forward.
Meanwhile new forward Dante Cunningham may be the prototypical Blazer of this era as far as character goes.
Having both parents in the military and going to Villanova for 4 years has given him an incredible sense of self. He is going to be a treat for Blazer fans to get to know. Plus, he has a key element going for him: One hell of a sports name.
I'm not as quick to dump on Coach Nate as most Blazer fans. He should feel pretty good: The Blazers have thousands of head coaches here in Portland - at least he gets paid to do it.
I do disagree with Nate on a couple of things: He likes saying it doesn't matter who starts. Yeah, right.
He also likes saying it's Brandon Roy's team. I don't think so.
The key to the Blazers is that Greg Oden is the alpha wolf. If Brandon buys into that, look out.

Wow on Cunningham. Watched him last night move without the ball on offense, and the guy was always in the right place to receive the ball and take a shot or make a play. Great b ball IQ, for a rookie. Four years at Villanova and in the Big East probably helped. And what a 33 pick? He looks like the real deal.
And it is quickly becoming clear that the Blazers have the best one- two center combination in the league for intimidating in the middle. Greg is finally getting that ferocious look about him that he had in the NCAA final game, when he ate up Horford ,Noah and Brewer, albeit in a losing effort. Like the way the season is developing.

Glad you had the chance to get good seats Jack. Now you understand why folks like us pay thousands of dollars every year to get first level seats. You are close enough to see which players are really working up a sweat and performing. Hope you get a chance to see more Blazer action in person this season.

I am pleasantly surprised in the optimism of this post. Where is the curmudgeon attitude that usually shows itself on this blog? I agree that the Blazers have a solid group and am also looking forward for good things to come and rooting them on. Go Blazers!

Who are you and what have you done with Bojack??

I've got to ditto the last two posts. I've been a reader (and very occasional commenter) since 2003 or 2004, but I've found myself checking in less frequently lately due to the creeping negativity in tone that I've noticed.

It's refreshing to read a positive note.

Thanks Jack. Happy Thanksgiving.

Let's hope they can draw Minn, NJ or Memphis in the playoffs. I wanna see what happens when they play a bit tougher team.

I still don't think they have the inside game figured out and it'd be nice to see a little up-tempo (probably not with McMillan as coach) especially when you have a team this young.

Yeah but it's that 1/3 of the league that's left to take us to the cleaners.

Go, Blazers! If they go all the way, it will be only a 33 year wait! I want to see another parade.

I've been saying for a while now that Greg Oden looks to be the real deal. I have tickets to ten games, in the Blazers' second half end zone, and he moved on Tim Duncan pretty well - and more so on lesser centers. If he continues to work at his game, as he appeared to have done this past summer, this guy could be absoluting amazing, given both his strength and his quickness.

Yes, it will be interesting when we play some tougher opponents - but, the first couple months of the season are dense with games, so the ability of the coaching staff to practice new plays, better defense (the one weak spot for them, despite the gaudy statistics), etc. has been limited. It will be an interesting season, for sure!

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