Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:LaMarcus Aldridge
Posted on: April 23, 2011 9:45 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 10:29 pm
 

NBA Playoffs: Blazers, Mavs react to Game 4

Posted by EOB staff


Player reactions from the Blazers' epic 23-point comeback/Mavericks' epic 23-point collapse in Game 4 of the Portland-Dallas first round series. Brandon Roy scores 18 in the fourth quarter to lead the Trail Blazers back and tie the series 2-2. 


Blazer quotes courtesy of our own Ben Golliver


What he said: "Tonight was the Brandon Roy of old. He took the game on his shoulders." -- Nate McMillan 
What he meant: "And by Brandon Roy of old, I mean Brandon Roy of three years ago. And I say shoulders because 'took the game on his knees' sounds bad." 
-----------------------------------
What he said: "Brandon doesn't talk much, but you could see it in his eyes. He was going to control this game." -- Nate McMillan
What he meant: "And it's a good thing he did, because had he not done so, it would have been the saddest thing ever. Also, when I say he doesn't talk much, I mean he doesn't talk unless he's telling reporters he wants more playing time."
-----------------------------------
What he said: "That's the greatest comeback I've ever seen." -- Rich Cho
What he meant: "That's the greatest comeback I've ever seen." (Seriously, we agree with him, how are we going to snark on that?)
-----------------------------------
What he said: "It still just doesn't feel real yet." -- Brandon Roy
What he meant:  "But I bet it feels pretty real to the Mavericks!" 
-----------------------------------
What he said: "I'm not playing to be the old Brandon Roy or to change someone's opinion of me. Just to play." -- Brandon Roy
What he meant: "See? I told you! I told you! What did I say? What did I say?! Ahem... I mean, it was a good game. Team effort."

-----------------------------------
What he said: " We feel like the pressure is off of us right now ... Our confidence is high." -- Wesley Matthews
What he meant: "It's hard to feel pressured when you see the other team de-evolving into primordial ooze. We're pretty confident Rick Carlisle's broken heart is still on the floor, in pieces." 
-----------------------------------
What he said: "We believe in him, we believe in B. Roy." -- Nicolas Batum
What he meant: "Nobody mention how the believing thing worked out for Harvey Dent." 

-----------------------------------
What he said: "B. Roy, you're an All-Star, a 3-time All-Star. Take the ball. They can't stop you. You just have to believe in yourself." -- Nicolas Batum
What he meant: "The Mavericks couldn't stop you with entire Texas border patrol."




Mavericks quotes courtesy of ESPN Dallas

What he said: "We just couldn't get any stops. That's what the thing came down to. It's on us. Really starting at the end of the third we had a 20-point lead and they had a couple of layups there. We didn't run back in transition. Just gradually we couldn't get any stops. " -- Dirk Nowitzki
What he meant: "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat glass and not read, watch, or listen to any communication device for the next two days." 
-----------------------------------
What he said: "We let our guard down in the fourth quarter. We let one dude who didn't do anything the whole game beat us." -- Tyson Chandler
What he meant: "We got beat by a guy with no meniscus who shouldn't even be playing according to some doctors. This isn't the bottom, but you can see it from here."
-----------------------------------
What he said: "We can’t do that, man. This ain’t home court. This [arena] is rowdy as hell in here. You’ve got to know that. The crowd was quiet [when the Mavs were up 23], and this is one of the loudest arenas I’ve ever played in. They knew it. They could smell it. And we just quietly let the crowd get back into it and let [Portland] get back into it." -- Shawn Marion
What he meant: "Have you BEEN to Portland?!"
-----------------------------------
What he said: "That's what happens." -- Shawn Marion
What he meant: "It just did." 
Posted on: April 23, 2011 1:11 am
Edited on: April 23, 2011 1:31 am
 

Series Reset: Another must-win for Portland

After taking a must-win Game 3, the Trail Blazers need to do it again in Game 4 to even their series with the Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver.

mavs-whining

The Narrative: 

With the backs against the wall, The Portland Trail Blazers managed to hold off the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3. The Blazers overcame a hot night from Jason Terry thanks to an insane first half from Wesley Matthews, steady production from LaMarcus Aldridge and an energy boost from Brandon Roy, who made Portland's first significant contributions off the bench in the series. Roy's 16 points put to rest an emotional 72 hours, and left Roy looking relieved and perhaps rejuvenated.

The only problem for Portland? They rely heavily on their home crowd, and therefore need to get up for Game 4 as if it's another must-win. Should Dallas take a 3-1 series lead back to Texas -- where Portland didn't win in the regular season and struggled down the stretch in Games 1 and 2 -- this one would be all but over.

The Hook: 

Statistically, the two teams were virtually even in Game 3, save Portland's dominance in turnover differential, where the Blazers forced 16 turnovers and cashed them in for 16 points. Portland had trouble generating enough offense to keep pace with Dirk Nowitzki and company in the series' first two games. By limiting Dallas's possessions and knocking down shots in transition, the Blazers solved that problem.

Many of Dallas's turnovers were mental errors, though, and those aren't particularly likely to happen again in such volume in Game 4. That will put added pressure on Portland's defense to get stops down the stretch. Game 4 could easily hinge on whether or not the Blazers are able to sustain their defensive energy late into the game.

The Adjustment: 

The strategic and match-up adjustments figure to be minor by this point in the series, although one player will certainly need to make some changes: Tyson Chandler. Much to the dismay of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and the Dallas coaching staff, the central spoke of their team defense was only able to stay on the court for 15 minutes before fouling out in Game 3. Chandler was dinged with cheap calls almost as soon as he stepped on the court, and, multiple times, he was visibly upset during the game. Smartly, though, he no-commented after the game. Setting moving high screens was a specific problem area that should be fairly easily eliminated, but the Blazers figure to feed LaMarcus Aldridge early and often. Chandler will need to respond with textbook defense, as the boisterous Rose Garden crowd is known for its ability to lean on officials. Brendan Haywood doesn't stand much chance in this series, so Chandler's ability to stay on the floor is critical.

The X-Factor: 

While various role players have stepped up for both teams through three games -- Roy and Peja Stojakovic being the two prime examples -- Game 4 goes back to the superstars, especially Dirk Nowitzki. The big German has been pretty unstoppable in all three games, but he left some points on the table on Thursday, shooting 10-21, and uncharacteristically missing three free throws. Aldridge has drawn primary defensive responsibility on him and he's done a nice job, but Nowitzki can certainly exploit Portland's other defenders to a greater degree than he did in Game 3. He also figures to get to the free throw line more than seven times in Game 4. 

The Sticking Point: 

In his post-game comments Thursday, Nowitzki said he felt like the Mavericks had taken Portland's best shot without being phased. He may very well be right, as Portland will need some serious luck if they hope to repeat their 8-14 performance from deep. The Blazers are a band of streak shooters and, finally, they were hitting. Wesley Matthews seemingly couldn't miss in the first half; knocking down four early three-pointers to get Portland's home crowd going, and helping push the Blazers to an early lead. 

Dallas will surely adjust to that success by crowding and harassing Matthews as much as possible, and if you take away Matthews' huge night, Portland's shooting numbers fall back to earth pretty quickly. Someone else will need to step up -- Roy or forward Nicolas Batum -- to stretch the floor and create room for Aldridge and forward Gerald Wallace. If not, the Blazers risk reverting to their struggles in Games 1 and 2. 
Posted on: April 21, 2011 3:28 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 4:31 pm
 

Series Reset: Season on the line for Blazers

The Trail Blazers hope to avoid going down 3-0 to the Dallas Mavericks as the series shifts to Portland. Posted by Ben Golliver.
blazers-game-3

The Narrative: 

Dirk Nowitzki did it again in Game 2, scoring the last 11 Mavericks points as Dallas blew the Portland Trail Blazers out of the water down the stretch for the second time in as many games. Portland's defense was a step slow or a step out of place all night, and Dallas carved it up late, scoring 28 points in the final period. Dallas's depth advantage was crucial, as Portland played a six-man rotation (plus 19 combined minutes for Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez) while Dallas got minutes and contributions from nine guys. As a result, the veteran Mavericks have looked more cohesive and more energetic on both ends, and have simply dominated the late-game scenarios. 

Portland is reeling: trailing 0-2 in the series, trying to tamp down drama caused by an emotional and frustrated Roy  and, more than anything, still searching for a way to stop Nowitzki with the game on the line. The Blazers walked off the court following Game 2 with an air of frustration and exhaustion. Will they show up re-energized for Game 3? If not, the prospect of an embarrassing and unexpected sweep lingers. That would represent a step backwards for this club, and could lead to some serious roster re-tooling over the next 12 months. In other words, everyone currently on the team that wants to remain on this team should have a bit of extra motivation.

The Hook: 

Portland's hopes for turning things around and avoiding what would be an insurmountable 0-3 deficit start with their return to the Rose Garden. The Blazers were 30-11 at home this year, including two wins over the Mavericks. They swept their last seven home games against Western Conference playoff teams (Nuggets, Mavericks, Spurs, Thunder, Mavericks, Lakers, Grizzlies). Many of the wins featured strong late-game play, particularly on the defensive end, something the Blazers haven't yet shown in this series. 

The buzzword is energy, though, the kind Portland brought early in Game 2 but which disappeared in the second half. Forward Gerald Wallace, guard Wesley Matthews and reserve forward Nicolas Batum all have shown the ability to up their game by feeding off the home crowd. They'll need to, as none of those guys has convincingly won their match-ups yet in this series. 

The Adjustment: 

As mentioned, the Blazers went 7-0 in their final seven home games against Western Conference playoff teams. In those games, Portland won by an average margin of five points, yet shot the same field goal percentage (46%)  as their opponents, shot worse from the three-point line (35.8% to 38.5%) and averaged just two more trips to the free throw line. Was this a matter of Portland's vaunted offensive rebounding carrying the day? Nope. The Blazers were out-rebounded, on average, 41-38 and gave up more offensive rebounds than they corralled. 

So if the Blazers were shooting worse, rebounding less and getting to the free throw line just two extra times per game, how did they manage to win all seven games by such a wide margin? Turnovers. 

Portland's slow-down pace and focus on ball control gave Portland a +2.6 turnover differential on the season (Portland averaged 12.4 turnovers while its opponents averaged 15.0). During the closing 7-0 stretch, that already strong differential doubled to +5.2 (Portland averaged 9.4 turnovers while its opponents averaged 14.6). 

Blazers coach Nate McMillan likes to call possessions "bullets". Dallas tied its season-low by committing just six turnovers in Game 2. The best way for Portland to keep pace with Dallas's offensive-efficiency machine is to have a significantly larger magazine in Game 3 -- just as they did to close the season against the West's best teams. 

The X-Factor: 

One player who is both capable of creating turnovers and cashing in on them is Fernandez, who has done nothing of note yet in this series, averaging 3.5 points and making just one three-pointer over the first two games. Fernandez, frankly, has been a disappointment in his third season. Other than selling a few t-shirts with his inane three-goggles routine, it's been all bad. His outside shooting has fallen off a cliff (a career-low 32.1% from deep) and he's failed to show any meaningful progression in other aspects of his offensive game. 

Still, while he's not blowing anyone away this season, Fernandez does play significantly better at home, where he averages 10.0 points, shoots 39.3% from the field and 35.1% from deep. On the road, those numbers slide to 7.2 points, 34.6% from the field and 28.9% from three-point range. He also plays five more minutes a game at home, a sign that his energy level and impact is greater, as Blazers coach Nate McMillan is a bit of a juggler when it comes to managing his second unit.

Dallas's bench outscored Portland's 39-11 in Game 2, and most of the talk surrounding those numbers has centered on Roy, who brought it upon himself by expressing dismay at his lack of playing time in Game 2. But Roy represents only one-half of Portland's bench problem. Fernandez, obviously, is the other. To win Game 3, the Blazers will need Fernandez to help put a dent in that bench scoring differential, or they are left to pray for a monster night from Roy. The dream scenario is for both to happen on the same night.

The Sticking Point: 

Portland faces such an uphill battle because Dallas's scoring balance has stretched Portland past its breaking point. With Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic providing more than enough from the outside to complement Dirk Nowitzki, the Blazers defense has looked a bit like someone playing wack-a-mole for the first time. The sleeping giant remains guard Jason Terry, who has taken on more of a play-making role while averaging 10 points per game in the series, six below his season average. If Portland begins to throw more double teams at Nowitzki -- which would make sense, given his dominance -- Terry is the likely No. 2 man to step up late for Dallas. And he's more than capable of winning a tight game with his jumper.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:07 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 3:33 am
 

NBA Playoffs Blazers-Mavericks: no Portland bench

The Dallas Mavericks held serve at home, and head to Portland with a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Blazers. Posted by Ben Golliver.
blazers-mavs-game-two


We said it in the series preview, and we noted it again in Tuesday's reset : the Portland Trail Blazers are not the team many thought they were and they're not the team they were as recently as a year or two ago. They're simply not deep. That point was made abundantly clear during Portland's 101-89 Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Depth in the NBA can vanish in the blink of an eye, and the Blazers represent that truism to the fullest. Over the last 18 months, Portland has: watched Greg Oden, Jeff Pendergraph and Elliot Williams go down to season-ending knee injuries; traded Martell Webster for a draft pick that became unused rookie Luke Babbitt; traded Jerryd Bayless for a draft pick; traded two rotations players in Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw in a consolidation trade for Marcus Camby; and traded two rotation players in Dante Cunningham and Joel Przybilla for Gerald Wallace

Add that up: eight players that saw minutes, plus Williams, are out with just two players coming back in return. That's six lost bodies -- players whose roster spots have been filled by unused rookies (Babbitt and Armon Johnson), D-Leaguers (Earl Barron and Chris Johnson) and one free agent signing (Wesley Matthews). That qualifies as an overhaul.

Portland's management can still argue that the trades improved Portland's top-end talent. Indeed, Camby and Wallace have been mainstays down the stretch for Portland, while Matthews has been a valued addition. All three are playoff starters. But the series of moves and the injuries -- including dual knee surgeries for Brandon Roy -- have decimated Portland's depth, leaving coach Nate McMillan with just one reserve player that he can regularly turn to and expect meaningful contributions from: Nicolas Batum

During Game 2, Portland's lack of depth was so tragic that it was almost comical. Aside from Batum's 10 points in 25 minutes, Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills combined to shoot 0-4 in 23 minutes, scoring just one combined point, grabbing four combined rebounds and dishing three combined assists. This on a night when aging Mavericks forward Peja Stojakovic outscored Portland's entire bench (including Batum) by himself and added five rebounds to boot. The falloff from starters to second unit for Portland was like a Mt. Hood cliff rather than a Pacific Ocean sand dune.

The lack of bench production -- and, frankly, energy and confidence -- led McMillan to play starters LaMarcus Aldridge (44 minutes), Marcus Camby (36 minutes), Andre Miller (39 minutes) and Wesley Matthews (36 minutes) more minutes than they played in Game 1, while the only starter who didn't take on extra burn was Gerald Wallace, who still played 38 minutes (down from 39). Before the game we wondered when in this series Portland's rotation would tighten even further than it already had. Immediately was the answer.

While the Blazers didn't look tired down the stretch, they certainly weren't the aggressors and often looked overwhelmed. With the score 90-84 with 3:57 to go in the game, Dallas began an 11-5 run. Scratch that: Dirk Nowitzki began an 11-5 run, as he scored Dallas's last 11 points after Stojakovich's outside shooting and J.J. Barea's forays into the paint destroyed Portland's defensive confidence and shape earlier in the final period. 

All Portland had to show in response to Nowitzki's barrage, which included a dagger jumper and a boatload of free throws, was a pair of Andre Miller free throws and a desperation Miller three-pointer. Aldridge, who had been beaten up all night by Dallas's interior defenders, scored his last point with 5:53 left in the game, a sure sign that Portland did not do what it needed to do from a late-game execution perspective. 

McMillan corrected his one big rotation error from Game 1 -- overplaying Roy, especially in the fourth quarter -- but the result was ultimately the same. His team was badly outplayed in the final six minutes. His starters looked overwhelmed and a half-step late on defense, and alternated between "unsure" and "forcing it" on offense. That's generally what happens when a team with eight or nine quality, productive players faces a team with six or seven.

The eternal optimists in Portland -- and there are many -- can take solace in the fact that Fernandez, Mills and Roy may get a boost from the Rose Garden crowd during Games 3 and 4. Fernandez, in particular, is notorious for playing better and more energetically at home. On the season, he averaged 10 points per game, shot 39.3% from the field and 35.1% from three-point land at home. Meanwhile, he averaged 7.2 points, shot 34.6% from the field and shot 28.9% from deep on the road. 

The pessimists, though, will say that Portland's bench simply can't play worse than it did Tuesday.

The realists will conclude that Portland's bench will likely play better -- because it can't play any worse -- but that it must play much, much better if Portland is to stand a chance at making this a true series against a deep, talented, balanced and motivated Mavericks squad. 
Posted on: April 19, 2011 3:53 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:27 pm
 

Series Reset: Can Portland bounce back?

We reset the Blazers-Mavericks series with Game 2 ready to tip Tuesday night. Can Portland bounce back in the Big D? Posted by Ben Golliver.

blazers-mavs1


The Narrative:

Dirk Nowitzki's big fourth quarter -- including 13-13 from the free throw line -- did Portland in during Game 1. Blazers coach Nate McMillan was left to gripe about the officiating afterwards, earning himself a big fine from the league office. On Tuesday, though, it was Dallas's turn to be up in arms about the referees, as longtime franchise nemisis, Danny Crawford, is set to be the Game 2 crew chief. As ESPNDallas.com points out , the Mavericks are just 2-16 in playoff games that Crawford has officated. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has refused to comment (so far).

The Hook:

Game 1 did not play out as expected : Nowitzki struggled from the field, Jason Kidd exploded for a season-high and both Jason Terry and Gerald Wallace were virtually invisible. About the only things that went according to plan were LaMarcus Aldridge's continued dominance of his Mavs defenders (27 points and six rebounds) and the lackluster shooting from Portland's guards (Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez combined to shoot 4-13, and Portland shot 2-16 overall from three-point land). If there's a big concern for Portland, it's that shooting. The slow-tempo Blazers had to love that neither team cracked 90 points in Game 1, but desperately need a third scoring option to emerge to take pressure off of Aldridge and point guard Andre Miller

That person figures to be Gerald Wallace, who was out-of-sync in Game 1, and had trouble finding space and touches as Dallas's defense packed it in. Wallace has talked about the need for upping the tempo , but what he really means is that Portland needs to win the turnover battle (each team had 13 in game one) and convert some easy buckets in transition. Wallace is a star in the open court and a few runouts off of steals or one-man fast breaks off of defensive rebounds can change momentum in a hurry. 

The Adjustment:

The must-watch strategic decision will be how many minutes Blazers guard Brandon Roy plays. For most of the last month, Roy's playing time has hovered between 15 and 20 minutes as he's been tasked with being a facilitator off Portland's bench. In Game 1, though, McMillan chose to ride Roy for virtually all of the fourth quarter. The move didn't work. Roy's production -- 1-7 shooting -- was in line with his recent struggles (he shot 33% in April). Meanwhile, Portland's starting two guard, Wesley Matthews, sat watching on the bench without ever impacting the game. While Matthews is wise and mature beyond his years, he's still a second-year player with consistency issues; McMillan's Game 1 rotation sent a fairly clear message that he didn't feel that Matthews could be counted upon at that moment. Was that a one-time thing? If so, how will Matthews respond? 

Does McMillan re-think that decision and go back to using Matthews down the stretch? It's something he's done for most of the spring and which has paid dividends in big games, like when Matthews picked Manu Ginobili to help set up a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the San Antonio Spurs in March. Or, does he decide to ride or die with Roy, a player who has had playoff success but who has also admitted that his struggles are "mental"? No one can know for certain, and it's unclear whether McMillan is planning that decision in advance or waiting to see how the early stages of Game 2 play out.

The X-Factor:

Terry, Dallas's second-leading scorer during the regular season at 15.8 points per game, continues his struggles against the Blazers. He reached his season average just once in four regular season games against Portland and scored just 10 points in Game 1, with five of those coming on late free throws. That Terry would only attempt five shots in 27 minutes is eye-opening, but it's also a product of Kidd frequently calling his own number. Kidd was red hot in Game 1 -- going off for six three-pointers and 24 points -- and that's not a performance we'll likely see in back-to-back games. With J.J. Barea also struggling and Rodrigue Beaubois set to be a game-time decision, Terry simply must produce for Dallas. Otherwise, the offense will be imbalanced and Nowitzki will be swarmed liked mad. 

The Sticking Point:

With so many veterans playing big minutes and so little production coming from each team's bench in Game 1, a major sticking point to watch for the rest of the series is whether both coaches tighten their rotations, applying even more pressure on their stars and elder statesmen. McMillan is playing just eight guys while Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle played nine. How McMillan divvies up playing time for Aldridge (who played 41 minutes), center Marcus Camby (29 minutes) Andre Miller (34 minutes) and Gerald Wallace (39 minutes) will be the place to start. It's quite possible all four of those players see more time in Game 2, pending foul trouble of course. For Dallas, unless Barea steps up, the temptation will be to ride Nowitzki (39 minutes), Kidd (34 minutes) and Tyson Chandler (32 minutes) even harder as well. 

Who, if anyone, breaks first under the strain of additional playing time? And at what point in the series does it happen?
Posted on: April 17, 2011 2:26 am
Edited on: April 17, 2011 2:45 am
 

NBA Playoffs Mavericks-Blazers: 3 surprises

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of their first round NBA Playoffs series. Posted by Ben Golliver.
dirk-mavs-blazers

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Dallas Mavericks All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki won a home playoff game by parading to the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Nowitzki's 13-13 performance at the stripe in the final quarter -- 12 minutes of perfection that sealed Dallas' 89-81 Game 1 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers -- was a familiar ending, but there were plenty of surprises that preceded it. 

By virtue of being one of the most evenly matched series, Blazers-Mavericks was also one of the most scrutized. Here's three game-changing factors that nobody saw coming.

1. Jason Kidd explodes from deep

Everyone assumed that Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd would step up his production above the numbers he put up during the season series against the Blazers. Twice in four games, Kidd failed to make a shot and he averaged less than five points a game over the four meetings between the two teams.

On Saturday, the Blazers simply lost track of him time and time again and he bombed away eagerly. Whether he was open in semi-transition, open because of slow rotation, open because Blazers guards went under high picks, one thing was for sure: Kidd was open. When the dust settled, he finished with 24 points on 6-10 from downtown. That's the most points Kidd has scored in a game in more than a year -- since April 3, 2010 -- and tied for the most three-pointers he's made this season. Talk about the perfect time to show up.

It's unlikely Kidd will have another explosion like this, but he probably won't need to. In Dallas' balanced scoring attack there are plenty of other offensive options who can put up bigger numbers than they did in Game 1. Jason Terry, in particular, is due for a game in which he gets more than five shots and 10 points (half of those coming on fourth quarter free throws) as he's also struggled against Portland this season. JJ Barea (1-7), Peja Stojakovic (2-7) and DeShawn Stevenson (2-4) are all also capable of more. Kidd, in a sense, called his own number tonight because it was required, especially with Nowitzki struggling with his efficency early in the game. Look for order and scoring balance to be restored as this series continues. 

More on Blazers at Mavs
Related links
Video
2. Brandon Roy plays down the stretch
The most head-scratching coaching decision of this game -- and arguably of Portland's season -- came when Nate McMillan opted to play guard Brandon Roy the entire fourth quarter instead of starting guard Wesley Matthews, fellow reserve Rudy Fernandez or center Marcus Camby.

Just once in the last month has Roy played more than 26 minutes -- a recent home win over the Lakers -- and nothing about his recent play suggests he should be playing the crunch time minutes in this series. Roy shot just 33% from the field in April and has looked tentative with the ball in his hands and reluctant to shoot. To be blunt, he's a half-step slow and regularly over-thinking; reactive rather than proactive. The role he's filled has been that of a drive-and-kick facilitator, yet his speed and quickness with the ball in his hands has not recovered from his most recent knee surgeries and he doesn't draw the off-ball attention he once did. The result on Saturday was a bogged down late-game offense that failed to generate free throws or clean looks and allowed Dallas to make a major run late in the final quarter.

What's even more confusing, though, is that McMillan has almost always turned to Matthews late in games when the Blazers have held the lead. Portland led 72-66 with less than six minutes to go, the perfect situation to swap Roy for Matthews and slam the door shut. Not only is Matthews a superior defender, he's also a superior outside shooter (Matthews has shot 40.7% from deep this season while Roy has shot 33.3%). As a team, Portland shot 2-16 from deep on the night , including 1-7 in the final quarter. While Matthews struggled early with turnovers, he certainly has shown this season that he deserves more than 19 minutes and three shots. If Matthews wasn't such a nice guy and team player, he should be seething.

Even if McMillan decided Matthews simply didn't have it going in the pressure-packed situation that is Game 1, he had other options. Rudy Fernandez, although not a true impact player on Saturday, had six points, two rebounds and one assist in 18 minutes. If not Fernandez, then going back to a larger lineup -- with Marcus Camby in the middle -- would have been another option. While that would likely have led to easier double teams and more congestion for LaMarcus Aldridge -- who was excellent on the evening, finishing with 27 points and six boards -- Camby, who 18 rebounds in 29 minutes, would have been a difference-maker on the boards late, as Dallas center Tyson Chandler's four fourth-quarter rebounds were huge in extending Dallas possessions and ending Portland possessions.

Really, the late-game strategy should have been simple: Anybody But Roy. He finished 1-7 on the evening for two points and played exactly how recent history suggested he would play: flat, late and not in tune with a flowing offensive team concept. What's more, McMillan's decision was a departure from his usual rotation, necessitating an adjustment from all of Roy's teammates. Why did he do it? And, more importantly, why now? 

3. Gerald Wallace is virtually invisble

Publication after publication touted Blazers forward Gerald Wallace as the X-factor in this series for plenty of good reasons: his defensive versatility, his array of offensive skills, his veteran leadership and his combination of experience and toughness. Wallace has told reporters in recent weeks that he's settled into his surroundings after some initial nervousness following a midseason trade that sent him from the Charlotte Bobcats to the Blazers. Tonight, we didn't see that.

Wallace was as invisible as he has been in a month, shooting a jittery 4-13 from the field, committing three turnovers and scoring just eight points and five rebounds in 38 minutes. To find a performance from Wallace that was that lacking, you have to go all the way back to March 15 which, incidentally, was a game against the Dallas Mavericks. That's an immediate red flag for Portland's upset hopes.

Wallace is McMillan's jack-of-all-trades, a player who is surely capable of defending multiple positions. But, on the offensive end, he struggled to find space against Dallas' veteran defense, a group that played a motivated and intelligent game all-around from start to finish. Dallas focused most of its team energy on Aldridge, and Wallace couldn't quite find the correct spacing and timing to get the points Portland needs from him. His ineffectiveness was arguably systematic, as this was a low-scoring, fairly ugly game in which Portland never found a solid offensive rhythm (except for Aldridge). Wallace surely has better nights in him, just as Portland's offense does. A few more made three-pointers from deep and everything else will open up. Wallace should be a key beneficiary.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 3:33 pm
 

Blazers-Mavericks preview: Upset special?

A preview of the first round playoff series between the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers. Posted by Ben Golliver.

aldridge-chandler

 

I. Intro: No. 6 seed Portland Trail Blazers (48-34) vs. No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25)

The city of Portland rejoiced when the Los Angeles Lakers finally finished off the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night to claim the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, setting up Portland, who had already clinched the No. 6 spot, for a date with the Dallas Mavericks. The consensus started building as early as March that the Blazers would prefer to play the Mavericks over any of the West’s top four. That desire is motivated in part because the Blazers lost center Greg Oden for the season -- and thus have trouble dealing with LA's length and size inside -- but also because the team has fared well against the Mavericks in the regular season and the match-ups are pretty close up and down these rosters.

With that said, the Blazers have a very good chance at pulling off an upset here, but don't rush to anoint them. Indeed, the talk from Dallas that the Mavericks are the "underdogs" is nonsense. Dallas is better on both sides of the ball, has more playoff experience, possesses homecourt advantage and its core has played together much longer than Portland's, which didn't come together until this year's trade deadline move for forward Gerald Wallace

Blazers-Mavericks should go down to the wire and compete with the Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder for best first round playoff series.   

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Blazers-Mavericks season series between the two teams is about as even as it gets. The teams split 2-2, with the home team winning all four games. The numbers in those games are comically close. The Blazers averaged 96.8 points while the Mavericks averaged 96.0, making for an almost invisible point differential. The Blazers averaged 37.3 rebounds while the Mavericks averaged 37 rebounds. The teams even both averaged 17 fouls per game. Really? 

There were a few differences, though. The Mavericks shot better from the field – by almost three percent – and from distance – by five percent. The Blazers closed that gap by getting to the free throw line slightly more and by grabbing more offensive rebounds. For Portland to pull the upset, that will need to continue. Dallas possesses a better overall offense (No. 8 in the league), has a higher overall rebound rate and, thanks to Jason Kidd, has the league’s highest assist rate. They’re a top-five shooting team overall and shoot better from deep than the inconsistent Blazers.

While both teams held serve at home during the regular season, it’s worth noting that the Mavericks have the league’s best road record at 28-13. The Blazers, meanwhile, were 18-23 on the road, which doesn’t bode well for a potential game seven.

III. The Easy Stuff: LaMarcus Aldridge has been huge against Dallas

Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge has made a ton of noise this season as he’s become the team’s No. 1 scoring option in the wake of Brandon Roy’s knee issues. Aldridge was the last guy cut off the Western Conference All-Star team, earned Player of the Month honors, has been floated as a Most Improved Player candidate as well as a top 10 MVP candidate and has a decent shot of making the All-NBA Third Team. He achieved cult status in Portland when he went on a ridiculous midseason tear.

Aldridge has regularly referenced a December game in Dallas as the moment a switch flipped for him, the time that he realized he needed to do more – much more – offensively if the Blazers were to make hte playoffs. Against the Mavericks this season, Aldridge has averaged 28.6 points and nine rebounds per game and he’s gotten to the line more than eight times per game. He’s succeeded, in part, because Tyson Chandler is the only Dallas big who can stick with him defensively.

Dallas will surely pay tons of attention to Aldridge, doubling him, pressuring him on the ball and forcing Portland’s shooters – streaky guys like Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez – to make them pay for collapsing on Aldridge. Given the quality of Dallas’s offense, Portland simply won’t be able to keep pace offensively unless Aldridge posts big numbers. There's pressure on him, without a doubt, and he will need to respond.

IV. Secret of the Series: Jason Terry is the X-factor for Dallas

While no team in the NBA can feel totally confident in its ability to defend Dirk Nowitzki – a player who once again didn’t get enough run as an MVP candidate – the Blazers have multiple guys to throw at him: Aldridge, Wallace and even Batum. Mavericks guard Jason Terry, though, is a different story, as his quickness, pull-up shooting and big shot-making abilities leaves Portland looking for answers. Surprisingly, during the regular season series Terry was a virtual non-factor, averaging just 12.3 points and 1 assist against the Blazers; Only San Antonio, Chicago and Milwaukee held him to a lower point average than Portland.

Matthews and Fernandez will probably get the call on Terry and the Blazers will switch a ton late in games to keep a hand in his face. There should be a comfort factor for Dallas in knowing they split this season with their No. 2 option being off his game. If Terry shows up – or if he goes off like he’s fully capable of doing – it will be something the Blazers haven’t dealt with this season.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "Portland is so deep they can overwhelm you”

In previous years, NBA executives and media members around the league would marvel at the vast collection of young talent that Portland had assembled. Injuries and consolidation trades have taken a major toll, however, and the Blazers are not nearly as deep as they might look on paper. Blazers coach Nate McMillan didn’t settle on a starting lineup until late in the season – he tried Wallace at the power forward spot before sliding him in at small forward – but once he did he rode his starters hard. McMillan has really leaned on Aldridge and Wallace down the stretch – often playing them both over 40 minutes a night – and you can expect him to play veteran starting point guard Andre Miller heavy minutes as well.

Portland’s bench really only goes three deep: Batum, Fernandez and Brandon Roy. Batum has done a nice job of settling into a reserve role after ceding his starting spot to Wallace, but he can’t always be counted on to make an immediate offensive impact. Fernandez has struggled with his shot all season long but – like Batum – can change a game with his energy and defensive instincts.

Roy is the biggest question mark and could be a major player in this series. His size makes him a tough cover for Dallas’s reserve guards and he should get a fair number of minutes because he can hide on defense – where he’s a major liability due to a lack of lateral quickness – against Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson or Peja Stojakovich. The problem is that he appears to no longer trust his shot, shooting just 33% in April and looking to facilitate Portland’s second-team offense rather than get his own scoring. If Roy steps up and provides a legitimate scoring punch off the bench, it will relieve pressure not only on his fellow reserves but on Portland’s starting unit as well. The bad news: he’s scored in double figures just twice in the last month. The good news: his best game of 2011 came against Dallas, when he dropped in 21.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: Neither Andre Miller nor Jason Kidd played great in the regular season series: Miller averaged nine points and four assists while Kidd averaged five points and eight assists. But watching two of the game’s smartest, craftiest point guards in the postseason should make for an excellent chess match. Call this a push.

SG: Reports out of Dallas are that DeShawn Stevenson will start at the two and, while he brings a bigger body than Rodrigue Beaubois, he’s the definition of unpredictable. On the opposite side, Wesley Matthews took a nice leap forward in his second season, drawing MIP consideration and upping his scoring average in a big way. He plays hard and enjoys playing defense late in games, something he will be asked to do. Slight advantage: Blazers.

SF: Gerald Wallace is being highlighted and circled everywhere as a potential X-factor for the Blazers, and rightfully so. He’s been a phenomenon since arriving in Portland at the trade deadline and has given the Blazers great defensive versatility, an added measure of toughness and a veteran savvy that were lacking. Shawn Marion is probably getting looked over in all of this, as he averaged 13.3 points and six rebounds against the Blazers this season. Wallace’s overall activity level gives him the nod, but not by as much as you would think. Advantage: Blazers.

PF: Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge should be about as fascinating as any first-round match-up in the Western Conference. Nowitzki has averaged 21.7 points and seven boards this season against the Blazers and put some nails in the coffin down the stretch of an early season game with some huge fourth quarter baskets. Nowitzki has a big edge in playoff experience, he has the homecourt advantage and he should have plenty of help defending Aldridge. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Much like Miller/Kidd, the center match-up of Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby pits fairly similar players: long, rebounding-first defensive specialists. But Chandler brings more on the offensive end and is younger and Camby has struggled a bit since his return from arthroscopic knee surgery in early 2011. Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: Terry is the major standout while JJ Barea’s speed has given Portland problems in the past. Thanks to Brendan Haywood, the Mavericks also have more depth up front, which could be a big factor in helping keep Dallas’s starters out of foul trouble. Unless Roy shows up, Portland’s bench lacks pop. Advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: The pressure is on Rick Carlisle to deliver in the postseason, as the Mavericks have been bounced in the first round three of the last four years. McMillan has applied expectations of his own, stating recently that it was time for both the Blazers and himself to take the next step and win a playoff series, something they were unable to do against the Rockets in 2009 and the Suns in 2010. Both teams rely heavily on advanced scouting and tendency analysis and both teams incorporate zone defense looks. Should be a fun one. Call it a push.

VII. Conclusion

Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but Dallas should eventually pull it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a great option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in 7.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Tyson Chandler and the Dallas Mavericks will take on LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers in round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ian Eagle and Ken Berger breakdown this playoff matchup.

Posted on: March 31, 2011 5:48 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 1:05 am
 

2011 NBA Most Improved Player: Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook should win the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. Posted by Ben Golliver.

russell-westbrook-mip

The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award is as flawed and subjective as the rest of the league’s year-end awards, perhaps more so because it’s so widely open to interpretation. Is this given to the role player who breaks out once he's given starter’s minutes? The starter who makes the leap to stardom? The guy who puts up the biggest raw number increases? The player who takes a significant step forward in his efficiencies? All are possibilities, as a change of scenery, new offensive system or coach, an expanded role and raw skill development all can fall under the subjective umbrella of “Improvement.”

But all improvement in the NBA should not be created equal. The easiest trap to fall into with this award is to confuse opportunity with improvement. Last year’s MIP, Aaron Brooks, is the perfect example: He significantly ramped up his numbers given tons more minutes, but then came flying straight back to earth this season once the minutes evaporated.  Certainly Brooks got better last year. But what impact did it really have? The Rockets didn’t make the playoffs and they didn’t even bother to seriously consider offering him a contract extension before trading him after he turned into a Grade-A head case this season. We’re supposed to get excited and dedicate an entire award to that?

If we must have an award to recognize improvement, it should go to the player whose development has positively impacted his team’s identity and league-wide standing.  A player whose progress represents sustainable development that will prevent him from being a flash in the pan. A player who is likely to figure into the league’s future, not a role player whose impact will fluctuate if he changes teams or coaches.

NBA.com did an excellent job breaking down which players took the biggest statistical jumps this season, whether by points scored or overall efficiency. The lists are dominated by players on lottery teams: Dorell Wright, Nick Young, DeMar DeRozan, D.J. Augustin, Kevin Love and Daniel Gibson. With the possible exception of Love, it’s difficult to be certain that any of these candidates will be able to sustain their growth over the long haul. All were asked to play heavy minutes and take on a heavy scoring burden on incomplete teams. While all have shown personal growth, their steps forward owe too much to opportunity and, in Love's case, pace.

Two names on those lists, however, do stick out: Portland guard Wesley Matthews and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook. Matthews, like many of the others, has taken on a new role that requires additional scoring from him, as he was signed by the Portland Trail Blazers and asked to start at shooting guard due to injuries to Brandon Roy, upping his scoring average from 9.4 to 15.9 and improving his rebounding, assist and steal numbers as well. Matthews flourished in that role, helping power the Blazers to the post-season, but he didn’t do it alone. Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge also broke out in Roy’s absence, upping his scoring from 17.9 to a career-high 21.9 and grabbing 8.6 rebounds per game, also a career-high, while playing nearly forty minutes a night.

Aldridge’s improvement was the bigger deal for Portland. His emergence as a number one scoring option engineered the Blazers offense and made life easier on Matthews and Portland’s other wings. His statistical run in advance of the All-Star break won’t soon be forgotten – as he set new career-highs multiple times – and became what LeBron James called the “biggest All-Star snub of all time.” Unfortunately, Aldridge’s development was not enough to take Portland to new heights. After winning 54 games two seasons ago and slipping to 50 wins last year, the Blazers are headed for the mid-40s in wins this season. Aldridge prevented the bottom from falling out but, through no real fault of his own, his play didn’t prove to be transformative on a league-wise scale this season.

Westbrook, however, hits all of the established criteria that Matthews and Aldridge did, and more.

NBA Awards

Oklahoma City’s third-year point guard raised his scoring more than all seven players in the NBA, from 16.9 to 22.7 points, a remarkable uptick. Unlike many players in that situation, including Matthews, Westbrook did it by becoming a significantly more efficient shooter. Westbrook has improved his at-rim shooting percentage by nearly eight percentage points and he’s improved his three-point effective field goal percentage by an astonishing 15.6%. He’s also getting to the line more than seven times a game, a game-changing increase over last year. Taken together, Westbrook has improved his shooting, his shot selection and his ability to get free points. What more do you want from a guy who, his critics said, couldn't be trusted to hit a shot early in his career? 

He’s also doing all of that while also improving his assist totals and serving as the number two offensive option on his team – behind the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant, of course. His increase in personal production hasn't come at the expense of others, a critical factor when evaluating a point guard's impact on winning.

To truly appreciate the impact of Westbrook’s overall efficiency improvement, check his PER rankings. As a rookie, Westbrook was the 21st rated point guard in the league, below average. Last season, Westbrook was 11th, slightly above average for a starter. This season? Westbrook is the No. 2 rated point guard – trailing only Chris Paul – and the No. 9 player in the entire league. Overall, he jumped from No. 57 to No. 9. This is simply ridiculous. None of this year’s other top 10 players – LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Gasol – was rated lower than no. 22 last season. Westbrook cracked the insanely selective elite of the elite when it comes to efficiency, and he managed to do it in one offseason.

This giant leap forward not only made him an All-Star for the first time this year, it has defined Oklahoma City’s season and future.  His emergence as a superstar will push OKC from 50 wins last year to the mid-50s and a Northwest Division title this year, and it gave GM Sam Presti the confidence to take the plunge on a franchise-altering trade for center Kendrick Perkins at the deadline, as he could be confident that he had two franchise building blocks that seamlessly fit together from which to build around. Westbrook’s improvement makes the Thunder the most feared team in the West this season -- outside of the Lakers, of course – and it makes them, on paper, a sure-fire Western Conference contender for the next 5-10 years.

Taken together, Russell Westbrook has improved his skills, bumped his numbers, carried his team to new heights and he’s done it in a way that seems sustainable for years to come. That’s everything – and more – that I ask of my NBA MIP. Give the man his trophy.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com