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Living on the Edge

In preparation for tonight's game I got in touch with Dave from Blazers Edge. His feedback was in depth, informative and will be seen throughout this preview. Make sure to check out site as well. You will learn something. Meanwhile, let's start with a primer on the Blazers:

"--Brandon Roy is the heart and soul of this team.  Forget the stats, his leadership and poise make all the difference.  He refuses to let this team give up and that's given Portland more wins than they probably deserve.

--Lamarcus Aldridge is the multi-purpose scoring machine.  He needs to have a good night for Portland to win easily.

--Martell Webster and James Jones are the outside gunners.  When other Blazers penetrate the defense usually collapses.  This leaves one of these guys open on the wing.  Jones has the highest three-point shooting percentage in the league.

--Travis Outlaw becomes an unstoppable one-man wrecking ball in the fourth quarter.  He can hop out of the gym and seems to take a perverse pleasure in hitting shots you wouldn't attempt playing HORSE.

--The other guard spot is either manned by Steve Blake or Jarrett Jack.  Blake is steady, can hit the three when open like Webster and Jones, but basically sets other players up.  Jack is a wide-body who drives the lane, draws fouls, and converts.

--The other big men are Joel Przybilla and Channing Frye.  They couldn't be more different.  Przybilla has a limited offensive game but shuts down the middle and rebounds with energy.  Frye has no inside game on either end but can hit a jumper like a guard and also rebounds." - Dave from Blazers Edge.

I have to admit that I have been following the Trailblazers from afar all season and I am impressed by a lot of what is going on in Portland. For example they have one of the slicker, more sophisticated looking websites in the NBA. Two aspects stand out:
  1. I like the select a player feature, although I don't have any profound reasons why. It's just cool.
  2. News of Greg Oden's season ending surgery took the Internet by storm. It set off a round Sam Bowie comparisons and "They should have taken Kevin Durant" stories. In case you forgot Henry Abbot compiled a list of Oden related stories. Since then the Blazers' frequent winning has turned fans' attitude around. But even before the Ws started to pile up Blazers organization came up with Oden's Rehabilitation Blog. Can you think of a better way to get fans up close to the team's number one pick while simultaneously making him a positive presence and salvaging a possible lost year in regards to increasing the team's following? I say no.
Meanwhile, the Blazers are likable for a number of other reasons as well:
  • It is the youngest team in the NBA. For years people have been saying that young teams can't win. Maybe Portland can't win it all. But the squad is certainly proving critics wrong.
  • Not only are the Blazers winning but people, myself included, are not entirely sure why. Thankfully I can at least ask the right people:
"--On any given night only about half of these non-Roy/Aldridge guys are on offensively, but that's enough.  Portland rides the hot hand until it cools.  The best feature of the Blazer offense is ball movement.  This is the least selfish team you've seen in decades, guaranteed.  In fact they tend to break down quickly when there's a lot of one-on-one.  90% or more of Portland's shots are good looks.  That's the key.

--The Blazer defense is way better than the sum of its parts.  None of these guys outside of Przybilla are better than average defensively and many are worse.  But Portland plays an active zone, forcing the opponent to shoot over the top.  They rotate quickly, communicate, and hardly ever give up on plays.  Gone are the days when the opponent would get 20 fast break buckets in a game.  This team is smart about its shots and quick getting back.

--Surprisingly for a young team the Blazers do not turn the ball over.  They also draw a lot of fouls for a jumper-oriented squad.

--On a good night Portland will win by hitting shots, making your defense scramble to cover all five players, getting to the ball before you do, taking good care of it once they've got it, and limiting your easy shots.  The Blazers tend to be weak rebounding and defending the paint.  They almost never fast break or generate easy buckets.  They are vulnerable if they are missing or if you are scoring in transition or deep in the key.  At the beginning of the season the book on them was that they were soft.  Many teams have tried to bounce them around.  At first it worked, but somewhere along the line the youngsters decided to fight back.  Nowadays if you give them a black eye they will get up, stare you down, and score six on you in 30 seconds, probably elbowing you upside the head in the process." - Dave from Blazers Edge.

- From the admittedly small amount of Blazers coverage I have watched and read it seems like the players genuinely get along. Just look at some of the pictures from the Blazers' website. Either they have some Soviet style propaganda skills or these guys actually like each other. Turns out the latter is an accurate assumption:
" The one thing almost every media person covering the team--from the jaded beat writers opposing columnists to our own Blazersedge correspondent--remarks upon is how amazing these guys are as people and how amazing they are together.  They do not care who wins the game and they do not care how it's won as long as the job is done.  When the 12th guy off the bench makes a great play every single player is standing up, cheering, and high-fiving.  There's a ton of pride and backbone in this team, but no ego.  They eat together on the road, talk constantly together about basketball on the team plane, and absorb coaching and critique like sponges.  There is not one bad story on the active roster.  If the team bus broke down on the way to the arena and they had to call for help they'd probably get out, sign autographs, help old ladies across the street, and mow people's lawns to pass the time until the new ride arrived." - Dave from Blazers Edge.

How awesome is that? And yes I am referring to the chemistry and the fact that Blazers Edge has a correspondent. Green Bandwagon needs a correspondent. Any takers?

One more question for Dave - When news of Zach Randolph's trade to New York surfaced people seemed happy to see his "Hoops Family" leave. And now, two and a half months into the season, the deal appears to make sense from a basketball stance as well. How important do you think the Randolph trade was?
And his response:

" The Randolph trade was critical.  Like it or not the scoring leader on any NBA team sets the tone for the whole team.  Zach was the center of gravity for this squad.  And everything you just read above, he wasn't.  He was completely indifferent defensively, passing was Option 26c on his list of things to do, he only hustled when it meant points for him, and as the article you've cited states he was a handful off the court.  Basically there was a mutiny last year.  The young guys looked at the old guard Blazers and said, "We don't want this."  They wanted to win.  They wanted to play hard.  And they didn't want to worry about all of the extracurricular crap.  At least one of them went to the general manager and said he had to trade Zach to make any renewal a reality.  And he did.  Portland made a decision that they would sink or swim doing things the right way.  Given the string of 20-30 win seasons lately that decision wasn't very hard to make, but it's still scary giving up your "best" player at any time for any reason.  Lo and behold there's been a ton of swimming this year and very little sinking.

Sometimes it only takes one guy in the right spot to submarine a team.  How long can four players bust their butts rotating on defense when the fifth guy just lets the opponent score?  How many times do you give up the ball unselfishly when it keeps ending up in the same player's hands and he refuses to do so?  Zach has a ton of talent but also a ton to learn about winning basketball.  He's now getting the chance to learn somewhere else and from the Blazer point of view that's a good thing.  Zach is less than an afterthought in Portland now and will remain so until we face the Knicks (or whatever team he gets traded to next)."

Match Ups:

Rajon Rondo vs. Steve Blake - I like Blake's game. He's a steady point guard that will hit the three if you dare him to. If healthy I'd give the edge to Rajon Rondo. But that's before taking into account the fact that Jarrett Jack comes off the bench for Portland. Blake and Jack form a consistent, steady two-headed monster of sorts at the point. Not the kind of monster that is going to destroy you and break your will to live. More of the kind of monster that sneaks up on you and leaves you wondering what the hell just happened. You know what I mean? Let's move on.

Ray Allen vs. Brandon Roy - I'm going to echo what most people are saying. Roy is awesome. He probably would have gone higher in the draft if not for some injury concerns and he has already made his way into my top ten MVP candidates. Meanwhile, Ray Allen is STRUGGLING. Advantage Blazers. Although Allen has been working hard on defense and if he can get into a rhythm I'd reconsider this one.

Kevin Garnett vs. LaMarcus Aldrdige - KG is the savvy veteran star that always puts up numbers. I do think that Aldridge does have the youth and athleticism to make Garnett run the court. I'd go advantage Garnett because he is stellar.

Paul Pierce vs. Martell Webster - Much like the Garnett/Aldridge match up I'd give Pierce the edge here. However, Webster is a wild card of sorts. I'm interested to see how he goes at Pierce.

Kendrick Perkins vs. Joel Przybilla - I like Perkins' game but is often side tracked by foul trouble or bench time. It appears that Przybilla is a little more consistent in what he provides. It is time for Perk to step up and part of that involves Doc Rivers getting him on the court.

Gunners off the Bench - James Jones and Eddie House. It would be great if House could break out of his recent slump.

Wild Cards - Travis Outlaw and Glen Davis. No one knows what they will provide, if anything, tonight.

Something Is Wrong For One Team If They Get Significant Time - Taurean Green and Leon Powe.

Final Thought: Did anyone else enjoy the admittedly not that clever Aerosmith reference  I used in the title?

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