Friday, February 24, 2012

The Gorilla is Back

I heard a rumor or two that Joel was looking around to get back in on some good, old-fashioned NBA action. The rumors even said that he maybe just might want to make his return in a Blazers uniform. I have always liked Big Country. He plays hard, and makes up for any lack of skill with heart. He's a work hard, and respect that more than anything else. Harder to go pro with heart than skill, but Joel did. A crowd favorite, a coach favorite I'm sure, and just a great human, all around, he fit right in in Portland, and I was part of the collective whimper when he left.

Well, the rumors were confirmed, and Joel passed up what many consider two strong title contenders in Miami and Chicago to return to Rainville. He said his heart was here, and his wife's was too. All I had to say was YAAAAAAAAY.

He's not the most skilled player in the league, I'll admit. But the spark that he brings to the game, the energy, is something that the Blazers haven't had this year, even some of last season. With the departure of another fan favorite in Dre, and dare I mention the retire--- of another key player in...well, you know, the Thrilla's coming back is so awesome it's like the first time I heard The Beatles, for the second time.

I can't wait for the All-Star break to be over. Not only to breathe again knowing LA is healthy (knock on wood), but to see Vanilla Beast get back on that floor, hear the crowd roar, and get that game back that we so desperately missed. Fill that void with his big body and his no-nonsense attitude. I'm not saying I want Ty Crane Tyson Chandler to start another fight, but I wouldn't change the channel. I'd probably turn the volume up.

So, let's all give Przybilla the welcome back he deserves when he finally dons the jersey he was born to wear. Raise your glass to the once and future Vanilla Gorilla, and watch him step up to start the block party. Legen-wait for it-----(keep waiting until the next game).

LA in FL

At the beginning of the season, the Blazers organization and fans alike had one thing on their minds: Don't need Brandon Roy. As everyone knows, Brandon Roy was the keystone guy in Portland. Had the All-Star games in his pocket, had the ball late in games and had first dibs at contract extensions. He was the highly touted character and skill guy, The Natural, that the city and team seemed to lean on.

But, he retired. Without him the city was sad, but one thing was still guaranteed. That thing being the season ahead. Trades and acquisitions were all well and good, but without the Wonder Roy, the question remained: What will we be? Oden out again, Roy gone, the holy Trifecta kaput. Only 76 together as a group. Could we still be good? Will we turn heads or continue to under-produce? Worse yet, will more knees crumble like like the Byzantine Empire resulting in a team more patched together than my grandmother's holocaust quilt?

In a mere 8 games, the answer was clear. LaMarcus arrived. Every season he has stepped up a little more, outplaying the term 'soft', adding to his game, becoming a more complete player. But, every season he was left with a bigger chip on his shoulder, in part due to playing second fiddle. Well, this season, with his new role, he gained new confidence. Perhaps he's just produced more now that he feels wanted. Much easier to commit when you know you're wanted (my girlfriend taught me that). With the ball in his hands it was like LaMarcus was looking us in the questioning eyes and saying "Do we need Roy? Of course not."

Averaging 22.3 points per game, the dude is a beast on the block. He's become the offensive threat Blazers fans always knew he could be, drawing double teams that never came before and has added moves to his repertoire that enable him to be, at times, unguardable. Even everyone's favorite player to hate, LeBron James, couldn't help but tweet that LA is an All-Star. High praise coming from a perennial All-Star, future HoF player known for his strength and skill.

As much a fan as I am, I won't say LA is perfect. There is always room for improvement in sports, and LA knows it. He could be more consistent, especially with free throws. He could get more rebounds, or block some more shots. He's still not yet the elite player I anticipated on draft day. He could be a double-double machine, and he's not there yet. But, the keyword there is 'yet'. He's still got youth, he's only just become really needed, and he's still clearly on the uprise. And, as aware and self-driven as he is, LA will make sure – as he always has – that he gets better.

That's the magic I see in LA. The very best is yet to come. His greatest weapon has always been his opponent's lack of confidence in him. They've said he's soft, he can't play the low post, that he can't carry a team, and he's always proved them very wrong. He got snubbed from All-Star Sunday last year, just like Ryan Gosling did from Oscar Sunday this year, but instead of complaining, he found motivation to make certain it didn't happen again.

He's added facets to his game that even he still doesn't comprehend. The first time he tried his new up-and-under, his opponent couldn't help but shrug. As if to say "Not much I could do about that." The best part was though, I swear I saw LA shake his head in wonder also. Probably much faster in realtime than he was in practice. When you're surprising yourself, that's a good thing.

So ,with this year's selection to All-Star Weekend 2012, LaMarcus has gotten some acknowledgement that is long overdue. But what makes him the true All-Star is not the game this weekend, but the game he has yet to bring. He's no Little Engine That Should, he's the MuthaFreakin' L-Train.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stompin' Ground

As bad as the Los Angeles game was, this was good. A margin of victory of 40 points is the largest ever against the Spurs, and tonight it happened with nearly 15 minutes of garbage time. The Spurs chose not to play two starters in Duncan and Parker, and that would've changed the face of the game significantly. But getting up to a 48 point spread makes me think that any change of pace may not have altered the outcome.

In short, I was proud that the boys actually came to play tonight. Felton, in what might have been an attempt at getting his starting role back, played much better than ever before, and Jamal Crawford shone like the star(ter) he is. He didn't miss a shot until the second half, if I recall.

Could there have been improvements? Always. Turnovers are haunting at times, because though the team isn't last in the league in that category, they seem to commit turnovers at a really bad time. I don't want shoddy garbage minutes affecting habits. Also, free throws were below 100%. Come on, they're free. That's a point, a professional point, that is given to you. Missing free throws is like walking up to a Little Caesar's with Andrew Jackson, and coming back with two Abe Lincolns and a bread stick. Cash it in, Kyle.

And, the glaringly obvious, most splendiforous thing I would have loved to have seen is...this sort of effort last game. Or even half. Average the two and you get two victories instead of the world's worst half and the team's 8th largest victory spread. That's not a real number, I only know it's the second-largest of the season, first being 44 points against the Bobcraps. Which, at that time was the largest win of the season for any team, so it could still be.

Anyway, I wish I could say I don't think they played this hard because it's their extended weekend now, but I guess we can only see after the All Star break.

The Gory Blaze: McMillan left Matthews in 20 seconds too long, leaving him with a minor ankle sprain. The All Star break should allow time for healing, but at a point in the game where even Stilty Wilty couldn't win it, you face palm the coaching decision there.

The Brilliant: Elliot "Oh Yes I Did Just Do That" Williams. 17 points or so, playing in early and late minutes, the dude jumped out of crowds of Spurs to rebound and/or dunkface people. Improve those free throws and he's a significant bench player.

Side note: Everyone but Camby scored. I could bug him about that, saying a single basket would've tied the 44 point game and all, but he never attempted a shot, got 2 assists and snagged 5 boards in barely 14 minutes of theoppositeof a slugfest. Rest them old knees, my ninja.

Monday, February 20, 2012

LA Lights

I don't think anyone called tonight's game. Not even the Lakers. I mean, when preparing to play a professional basketball game, most see the other team as a [james] worthy opponent. Unless they're playing the Bucks. Seriously, have they ever been good? But tonight, especially the first half, looked to me, and 99% of everyone else, like some JV team was getting their Make-a-Wish playing against a pro team in LA.

After getting the first three points of the game, the Blazers went on a no-scoring run. The Lakers posted 32 in the first quarter, to the Blazers' 7. Yeah, I wanted to put that in numbers so you wouldn't accidentally read it as a typo, or think it was missing a -teen. SEVEN. 7 point. 07. Yeah, that happened.

So the Lakers started out like a real team, hitting real baskets, and the Blazers started like they all were Raymond Felton. 3-17 in the first quarter. That's an average of one make every 4 minutes. And only 1.42 shots per minute. The Lakers were on a 2 point per minute pace. I didn't want to waste the good mood I was in from a delicious meal of tomato soup and cornbread, so I went ahead and stopped watching. I didn't take off my beanie or shirt, but I turned my eyes to other forms of entertainment. Like watching grass grow.

I didn't feel much remorse, either. I'm a Blazers fan for life, but the Blazers didn't even show up. Their jerseys did, but the players did not. I saw some black and red, but mostly red. Their blood. Cuz they were getting bludgeoned out there. It was like the entire team got off the plane and wanted to show up fashionably late to a party they weren't even invited to. Everyone knows, if you want to go uninvited, you go early and help set up. How can you get there 24 minutes late and still expect there to be any corn dogs left?

But, at halftime I imagine Nate did what he does best and coached. I probably would've snapped a clipboard in half, cut my losses and had a good old-fashioned thumbwar with left foot, but they came out with a little gusto in the second half. Hit some shots, cut the lead to the low twenties. All the Stanley Yelnats-ing they did the first half, they tried to make up for by Hectoring Zero-ing in on the basket. My puns may be behind the times, but they are clever.

But, second half moves like Jagger still have an expiration date of 24 minutes, and that's precisely where it ended. They got within ten, which was nice to see. Much nicer than seeing the Hollywood Floppers put on a clinic. If Matt Barnes is outscoring you, scoring on you, or playing at all while you're losing, you have to be ashamed of yourself.

But the Blazers weren't the only ones that fell behind. Ron Artest fell on his behind a few times. Did I say fell? That was only to force the joke. He flopped. One time he flopped (after a foul was called, even. Good timing) right into teammate Pau Gasol. Yeah, he got bumped while dribbling – which, for him is hard enough as it is – and fell sideways into a running Pau Gasol. I would've liked to see an offset call there, Matthews foul on Ron offset by Pau's foul on Ron, but instead all I got to see was to Fakers writhing on the ground while the Blazers walked around tying to make sure their knees were all still good.

It all came down to keeping the pedal down, but the Lakers aren't cut from the same clothe as Van De Velde, so they still won by eleven. Props to Portland for blazing through 30 points and getting close enough to force Shobe Cryant back on the floor. Maybe next time we skip the trip to In-N-Out on game day, and work on our free throws instead. Or, maybe everyone take rip off the bong that Batum's been aspirer-ing. 4 blocks, to cap off a decent shooting night? Batum-shakalaka only begins to describe how fantastic this guy is.

That said, he is definitely the tonight's Brilliant Blaze. 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 4 sensational blocks.

The Gory Blaze: Aldridge. 6-19. Yikes. Not yet to the 20/10 I expect.

Oh, and Greg, hope you made it through the surgery okay. I also hope those five knee surgeries make you five times as good at rebounding. Because 25-7 after 12 minutes is not CUTTING it. 7 is MICROSCOPIC compared to 25. We kNEED you Gregory Oden, you're our only hope. More Collecting Le rebounds. Gotta CAP the opponent's shot attempts, and FRACTURE their rebounding. See you next year.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rock, Chock, A Hawks

First off, to preface, sorry about the cheeriness tonight. I don't think it will happen again [very often]. I'm usually much more sarcastic. But, too many things tonight were 8000 times better than last game.

ANyway. Welcome back, L-Train. Nice to see that high ankle wasn't as bad for you as it was for my hope for your first All-Star bid. And congratulations to the entire team for not going two straight seasons being swept by the Atlanta Hawks. There are a lot of improvements made tonight that I hope stick around, but even if they don't, I enjoyed seeing an evolution tonight. And the stop to an uncharacteristic four game home losing streak.

Starting with, probably the most prevalent of changes, Raymond Felton. Rainman tonight for certain. I don't have the stats on me, but I distinctly remamber two made from three and a number of teardrops. Any made shot is an improvement from the last few games, and tonight had more makes than misses. I'm not one to celebrate mediocrity, but I'm damned proud of a guy coming back from 0-7 and 5TO with a double digit scoring night and 8 assists. Seems like tonight was a good night to not lose your job on.

With the questionable play of Felton as of late, it's no mystery why Nolan Smith got more playing time tonight, even with Raymond on his game. Solid showing from Nolan tonight, despite a few TO. One was on what was nearly a great dish, with timing being the only factor. Easily fixed increase in time spent on the floor, would be my guess.

Another improvement I noticed was the balanced scoring attack the pinwheels put up against a decent defense. Four players in double figures, and Wallace and Camby with 9 and 8 respectively, the team seemed better at finding an open shooter, especially when the extra All-Star attention was paid to LA.

And how could I not mention my favorite part of the game? Marcus "Can it Be?" Camby with some offensive production. Give it up for the big man inside, coming out early. Hard to forget an eleven point fourth quarter last game, or the 28 point half...Camby seemed ready to should some points early on, until he noticed the guys decided to put their shooting glasses on and hit. Hitting some free throws, a long jump shot with some beautiful silkiness, The Big MC showed some aggressiveness where he normally doesn't. I like to see a tall guy shoot (and score) the basketball.

And of course the rebounding. He was like a tree chipper gobbling up those boards. Tip please. Batum too, got in on the action. When many seem to forget that rebounding is an integral part of winning games, Batum was soaring to get them. Nice to see someone remembers fundamentals.

Of course there were some bad moments. Turnovers that could've proven fatal had Atlanta not been so inconsistent. Willie Green seemed like the only guy that remembered to pack his shooting this trip. Hinrich even had his glasses and still couldn't see that his shot was shorter than he is. There was a possession with like, ten offensive rebounds that we still couldn't capitalize on, which, though I applaud the effort with the rebounding, can't happen every game. The lull happened as well, but again, was not taken advantage of by Atlanta. The lull is unfortunately Portland's only calling card this season, and I was glad to see Atlanta suffered one along. Until we find a way to heat the ice cold breaks in shooting, I'll never sit comfortably with a 20 point lead. A couple quick technicals fouls made me nervous too, but ultimately only helped Taco Bell bring in money for chalupas instead of handing them out for free.

And those technicals were bullcrap. Not only because the arguing that led to them was nowhere near tech-worthy, but because the arguments were well founded on things I like to call "facts". One went to Matthews after a third uncalled foul made him miss. The first foul in that streak was a blatant elbow jostle on a dunk that, though I would like to think he could finish anyway, a referee has to notice. And Wallace's technical, assessed at a quarter break, was one I saw coming because I was screaming before Gerald was. My issue with the foul was that if blue isn't going to give Gerald free throws, on what was certainly a lose ball foul, then he shouldn't give the offending party a freebie. Oh, if I had a paintball for every bad call.

All in all, the game was far from perfect, but coming after the crapshoot I saw last game, tonight was a much needed win, with far better, if not yet flawless, fundamentals. I don't think this game could choke up anyone into a "boom goes the dynamite" moment, but it made me smile just a little knowing that I won't have to watch Blake Overrated on SportsCenter later. I mean Griffin. Sorry, I always do that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Good and Bad About The Blazers (Im)Perfect Season

The TrailBlazers started out this year's shortened season with one thing in mind: Don't need Brandon Roy.

On everyone's mind and in everyone's hearts, the once and future king of the franchise had knees worse off than (at an age nearly one quarter of) my grandfather's. One forced retirement later and he's probably on vacation in the Bahamas where his bone-on-bone joints can get some much needed relaxation. He can lay out in the sunshine, something he hasn't seen since probably before UW, stretching that back out, trying to recover from all those times he put the team on it.

Not so distant is the past when he laced up his sneaks six weeks after knee surgery and inspired a comeback win in the playoffs. And then the next game resurrecting a team from a 25-point deficit, and winning the fourth quarter by 20 points, 4-point play included. Everyone forgets that this early return may have been the reason his knees were beyond repair. Self-sacrifice for the playoffs. Heart.

So yes, missing Brandon Roy is only Natural (excuse the pun), but the Blazers made some off season trades and drafts to supplement, if not completely replace, the WonderRoy. And the moneyball 3-for-Roy approach seemed all but perfect for the start of the shortened season. Jamal Crawford and his almost perennial campaign for sixth man came to Portland, along with Raymond Felton, who seemed like the glue that held the Knicks in almost-contention in recent years. Sure, he may not be Elmer's, but Fred Meyer brand is still horse hooves and sticky, amiright?

Most across the league for decades have not given credit to the Blazers when it is due, but this season they did. Lauded for a 7-1 start, the Blazers beat brilliant teams in OKC and everyone's new favorite Clippers and no one could not talk about the Northwest. Not just for hipsters seems an appropriate adage. But, a six game road trip kicked off a stretch that even Richard Simmons couldn't be proud of. Dropping more losses than baskets, the Blazers are just 2-10 in games decided by 5 points or fewer, the last in the league in this category.

The Blazers are now just a game over .500, their stellar home record gone and their road record nothing short of abysmal. The Rose Garden used to be one of the most difficult places for opponents to play, but after seeing your boys lose three straight, blown out by the Wizards, it's hard for a fan to get up enough hype to scream, let alone commit to four hours in a zentai suit with no bathroom breaks. How can I be expected to go balls out -- have you seen me in a zentai suit? -- with my fanhood when I can't expect any heart from the players on the floor?

Some of this is easy to blame on the shortened schedule. A game doesn't go by without three mentions of Kurt Thomas being 39 years old, and Marcus Camby having been playing longer than LeBron has been alive. But, everyone has the same schedule, and old or not, if you're being paid, you play. Brandon Roy didn't have any cartilage and still managed greatness. Just sayin'. And there's not really an excuse for Raymond Felton.

Yes, sir, I'm calling you out. We had to get rid of key guys to give you a starting role, and thus far you have been nothing close to Cool Man Dre. I'll admit right now my expectations for you weren't high, but you've still managed to undercut them. The only reason Crawsome doesn't start is because the bench needs scoring, and the whole league knows you won't be bringing it. Story: I once won a free Subway sandwich by hitting a layup, a free throw and a three pointer without shoes on, in a full-body zentai suit. My hands were covered in spandex/poly blend, as were my feet. I was sliding across the floor, shagging my own rebounds* and I still managed to hit all three shots in a minute or less. Full court homie. Last night you went 0-7, 5 TO in 24 minutes. In one minute, I earned a 6-inch sub ($2.50 street value) with my three made baskets. You were gifted $113,636.37 assuming you keep your job and play all 66 games. That's $4,735 per minute. And you had shoes on!

* Something the whole team needs to work on. Except you Camby. Baus.

This is dark, and it's not meant to be. I'm not saying the season is gone, but to everyone else, it never even began. The great start is forgotten, the buzz is now about David Lee's futon and how the Clippers went from bottom feeding, to feeding the Lakers their bottoms. The excitement that others can recognize what Portland has known all along, the hope that finally, national television might broadcast more games for those of us located outside the range of Xfinity's monopolization arc, the dream almost realized that Portland isn't just the basement it has been for the past seven years...dashed.

But, can I give up hope? Will I hang up the jerseys and call this allegiance dead and buried? Of course not! Who do you think I am, Nixon? I don't dip when it's hard, I stay. Because I bleed red. And black and silver and white, in case you didn't get that thems the Blazers colors. Hard as it is to root for an underperforming team of millionaires, harder still is it to give up on a team you were born to cheer for. A team you know can do better.

The Blazers aren't a group for the fair weather fan. They aren't a franchise for the faint-of-heart. An eighties baby, I'm used to greatness and defeat. I've been through fourth quarter comebacks, and fourth quarter collapses. The good, the bad, the so-ugly-your-mom-calls-'em-a-twobagger, I'm there. So, while they might be worn down by a shortened schedule, old legs and loss of confidence, I'll still sit on my weird-shaped couch, eating my banana chips and watch every minute. If I have to cheer for mediocrity, so be it, I've done it before.

But here's to hoping someone, somewhere decides that, even if the millions aren't enough, a fan like me might be.

Go 'zers.