Tag:2011 WC Playoffs
Posted on: April 21, 2011 4:19 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 4:51 pm

Blazers G Brandon Roy apologizes for comments

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy apologized for emotional comments about his playing time following Game 2. Posted by Ben Golliver. brandon-roy

Following Portland's Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy expressed some frustration with his playing time, telling reporters that he nearly cried during the game because he only played eight minutes. Roy questioned why he was being subbed in after fellow reserves Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills and said his pride was hurt by the treatment. 

On Wednesday, Blazers coach Nate McMillan did his best to stomp out the drama. "As I said to Brandon, there is nobody in this state, including Brandon, that [wants] Brandon on the floor as much as I do," McMillan told reporters at the team's Practice Facility. "[Tuesday] night was a rotation that I felt we wanted to get back to our first unit and I went to that rotation. Bottom line is making decisions on substitutions is going to be me making those decisions as far as what's best for the team."

At Thursday morning's shootaround, Roy apologized for his remarks, which drew a large outcry among Portland's fanbase. "Frustrations, emotions, I'm sitting there, whenever your team loses, I get upset," Roy said during an interview videotaped by OregonLive.com . "It was something that shouldn't have been said but I can't go back on it now. The biggest thing is, if I offended anybody by those comments, I apologize. It was just out of wanting to be out there and being down 0-2 leaving Dallas. It was hard." 

Roy said that he had met with McMillan but that the two hadn't spoken specifically about his comments. "Me and coach spoke. We'll be fine. It's the NBA, sometimes you have outbursts, you have to overcome those things and come together." 

The issue also apparently hadn't been discussed among the Blazers as a whole. "We haven't talked about it," Roy explained. "The guys, we came in and watched film yesterday, I think everybody's focus is how can we beat Dallas. This is a minor distraction. We've got to get ready to beat Dallas and not make any excuses."

The former All-Star guard backed off his statements concerning the rotation, saying that those decisions are McMillan's to make. "I think he should go with what he feels is going to be right," Roy said. "If he's comfortable with a lineup being out there, I'm ok with having to be on the bench. I was just emotional last time and maybe I shouldn't have said nothing. But if that happens tonight then I won't be complaining about it."

For his part, McMillan said the comments and ensuing reaction won't affect his rotation decisions or his handling of Roy. "He's going to play his role which is coming off the bench and we will see," McMillan said. "There wasn't any minutes promised or anything like that. All of our guys want to play minutes. Like I said, I'm trying to put this team in position, and I've talked to the team about that, to win games."

Roy's focus for Game 3 is on making the most out of his playing time regardless of how many minutes he is given. "I've got to try to produce a little bit faster," Roy said. "I've always been somewhat of a slow starter in my career, I usually start off slow and pick it up. I've got to change that tonight, start off a little faster, be a little more aggressive and then if I don't play that much, I've got to be OK with it and then I'll always continue to support my teammates if I am on the sideline."

Roy is averaging one point, one rebound and 1.5 assists in 17 minutes per game in the playoff series. Dallas leads Portland, 2-0.
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.

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 21, 2011 3:32 am
Edited on: April 21, 2011 4:09 am

NBA Playoffs Hornets-Lakers: Bynum big in Game 2

The Los Angeles Lakers evened their first round series with the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Championship teams can beat you at their game, and they can beat you at your game, too.

The Los Angeles Lakers looked like a genuine contender for the first time in a few weeks on Wednesday, downing the New Orleans Hornets in fairly ugly fashion, 87-79, to even their first-round series, 1-1. Only the Portland Trail Blazers played at a slower pace than New Orleans this season, and the out-gunned Hornets are happy to muck around in a low-scoring, sloppy setting when facing the longer, more athletic and more talented Lakers. With Kobe Bryant having an off night -- 11 points on 3-10 shooting -- and Pau Gasol continuing to do his Invisible Man routine -- eight points and five rebounds -- Wednesday was the rare night. If was a night in which Andrew Bynum became L.A.'s headliner. 

The biggest man on the court was the obvious difference-maker, showing up huge in the box score and the game plan. And Bynum's contributions were especially valuable on a night when both teams combined to commit 29 turnovers, and were whistled for 42 fouls that led to 54 free throws.

For a center, owning the paint comes down to finishing at the rim and clearing the defensive glass in traffic. That was Bynum's Modus operandi in Game 2, after proving in Game 1 that no one on the Hornets' undersized roster can really handle his strength and bulk in the post. 

On Wednesday, the Lakers smartly exploited that fact, turning to Bynum regularly in the halfcourt set. Bynum scored 17 points on 8-11 shooting and had Emeka Okafor in early foul trouble again. Bynum was also the reason that many New Orleans possessions went one shot and done, as he gathered in 10 defensive rebounds and helped hold the New Orleans' bigs (Okafor, Carl Landry, Aaron Gray, Jason Smith, D.J. Mbenga, Jason Smith) to just five combined offensive boards in 93 minutes. 

Bynum showed comfort away from the basket on both ends, too. On offense, he stepped out to hit a few jumpers of varied length. If developed, that's a dimension to his game that could make him lethal. On defense, meanwhile, he ran regularly at Hornets point guard Chris Paul, especially late, contesting shots and walling off the court. Taking up space, but doing it with a bit of grace. His ability to step out when needed, and then return to the boards, impacted a number of scrums and, by the fourth quarter, it was clear that the Hornets bigs were worn down and simply not competing as hard as he was. Bynum's defensive numbers -- two blocks and one steal -- don't do his impact justice. 

Pro Basketball Talk quoted  Lakers coach Phil Jackson on Bynum's night.
“We know that [Bynum] is the one that plays well against this team because of his size,” Phil Jackson said after the game. “He really carries things pretty well, so we’re confident in him having a good game … we think he can play at an even higher level than this.”
Jackson's right. Bynum is still scratching the surface of his potential, mostly because he's so far down the normal offensive pecking order. Bynum scored 20+ points just once this season. Could he average 20 points per game next year if he was on a team that needed him to be the go-to scoring option, and he stayed healthy enough to play big minutes? I don't see why not.

That team isn't yet the Lakers, but it could be in a few years. Bynum's evident maturity -- there's a lot less pouting these days -- makes imagining his future a tantalizing project. How much higher a level can Bynum reach? Who knows. But he looked like the NBA's best center not named Dwight Howard on Wednesday. If he continues to play at this level, pencil the Lakers into the Western Conference Finals.

Posted on: April 20, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 5:37 pm

Series Reset: A must-win for the Lakers?

We reset the Hornets-Lakers series with Game 2 set to tip Wednesday night. L.A. needs to even the score. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The Narrative:

The underdog New Orleans Hornets -- smaller, less talented and with a weaker bench than the favored Los Angeles Lakers -- played a near perfect Game 1 . That meant protecting the ball, getting huge contributions from their reserves and enjoying a masterful performance from point guard Chris Paul. Paul's huge night -- 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals -- and late-game efficiency clearly had the Lakers on their heels. Aside from Kobe Bryant, whose 34 points led the way, and some flashes from Andrew Bynum, the Lakers mostly no-showed. Pau Gasol was passive and unproductive -- eight points and six rebounds in 38 minutes -- and has taken a lion's share of the blame.

The Hook:

Quite simply: Do the Lakers finally flip the switch in Game 2? L.A.'s late-season play (they lost five of their last seven entering the playoffs) and lackluster effort have been well-chronicled. Despite that, the Los Angeles continues to possess match-up advantages all over the court. The Hornets have no real answer for Bryant, shouldn't have an answer for a motivated Gasol, struggled to contain Bynum's length, and could easily become the victim of a monster performance from Lamar Odom off the bench on any given night.

In essence, Game 2 boils down to whether the Lakers core players show up, as a group, locked in. If they do, L.A. should be able to restore order fairly easily on their homecourt. If not, it will be panic time.

The Adjustment:

Flipping that switch will start on the defensive end, where the odds dictate that the Hornets' bench will not shoot a combined 16-22 again. Expecting the role players to fall back to Earth doesn't solve the Chris Paul conundrum, though. Keeping Paul in check is a difficult proposition for any team. Expect the Lakers to throw multiple looks at him, and to work extra hard to get the ball out of his hands. The return of reserve guard Steve Blake, who was battling chicken pox , can't hurt. Blake's not a Paul-stopper by any means, but his ability to give some minutes allows L.A. to return to its usual guard rotations, lessening the burden on Derek Fisher, who played 39 minutes -- 11 more than his season average -- in Game 1.

The X-Factor:

On Tuesday, the NBA awarded Odom its Sixth Man of the Year award , and his teammates reportedly celebrated the occasion by offering him a standing ovation. Wednesday would be a great time for Odom to deliver on that adulation with a game-changing performance. Odom scored 10 points in Game 1 but his all-around play was lacking. He had just one rebound, two assists and he committed more turnovers (one) than he registered steals and blocks combined (zero). New Orleans' team intensity level offers some explanation for why L.A.'s bench came up small in Game 1, but there's no excuse at this point. Odom is a more skilled all-around player than every frontcourt player on the Hornets' roster. Even though it's only Game 2 of the opening round, we've reached "making presence felt" time for Odom.

The Sticking Point:

Reserve big man Aaron Gray is questionable for Game 2 with a sprained ankle , which usually wouldn't matter. But Gray played out of his mind in Game 1, holding Gasol in check for stretches, making all five of his field goal attempts to finish with 12 points, and posting an astonishing +25 in the +/- category. Gray was so good that Paul called him the MVP of Game 1. Without Gray, New Orleans is left with a frontcourt rotation that includes Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, D.J. Mbenga and Jason Smith. Both Okafor and Landry have their hands full avoiding foul trouble and Mbenga showed in Game 1 that about all he was good for was hacking Bynum. Gray, however improbable it might seem, is a difference-maker because the Hornets' are simply that desperate for big bodies. If he can't go, it could be another long night on the boards for the Hornets, as the Lakers won the rebounding battle, 41-33, in Game 1. [Update: following Wednesday's shootaround, Gray says he will give it a go.]
Posted on: April 20, 2011 3:50 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 4:10 am

Blazers G Brandon Roy near tears during Game 2

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy says he nearly cried during a Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver. brandon-roy-falling

Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy showed up to training camp a lesser player, no longer as explosive as he had been in back-to-back-to-back All-Star seasons. After two midseason knee surgeries, he's been even more limited, shifting from his starting two guard spot to a reserve role during the playoff drive and struggling through the least productive month of his NBA career.

During a Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Roy and the rest of Portland's bench struggled badly to produce. Roy saw his minutes cut from 26 in Game 1, in which he played virtually all of the fourth quarter, to just eight in Game 2, where he sat for the entire third quarter and the final 9:42 of the fourth. Roy finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals and one turnover.

After the game, Roy told The Oregonian that he nearly cried during the game because he wasn't getting much run.
“There was a point in the first half, and I was thinking 'You better not cry,''' Roy said. “I mean, serious. I mean, there was a moment where I felt really sorry for myself. Then I was like, nah, you can't be sorry for yourself. I'm a grown man, but there was a moment there that I felt sorry for myself. Especially when I think I can still help.''
Roy was one of the first players to leave the locker room, but when he was stopped in the hallway, the hurt and confusion were still evident.
“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little hurt, or disappointed,'' Roy said. “But the biggest thing is to keep moving, to try and keep my spirits up. But it's tough man. I just …. I just always thought I would be treated better. That was a little disappointing for me.''
Roy has maintained for the last month that his struggles are mental and that his knees feel fine after arthroscopic surgery earlier this season. He's also talked at length, since before the surgeries, about his need to adjust his game to accomodate his physical changes.

There is a clear disconnect for Roy. While his knees feel good that doesn't necessarily mean that he's the player he once was, nor even a productive player. A lack of swelling or pain doesn't equal 25 points a night, or 10 points a night. Or, even, a single point on Tuesday night. Playing without pain doesn't mean he's playing well. Those two have long gone hand in hand for Roy in the past, but that simply hasn't been the case for months now.

When Roy says his struggles are purely mental, he's either kidding himself or he hasn't fully come to terms with his current abilities. Scouts, former players, media observers and fans see a player whose quickness and power off the dribble have disappeared, a player whose ball fake and dribble combinations no longer mesmerize, a player whose lift is gone, a player who has been a defensive liability -- slow laterally, slow to rotate, slow to close out -- for the entire season, and a player whose confidence is clearly shaken. 

Is it possible that Roy regains his form in the future? Absolutely. Is McMillan correct to pin Roy to the bench during the playoffs right now? Absolutely.

No one wants Roy to succeed more than McMillan. The two share a bond, having literally turned a franchise around together. Few coaches would have let him play 26 ineffective minutes in Game 1 -- Roy shot 1-7, scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and dished three assists -- before pulling the plug. McMillan arguably gave Roy more power and offensive control than he should have for the better part of three seasons, and he unfailingly backed Roy as the team's best option no matter the results. McMillan wants Roy to be able to play well as much as anyone besides Roy himself and Roy's immediate family members.

Seen in that context, it's clearly no easy decision for McMillan to sit Roy. But it is the right one. Roy, who has been honest to a fault since he entered the NBA, isn't expected to be happy about that. With that said, a level of composure is required, especially during the middle of a playoff series. The last thing the Blazers need -- down 0-2 to a deeper and more talented Dallas team -- is a distraction. 

And Roy's comments will surely become exactly that.
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.

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.


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 18, 2011 9:43 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 9:46 pm

Lakers G Blake (chicken pox) returns to practice

Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Blake returns to practice after contracting chicken pox. Posted by Ben Golliver. steve-blake

As you probably heard, New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul went off on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1, nearly posting a triple double, torching Derek Fisher down the stretch and carrying his team to a surprising upset victory.

Monday's update: help is on the way for Fisher. Reserve guard Steve Blake, who had been away from the team dealing with a case of adult chicken pox, returned to Lakers practice and is expected to play in Game 2 according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Lakers ... expect he'll return to play Game 2 on Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets, with Coach Phil Jackson saying, "He was right back on the level we want him to play." 
There were more pressing concerns, such as how Blake contracted chickenpox, a disease that mostly afflicts children.
"I have no idea. It's not like I went up to someone and shook someone's hands and they had spots all over them," Blake said. "You just don't know how you get something like that."
ESPNLA.com reported that Jackson also said he likes the idea of Blake guarding Paul.
"[Blake is] a really good alternative," Jackson said. "Chris outweighs him by about 30 pounds, but he's a really good alternative. We expect him to recover fully. Maybe I shouldn't say fully, but he looked good today. He didn't have stamina, but he looked good."
Paul, one of the most intelligent and versatile point guards in the league, is a tough guy to try to get your stamina back against. Jackson won't need to rush Blake back, though, with Fisher, Shannon Brown and All-Star Kobe Bryant comprising a solid three-guard rotation. Any minutes that Blake gives the Lakers in Game 2 will be an unexpected bonus, as most media observers had speculated that Blake could miss the entire first round series.

On the season, Blake is averaging 4.0 points and 2.2 assists in 20.0 minutes per game. He appeared in all but three regular season games for the Lakers.
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