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Tag:Brandon Roy
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
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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 9, 2011 1:09 am
Edited on: March 10, 2011 1:41 am
 

Game Changer: Heat lose 5th straight game

The Miami Heat lost to the Portland Trail Blazers, Erik Spoelstra looked even more overwhelmed than usual, LeBron James threw down a sick dunk and Brandon Roy had his best game of the spring. All that, plus plenty more. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Each game is made up of elements that help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the previous night's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what led to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.  

THE BIG ONE: DEEPER BLAZERS DROP HEAT

Posted by Matt Moore.

The loss to the Knicks? A bizarre turn based on an offensive flourish from a team playing with emotion in its first week together. The loss to the Magic? A division rival with a furious comeback thanks to hot shooting and some system systemic offensive breakdowns on the other side. The loss to the Spurs? A back-to-back road blowout against the team with the best record in the league. The loss to the Bulls? A fiery, emotional team with a superior defensive effort, a magnificent superstar, and a blown rebound by the other guys. But the loss to the Blazers?
 
That was just the case of a superior team 1-10 beating the Heat. A superior team performance, a superior coaching performance, a superior star performance, a superior overall win for Portland, who have gone from looking at a rebuilding project to right in line for a serious playoff run. They are deep, they are talented, and they close games. Yeah, that's right. Portland with the five knee surgeries and missing Greg Oden and Brandon Roy unable to play full games and the aging point guard and having just acquired their All-Star? They are what the Heat tried to buy.

The game itself was a slow, methodical affair (84 estimated possessions, which is glacial), and favored the Blazers' deliberate style rather than the Heat's up and down attack. There were some exceptional highlights (see below for the Chalmers behind-the-back wizardry), but still a loss for the Heat. Isn't that the formula this year? Amazing highlights, lots of hype, national television appearance... and a loss.

The culprits were who you'd expect. While the Blazers were peeling Gerald Wallace of the bench for 22 points on 14 shots, 9 rebounds, an assist, a block, and two steals, the Heat were pulling the lifeless corpse of Mike Miller off the pine for two points on seven shots. But really, the Heat still could have won this game even with the loserly henchmen pulling a "Die Hard" (fire 2,000 rounds, don't hit anything) and James and Wade combining for 7 turnovers. That's how good James and Wade were. The real problem? Chris Bosh.

Forget the shooting. Some nights you're going to be off from mid-range. It happens, not much you can do to control that. Bosh says he needs more touches in the low-post. Forgetting the fact that this goes against every trend in his career and against the logic of having the kind of perimeter players the Heat have, it also ignores the fact that Bosh needs to try getting some easy buckets. The hard kind. I'm talking about tip-ins. Offensive rebounds and put-backs. Instead, Bosh had four total rebounds, and only one offensive. But hey, at least he played pretty good defense, right?
 
Or, you know, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points. This is where the line between Bosh's incompetence and Spoelstra's mistakes blur. In the second half when Aldridge started to go off after a slow first half, Bosh was showing way too strong on the pick and roll, jumping over to cover Andre Miller (you know, he of the ridiculous explosiveness), and allowing Aldridge all the room in the world to operate. Bosh gave himself nearly no chance at recovering.
 
Meanwhile, Brandon Roy was nailing the kinds of key shots Dwyane Wade is supposed to and the Heat were throwing away opportunity after opportunity. Great teams capitalize on chances they have to destroy their opponent. The Blazers did. The Heat did not.

At this point in the season, these two teams could not be headed in more opposite directions. Judging from how this game went down, it's not hard to see why.

SNAPSHOT:

The Miami Herald quoted Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after the game: "Frankly, we don’t have a lot of answers how to get over this hump. We can just keep grinding and not let go of the rope."

 This picture says about 1,000,000 words.

erik-spoelstra  

GO-GO-GADGET LINES OF THE NIGHT:

Andrew Bynum: 16 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, +17 on 8 of 10 shooting in 35 minutes in a Los Angeles Lakers road win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Gerald Wallace:  22 points, nine rebounds, one assist, two steals, one block, +7 on 8 of 14 shooting in 35 minutes in a Portland Trail Blazers road win over the Miami Heat.

Dwyane Wade:  38 points, six rebounds, five assists, one steal, two blocks on 12 of 21 shooting in 43 minutes in a Miami Heat home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

LeBron James:  31 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, one steal on 14 of 17 shooting in a Miami Heat home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

DON'T MISS:

HIGHLIGHT REEL:

The Heat lost to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, but LeBron James threw down a sick tomahawk dunk off of a behind-the-back pass in transition. Small consolation.


WHIMSY:

Houston Rockets forward Chase Budinger makes a silly face as he dunks one home during a loss to the Phoenix Suns.

chase-budinger-dunk

FINAL THOUGHT:

Against the Heat, Blazers guard Brandon Roy had his most effective game since his post All-Star break return from arthroscopic knee surgeries. Roy hit all three of his three-pointers en route to 14 points on eight shots in 23 minutes. Often hiding out on the weakside, he is theoretically the ideal spot up shooter to space the floor off of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Nate McMillan smartly managed Roy's minutes, sitting him for nearly the entire third quarter so that he would be fresh to close the game. The Blazers went small down the stretch and outscored the Heat 12-5 in the final 3:25 of the fourth quarter, including a huge Roy three-pointer. 
Posted on: March 8, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 4:19 pm
 

Blazers sign coach Nate McMillan to extension

The Portland Trail Blazers have signed coach Nate McMillan to a two-year contract extension. Posted by Ben Golliver. nate-mcmillan

The Portland Trail Blazers announced on Tuesday that they have inked head coach Nate McMillan to a two-year contract extension, carrying his deal through the 2012-2013 season.

On a Blazers.com video stream, McMillan said that the agreement, which had been hinted at earlier this week, came together quickly. "The offer was made this morning and it was accepted this morning," McMillan said. "I was busy this morning." 

Blazers owner Paul Allen chimed in shortly thereafter on Twitter: "I'm thrilled we just signed 2-year contract with Nate McMillan who committed to coach the Blazers for 2 more years!"

The Blazers' release included statements of support from Allen, GM Rich Cho and President Larry Miller.
"Over the past 12 months we have made significant investments in this team, all keenly focused on assembling the right pieces to compete this year and in the future," Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen said. "We've done that by adding Marcus, Wesley and most recently, Gerald and, now, I'm glad that after productive discussions,  Nate is now committed to be our coach for two more years."
"With his NBA and USA Basketball track record, Nate has established himself as one of the premier minds in the game of basketball," said Cho. "What Nate has accomplished in the last few years is truly remarkable and getting his contract extended was a top priority for the franchise and me."

"Without question Nate has ascended into the upper echelon of coaches," said Trail Blazers President Larry Miller. "He's more than demonstrated his leadership and commitment to the team and this community and the time was right to demonstrate our commitment to him by extending his contract."
Portland's recent history has been injury-plagued, with franchise center Greg Oden troubled by multiple knee injuries and guard Brandon Roy missing significant time this season as well. McMillan has developed a reputation as the steadying hand, guiding the Blazers into the playoffs the past two years, on track for another playoff run this year as well. 

To achieve that success, he's leaned heavily on his slow-down, rebound-centric offense that looks to create high percentage shots and limit turnovers. This season, he's shown a new-found adaptability in Roy's absence, re-structuring his offense around forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has responded by delivering career numbers. His defenses aren't spectacularly effective, but generally work hard and "scrap," which is by far McMillan's favorite and most often used word in the English language.

The organization's stated goal remains championship contention. When personal and philosophical differences led to a new management team and a new group of assistant coaches last summer, McMillan kept his head down and his lips sealed. While an early-season losing streak briefly raised questions about McMillan's future in Portland, and some wondered whether he would be a candidate for higher-profile jobs this summer, Blazers management has been unwavering in its public and private support of McMillan. 

Once the team righted itself after the loss of Oden to microfracture surgery this season, McMillan's return began to feel inevitable. If losing his franchise center to season-ending injuries for the second time in his first four years wasn't going to affect McMillan's ability to reach the playoffs, then McMillan started to look like the building block that should be in place long-term.

McMillan lives full time in the Rose City and is extremely active in local community service efforts. He understands the Portland market's need for accountability and transparency and the fanbase's desire for hard-working teams that fit the underdog ethos of the franchise's history. By all accounts, McMillan is happy in Portland. On the other side, the Blazers had far more to lose if McMillan left town given the difficulties of luring a premier coach to the NBA's most geographically-isolated city with a roster in peretual flux and a rookie management team. 

To boil it down, life with McMillan is far better than life without McMillan, and that's why you see the extension from the Blazers now. His reliability is a big asset for a team whose roster has been turned upside down multiple times over the last few years, and still hasn't settled into a finished product.
Posted on: February 17, 2011 12:27 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2011 12:54 pm
 

Should the Blazers blow it up?

rich-cho-ball CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reports that the Portland Trail Blazers could be in for an active trade deadline. Posted by Ben Golliver. 

On Wednesday, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger noted a few factors that could make the Portland Trail Blazers an important player during the 2011 trade deadline season. First, the Blazers are just over the luxury tax line and presumably looking to get under it if possible. Second, the Blazers possess a number of expiring contracts that would serve as good bargaining chips. 
Execs are monitoring the intentions of Houston, Portland and Utah -- all tax-paying teams that will be deciding whether to go deeper into the tax or pull back from it.
One exec said he believes Portland GM Rich Cho is "poised for a pretty significant 24th." Given the grim prognosis for star guard Brandon Roy and the uncertainty about what cap space will be worth under the new labor rules, Cho is seriously considering cashing in on the expiring contract of Joel Przybilla and the essentially expiring deal of Andre Miller, whose 2011-12 salary is fully non-guaranteed. Marcus Camby, who has a year left at $12.9 million, could be enticing to one of the few deep-pocketed contenders not shy about taking on future money with CBA changes looming. The Mavericks, for example, will "listen to anything," according to a source.
Cho, Portland's first-year GM, doesn't have much of a track record to date, but he previously worked under Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti, who is known for his patience, discretion and how much he values salary cap flexibility. Cho appears to be cut from the same cloth. He's developed a reputation for his analytical approach to evaluating players and has made one significant move this season, dumping reserve guard Jerryd Bayless for a conditional first round draft pick in order to shed salary and increase his flexibility.

Here are the question that Cho has been grappling with all season: Are the Blazers, who have been bounced in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs each of the past two seasons, coming or going? And if they are going, is it time to blow things up and get younger?

I won't bore you with all the surgical details, but the Blazers have a number of factors clouding their ability to properly gauge their future lot. Two are much bigger than the others.

First, and most importantly, All-Star guard Brandon Roy has yet to return from dual knee surgeries and all indications are that he will be limited to some degree by his knees going forward. The Blazers are in the first year of a 5-year, $80+ million fully-guaranteed contract with Roy. He's as untradeable as a player can be.

Second, the Blazers must make a decision regarding chronically injured center Greg Oden this summer. Most likely, that decision will involve extending him a $8 million + qualifying offer which he will likely reject so that he can weigh multi-year offers. While his market value is unclear given that he is currently rehabilitating from his second microfracture knee surgery, the Blazers have indicated they are prepared to do what it takes to keep him. Between Oden and Roy, then, the Blazers have tied up a significant portion of their salary cap.

Making things even more complicated: the remaining Blazers have managed to climb all the way up to the middle of the pack in the Western Conference playoff picture and seem a solid bet to make the playoffs as is. Getting to the post-season matters to every NBA team, but it especially matters to the Blazers. Playoff gate revenue would surely be valued but, perhaps more importantly, this is a franchise that wants to take a place on the national stage whenever it can. Located in a small-market and geographically isolated from much of the basketball viewing public, the playoffs are a matter of pride and a chance for the team to shine when it so often feels overlooked. (Look no further than the LaMarcus Aldridge All-Star snub reaction to get a sense for this sentiment.) On top of that, Blazers owner Paul Allen is competitive and looking for a return on his investment of significant resources into this group of players.

Missing the playoffs, then, would be a blow to the pride, but also a blow to the credibility of the management staff. Despite all of the injuries, the resources and talent is still there, and that's without mentioning the team's solid head coach, Nate McMillan, who's making a case for Coach of the Year consideration. There are still expectations, even if the roof has caved in and eliminated the "contender" hopes for the time being. 

Any potential trade deadline move for Portland has to be assessed from the perspective of whether it will meaningfully impact Portland's ability to make the post-season. If a potential deal carries that risk, then it better have a sweetheart reward. If a deal can be engineered that helps the finances or the team's future without compromising this year's run, then that's got to be on the table.

Assessing Portland's roster through this lens divvies the players into some fairly clear groups. Players like Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are obvious building blocks going forward. Roy and Oden are virtually impossible to move. The obvious candidates for a potential trade are point guard Andre Miller, along with centers Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. 

While there are financial arguments for moving any of them, Miller, Camby and Przybilla are of varied on-court importance.

Much has been made of Aldridge's breakout season - he's been floated as a Most Improved Player candidate and has twice won Western Conference Player of the Week honors - but none of that happens without his improved relationship with Miller, who hits him not only with lob after lob but also runs an effective late-game pick-and-roll as well. Miller probably trusted in Aldridge more than Aldridge did to start the season, and it's no coincidence that his voice was the loudest to complain when Aldridge was left off the All-Star team. The relationship that never developed between Miller and Roy - the relationship former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard had hoped would make the Blazers a contender - now exists between Miller and Aldridge. 

Without question, Aldridge's now dependable production would be diminished this year if Miller is moved. The Blazers also have no other legit options capable of handling full-time point guard duties. Portland would be left, for the fourth time this season, to craft a new identity for themselves heading into the playoff stretch run. It wouldn't be impossible, but it wouldn't be particularly pleasant. It also wouldn't be all that intelligent, as the Blazers can cut and run out of Miller's contract if they find a better option this summer or he can be moved to a team next year as an expiring contract. Given his on-court value and future financial flexibility it makes far more sense to hold on to Miller than to move him, and I haven't even mentioned that his age and lack of playoff success render his external value questionable.

One of the most intriguing, under-reported wrinkles of Portland's season is that the Blazers are 10-4 since Camby underwent arthroscropic knee surgery. The Blazers have made due by using Aldridge as a center and playing more small-ball. It's certainly possible, perhaps not probable, that the Blazers could move Camby and still remain in the top eight, assuming Aldridge remains as healthy and productive as he has been since December.

The problem, of course, is the team's longer-term uncertainty at the center position. With Oden's future up in the air and Przybilla not at 100% since returning from two knee surgeries last season, Camby figures to be a fairly valuable component of a 2011-2012 Blazers team. Without him, the Blazers would be forced to either re-cast their new franchise player, Aldridge, as a center, draft a big man and be prepared to give him real minutes right off the bat, or find a random big off the scrap heap. None of those options would seem to be nearly as appetizing as making due with Camby for now and moving him during the draft or next season as an expiring contract should the center position crystallize a bit. While playoff teams looking for an extra big have expressed interest in Camby's services during a playoff run, the Blazers are interested in him for the same reason, and also because they don't have another reliable center penciled into the roster next season. He's a key locker room presence, too.

Przybilla, though, is a different story. His contract is expiring and he's not currently a critical component of the rotation, although he's filled in nicely during Camby's absence. When Camby returns, however, Przybilla reverts back to his status as a small-minute insurance piece and would likely be used sparingly in the playoffs with McMillan preferring to ride his starters. Longer-term, Przybilla's future in Portland is unclear as well, even though he's a local icon. He's simply not productive enough at this point to warrant a real financial commitment from the Blazers, given their other commitments discussed above. He is a living seven-foot tall human that can rebound so he will draw interest from around the league this summer, and he's also mentioned the possibility of retirement. Were the Blazers able to move Przybilla and receive limited contracts in return, utilizing a team's trade exception or open cap space, it's possible they could get under the luxury tax line without truly jeopardizing their rotation or playoff chances.  

Another player that was mentioned last summer but hasn't found his name in many rumors over the last month or two is guard Rudy Fernandez. Given Matthews' dependability and the potential return of Roy, Fernandez would become the most expendable member of the team's current rotation, although his ability to handle the ball helps his ability to get on the court should his minutes get squeezed. The formerly disgruntled Fernandez claims he is now happy in Portland and he's still on his rookie contract, so trading his $1.2 million salary alone wouldn't be enough to get the Blazers under the luxury tax line. Previously, Fernandez's asking price was said to be a late-first round pick. At this point, however, his internal value to the Blazers is likely higher than that given the questions surrounding Roy's availability. If you move Fernandez, a team that already struggles to score consistently and space the floor will be stretched even thinner. You would also be sacrificing a known, young, cheap rotation piece heading into a summer when you're likely to rebuild and get younger. 

Putting this all together, we shouldn't be surprised that things are busy for the Blazers in the run-up to the deadline. They've got loads of questions and an uncertain future, plus a bunch of potential trade chips and prospects on rookie deals. But the potential costs of a midseason overhaul seem to outweigh the benefits, and minimal activity at the deadline wouldn't preclude the team's ability to make the same moves this summer or during next season.
Posted on: February 17, 2011 8:33 am
 

Trade Deadline: Devin Harris to Blazers?

Report indicates Nets and Blazers discussing swap involving Andre Miller and Devin Harris among other pieces. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Devin Harris has been talked about in trade rumors which would ship him to Portland for months. He was part of one of the first Nets-Melo deals back in September. He was discussed in the second deal as well, with the idea being Denver would then ship him to Portland for Nicolas Batum. So the Blazers obviously have some level of interest in him, and the word's been out for a while that they would like to move Andre Miller. Which means that the latest report out of the Bergen Record has some immediate weight, as it suggests there have been talks already between Portland and New Jersey recently for just such a swap. From the Record:

The Nets and Blazers have exchanged trade proposals and still are discussing a deal. Harris and veteran point guard Andre Miller are the main pieces, but more players are involved, multiple NBA sources said. 
It’s doubtful the Nets will trade Harris, who turns 28 in two weeks, straight up for Miller, who turns 35 next month. 
The Nets want to expand the trade and are trying to include disappointing free-agent signing Travis Outlaw, who began his career in Portland. The Blazers are interested in shooting guard Anthony Morrow.
via Nets, Blazers talking about Devin Harris deal - NorthJersey.com.

The report goes on to suggest that the Nets have also brought up Rudy Fernandez and Joel Przybilla in the talks. Harris has struggled since his first season with New Jersey, which showed a lot of promise. Harris is still considered a "young" point guard despite turning 28 this month and has more athleticism than Miller (because he has any athleticism at all at this point).  Harris is the biggest value chip that the Nets have, and the Blazers have multiple assets they could be looking to move, so this one makes a lot of sense. The Nets could easily move Harris and pull in Przybilla to finish out his expring season, and then swap out Troy Murphy or buy him out to create even more space. 

And yet. 

Miller has been a huge part of LaMarcus Aldridge's explosion into stardom this season, lobbing to him several times a game. Miller's also been vital for their overall success and is a key component to their playoff run. Harris is likely the better player, but the old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" axiom is in play here. If the Blazers want that playoff money, keeping Miller is a safe bet. Similarly, Rudy Fernandez after complaining for months about wanting to leave the country all together, has played fairly brilliantly for the Blazers. Will the situation be the same if he goes to a losing squad? 

Adding Morrow would be a great get for the Blazers, as he would provide balance with Aldridge and perimeter scoring by the handful. This is the kind of move for the Blazers that could upgrade their talent and clear their books, without having to take a step backwards towards rebuilding, which the franchise is hesitant to do, still. 

But where does Morrow fit in with Wesley Matthews and Brandon Roy? And for the Nets, why take on Miller knowing you'll just be left trying to find another point guard next year (assuming they drop Miller's last year which is non-guaranteed)? There are questions in this deal to be sure. But it's clear that Portland's interested in Harris, and the Nets want to deal.  There may be some fire to this smoke. 

Or, you know, it's yet another trade rumor. It's that time of the year, really.
Posted on: February 15, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2011 2:47 pm
 

Surgeon: Roy may have 1-2 years left in career

The consulting surgeon for Brandon Roy says he may have only 1-2 years left in his career, even under the best case scenario.
Posted by Matt Moore

Portland fans are starting to get excited again. The team's on a winning streak, have pulled into the sixth seed, and LaMarcus Aldridge is the new savior, along with Wesley Matthews. And then part of them also feels that Roy's coming back, and no matter what he's gone through, he's still Brandon Roy. He's still the hero that was going to lead them to a championship. Even if he's gone through a lot, you can never count him out. One Blazer fan told me last night: "Science has to be proven every time to be true!" 

And maybe that's true. But the predictive sciences are not providing a very rosey picture for Roy's future. The Oregonian spoke with the consulting surgeon on Roy'smost recent surgery. And the outlook is not good. 
The "consulting surgeon" whispers that he believes the best-case strategy for handling Roy is this: A) Limit Roy's practice reps to almost nothing; B) Play him off the bench in 65-75 or so games a season, choosing rest in key spots; C) pray. Surgeon suspects the Blazers might get 1-2 years out of Roy employing this strategy. Right now, I think they'd take that, and hope for the best. Roy is a fierce competitor and I won't count him out.
via Canzano blog: Emptying my notebook... smack into a LaMarcus Aldridge alley oop | OregonLive.com.

The article also discusses how a significant oversight would have had to have occurred for the Blazers to have given Roy his most recent extension given the condition of his knees prior to surgery. The questions surrounding the Blazers' training staff continue to skyrocket, even as everyone who works with them personaly vouches vehemently for them. 

Everyone wants to see Brandon Roy defy the odds, overcome his condition and take the league by storm again. But if we're examining the most likely scenarios, the odds of him ever being a major impact player again are slim. His game wasn't an "old man" game like Andre Miller's featuring set shots. He used his athleticism and physical ability to create his shots. Without any lift due to his knees, getting anywhere near the same kind of production will be extremely difficult. Maybe he can be a bench player who contributes the occasional big game, but consider the kind of precaution the consulting surgeon is the best strategy for Roy. How do you commit to Roy on that kind of salary, trying to rebuild your organization, for that kind of limited production? 

No one wants to count out Brandon Roy. But every indication out of Portland is a fearful warning that he may simply never be anything close to the same player again. 
Posted on: February 9, 2011 2:03 am
Edited on: February 9, 2011 2:09 am
 

Game Changer: Pacers choke against Heat

The Miami Heat get an easy one thanks to a late-game meltdown by the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James gets way up, Blake Griffin throws down the Alley Oop and Chauncey Billups looks cold. Plus, plenty more. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Each game is made up of elements that help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the previous night's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what led to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.  

THE BIG ONE: PACERS CHOKE AGAINST HEAT

The Indiana Pacers and their new teenage-looking coach Frank Vogel are hard to root against, as the sacking of Jim O'Brien immediately produced a four-game winning streak for a team that had only won four games in the month prior to his dismissal. 

The winning came to an end -- and Vogel's undefeated head coaching record was finally tarnished -- on Tuesday night as the Pacers lost to the mighty Miami Heat on the road, 117-112. 
  The ending to this one was not only bizarre, it was fairly rare. Allow me set the scene.

With 8.9 seconds left, the Pacers have the ball on a side inbounds play in the frontcourt, trailing by three points, 115-112. The Pacers stacked four players in the middle of the court with guard Dahntay Jones inbounding the ball. Even without strong initial pressure on the ball, Jones couldn't find anyone, and he watched as Pacers forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. fired across the top of the key, as point guard Darren Collison shot into the near corner and as forward Danny Granger came directly to the ball. The only non-shooter on the court for Indiana, big man Jeff Foster, just stood stunned in the paint watching this car wreck unfold. 

With all three possible options exhausted, Jones finally threw a bounce pass in to Granger, only to have the referee blow his whistle, signalling for a five second violation.

Man alive. How often do you see a five second violation on a potential game-winning, last second play? Not often. 

Credit goes to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who had a small-ball defensive lineup in with guards Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade and a trio of forwards: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller to defend against the obvious three-point attempt. Chalmers didn't initially pressure the ball that hard, but as the clock started ticking he does move up, obscuring Jones' vision. Miller and James simply did their jobs, shadowing their men and not getting hung up on screens. Dwyane Wade probably had the largest role in causing the violation, sticking to Granger like glue, forcing Jones' delay and indecision because he was worried about a Wade steal from behind.

But we shouldn't go overboard in praising Miami. This wasn't a difficult to time catch-and-shoot situation. This was a standard late-game entry pass that the Pacers simply couldn't execute. Get. The. Ball. In. Bounds. They couldn't do it.

Miami cashed in on the mistake as the Pacers were forced to foul immediately and that was the ball game. Take a look at the play. Admire the meltdown.


GO-GO-GADGET LINES OF THE NIGHT:

LeBron James:  41 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists on 15-of-23 shooting in 42 minutes in a Miami Heat home win over the Indiana Pacers.

Dwight Howard:  22 points, 20 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block, +30 (!) on 7-of-13 shooting in 37 minutes in an Orlando Magic home win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Zach Randolph:   31 points, 13 rebounds, four assists on 11-of-19 shooting in 47 minutes in a Memphis Grizzlies road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

DON'T MISS:

SNAPSHOT:

Blake Griffin might put more people on posters, but nobody dunks in more photographic fashion than LeBron James. Watch out, below. My goodness. Two of his 41 points. 

lebron-dunk

HIGHLIGHT REEL:

This is just a Blake Griffin dunk every single day, you know how I do it. Here Griffin catches the alley oop lob pass and dunks over Orlando Magic forward Ryan Anderson, much like he dunked over Kyle Korver recently. Griffin struggled on the night, scoring just 10 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 35 minutes of action in a 101-85 loss to Orlando.



WHIMSY:

Per Denver Nuggets team policy, Chauncey Billups does not charge baggage handling fees. Boy, he looks cold.
chauncey-billups-snow

FINAL THOUGHT:

I, for one, am glad that Kevin Durant made the three-point contest even if he is the only one of the contestants to shoot below league-average from deep.  Given his competitive desire, overall talent level and ability to rise to the occasion, Durant not only makes a great candidate, he serves as an excellent foil for the field. He gets to take on a Larry Bird role here, the intimidating all-NBA gunner who the specialists can try to take down. I love it. What better script is there for a three-point contest?
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com