Memphis has been a disaster this season so it is only fitting that the last home game, the so called Fan Appreciation Night, opened with a portion of the stands collapsing injuring some of the fans and closed with a blow out loss to the Minnesota Timber Wolves. The Grizzlies didn't dress Mike Miller and Javaris Crittenton for the game and for some reason Darko Milicic and Jason Collins did not play as well. I can only suspect that the team is now concerned that New York or the Clippers might pass the team in the standings and the team didn't want that to happen.
Portland has fallen off their early season pace when they were the toast of the NBA competing for a playoff spot. The team is 40-40 for the season and would be tied for 6th place in the West but instead resides in 10th place in the West. At least the Trailblazers are attempting to keep the publicity coming with a snappy web page designed for LeMarcus Aldridge who is up for Most Improved Player in the league. While these publicity stunts rarely work it is nice to show the player the team is behind him. Portland is one of the deepest teams in the league with backups at every position including center where Greg Oden has sat out the entire year rehabbing his knee.
Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Steve Blake
Steve Blake was supposed to be too slow to play the point in the NBA. He wasn't supposed to be a good enough shooter to play in the NBA. He wasn't supposed to be creative enough to be effective in the NBA. The experts were wrong. Steve Blake isn't fast, isn't a great shooter (although he is much improved) and all he does is put the ball where a shooter wants it. Conley is starting to figure out how to pressure defenses by using his speed to get to the rim. Next year he needs to learn how to suck in defenses to pass out to open shooters. It is a process he should have little trouble learning.
Shooting Guards: Juan Carlos Navarro vs Brandon Roy
Former rookie of the year Brandon Roy has not been as sensational in his sophomore season as he was his rookie year but he is still dependable and solid. Similar to Rudy Gay, Brandon has struggled being the go-to guy at times. He has also been bothered by injuries all season. Roy is still a complete player scoring 19.3 ppg, grabbing 4.6 rpg and dishing out 5.8 apg. Navarro doesn't have that total game. He is a scorer plain and simple even if he scores in an extremely crafty way. Setting up defenders with his 3 pt shot has allowed Navarro access to the lane where he has been very effective with his tear drop 'La Bomba' shot. It looks like Navarro will come up just short of the all-time rookie record for 3's but he has consistently been rated in the top 10 rookies this year.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs James Jones
James Jones has been replacing Martell Webster while he recovers from 'heart pain.' 3 Shades of Blue hopes it isn't serious. Jones is very familiar with Ivaroni's system both offensively and defensively and will look to exploit holes in the attack. Rudy Gay exploded in his sophomore season as the former #8 pick leads the league in increased scoring this year as well as being one of only 2 players in the top 40 in dunks and 3 pt shots made. It's not all about offense as Rudy has also improved his defense this season increasing his steals and blocked shots from a year ago.
Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Channing Frye
Channing Frye has been inserted into the lineup with Joel Pryzbilla out with a broken hand and Greg Oden out with micro fracture surgery. The change makes Portland lighter but faster which should make for an interesting game. Hakim probably won't get too fatigued in this game but he has put together a solid season after Gasol's trade. He should have a good idea of what he needs to work on over the summer.
Centers: Andre Brown vs LeMarcus Aldridge
LeMarcus is going to play a lot in this game in a last second attempt to convince voters that despite his numbers not being the best, despite his not being on a playoff team and despite his playing in the Pacific Northwest (meaning the East Coast writers haven't seen him play very much) he is deserving of the Most Improved Player Award. Maybe he is right but my money is on Hedo Turkoglu or Rudy Gay. Andre Brown showed some intensity in the last two games including a monstrous 17 board night against Minnesota in a losing effort. Late season big numbers against uninspired competition in a blowout doesn't impress anyone.
Benches: Memphis vs Portland
Travis Outlaw has been a major mover for the Blazers this season including a heart-breaking last second game winner on Dec 3rd. That game was followed by 11 losses in 13 games and soon after that Gasol was gone and the rebuilding was officially unveiled. Throw in Jarret Jack and Sergio Rodriquez and that is about all the Blazers have left on the bench with Joel, Oden and Webster out. Memphis' bench is likewise pretty thin with Miller, JCrit, Collins and Milicic out for various reasons. Casey Jacobson is shooting horribly, Brian Cardinal is slow and the collected rust from years on the bench doesn't shake off too easily. Kyle Lowry is taking advantage of the lack of bench production to up his offensive approach and has played well but he is outnumbered in this game.
Trailblazers - Mike Barrett
Monday, April 14, 2008