Portland Needs to Fix First-Half Struggles As Tough Road Trip Begins
The Trail Blazers just completed a 6-game stretch against some of the worst teams in the NBA and despite finishing with a 4-2 record, the team would probably be the first to admit that other than the first game against Charlotte (a 134-104 blowout), their performance, particularly in the first half of those games, was less than stellar.
Against the other five opponents, Portland allowed an average of 27.8 points in the first quarter and they trailed at halftime in 3 of the 5 games. The deficits were all by single digits, but giving lesser opponents the belief that they could compete and possibly win in the Moda Center is a recipe for disaster.
The Trail Blazers seemed sluggish and disinterested to start the games despite the fact that they had multiple days off in between most of the them and this gave the Sixers, Magic, Celtics and Cavaliers the opportunity to play with confidence.
Portland is “reacting” rather than “dictating” the rhythm of the game and it isn’t until midway through the third quarter and sometimes not until the fourth that the team is playing with passion and desire.
Is this a matter of an elite team going through the motions in the so-called “dog days of January” in the NBA? Probably, just look at Miami and Oklahoma City right now. But Portland can’t afford to start slow in their next stretch of games. Beginning Friday, the Blazers begin a 4-games-in-five-nights trip against the Spurs, Mavericks, Thunder and Rockets.
The good news is Portland has already beaten three of those teams and they have the second best road record (13-5) in the league. They’re certainly battle-tested this season, but if they want to maintain one of the best records in the NBA, they have to play for 48 minutes, especially in their next four games.
Greg Oden Finally Returns
For the first time in more than four years, Greg Oden played in an NBA game. In 8 quality but brief minutes, Oden contributed 6 points on 2 for 3 shooting, two rebounds and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line. But most importantly, he left the court on his own power.
Oden’s last appearance in a regular-season game was Dec. 5, 2009, when he fractured his left kneecap going for a block on Aaron Brooks of the Houston Rockets. The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft never played for Portland again. Miami is hoping Oden can finally avoid the injury bug that has plagued him his whole career.
As Blazer fans will remember, the stat line doesn’t tell the whole story of Oden’s impact on the floor. The Heat were getting blown out on Wednesday night by an inspired Washington team. When Oden stepped on the floor late in the second quarter, Miami was down 34. By halftime, they had trimmed the deficit to 21.
By simply being a “presence” on the floor, Oden affected the game by doing what Miami brought him in to do. With the team trading backup center Joel Anthony on Wednesday, the speculation has been that this will open up an opportunity for Oden as the second half of the season begins. At least for one night, Oden showed why the Heat have been patient with him.
The Oden era in Portland will forever be thought of as frustrating, disappointing and what might have been. But I’m sure many Blazer fans are rooting for the big man to get healthy and have a long career in the NBA. How could you not after all that he’s been through.
LaMarcus Aldridge Pays the Price After Losing Bet
The Oregon Ducks concluded their 2013 season with a 30-7 victory over Texas in the Alamo Bowl and many people in Oregon were no doubt happy about the outcome. One person who was not was Portland All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
The power forward went to the University of Texas for two years before entering the NBA draft in 2006. To make the Oregon vs. Texas game even more interesting, Aldridge made a bet with the Blazers’ basketball communications manager Collin Romer who graduated from Oregon. The bet was pretty simple: If the Longhorns won, Romer would have to wear Texas gear for a day, and if the Ducks won, Aldridge would have to do the same.
Well, Aldridge finally paid his bet on Tuesday donning an Oregon hoodie and a pair of Nike Lunar Hypergamer low shoes. The kicks are an especially nice touch due to the fact that the Oregon players wore them on Nov. 29 during the Civil War game. The University of Oregon athletic department provided LA with the sneakers as they’re not even available to the public.
“I lost a bet to Collin, that my Longhorns would beat his Ducks and I lost,” said Aldridge, “so I kept my word and I wore all Oregon gear today. It was tough, but I did it.”