Portland 111, Atlanta 109
This was a game I thought Portland had to have. They needed to go at least 3-4 for this road trip to be a success. They already lost a winnable game to Orlando and another to Toronto. If they lost to Atlanta I did not see them coming back and beating New Orleans. That means a Hawk win was a 2-5 road trip which I think was pretty near disastrous. On the other hand, winning in Atlanta in no way guarantees a win in New Orleans.
This ended up being a much tougher game than expected, as this Monday afternoon game went into overtime for the second time on Portland's road trip. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge both struggled mightily from the field, shooting about 33% each. It was a mighty bench effort, starring Bo Outlaw, Sergio Rodriguez and James Jones, who saved the game for the Trail Blazers.
That is one thing that is setting this team apart from others in the league. While more often than not, in order for the Trail Blazers to win, they need at least "average" performances from Roy and Aldridge to win.
Recently, they are getting everything they need from one of its big two, in addition to a big night from two or three guys from a rotating cast. One night it might be Martell Webster and Steve Blake, the next night Outlaw and Jones, another night it might be Rodriguez and Joel Przybilla. Again and again, when the points are hard to come by for Roy and/or Aldridge, they are getting a big boost from these role players.
This is good to see. It is yet another step in their evolution towards becoming a very good team that could actually do some damage in the playoffs. The Atlanta game, in retrospect, is one they easily could have lost. They are at the tail-end of a hectic, tough road trip. Atlanta is a team that looks to be taking a few steps upwards as well and has done a good job of defending their home court. Fatigue, road weariness - these elements come into play. But these Blazers will not be denied.
The up-coming game against New Orleans will be another big stepping stone. Portland knows it is good enough to win against the Hornets, even on the road. Will they come out and impose their will? That is hard to say.
The Hornets game is essentially a free roll; with a 3-3 road record coming into this game, the trip has already been a success. If they can win the rubber match then it will have been a huge success. It will give them some breathing room for a misstep at some point down the road. It will keep them in the driver's seat for a playoff birth which, despite their solid record, are hardly assured. It is a big game.
And that leads me to believe they are going to do what it takes to win that game. For most of the season the players have identified important games and policed themselves, making sure they know the importance of the game, then coming out and winning it. While the statistical difference between 3-4 and 4-3 is not huge, the psychological impact is mammoth. Going better than .500 on a trip of this magnitude and difficulty would give them a huge confidence boost.
But somehow I just can't pull the trigger on it. Even though I believe Portland is the better team and should win the game, I just don't think they are going to.
I really hope I am wrong. Everything I know about this team says they should win. I guess I am just not a true believer after all. It is a game they could win, but will not.
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