The Blazers bench looked to be the big advantage Portland had over the Hornets. Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw have both played exceptionally well in the first two games of the road trip.
Against New Orleans, however, they combined to go 3-10 from the field for 13 points. Even on a night where Greg Oden showed flashes of what we have been told he can do, that simply is not good enough against a team the caliber of the Hornets.
Even with the essential no-show by their bench studs, Portland was down but one at 77-76 with 2:39 to go. Losing by five to New Orleans in New Orleans is hardly embarrassing. And for Fernandez, it is good for the fans to remember he is A) a Rookie and B) human.
He will be back and have lots of good nights to go with a few nights like this one.
But the most encouraging thing to come out of the game was seeing "the real Oden." Again and again, people who have seen him in practice talk about his speed, his agility, his leaping ability, and his explosiveness.
Unfortunately, in games we have not seen that. We have seen a tentative young man, afraid to plant, afraid to jump, afraid to extend. Many fans have expressed disappointment, a position I believe is somewhat unfair.
Oden is only 20, too young for that much pressure to be put on him. He should be the guy with the grin cracking his face, enjoying the ride, not wondering if he is letting a city down. He isn't. Give him time and he will be fine.
Well, finally we see a snippet. Watch this block
. He comes out of nowhere, gets incredible extension, has unbelievable timing, leaping ability, and explosion. This was a jaw-dropping moment for me.
I remember watching Jerome Kersey chase guys down from behind to block break-away dunk attempts. I have seen Joel Przybilla block dunks, block Yao Ming...okay, less impressive when you remember seeing 5'9" Nate Robinson blocked Ming...
but the point is, I have seen a lot of impressive shot-blocks.
One of my favorite memories from last season was Outlaw blocking two shots in about a four-second span.
This Oden block ranks with any of those. It was so unexpected and showed so much athleticism that suddenly I saw what everyone was talking about. This is a game-changing player.
This is a guy who can dominate the paint on both ends of the floor even if no plays are ever run for him. This is a guy who can single-handedly lower opponent's shooting percentages two or three points and keep them out of the paint. This Oden is IMPRESSIVE.
Again, as I said about Fernandez, Oden is young. He is still a rookie and still has a lot of lessons to learn. He will have a lot of bad nights but he will have some nights like this, too where he owns the paint and makes a huge difference just by his presence.
It was exciting to see. It was a great moment even in a loss.
Tonight against Minnesota, it will be interesting to see if Oden plays. The Blazers are taking it very easy on him, for obvious reasons. No reason to push things so I expect Portland will play without him tonight.
That should mean a few minutes more for Nicolas Batum who was the odd man out last night, though I doubt he will be in the game for much over 20 minutes. Then again, after Brandon Roy going for 42 minutes and LaMarcus Aldridge for almost 40, the bench can expect more minutes overall. Hopefully they are more effective.
Tonight they will be needed to score a bit more. 82 points is not going to win many games. Fernandez and Outlaw need to score 30-40 points between them tonight, with Channing Frye adding 8-10.
They will need to keep Al Jefferson out of the paint and slow volume-shooting Randy Foye without giving Mike Miller a lot of open looks from deep if they want to win.
They need to win this game. Winning in Orlando was a big win, one that arguably was an upset win. Losing in Minnesota would off-set that and be a big step backwards. Teams like Minnesota are the ones Portland needs to dominate and win most if not all the games against, whether at home or on the road.
Portland has the talent to outscore the Timberwolves and be somewhat stifling on the defensive end. They should dominate the boards and if they control the ball, they should walk away with an easy victory.
Of course, they also should have beaten Minnesota handily in Portland and that game required some late-game Roy heroics before they pulled it out.That can be taken one of two ways: Either A) the T-Wolves will believe they can play with Portland, will use that confidence and play over their heads, or B) Portland will use it as motivation to show the T-Wolves who Portland really is.
It should be an entertaining game that Portland walks away from with a win.