By Henry Abbott
One of the stranger games of the NBA season happened in Portland last night. In a game of two stars -- Portland's Brandon Roy and Minnesota's Al Jefferson -- neither much mattered as Portland rolled to the victory powered by the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller.
Five things I noticed:
In the last few weeks, I have heard Corey Brewer mentioned three or four times as the butt of jokes. It's getting to be time for that to stop. He and Andre Miller both dared each other to shoot all night, but Brewer did it with purpose -- and was an effective help defender helping to keep Roy (who had one of his worst games as a professional) at bay. He's no All-Star at this point, but there's no doubt he's vastly improved. He's among the team's leaders in steals, assists, blocks and free throws attempted -- and his defensive talents and efforts are constant and not to be overlooked. When he hits a couple of 3s, like last night, he's hard to miss.
This season the Blazers have been a bit underwhelming. Brandon Roy is part of the reason -- for whatever reason, he has not been his regular self. Last night the whole team's energy level seemed higher when he was out of the game. That's concerning. There has been a lot of discussion in Portland about Andre Miller not mixing well with Roy, and that could be a factor. But a simpler explanation is that Miller is a guy who has the ball a lot, and Miller has spent most of the season missing shots. One of Miller's great gifts is to get into the paint. But I just watched video of every shot he has taken this season, and a huge percentage of them have been misses. He has also been a very bad spot-up shooter in the young season too. That does three things to Roy -- takes the ball out of his hands, makes his team's offense inefficient, and emboldens defenders to help off Miller onto Roy. Last night, however, when Miller finally hit some shots, the Blazers' offense rolled, even if Roy couldn't hit more than one field goal before taking an early seat in the blowout.
Absent other things to sell, the Timberwolves have been trying to fire up fans with the notion they're an up-tempo team ("United We Run"). They're kind of fast. They play at the NBA's ninth fastest pace -- behind teams like the Clippers, Grizzlies and Hawks. But their points per game are 26th in the NBA, and if you tune in excited for layups and dunks you're going to be disappointed. On the other hand, you have to assume that running machine will look a lot better when rebounder/outlet passer Kevin Love is healthy again.
Ryan Hollins, the young center the 'Wolves signed in the off-season, is living proof that being long and athletic is not nearly enough to be a good NBA defender. Opponents out-thought him all night.
LaMarcus Aldridge is one of those players who has nearly limitless potential yet seldom gets mentioned as a top player. Even people in Portland have been unsure about the guy. If anyone ever questions this man's ability, show them tape of this game. He rebounded, he scored on the break, from the post, and with that sweet jumper. He also had some amazing passes. In the second quarter, he slipped the pick and left Ryan Hollins clueless at the 3-point line. After catching the Rudy Fernandez bounce pass, Aldridge drew help and delivered a nice, quick and thoughtful pass to Joel Przybilla alone under the hoop. Later, in the third quarter, he went up to shoot and instead found Andre Miller sneaking under the hoop. To my eyes, Aldridge became a much more determined and gritty player some time around last March, and now he's on a whole different, and better, career trajectory.