By Eric Neel
The ill-fitting Blazer
Cussing out your coach during an in-game huddle is never a good move, and it's a particularly bad idea when that coach is no-nonsense Nate McMillan, but Ruben ain't crazy for wanting out of Portland, or even for taking drastic measures to make it happen.
The Blazers are bad. Young and bad. Every discussion having to do with this team in the last few years has been about the citizenship, or lack thereof; you can't write a Portland story without throwing a Cheech and Chong joke into the mix. But those stories have distracted us from talk of a club that ranks 26th in points surrendered per 100 possessions (109), 27th in points scored per 100 (99.3), and 27th in turnovers per game (16.4).
They play poor team defense (I lost track of how many times Grizzlies players, a group not exactly known for creating their own shots, took uncontested shots in free space tonight). They make bad decisions, forcing balls into traffic, imagining alley-oops that aren't there, and sometimes settling for Zach Randolph jump shots from 18 feet (a thing that should only happen in games of H-O-R-S-E in his backyard, and even then the polite guests will avert their eyes so as not to embarrass their gracious host).
They routinely go through long, flat stretches of distractedness or disinterest, as they did early in the third quarter Tuesday when the Grizzlies, down double digits, were picking up offensive rebounds like candy dropped from a piņata and getting right back into the game. Ruben, at age 30, being told he had to ride some pine so he could watch the kids work out the kinks, was right: They're hard to watch.
But if you're a Portland season-ticket holder or a loyal fan (presuming there are any of those left) rather than, say, an underused small forward, you might just want to hang in there with this group. I know that sounds crazy. I know you get up every morning and read the blotter before you read the boxscore these days, but there are flashes of hope with this club.
Sebastian Telfair can't shoot, but he sees the floor and he drives by people. He's going to get better as the season progresses, and his boys are going to trust him, and they're going to go to spots and spaces, knowing he'll find them.
Joel Przybilla's got promise, too. He runs the floor, he's got hands, he can leap, and he's developing some subtle little moves around the bucket on both offense and defense. He's no force, but with nearly ten boards and 4-plus blocks per 40 minutes, he's brewing into something.
And remember, Darius, though incredibly frustrating (some nights he's some kind of shape-shifting superhero, slashing in and around defenses to score almost at will, and some nights he's sleepwalking), is still only 24. And Travis Outlaw (age 21) can play a little if he gets a chance. And so can Sergei Monia (age 22).
The whole bunch of them are long and lean and full of spring. Which is to say, Nate's right too; they should go young. Ruben should sit. It's just going to take a while. And of course, it could all go bad, and this club could just be the next in a long line of headline-making (for all the wrong reasons) Portland teams. Everything depends on McMillan getting them to play defense, and play as a team.
They're not there yet. But there are glimpses.
NBEA Getty Images/Jesse D. Garrabrant
Nene is done for the year. K-Mart returns Wednesday. In the meantime, Marcus Camby has held up the Nuggets' frontline well. His sixth block of the game at the buzzer sealed Denver's 108-105 win over Washington. He had 24 points and 14 rebounds.
Last season in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to coach a rookie who understood right away what it took.
When we drafted Andre Iguodala ninth in the 2004 draft, we were surprised to get a player whom our personnel people had rated much higher. Going into training camp I had Glenn Robinson penciled in as our starter at the small forward spot and Iguodala behind him by a large margin. Robinson, a career 20.8 ppg scorer, seemed hungry to get his career back on track and we thought he would win the job fairly easily.
What transpired was not what we expected.
Skiles: Thomas Is A Non-Issue
"Doug Christie's run with the Mavericks could be coming to an end in the next few days. Christie left the team last week to get a second opinion on a sore left ankle in Seattle. Mavs owner Mark Cuban acknowledged Tuesday night that Christie may elect not to return. 'His doctors say the ankle is OK, but not perfect,' Cuban said." --- Fort Worth Star-Telegram Odom Nears Point Blank
"The Lakers are back, at least some of their drama is, with Lamar Odom voicing his desire to score more often and Coach Phil Jackson, hesitant to fiddle with one of the few Lakers who will 'give the damn ball up,' saying not so fast. "I have to just put the ball up, just to put it up, try to get these defenses to stop focusing on [Bryant]," Odom said firmly. Jackson says, 'He just needs to play his game. He doesn't have to focus on anything more or anything less. I have no fault at all with how Lamar plays.'" --- Los Angeles Times Jaric Frustrated By His Play
"The Timberwolves gave Marko Jaric a $38 million contract this summer. So far, they don't seem in a big hurry to collect on their investment. Jaric said not playing for significant stretches of games has been difficult. He said he is not criticizing Casey's decisions about playing time and is frustrated with himself for not playing better. 'I just feel like my head is not clear on the court,' Jaric said." --- St. Paul Pioneer Press • Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
LeBron James plays to the crowd after drawing a foul. He scored 36 points in the Cavaliers' 115-83 win over the Celtics.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
Anthony (Levittown, NY): As a Knicks fan, your blog yesterday obviously got me excited. But it can't be that easy to get Kevin Garnett, can it? A Antonio Davis/Penny Hardaway trade seems like getting KG for free, even if we have to take Wally Szczerbiak as well.
Brandon, Detroit: I heard that there was a chance KG could be coming to the Pistons for Darko Milicic and Rasheed Wallace. Do you think the Pistons would mess with success and go for it?
The Rockets fell to 0-5 with their loss Tuesday in the games that Tracy McGrady has missed this season. In those five games the team has scored an average of 81.8 points per game and allowed an average of 88.4.
In the six games in which McGrady has appeared, the Rockets are 3-3, averaging 87.2 points per game and allowing 89.2.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Gonzaga's Adam Morrison drew a lot of positive reviews after his 25-point performance against Maryland [and topped it with a 43-point night against Michigan State]. GMs called him "smart" "efficient" and "nasty," and all seemed to be backing off their concerns that his athleticism would hurt his draft stock.
"He's just so fun to watch," one GM said. "I love the way he plays. You just can't take your eyes off him."
Channing Frye, New York Knicks: Who says Larry Brown doesn't like rookies? He's positively enamored with the young forward-center from Arizona who has shown the best shooting touch by a Knicks big man since Patrick Ewing prowled the paint. Frye leads all rookies in field goal percentage (.510). New York has often played its best ball when he has been on the court in Brown's ever-changing rotations.