I think this has gone on long enough now to say that I think we officially have turned the corner on the season. Doesnít mean that we are now suddenly a contender for anything but when Danny went down we kept saying that we really needed to try and keep around .500% so that when he returned we could push for playoff position.
Well we are now one game above .500% and have a few games at home so that maybe we can keep at an even keel.
But more importantly than being at home, IMO, is the fact that we are actually playing at a much higher level than what we were to start off the season. Lotís of individual players have stepped up to help but I think first and foremost Frank Vogel has to be credited with understanding that the offensive structure we were using to start the season was not working and starting with the Dallas game he changed the offense to better fit the players we have.
Sounds simple doesnít it? But after years of watching a coach pound round pegs into square holes and refuse to adjust anything to fit the players having a coach who is not filled with his own hubris is both a blessing and fun to watch. The one thing that I have been impressed with over the past couple of games is the fact that our guards are now making quick purposeful cuts to the basket and our forwards are hitting them for some easy layups.
Frank still has an irritating knack for not calling a timeout fast enough to stop a run and at times his line in line out substitution pattern drives me insane. But overall I still think we have a winner on our hands here for a coach and this guy is far more than Just a motivational speaker.
I have found the one team that has a worse bench than ours, Portlandís bench flat out sucks. To the chagrin of the dozens of people in attendance to see Meyers Leonardís play basketball he was totally worthless and did nothing other than provide a Tyler Hansbrough the opportunity to break out of his slump. I donít know if it was visible on TV or not but Tyler was flat out beating on Leonard & Freeland in the first half. One time they both came to double him and both tried to foul him very hard and both walked away holding their Jaws while Tyler casually went to the free throw line.
Normally when our bench comes in I cringe and usually go on twitter to complain vehemently about them, but tonight I will say that in the first quarter our starters were flat and our backup big men came in and ignited a fire. Tyler by being Tyler (but actually scoring this time) and Ian continuing his series of great games that he has been stringing together.
After Fridayís game we will do our 20 game review but at game 19 I think we stand a lot better than we did at game 10. BTW as I was watching NBAtv they showed a graphic about teams that have played the most games on the road. Denver, Utah, Cleveland & Indiana have all played 12 games on the road so far, our road record of 5-7 was the best o f the four with Denverís 4-8 coming in second.
Then Kenny Smith said ďkudos to Indiana for doing it without their best playerĒ which still makes me shake my head every time they say something like this. In the pre-season previews they had nothing good to say about Danny, EVER. But when he went down it was all love and kisses from them.
Speaking of Danny I donít know if you guys saw this or not but at halftime Danny came out onto the court with the rest of the team and shot the ball all while wearing a suite and street shoes. No layups and no real elevation on his Jump shot but he was shooting (& more importantly hitting) and while I know we are nowhere near time for him to return I keep hoping that maybe close to the first of the year we can start hearing about him doing some full scale practices.
Letís do grades tonight.
David West: B+
Started off slow and I mean really slow. Missed two early box outs that led to Portland getting the rebound and made a very slow switch in the post allowing Aldridge almost an uncontested layup. Went to the bench early, got an extended rest thanks to Tyler being a human Tornado, and came back in playing at a much higher level. In fact ended the game with what I consider a more efficient game than what Aldridge did considering he played almost 5 less min. and shot a much higher % from the field and grabbed the same amount of rebounds. Didnít get to the free throw line though, which is actually kind of odd for him. But overall he has been carrying us for quite awhile so weíll give him a break on that.
Paul George: A+
Iím giving him the plus tonight from one of the extra pluses he got from last nightís game. Active, aggressive, assertive and any other A words you can think to use here. These past two games have by far and away been the best of his entire career. His Dallas and New Orleans games were fine but neither represented a sustainable level of play. You are not going to be able to hit that many threeís every night. But this, this style of play can be done every night without fail. Since I didnít get to say anything about last nights game I want to include here that while his scoring was outstanding and game saving for us it was his smothering defense that left me breathless. His defense tonight was good as well but what he did against Deng was superb. His trade value will never be higher, sorry couldnít resist.
Roy Hibbert: C
SighÖ. Iím watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on NBAtv talk about the sky hook and how to play in the post. Now my mind is flashing back to the 8 foot sky hook air ball Roy threw up. Still plays good solid defense every game so at least there is that but my God his shot has gone to never land or someplace. For the season he is now shooting .383% which is amazing for a center to shoot who mostly plays in the post. I know itís mostly mental with him and someday soon this will all turn around. In fact if you think about it with Roy slumping, Paul having been in a slump, our bench in general slumping on offense itís amazing that we are now above .500%
Lance Stephenson: C-
He is so lucky that Frank is his coach and not you know who. Iím telling you a lot of coachís would not have tolerated that opening salvo where he missed two threeís (both were open so they were not bad shots) but then ran a fast break where he slopped up a horrid shot causing a turn over. He would have been benched and never seen again. But Frank let him play out of it and he eventually got turned around a little bit. Although I will tell you Frank gave him the first dirty look Iíve ever seen Frank give a player on the bench when he came out. Decent defense for the most part, only got lost twice that I counted and he was doing some real work on the boards. Heís an odd duck in that he may be to willing of a passer and passes up shots but then I also wonder if he may not be a ball hog if his shots start dropping, with him you get the feeling it could go either way. Still always fun when he is in because like that mythical box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get.
George Hill: B
This is a tough one really and kind of a head scratcher. I feel like a B is probably too high for this game because watching it I donít feel like he had that great of a game, but then looking at the box sore you have to say he had a good game. This was a quiet 18 point game; in fact I didnít realize he scored 18 points till the end of the game. He did make a sweet cut to the rim for a dunk from a beautiful feed from Paul. I know Damian Lillard was causing him fits all night, but after watching him play for the first time I can tell you that he will be causing lots of people fits for a very long time.
Tyler Hansbrough: B+
Obviously Tyler made the west coast trip and forgot to pack his red bull. It was a tale of two halves for him though as in the first half he was a dynamo who the Blazers had no answer for. By the second half he was coming down from his energy drink high. He was putting on the bruises tonight though, whew. Not only did he get blasted in the double team but Leonard also tried to straight up foul Tyler and once again left holding his chin/Jaw area. He and Tyler also exchanged words after that incident.
Ian Mahinmi: A-
Another in the line of very solid contributions from Ian on both sides of the court. The offense he is bringing from the backup 5 spot, well actually itís better than the offense we got from the starting 5 spot tonight. What is great about him is that he is not a one dimensional offensive player and he is now demonstrating an ability to drive that he didnít show us a lot of in the pre-season. He could be a little better on the boards but he also had one of those highlight blocked shots at the rim tonight as well.
Gerald Green: B+
Very active defense tonight from Gerald including one time when the Blazers were trying to inbound that his length and leaping ability caused a deflection that cost the Blazers about a second on the shot clock. Not earth shattering I know but it was enough to cause them to have to rush the shot after still not getting a clear inbound pass. Canít say Iím ever a fan of anyone shooting 5 of their 8 shots from the three point line but he did hit two of them. Still canít pass worth a damn but overall he was a net positive on the floor tonight.
Sam Young: C
Not really sure what he did other than rebound a few shots. Not a bad game but he really wasnít very active on the floor.
D. J. Augustin: C-
My expectations are pretty low for him and he met my expectations. His shot apparently is hanging out with Royís shot.
Good win for the team, good two weeks really from the team. If we can keep Paul at this level we will be more than fine, but in all honesty he doesnít have to play this well every night for us to keep winning. I mean it would be great if he did but if he drops back down to 14-18 ppg that will be fine as long as he is aggressive and not settling for a lot of threeís.
I wonder how well will match up with Denver.