The Warriors are +4.5 road dogs against the Trailblazers in Portland tonight. The Blazers are 6-1 in their last seven games, and traditionally own the Warriors in the Rose Garden. They are 4-1 at home in the last 5 meetings between the two teams. Still, to anyone who has been following the respective injury situations of the two teams, this line must appear curious in the extreme.
In the last few weeks, the Blazers have suffered a string of injuries to rival what the Warriors suffered to start the season. They lost both of their big men, Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla, within a couple games of each other. Point guard Steve Blake just came down with pneumonia. All-star power forward, and emergency center, LaMarcus Aldridge sprained his ankle in the Blazers’ last game, and is doubtful tonight. And before these latest injuries occurred, the Blazers were already going without Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw and Nicolas Batum. Crazy.
So how in the world have the Blazers managed to go on their latest winning streak? To me, the answer is obvious: they are a far better team without Greg Oden. When Oden was on the floor, Nate McMillan was all about taking the air out of the ball, walking it up court, and pounding the ball inside. This did a tremendous disservice to the great athletes on the Blazers’ team. And the noises out of Brandon Roy and the rest of the team had become very ominous as a result. With Oden getting minutes, this was a team with a lot of dissension. Now that Oden is out, the dissension is gone. McMillan has been forced to play smaller lineups and push the tempo. Brandon Roy has been unleashed, and is averaging 29 over the last 7 games. And dynamic scoring point guard Jerryd Bayless, who McMillan had buried at the end of his bench, is now getting major minutes and igniting the Blazers’ offense. Roy is now speculating openly about a future Bayless-Roy backcourt.
It goes without saying that this game will not resemble past Portand-Golden State games. The Warriors will be the big team, with real centers on the court! And the Blazers will be giving big minutes to guys like Jerryd Bayless, Dante Cunningham, and Jeff Pendergraph, who we have seen very little of before.
There is only one matchup in this game that is predictable: Monta Ellis on Brandon Roy. Monta tormented Roy into a 6-17 performance in the Oracle the last time the team’s met. Don’t expect that to happen tonight. For one thing, that happened to the old Roy, in the old Blazers’ offense. And it happened on the road. Expect Roy to bring his A game tonight in the Rose Garden.
This game won’t be anything near as easy as it might look on paper. But I have to like the Warriors against this spread.