March 22 Blazer page

Excerpts from this week’s Blazer page.

Game of the Week

Sunday: Blazers at Thunder, 4 p.m. at Ford Center (CSN, 37)

Key matchup: Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant versus Portland forward Nicolas Batum.

Durant has evolved into an all-world player for the Thunder. He ranks second in the NBA in average scoring (29.7 points), and has become one of the toughest matchups in the league. Fast, long and agile, Durant is deadly from anywhere on the perimeter, while he is just as impressive when driving to the basket.

Batum’s main job will be to slow Durant down and limit his touches. It is possible, but it is nowhere near easy. Watching the Blazers’ small forward of the future match up against one of the brightest stars in the NBA should be a treat.

Key stat: For all of Oklahoma City’s talent and potential on the offensive end, the team is not yet a scoring machine. The Thunder rank 16th out of 30 teams in average scoring (100.2), and hold the same place in field-goal percentage (45.8).
Where OKC wins is at the free throw line. The Thunder possess the second-best shooting percentage (79.9) in the league. Meanwhile, Durant ranks sixth in the NBA in free-throw percentage (89.1) and third in attempts (670). Portland must play aggressive, scrappy defense. But the Blazers also have to keep the Thunder off the line.

Blazer profile

Name: Jeff Pendergraph

Position: Power forward

Year: Rookie

Stats: 2.3 points, 2.7 rebounds

College: Arizona State

On the NBA: “The best thing about getting to the NBA is, I don’t know — I can’t really put it on one thing. It’s just everything. Like, everything’s different than what I expected it to be. Playing the game is different. Off the court stuff is different. Practices are different. You have way more time to do stuff. There’s no class. There’s no study hall. No grade checks. I don’t want to say it’s a job, because I don’t think of it like a job. Because you have fun doing it. It’s, like, ‘Oh. Gotta go to work today.’ Not , ‘Ah, man. I got a 7:30 (a.m.) class. What was my advisor thinking? This sucks.’ So, it’s like, it’s more fun.”

On adjustments: “For me, in school and growing up, it was always a struggle. Bills suck. Having to pay bills was tough. And now it’s kind of like, that’s not really a worry I have. But now there’s other stuff I’ve got to worry about. Like, I’ve never had to do taxes before. Now, I’ve got to file taxes. So, I’m kind of nervous. I’m like, ‘Well, what happens if maybe I miss something?’ Like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I don’t want to go to jail. I really am trying to pay; I’m not dodging anybody. I just don’t know what’s going on.

On hiring a tax advisor: “Ah, I’ve even got one. It’s just, I’ve got to keep finding all the different forms. The 1099 forms and all the W-2s and stuff that I had to fill out. So, it’s like, ‘What is this? What do I gotta do to get a refund? How much are they going to take? Are they going to take more? Are they going to give me back (money)?’ Like, what’s going on? They already took all of my money, anyway. What is this? What are these taxes? It’s crazy. ”

Report Card

Grade: B

Last week’s record: 1-0

Recap: Four consecutive days off between games and a last-second victory over the Washington Wizards equaled another positive week for Portland.

Despite barely edging the Wizards on Friday, pulling off a 76-74 victory at the Rose Garden thanks to Brandon Roy’s late-game heroics, the Blazers have won five consecutive contests. More importantly, Portland has created considerable space between itself, Houston and Memphis as the playoffs loom. Heading into Sunday’s NBA action, the eighth-place Blazers held a five-and-a-half-game lead over the Rockets and Grizzlies, who are tied for ninth place. Just 11 regular-season games remain for Portland, and a second consecutive trip to the postseason seems almost guaranteed.

Bright spot: Once again, Marcus Camby. The 14-year veteran grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds in the Blazers’ close win over Washington. And he played a key role down the stretch, blocking shots, filling the lane and reviving a Portland defense that temporarily lost its focus.

Low point: The game against the Wizards. A win is a win. But a two-point, last-second home victory over one of the worst teams in the NBA was far from encouraging. Portland’s offense was anemic, while the Blazers’ pick-and-roll defense was missing in action. Portland coach Nate McMillan said missed shots were the main culprit. But a lack of energy and execution also played a major part.

In Focus

Juwan Howard: The ageless wonder has continued to contribute during the stretch run. Moreover, while Portland’s rotation has tightened and minutes are at a premium, Howard has still played a key role for the Blazers.

The 16-year veteran has averaged 6.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 20.8 minutes during the last five games. In March, Howard is averaging 6.6 points and 5.1 rebounds — a month in which the power forward has scored at least six points in 7 of his last 8 contests.

By the Numbers

Combined shooting percentage of Portland’s starters during the Blazers’ victory over Washington.

Games in which Nicolas Batum has scored six points or less since recording a career-high 31 points Feb. 27 against Minnesota. In eight contests since then, Batum is averaging 11.0 points.

Number of consecutive shots Roy missed before hitting a game-winner with 0.5 seconds left versus the Wizards.
— Brian T. Smith

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