Blazer page: Weekly recap, game of the week, bench play, by the numbers

Excerpts from this week’s Blazer page, which ran April 5 in The Columbian.

Report Card

Grade: B

Last week’s record: 2-1

Recap: Another strong week for the Blazers, who picked up two victories in three games and clinched a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Portland looked strong in an easy victory over New York, while a tough win over Sacramento had playoff grindout written all over it.

Despite the progress, though, the Blazers were not able to move up in the top-heavy West. Midway through Sunday’s NBA action, Portland sat in eighth place. That had the Blazers positioned for a head-on first-round collision with the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, a four-team tie for second place makes it very likely Portland will be battling San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the right to face off against the championship title-defending Lakers in mid-April.

Bright spot: A 28-point victory is always welcome, and the Blazers’ 118-90 thrashing of the Knicks was even worse than the final score. Portland destroyed New York, in the process clinching its second consecutive playoff appearance. The lowly Knicks heavily contributed to the Blazers’ dominance. But Portland also played some of its best and most efficient ball of the season. The Blazers dished out 30 assists while committing just seven turnovers, and Portland outrebounded New York 50-30.

Low point: The second half during a disappointing 109-92 loss Thursday to Denver.

After looking playoff-ready in the first two quarters against the Nuggets, Portland fell apart. The Blazers were outscored 53-37 during the second half, including a 31-21 third-quarter deficit.
Brandon Roy never found his touch in the game, shooting just 3 of 13 from the field, while Portland shot 41.3 percent (33 of 80) from the floor. In addition, the Blazers committed 11 turnovers compared to 18 assists.

In Focus

The Blazers’ bench: After raising more questions than answers during the past few weeks, the play of Portland’s reserves has become a serious issue as the playoffs approach. Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless have all been wildly inconsistent in recent games, putting too much pressure on the Blazers’ starting five to carry the team. Bayless has played particularly poor, averaging just 4.4 points on 38.8 percent (7 of 18) shooting during his last five games.

By the Numbers

Number of games in Portland’s last five contests that center Marcus Camby has collected 10 or more rebounds. Camby pulled down a game-high 15 boards in the Blazers’ 98-87 victory over Sacramento on Saturday.

Total points scored by Portland’s reserves in the win over the Kings. Webster and Fernandez were held scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting, while Bayless and Dante Cunningham combined for seven points on 3-of-7 shooting in 30 minutes of action.

Webster’s combined point total during games against New York and Denver. After struggling through a severe 18-game slump, the sharpshooter rebounded last week. But he was again out of touch against the Kings, recording zero points in 10 minutes of play.

Game of the Week

Sunday: Blazers at Lakers, 12:30 p.m. at Staples Center (ABC, 2)
Key matchup: Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant versus Portland’s Nicolas Batum.

Bryant has been a bit off this season, primarily due to the fact that he has been forced to play with a variety of injuries. But Bryant is still Bryant. He rivals Cleveland’s LeBron James as the best player in the game. He is deadly from anywhere in a half-court system. And he can be an unstoppable fourth-quarter closer.

Bryant’s main weakness, though, is his pride. Where most players will stop shooting and turn into a facilitator once they realize their shot is not falling during a game, Bryant will often answer a cold streak with more attempts. Thus, Batum must be as aggressive as possible from the start. If he can force Bryant out of his comfort zone, the Blazers could benefit. Bryant shot just 14 of 37 from the floor during Portland’s 107-98 home victory over Los Angeles on Jan. 8. A similar outing by Bryant could give the Blazers a big bump heading into the playoffs.

Key stat: Despite ranking seventh out of 30 teams in average points scored (102.4), the Lakers are tied for 16th in the league in field-goal percentage (46). An off night by Bryant will help. But a Portland defense that is tied for fourth in the league in points allowed (94.8) also must pressure the ball, disrupt passing lanes and contest shots as much as possible.

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