Blazer fans, meet Chris Johnson, and other stuff ...
- Kerry Eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
Dallas expected to come out with more intensity in Game 4
Off-day material from the Trail Blazers' Friday practice as they prepared for Saturday's Game 4 of their first-round playoff series with Dallas at the Rose Garden ...
• The usual suspects - LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Gerald Wallace - were getting their share of media attention. Against one wall, with a horde of reporters around him, was a less obvious subject - a somewhat bashful Chris Johnson.
The 6-11, 210-pound rookie introduced himself to the NBA playoffs - and to Trail Blazer fans, really - with a sterling six-minute performance in the second half of Game 3, won by Portland 97-92.
Johnson, who totaled 33 points and 32 rebounds in 14 games with Portland and Boston during the regular season, had three rebounds and two blocked shots in his first playoff appearance.
Johnson played only because Portland center Marcus Camby was in foul trouble. Fifteen seconds after stepping onto the floor, Johnson blocked a drive by Dallas guard J.J. Barea, and he was on his way.
'I was a little nervous,' said Johnson, who spent most of the season in the NBA's Development League and was its Defensive Player of the Year. 'That first block really helped. I got my hand on (the ball), and I calmed down after that.'
'Chris' few minutes on the floor really changed the game, especially with his energy on defense,' said Portland coach Nate McMillan, who said he expects to give Johnson rotation minutes Saturday. 'He did a nice job defending the pick-and-roll, and changed the rhythm with the plays he made. He went in and did exactly what we needed at that position at a crucial time.'
Johnson, who turns 26 in July, is a late bloomer. After a year at prep school, he played four years of college ball at Louisiana State, where he averaged 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as a senior in 2008-09, ranking second in the Southeast Conference in the latter category.
'There were some other top players, including Anthony Randolph, on the team (at LSU), and Chris wasn't the focal point,' Portland general manager Rich Cho said. 'His job wasn't to score.'
Johnson's 176 blocked shots rank second behind Shaquille O'Neal on LSU's career list.
Undrafted, Johnson played professionally in Turkey and Poland in 2009-10. Beset by injuries, Portland signed him to a 10-day contract as a hardship exception in late January.
With Camby's imminent return, the Blazers had to let Johnson go, and he signed a 10-day deal with Boston. After playing four games, the Celtics waived him, and the Blazers signed him again on March 14 for the rest of the season, along with a nonguaranteed deal for next season.
In 35 games with Dakota of the D-League, Johnson averaged 16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. Cho said Johnson reminds him of a young Camby.
'Chris plays both ends of the floor,' Cho said. 'He's a very good shooter for his size and position. He runs really well, he's extremely athletic, and he's a worker. He is one of the first guys in the gym and one of the last guys out.
'He fits the DNA of players we're trying to bring in terms of character and work ethic.'
Buck Williams is one of the Portland assistant coaches who has spent many hours working with Johnson.
'He can jump, he's active, he has a nice touch around the basket,' Williams said. 'There's a lot of upside there. He made the difference in that game (Thursday). I'm very proud of Chris. I'm glad to see his hard work is paying off.'
Playing in Thursday's game 'was a dream come true,' Johnson said. 'You watch the NBA playoffs growing up and know how big it is. I just didn't want to mess up.
'It's a blessing right now to be around these guys. My teammates put in work every day, and I just want to do the same thing, to show I belong here.'
• Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Blazers had the emotional edge in Thursday's Game 3.
'They wanted it more, yeah,' Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki conceded after the game.
The Blazers expect that to change for Saturday's 2 p.m. Game 4 at the Rose Garden.
The Mavericks, ahead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, 'are going to be more motivated,' Portland forward Gerald Wallace said. 'Their mindset is to steal one up here and close it out (with a Game-5 win) at home.'
McMillan said the Mavericks will ratchet up the intensity Saturday.
'We expect that, but I expect us to, also,' the Portland coach said. 'This is a really big game. We have to try to get back to Portland (for Game 6). They're looking at getting (Game 4) and closing out the series on Monday. They don't want to come back to Portland.'
Wallace said in order for the Blazers to win Saturday, 'our intensity has to be that much better. (The Mavericks) are really going to be tuned in. A lot of their guys may have great games. We have to be ready to meet that with great play of our own.'
A victory Saturday will do more for the Blazers than even the series at 2-2, Wallace said.
'If we take care of Game 4 like we're supposed to,' he said, 'we'll go back to Dallas with the momentum swinging our way.'
• After scoring a collective two points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first two games, Portland's Brandon Roy made a major contribution Thursday, scoring 16 points and dishing out four assists in 24 minutes off the bench.
The three-time All-Star guard, who had surgery on both knees in January, averaged only 10.5 points and 19.4 minutes in 24 regular-season contests after that. He had a few big games following the surgeries, but always followed with an inauspicious performance. Can he put together back-to-back gems?
'My approach is different now,' Roy said. 'The biggest thing now is going out there and being aggressive but not putting any added pressure on myself. (Thursday night) I just went out and played.
'That will be the goal (Saturday) - go out there, have fun, enjoy the moment, bring some energy to the team and we'll see how it goes. Hopefully there will be some carryover from Game 3.'
Roy said he felt fine physically on Friday.
'The knees aren't an issue,' he said. 'It's just confidence and things like that. I'm building that confidence, and (Saturday) is another day to add to it.'
• Roy got some pregame inspiration via a text message from Charles Barkley, whom he met at a charity function in Oregon last summer.
'First he called, but I didn't recognize the number so I didn't answer it,' Roy said. 'Then I got a text that said, 'Just calling to tell you to keep your head up, stay positive, make sure to have fun.'
'That was good for my confidence. Charles Barkley is a legend, a Hall-of-Famer. For him to text me before a game ... I texted him back and said he doesn't know how much that meant to me.'
• Wallace didn't score until 10 minutes remained in Thursday's game, but he still made his presence felt. The veteran small forward finished with seven points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals in 42 minutes.
'One thing about me, when other guys are going, I don't have to be the main scorer,' Wallace said. 'I can do other things to help. Wesley (Matthews) was going, LaMarcus was going, Dre (Miller) got going - I was able to do some pressure defense, rebound. I didn't score much, but I had an all-around game.
'That's one of the good things about playing with this team. They don't have to rely on my scoring so much. I have guys around me who can put the ball in the basket.'
• Matthews' early outburst in Game 3 - four 3-pointers in the first 5:38, 16 of Portland's first 22 points, 22 of his 25 points by halftime - was not unprecedented. The second-year guard hit 5 of 6 3-point attempts in the first quarter of a game against Philadelphia in March. In January, he set a franchise record with seven treys in the first half of the game in which he scored a career-high 38 against Minnesota.
• Aldridge scored 20 points in Game 3, but only had two free-throw attempts, making both. Portland's power forward is averaging 23.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in the series but has attempted only 14 foul shots in the three games. McMillan wants Aldridge to go to the basket more Saturday - and he wants the referees to call more fouls on the Dallas defenders.
'LaMarcus is played a ton of minutes (44 per game),' the Portland coach said. 'There's contact down there, so we want him to get to that line more.'