On the NBA
Tuesday night at the Rose Garden, Brandon Roy wore Raja Bell like a sleeveless sweater for 48 minutes in the Trail Blazers' loss to the Phoenix Suns.
For those pulling for the Portland quintet, Bell hounding Roy into a 3-for-14, six-point performance wasn't a pretty sight.
It illustrates one of the problems with a team that has somehow managed a winning record despite serving as the NBA's worst team in points in the paint and fastbreak points.
The Blazers depend on Roy to score, and when he doesn't, look out.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a near career scoring night with 31 points, but the Suns figured they could live with that if they shut down Roy. Bell didn't worry about help defense; he simply shadowed Roy's every move. The strategy worked.
'Raja didn't give me any shots,' Roy says. 'Every time somebody drove, he was just standing there looking me right in the face, like he didn't care about what was going on the rest of the game.'
Roy has been remarkably consistent in scoring this season despite being the focus of the opponent's defense. He has fallen short of double figures only seven times in 64 games. Portland is 2-5 in those games.
'It showed (Tuesday),' he says. 'I can't play a game where I'm just rebounding and (dishing) assists. I have to score some points. Six points is not enough.'
Bell and San Antonio's Bruce Bowen have been the most effective defending Roy this season, but tonight at the Garden, L.A. Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy will try to mirror their effort with somebody riding in Roy's shorts. What can the Blazers do to counter it?
'Maybe we should do a couple of things - screen off the ball to try to free me up a little bit, or something,' Roy suggests.
But coach Nate McMillan says the Suns used, in effect, a box-and-one against Roy, with every player on the floor besides Bell paying attention to Portland's all-star guard.
'You have to have other guys make shots,' McMillan says. 'His teammates have to create some opportunities. You go to Travis (Outlaw); you go to LaMarcus, and then you try to kind of sneak Brandon back in there. You don't go away from (Roy), but you can't just force it either.
'It doesn't make a difference how many screens you set. (Bell) is chasing him and running through screens, and the weak side is helping on (Roy). We ran him off screens, off some pick-and-rolls, off some pindowns. But when a (defender) is face-guarding you and not allowing you to use the screen, you have to counter that.'
Still, it seems as if the Blazers gave up on Roy as a scoring option in the second half of the Phoenix game. Somehow, they needed Roy to lose Bell through a maze of single- or double-picks. Sure, the Suns would have switched someone onto Roy, but you like his chances against any other Phoenix defender.
Bottom line: If you let an opponent take Roy out of the game as a scorer, you're looking at a strong potential for a long night.
• McMillan, who has served on Mike Krzyzewski's U.S. national coaching staff the past two summers, sees encouraging signs for Greg Oden with the level at which Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire has played this season. Stoudemire failed in a bid to make the U.S. team, in part because he wasn't all the way back physically at the time.
'I remember how bothered he was by that, because he really wanted to be on that team,' McMillan says. 'To see how hard he worked - he worked extremely hard - and how he has come back, it's been impressive. Greg is going to have to work to get back, but it shows he can come back to full strength.'
• Blazer management feels good about the chances of Darius Miles' injured right knee being declared as career-ending by a physician selected jointly by the NBA and the Players Association.
Assistant General Manager Tom Penn was involved with two such cases while with Memphis - Michael Dickerson (sports hernia/groin) and Bryant 'Big Country' Reeves (back) - and both came out in favor of the Grizzlies.
If it happens - and the Blazers hope to have a decision in a couple of weeks - Miles will be paid the $18 million covering the final two years of his contract, and that salary will come off the team's salary list.
What a boon that would be for the Blazers, who would be in position to be significantly under the salary cap and go for a major free agent the summer of 2009.
The interesting thing will be to see if Miles - still only 26 - would accept that his career is over. If he were to come back and play in at least 10 games through the duration of his contract, the excluded salary would go back on Portland's books.
• James Jones, incidentally, says it's no done deal that he will opt out of his contract after this season. He has an opt-out for the 2008-09 season, when he is due $3.156 million.
'I'm not really sure,' Jones says. 'That's a big decision. You're talking about leaving money on the table. I was a finance major (at Miami). If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you. But so many things can happen, especially in the playoffs. You never know who shines in the playoffs.'
But Jones, who ranks second in the NBA in 3-point percentage (.487) and has been a major force off Portland's bench this season, surely would command more on the open market. Jason Kapono, the NBA 3-point accuracy leader, signed a four-year, $24-million contract with Toronto last summer.
The Blazers may luck out here on the loyalty issue.
'I love it here,' says Jones, 27. 'They've given me a chance to be myself and play my game here. I relish that opportunity, which I've been looking forward to my entire NBA career.'