Behind enemy lines with Portland Roundball Society

We all know that the Blazers are a young, up-and-coming team that has been decimated by injuries this season, most recently losing All-Star guard Brandon Roy for the series against the Suns due to a knee injury.

But to really go behind enemy lines I sent a handful of question to Ezra Caraeff of the TrueHoop Portland Trail Blazers blog Portland Roundball Society to get the inside scoop on all things Blazers. Also, check out my Q and A on the Suns for Roundball Society.

The Blazers have suffered catastrophic injury after catastrophic injury, from Greg Oden’s knee blowing up to Joel Przybilla’s doing the same and many others in between. How in the hell did they manage to still grab the No. 6 seed in the West?

There was a point in this season where the Blazers really should have packed it in and headed for the John Wall sweepstakes: December 23rd, 2009 to be exact. Oden had already gone under the knife, Nicolas Batum hadn’t played a single game all season long, Joel Przybilla was in a crumbled pile of sadness and torn ligaments, Brandon Roy was out, and the team was playing in San Antonio. If this was a movie, the Blazers beating the Spurs 98-94 that night would be the moment where the triumphant band of losers realizes that they can beat anyone if they just believe in themselves.

Truth told, no one knows why this team has been capable of winning 50 games. The Blazers are still a very young team, but have made a seamless transition to the next level thanks to Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. It’s insane to say it, but this team is better right this very second (even without Roy) than they were before playing the Rockets in the first round last season — with Oden in the lineup and home-court advantage.

The Portland Trail Blazers may most miss Brandon Roy's big shot abilities at the end of games. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

The Portland Trail Blazers may miss Brandon Roy most for his big shot prowess at the end of games. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

Continuing on the injury theme, obviously Brandon Roy is out for the series, and I hear he’s kind of good. How is Portland a different team without B-Roy and who do you see stepping up in his place?

Roy has been hurt pretty much the entire year, so while it’s devastating for him to be on the operating table instead of the hardwood, it’s not a surprise for the Blazers. This team has plenty of experience playing with him on the bench. Portland is a misleading 8-9 without Roy, but of those games, 13 were against teams with winning records and more than half of the losses were by less than five points. The Blazers offense has been known to get stagnant when Roy is having an off night, so this frees the team to run a little more, which plays to the strengths of Miller, plus bench players like Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless. The biggest problem without Roy is that it leaves the Blazers without a player to take the big shot in the expiring seconds of a game.

I most fear the Blazers because after the Roy injury they really have nothing to lose. How dangerous do you think a team can be with that “nobody believe in us” type of attitude and how do you see Portland responding to this latest setback?

That’s definitely the attitude of this team, and it’s one they use to their advantage. Besides the small market Napoleon complex, the Blazers have had 14 different starters this season, they rely on the ancient bones of Juwan Howard all the time, and have watched nearly half their roster succumb to major injuries throughout the season. Technically speaking, the Blazers should be swept, since this team has no business winning 50 games or even being in the postseason. But, be careful, since Portland is playing with a big stack of house money right now.

I’ve covered Jerryd Bayless since he was a prep star down the road from US Airways Center at St. Mary’s High School, and I absolutely love the guy’s competitive flair. He’s the most intense basketball player I’ve ever covered, bar none. Why hasn’t he gotten more of a chance in Portland, and what kind of factor do you see him being in this series?

I’m pretty sure Bayless is the most intense human on this planet. Problem is, while the front office adores him, he doesn’t really have a position to play. Point guards should pass the ball, and that’s something Bayless would rather not do. He doesn’t play too well with Roy, so his court time is usually limited to bench minutes. One hopes that his intensity will lead to a better jump shot, since his game right now consists of a fantastic ability to slice through traffic and draw whistles at the rim. If you want a stat that sums up Bayless, he has made more free throws this season than field goals.

From the “what could have been” department, we all know the Suns originally drafted Rudy Fernandez before selling him to Paul Allen and the Blazers. How would Rudy have looked running the break next to Steve Nash?

As you can imagine, Portland fans get a lot of Durant vs. Oden revisionism, so I won’t rub it in. But I will say that Rudy is severely harnessed in the Blazers’ rigid system and if he played with Nash, oh dear God. It would be absolutely amazing.

Why didn’t Channing Frye work out in Portland? Obviously he’s a perfect fit in Phoenix, but it’s hard to believe he was buried last year and then made such a big impact this season.

He didn’t tell anyone he could shoots threes. Actually, as crazy as this sounds, Portland used to have all sorts of big, healthy players. Frye was just too far down on the depth chart to get quality minutes. But, as anyone who has met him can attest, he’s the nicest — and most genuine — guy around, so everyone here was happy to see him land in Phoenix. If you can’t root for Channing Fyre, you hate life.

The Marcus Camby trade seems to have made an immense impact on the Blazers. How has his addition changed Portland, and how in the world can the Suns slow this guy down?

Camby coming to town was huge. While everyone talks about Caron Butler going to Dallas or when Amare went to the Cavs (oh damn, that didn’t happen), the Camby deal saved the Blazers’ season. This team was barely keeping its head above water and going up against players like Dwight Howard with the sad combo of Juwan Howard and rookie Jeff Pendergraph. It was not going to work. Camby, like Miller, plays a quiet game where he won’t wow you, but when the dust settles you’ll notice his 18 boards and four blocks. He keeps players out of the paint, and despite his 36 years, he can keep up when the team runs. How can the Suns slow him down? Foul trouble. The Blazers’ bench is thin, especially at the center position, so if the whistles don’t go his way, it’ll be a problem.

Finally, what’s your prediction? Can Portland pull off the upset?

Portland in seven. Crazy, right? I think the series is all about momentum. If the Suns win the first two in a commanding fashion, this series won’t get past five games. But if Portland keeps it close and loses, or actually wins a game in Phoenix, then everything changes. This Blazers team needs to believe it can take one at US Airways Center, and if they do, look out.

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