I’m hearing a lot about the courage it took for Brandon Roy to take the court Saturday afternoon, eight days after that knee surgery.
Well, yeah… it took courage all right. But I’d have to say, it took a lot more courage for the doctor who gave the green light for it. I mean, Roy is pain free, at least so he says. I’m sure for him, when you don’t hurt, it’s a no-brainer to want to play. But to me, the doctor who is willing to put his reputation — and perhaps his job as the team physician — on the line for this, well, that takes guts. Really, he’s the guy who could have stopped the whole thing. The buck stops at his desk and nobody else’s.
I mean, it hasn’t exactly been a banner season for the team’s medical and training staff. I wouldn’t have blamed him for taking the easy way out and just say no. So way to go, Dr. Don Roberts — and good luck to you!
And by the way, Nic Batum is probably taking a bigger gamble than Roy. He’s playing in serious pain and the point of that right shoulder sits out there for everyone to use as a target. He’s taking a lot of hits on that thing and I think a reinjury is possible. Good luck to him, too.
Taking nothing away from Roy. There’s one thing that’s been overlooked and I give him a ton of credit for it — there are a lot of stars who would not play in that situation because they are risking embarrassment. After all, it had been a couple of weeks for Roy without playing and he was out of shape, physically. He probably knew he wasn’t going to be capable of playing at his best — yet he was willing to do that to help his team.
His mere presence meant so much — and for the people in that building Saturday afternoon, it was a real goose-bump moment.
Moving forward to tonight’s game — I have no idea what to expect because I don’t think that we’ve yet seen both these teams have a good game on the same night. It’s been one or the other so far. If both play well, I have a feeling that the Suns will win, but I’m not entirely convinced.
Folks, if Roy can find his way back to his groove in a hurry, the Blazers have a real shot. And I mean a shot at the NBA Finals. I know that sounds crazy but the West is so balanced right now — the injuries all over the conference have leveled the playing field. Just about any of the eight teams could get to the Finals with a few breaks. It’s one of those crazy seasons where it’s possible. Portland holds the season-series edge over most of the teams it could play.
Except Utah. And the Jazz are incredible. A lot of people give me a bad time about liking Jerry Sloan so much but can you see why? The Jazz system makes that team least vulnerable to major injury of any of the contenders. It’s a plug-and-play deal, with the team executing its flex offense and solid defense in the same manner, no matter who the players are. This team doesn’t rely totally on one-on-one stuff to score, the way the Blazers do. It gets shots from its disciplined, unselfish offense.
On defense, watch how hard it is to get a mismatch against the Jazz. Their defense doesn’t switch the way the Blazers always do. You can’t get them to switch. The defender on the screener jumps out and hedges the man with the ball long enough for his man to get back to him. The weak side is alert enough to help if it must, but most of the time, it’s not needed.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns are getting the Blazers to switch on pick-and-rolls virtually any time they want. Over and over we see LaMarcus Aldridge or Marcus Camby exposed in space trying to defend Steve Nash. This must be dealt with or it’s going to be the difference in the series.
But in this conference, I’m not at all sure what’s going to happen. I know the Nuggets look to be in trouble, but I’d expect — if at all physically possible — George Karl might make a comeback on the Denver bench for Game 5. At least make an appearance at the arena. If that happens, I’d expect a big emotional lift for the Nuggets. It’s an incredible situation in the West with balance like maybe never before.
But I’d be shocked if the West winner has enough to win it all. Cleveland and Orlando have too much for them.