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15 Most Important Games Of The Season: It Begins

06/14/10
  1. Written by: caseyholdahl  / avg. rating: 5.0


    It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of an NBA season. There's little time for reflection when the focus is always on the next game.

    With the 2009-2010 season behind us, now is a good time to count down the 15 games that shaped the season and, possibly, the future of the franchise. Game No. 11: The Season Begins.


    Links: Recap || Photo Gallery

    Forgive the cliché, but the longest journey does indeed being with a single step. And in one of the most topsy-turvy campaigns in Trail Blazers’ history, the initial step of the 2009-10 season started against the team that ended Portland’s journey of a 2008-09 season.

    The Trail Blazers had issues to address after being eliminated by the Rockets in the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs. They needed veteran leadership, toughness, an upgrade in the backcourt. So they went out and signed cagy veterans Andre Miller and Juwan Howard and drafted two young roughnecks in Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham.

    While the Trail Blazers spent the offseason addressing needs, the Rockets spent their summer vacation trying to hold their team together. Houston’s three leading scorers from 2008-09 were either injured (Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady) or playing for another team (Ron Artest) when their 2009-10 season opened in Portland.

    Both teams were ready to go, despite the amount of turnover both squads underwent in the offseason. The Blazers were eager to prove they had grown since being roughed up by Houston in the first round, while the Rockets sought to demonstrate they were still viable despite losing Ming, McGrady and Artest. Did either team succeed in their opening game goal? Maybe. Was either statement emphatic? Probably not.

    The Trail Blazers, despite turning the ball over 26 times, beat the Rockets 96-87 to get their first win of the season. It was also Portland’s ninth-straight home opening win.

    “I saw some good stuff,” said Nate McMillan after the game. “We did a good job of running our offense and defensively trying to control this team. Other than the turnovers, we fouled early – they marched to the free throw line there in the first quarter but after that we made our adjustments. I thought we kept them off the line. 26 turnovers, you aren’t going to win. This will probably be the last game we win with 26 turnovers. We had control of the game and we lost the ball and turned it over and they were able to create some points off of that.”

    Travis Outlaw came off the bench to lead all scorers with 23 points, which, according to ESPN, were the most points scored by a Portland reserve in a season opener since 1986-87.

    “I wanted to get him in at that 4 position,” said McMillan of Outlaw. “He had his shot going tonight. Defensively, I thought he did some good things – working hard on the defensive end of the floor playing the 3 and the 4.”

    Greg Oden score just two points, but added 12 rebounds and five blocks in a dominant defensive performance.
    “My shot wasn’t going in and I didn’t take too many shots, so hustle plays,” said Oden. “Everybody has to do their part out there and we need definitely need guys to make those hustle plays. I think I did that tonight.”

    The Rockets were lead by Aaron Brooks, who finished the night with 19 points, three rebounds and five assists.

    But the importance of this game went beyond the final result. It was the first game that featured Andre Miller as a Trail Blazer. His nine point, seven assists four rebound night in 26 minutes off the bench wasn’t the most spectacular debut in Portland history, but the addition of a game-changer at the point brought an end to years of questions at that position.

    “Andre’s a great player,” said Oden. “When you have a good player, the main thing is that they make the guys around him look better, make them look good. He definitely did that tonight and that’s part of the reason he’s here and he’s playing.”

    The 2009-10 opener was also the return of Martell Webster after missing all but five minutes of the 2008-09 season with a broken foot. Webster scored 14 points and grabbed two rebounds starting in place of Nicolas Batum, who was recovering from shoulder surgery.

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