Remember earlier in the season, when most of the guys were healthy, and the Blazers would win even though nobody on the floor looked all that comfortable with one another and things just looked tougher than they should have been? That’s sort of what this game felt like, except the Blazers can’t win playing like that anymore. Not without Brandon Roy. Not even against the Washington Wizards.
According to NBA.com, over the last 11 games the Blazers are shooting 50 percent and scoring 115.6 points per 100 possessions. In other words this, as we all know being a primarily jump-shooting team, group was due to a hit an offensive rut. So tonight they scored 107 per 100, shot 45.1 percent, and made a not-horrible 15-of-33 on 16-23 footers but a quite-horrible 3-of-17 from beyond the arc.
Because it was the Wizards, they still had a chance. That’s not to say the Wiz didn’t play well — they took advantage of mismatches much more than the Orlando Magic did three days ago — but they didn’t shut the door on Portland until opening Pandora’s Box of defense in the final few minutes. Martell Webster scored 18 points, but every single one of his made buckets were assisted. What the Blazers needed and never found was a true third scoring option. Jerryd Bayless did his best on the creative end with eight assists, but Andre Miller (22 points) needed more help than just LaMarcus Aldridge pitching a tent under the offensive glass like it was 2006 (nine offensive boards, 15 total).
The Wiz really did play some fantastic D in places. They threw some zone into the early mix, which the Blazers busted with ball movement, but once they got used to Miller’s unconventional-ness, Portland was often down to needing bailout shots. In the last two minutes, the Blazers had a possession where Miller, Bayless and Aldridge each touched the ball at least twice, none of them gaining more than a couple feet of space or penetration. That possession resulted in Portland’s three best playmakers doing nothing, and Miller launching a 27-footer from the top of the key. With the jumpers from their 35-point third quarter not there and the Wizards working the paint, the chances of winning dwindled with each passing minutes of the final period.
With Earl Boykins at one point beating the entire team down the court for a layup, with big men standing five feet away no less, it wasn’t difficult to see that the Blazers had the “No Turbo” handicap switched to “On”. Attribute that to an early game on the East Coast if you will, but this was mostly just Portland’s offense averaging out and them running out of heroes to fill in for offensive losses. And since road tipoff was earlier than most people chose to wake up on their day off, this will probably wind up being one of the more forgettable games across the fanbase.
This was Andre Miller throwback night, all afternoon. Whatever the Blazers needed him to do, he did (other than hit three’s). He drove, he spotted up, he pulled up, he grabbed an offensive board with big men around and basically took all the offensive possessions late in the game that Roy would have. Because so much of the burden fell on him — only two of his makes were assisted — the assists were down to two, but if you consider that Portland might have completely slept through this game without him, he gets a tip of the ol’ fedora.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a very Oden-esque night on the boards as he put himself in all the right places. The only problem with that was he was able to set himself up inside because he wasn’t involved enough in the offense. He’s still getting his touches and took the most shots on the team (17), but as one of Portland’s last bastions of efficient offense, he could probably be asked to do even more. The possession mentioned above, with Bayless and Miller, saw Aldridge getting the ball 16 feet away from the hoop with players watching him, seemingly expecting creation. Put him in better position, which might include having him roll to the rim once in awhile rather than predictably popping off the pick every time.
Strange as it is to say, Portland could have used a little post offense out of Juwan Howard tonight. Not that it’s fair to ask this of him, but a few of those bonus baskets he’s been providing could have come in real handy.
Jerryd Bayless played the distributor role well, though only two of his eight assists were within 15 feet of the hoop. I maintain that he really needs to find an in-between game, as it’s becoming very apparent that shotblocker-types are just sitting back and waiting for him rather than moving their feet and meeting him higher in the lane. It makes things too easy on defenses and makes Bayless’ offense too dependent on long jumpers and referee generosity down low.
As I mentioned, Webster had a strong night spotting up, but the moment things fell on him with the shot clock winding down, his smooth rhythm gets cut off like the giant gong getting the bad acts off stage. The Wiz crowded him later in the game, making it tougher for passers to get him the ball.
Steve Blake was solid, which is another way of me saying I don’t have many notes on him for good or bad.
Rudy Fernandez looks like the easiest guy on the team to scout right now, even more so than Bayless. With Roy missing time, the patience meter for him to get his groove back (again) is going to be unfairly short.