How does a three-way tie for 6th place in the Western Conference sound? Sound good? I’m sure it does. Only problem is we have no idea whatsoever whether that is a good or bad thing for the Blazers.
That’s because teams 2-through-4 in the West are also tied, with the Utah Jazz just a half game back of the pack. So if you want to play Dallas in the first round, it’s impossible to know where you want the Blazers to finish. If you don’t want the Jazz, again, it’s impossible to know. The only thing we know about the playoffs is that if you subscribe to the preference of playing the Lakers because it would be the most entertaining series, then you want the Blazers to pull out an eight seed.
So, I’m not worried about the standings. Not one bit. What we’re concerned with here is how the Blazers are playing, and tonight they played quite well. Marvelous, in fact, during some stretches. Dodgy in others. But it’s pretty clear that they’ve stopped played down to the level of their opponents as happened so very often in January and February and that should tell you plenty about where this team is with four games to go.
This win would be fairly easy to diagram using a bell curve — or whatever that chart is called you use to describe works of fiction — as they got into an early turnover fest with the Clippers, steadied the ship in the second, dominated the third and slipped just enough later on to allow the score to appear threatening. In some games this season this quarter-to-quarter pattern of runs would take shape because the Blazers would get away from what gave them success, be it feeding a particular player, moving the ball to the weakside or helping on D. Tonight, they sustained their style, even as the results varied.
That style meant a steady dosage of LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points on 26 shots, the latter a season-high) on the blocks and Brandon Roy (23 on 17) taking advantage of the many mismatches the Blazers could earn. It meant being aggressive even if it didn’t create a fast break and being steady with the defensive rotations, which were better than allowing 49 percent shooting as the Clippers outright earned some buckets with nice interior passing.
For some odd reason it also meant Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard shooting every mid-range jumper that said hello to them, but 42 points in the paint despite a low assist total due to isolation plays (mismatches, mismatches, mismatches) made everything OK.
The bench still worries you, because even though it was 8-of-16 overall, five of the makes and eight attempts came from Howard. Martell Webster had a nice two-man game moment with Aldridge early on (five assists for LA = Gold, Jerry. Gold) but only took four shots and Jerryd Bayless three in 22 combined minutes. Then you have Rudy Fernandez taking one shot in 18 minutes (two turnovers, two assists) and you wonder how much confidence Nate McMillan has in his bench if he’s not going to try to involve these guys more against a poor opponent.
The dark cloud hanging over this Eeyore was Camby straining his hamstring which, as you remember with the Roy debacle, could mean he’s back and fine in a day, he sits out a handful of games or that he’s just less mobile as the Blazers enter the playoffs. We’ll find out about him tomorrow, but remember, it’s the starters that are carrying this team right now, and once you begin diluting that lineup with bench replacements, what that group has going for them could disintegrate fairly quickly against a playoff defense.