I have to apologize in advance for the lateness of this recap, scheduling conflicts being what they are I was forced to watch Sunday’s game after it happened. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t watched it at all. This was easily not the worst game that Portland has played during what is an increasingly long rough stretch, but it was far from good. Sunday there were moments when it looked like the Blazers were going to be able to right the ship, and do what they need to do, whip an inferior team. A lot of shots didn’t fall, a few calls didn’t go in Portland’s favor, and the Blazers failed to score points in the fourth quarter. Any good that was accomplished, and there was some, will easily be outweighed by the fact that Portland leaves New Jersey without the victory.
If Friday’s debacle against New Orleans was the opening salvo in the fistfight between Blazer fans and this season, Sunday’s loss, though not the knock-out punch, definitely has us against the ropes.
I’ll start with what I thought looked positive. Portland played a little bit of defense. They caused the Nets to turn the ball over, they made New Jersey take bad shots late in the shot clock, and they made people work for points on offense. At times the Blazers have looked uninspired on the defensive end. I believe that if Portland is going to turn this early part of the season around, they are going to need to do it by establishing themselves defensively. Another positive was hitting the offensive glass. Dante Cunningham especially provided some important hustle points for Portland. The Blazers have been active on offensive rebounds a lot this season. That’s good, and going forward they need to stay consistent in that stat. Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Wesley Matthews all looked pretty good on offense. Usually when Portland puts four guys in double figures they get the W. Although Sunday that didn’t happen, I’ll take the offensive production as a sign that this team still wants to play.
Now for the negative. Nothing is more negative than not getting the win. New Jersey isn’t as bad as they were a season ago, but they still are not a great team. They looked stagnant on offense, they turned the ball over a lot, and for the most part for every one good shot they had they took at least two bad shots. Portland was completely unable to take this game over, not extending their 12-point lead, and not making the Nets pay for mistakes they made. The Blazers are obviously having trouble manufacturing points when the jumpers aren’t falling. Yes Portland is a jump shooting team, and when those shots aren’t going down they have trouble scoring. I don’t want Portland to stop shooting, shooters need to shoot, but they need to find a way to get baskets in the paint.
I’ll say it right now, just so it’s on record. I think Portland is going to survive this weak start to the season, and be able to make things happen in the post season. Maybe the Conference Finals are off the table, but maybe they weren’t on the table in the first place. Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call for the Blazers. Two out of the three remaining games on this East Coast swing are against bad teams, but one is against the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
If Portland wants to be considered at the very least a good team, they can’t lose to teams they should beat, and they can’t be made to look foolish by teams that are on that next level. So far both of those things have happened in Portland’s last two outings; they have a chance to make up for that, and they’d better make good.
Some very brief thoughts:
- Brandon Roy looked good, and even though there were times he slowed down the offense it’s better for the Blazers to have him on the court. Wesley Matthews looked like he was in sync with Roy, finishing with a team-high 25 points. Wes passed up a few good looks from deep that could have been difference makers, but overall his play was a bright spot, and the fact that he might be able to find a place coming off the bench makes the future look a little nicer.
- The loser in the Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy cohesion is of course Nicolas Batum. Sunday Nic played only 21 minutes, and finished with only two points. He missed all three of his field goal attempts, and didn’t try a three. The three headed winger made up of Roy, Matthews, and Batum is formidable, but so far this season we haven’t seem a game with all three guys clicking at the same time.
- Former Blazer Travis Outlaw didn’t have a great night. He is getting starter minutes in New Jersey, but not really putting up starter numbers. For long periods in the fourth quarter, Outlaw was matched up with Roy. Travis and Brandon are good friends off the court, and playing against each other you could tell they knew what to expect. I think Brandon got the better of the one-on-one match-ups, but Travis did get the chance to hit two big free throws at the end of the fourth quarter.
- Speaking of the fourth quarter. Lately the final 12 minutes of the evening have been the most difficult for the Blazers. Against Utah and New Orleans a lot of the credit can be given to good teams taking advantage of their opponent and putting the game away. Sunday wasn’t quite the same. Portland scored 26 points in each of the first three quarters. In the fourth they could only manage 18. Down the stretch a lot of good looking shots didn’t fall. The looks were there, it just seems like the Blazers are a step or two slow on the mental end.
- I leave you with this thought. I think Portland needs something major to happen in order to get their heads back to the right place. Losing to New Jersey could be that event. Following Sunday’s loss with a big win would really help to get beyond the early troubles of this season. The Blazers have a chance to play another inferior team, the 76ers, with the possibility of a blowout. A convincing victory in Philly followed by a win in Boston would be a big step toward respectability. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it would be nice.